One of the most fascinating concepts about communication is that we each have our own code. Despite speaking a common language, we encode and decode messages based on our personality type, emotions, stress levels, priorities, environment, industry jargon and common experiences.
If you encode or decode messages based solely from your perspective without considering the needs of different personality types and other factors in your audience, you are likely headed for a string of misunderstandings. For instance, consider this scenario that plays out following a 45-minute meeting between a supervisor and one of his managers that was interrupted by an emergency call for the supervisor.
The manager went back to his desk and 15 minutes later received this one-line email from the supervisor: “Call me tomorrow so we can get past this problem and tackle other pressing issues.”
Communicating a simple message isn’t simple
In a perfect world, we would all say what we want, how we want and everyone would be on board with the content and tone of our messages. But, the world that we live in shows that there’s a good chance a misunderstanding and conflict could happen as a result of that email. Here’s what I mean:
The supervisor — a practical, solution-oriented leader who becomes impatient with lingering issues and remains focused on solving problems and checking items off a neatly organized project list.
The manager — an idealistic, loyal manager who supports company initiatives while constantly looking for “teaching moments” to mentor junior managers.
Supervisor’s intended message with the email — solve the current problem and end the discussion at all levels because it distracts a very capable and valuable team from reaching the company’s profitability goals and strategic growth milestones.
Manager’s interpretation of the message — The boss doesn’t care about people and uses a harsh tone while ignoring the fact that the team has already brainstormed three alternatives to solving this problem.
Let’s look at how both people viewed this message from the perspectives of content and tone:
- The supervisor kept the message short, direct and solution-focused
- The manager interpreted the short message as lacking concern for the brainstorming work that was already done and for the growth of the team members
- The supervisor thinks, speaks and writes in a matter-of-fact tone, with a limited number of words, which was reflected in the email
- The manager thinks, speaks and writes in a conversational tone, with descriptive words and phrases, and viewed the message as shutting down dialogue which is important to him
Greater self awareness leads to greater understanding in conversations
Granted, anything we say can be taken out of context. I’m not saying that we should all walk around thinking that someone will always get the wrong idea from an email or conversation. However, when you teach yourself to become more aware of your natural tendencies for (1) directing your energy towards yourself or towards others, (2) gathering information, (3) making decisions and (4) relating to others, you will have cracked your own communication code.
Knowing your code in depth means you can create connections instead of misunderstandings because you will have developed the skill to step back from the situation and view it objectively. This action of stepping back gives you the time to check your biases and filters to see if you’re missing the sender’s intent of the message or if you are conveying a point with yourself in mind instead of the audience.
You can’t change how someone else communicates. But you can control how you interpret a message and you can influence others to adjust how they interact with you if they see positive results for themselves.