Effective communication - Listening and ensuring understanding

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Communicating a message in a simple way will give your message the best chance of being understood, but it doesn't guarantee that everyone will actually understand what has been communicated.

Information can easily be misinterpreted for a variety of reasons, including language difficulties, different views, perspectives and biases, too much information (information overload), or simply through a lack of focus or attention.

To ensure mutual understanding we need to take steps to identify whether everyone in the communication process has reached a shared understanding, or whether information has been misunderstood or misinterpreted. This process is also known as closed-loop communication.

How to do it:

If you're the sender...

  1. Summarise what you have said. Reiterate your key points/instructions and make sure that they are crystal clear.
  2. Check for understanding. Don't assume that everyone is on the same page (or has been paying attention). Before you finish, ask a quick question to check for understanding e.g. "Is everyone clear on what we need to do?", "Does anyone have any questions?".

If you're the receiver...

  1. Use active listening. Pay attention and ask questions to ensure that you fully understand what has been communicated to you.
Listening and ensuring understanding

Active listening

Active listening is not just listening, it is about being engaged with the people you are communicating with and asking relevant questions at the right time to ensure that you fully understand what has been communicated.

There are many variations of the steps to active listening, however they all share the same traits:

  • Be mentally present - Focus…don’t drift off.
  • Pay close attention to the speaker - Listen closely to what the speaker is saying and how they are saying it.
  • Clarify what you've heard - Once the speaker has finished, repeat back what you have heard in your own words. “So you’re saying…” or “Let me see if I’ve understood…”.

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Next: Effective communication - Adapting to the person