thomas edison

Being Understood: How to Communicate the Message You Want Every Time

If you want to get your message across to anybody – whether in writing or in person – there are two things you must bear in mind.

  • The first is that you are totally responsible for how the other person understands what you say.
  • Secondly you should concentrate on what people DO in response to your message – not what they SAY.

The secret of being understood
Think about how easy it is for communication to be misunderstood.

Two sides of a conversation can easily read something entirely different into exactly the same words.

How often have you heard someone say ‘that’s not what I said’?

communicateConversations between partners in a relationship often present the best – or perhaps that should be the worst – examples.

A husband meeting his wife after she has been to the hairdresser might think he is offering her a compliment when he tells her that her hair looks great.

He might be shocked if she greets him with a response of ‘what was wrong with it before?’

In pure communication terms, the woman took this comment as an insult and it therefore WAS an insult even though her husband intended it as a compliment.

The failure of communication was entirely the man’s responsibility as he has to be in charge of the result of what he says. (I’m not suggesting here that men are always at fault for communication breakdowns – this is just an example!)

In business, people may respond differently but they are just as likely to hear something different from what you think you said.

If you’re not getting the response that you want, it’s not your customer’s or audience’s fault. You’ve got to change your communication. It’s as simple as that.

And, of course, sometimes a truly flexible communicator has to change the substance of their message, not just the delivery, if they want it to be successful.

Why actions really do speak louder than words
You can have the most beautiful ideas and put them across very eloquently but if, at the end of the day, it doesn’t change someone’s mind or behavior, then it’s usually pointless.

That’s where it’s important to remember that it’s what the other person does that matters.

And sometimes you need to read their responses carefully to ensure you understand clearly how they are interpreting what you say.

People will often say the right thing just to be polite so you have to read their body language and facial expressions as well as listening to their words.

The most successful communicators work on developing their sensory acuity, which is their ability to recognize small behaviors in people – such as facial expressions – which give away what they really think.

One example of this principle in business is where you carry out research or ask for feedback from customers and they tell you something. In reality, they’ll then go off and do something entirely different. What they do is more important than what they say.

It’s been said that if Edison had asked the market for feedback, he would have created bigger candle instead of a light bulb!

So seek feedback but interpret it carefully and stay focused on your objective.

The more you pay attention to your audience, the more chance you have of getting them to hear the message you want.

Why Failure is the Most Important Factor in Success

It can be frustrating and costly when things don’t go the way you want them to.

Because, when you set out to do something, there’s no guarantee that the result you’ll get is the result that you want.

However, you will always get a result or outcome of some kind.

So, when you’re not getting the response that you want, the important thing to recognize is that you need to do something differently.

It’s amazing how often people keep doing the same thing, even when it doesn’t give them what they want.

But equally you’ll never know what you need to do differently until you try doing something.

If you want to be a top performer, you’ve got to take every opportunity to get feedback from others and adapt what you’re doing according to that feedback.

So one of the most important beliefs you can have is that ‘there is no such thing as failure’.

There is always something to learn from whatever outcome you get.  Many of the great achievements and discoveries in history have happened because the people behind them were willing to get it wrong many times before they finally got it right.

One of the best-known examples of this is the commitment Thomas Edison put into making the electric light bulb viable. He didn’t actually invent it but his work did make commercial production possible.

Of the months he spent trying ideas that didn’t work he said:

“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Edison’s attitude was each of these attempts was a necessary step on the way to getting what he wanted. A lesser person would have given up but he believed in what he was doing and kept on responding to the feedback he was getting until he finally got his desired result.

That’s the kind of attitude you need in order to be successful in business.

Successful business people listen carefully to the response they are getting all the time and then alightbulbdapt what they are doing to ensure they get a different result.  It is not for nothing that they say ‘feedback is the breakfast of champions.’

You should never think, “I failed.” When you get a different result to what you wanted, you should think, “Great, I’ve learned something new! What can I do to make progress?”

The power of feedback
In business, another way to look at feedback is as a testing mechanism.  Even when you feel that a communication has been successful, you should consider whether another approach might have been even more successful.

In fact, if you are considering making any sort of major change or investment, it is essential to get this kind of feedback before you commit yourself to it too deeply.

Feedback only works, however, if you look for it.  In face-to-face communication, for example, that means you not only have to listen to what people say but you have to carefully watch their body language and facial expressions.

Arguably listening is the most overlooked skill in communication.  The old adage that we have two eyes, two ears and one mouth and that we should use them in that proportion has a great deal to commend it.  Yet so many people are inclined to speak first.

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin comments:

“In conversation, knowledge is obtained rather by the use of the ears than of the tongue”

His success in a wide range of fields from electricity to publishing and politics suggests he knew a thing or two about knowledge.

Overall, the more willing you are to adapt what you are doing in response to feedback – the greater chance you have of success.

The key point is that when you accept there is no such thing as failure, it removes the excuse for procrastination and perfectionism, which hold many people back from action.

So, to move faster towards the success that you want, consider these two questions:

  • What one thing can you do in the next 24 hours to move you closer to the goal you want?
  • How will you know whether it was successful or if you need to do something different?