Why You Must Own Communication Responsibility

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

I used to believe that I was a really great communicator. I mean, I’ve always been an avid reader and writer, and consider myself to be articulate. To be honest, it pissed me off no end that the people around me were such lazy listeners. Sometimes it felt like I was speaking a completely different language, people would answer completely different questions to the ones I had asked, or respond in an odd or irrelevant way.

It wasn’t until I began to study NLP and came across the basic beliefs that form the central principles, that a light bulb came on. Here it is: The meaning of your communication is in the RESPONSE YOU GET. What that means is, it doesn’t matter how clear or clever your words, if the response you get isn’t the one you desire, you’ve just experienced a #CommunicationFail. Is it true? Maybe not. Is it helpful? HELLS yeah.

Let me give you a living example. I have a client at the moment who wanted to show her husband that she was listening, and that she cared. He was speaking of an event where something she did made him feel disrespected. She said “I’m so sorry you feel that way, but that wasn’t my intention, I don’t think it’s fair that you’re angry”.*

As I’m sure you can guess, he lost his metaphorical shit. Loaded sentence aside, in its essence this exchange looks like this;

Desired Outcome: Husband feels heard & respected

Verbal Communication: “I’m so sorry you feel that way, but that wasn’t my intention, I don’t think it’s fair that you’re angry”

Actual Outcome: Partner loses their shit. Situation escalates. The exact opposite of the desired outcome, partner feels unheard and disrespected.

At this point there are a couple of choices she could make;

  1. Get sucked into the drama of it and go hard. Feel badmouthed, untrustworthy, misunderstood etcetera.
  2. Explain in painful detail why her partner’s perception was wrong.
  3. Take a deep breath, and ask for feedback. “What is it that you would like to hear, or see, or feel from me that would let you know I hear & respect you?” Then do it. Do it exactly. Suck up her ego, and TAKE OWNERSHIP of the results of her words.

People I speak to are still mostly poor listeners. It is crazy the way people spend so much time in their heads defending themselves and preparing their own responses, that they completely miss the point of what you have just said. It still pisses me off tbh. Then I take a deep breath, and remember they just have different rules.

What I do differently now is that I own my shit. I believe I am 100% responsible for the results of my communication. I ask myself “What did I do there, that caused or contributed to this misunderstanding?” “Was it my tone of voice? My words? My facial expression or body language? Did I speak too fast, or for too long? Was my timing bad?” And then I say THANK YOU, and I plan how to do it differently.

This means that as great communicators we MUST develop a broad range of flexibility in delivering our message, such that no matter who hears it, they understand it in the way we would like.

TL; DR: The meaning of your communication is in the RESPONSE YOU GET. Change your delivery as many times as you need to until it lands the way you desire.