Abbott and Costello provide a humorous portrayal of poor communication in their timeless classic “Who’s On First”. Mr. Costello is trying to understand whom the player on first base is; Mr. Abbott tries to explain “Who” is the name of the player. The confusing dialogue is incredibly enjoyable from the outside looking in. However, these mix-ups can be enormously frustrating when you are in the middle trying to understand, or to be understood. The ability to communicate effectively can be improved with some simple base-line skills.

Expect less. Whenever embarking on a new conversation, expect the other parties to know less than you know. Share your information. If both parties enter into a dialect each hoping to gain more information, the level of understanding is immediately increased.

Ask for more. Questions are an excellent way to glean knowledge. Relevant questions not only show a desire to know more, but indicate a baseline understanding of the situation and project. The phrasing of the question can communicate what information is already known. Sharing this with the other party will create a level field of understanding.

Seek the history. A full and complete account of the situation or project is still only a partial picture. Historic information can contribute to a more well-rounded understanding. Not necessarily for consideration toward any future decisions, but for familiarity on how or why someone would think a certain way.

Know the individual. Familiarity with a personality can shed light on the underlying meaning of actions and phrases. Personal experiences and emotions are always forefront in all conversations. Try to harbor a true appreciation of individuality.

Change the approach. If communication is failing and frustration is mounting, change the way information is gained. Step back and look at the broader picture; this can really bring things into focus. If it is still not clear, don’t ask the same question to the same person – it will surely gain the same answer. Identify alternatives including changing the question, the person, or your own understanding.

Communicating is one of the greatest challenges for businesses and individuals, and it seems the more simple the topic, the more difficult the understanding. The first step in communication is to approach with the need of your own understanding and not to make yourself understood. This simple attitude shift will help in aligning the distribution of information.

Image credit: Creative Commons License Ed Yourdon

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