The practice of effective communication is essential to properly inform the process of decision-making. Without a clear understanding of risk and the consequences of potential actions, people (executives and individual employees) may make decisions based on unrealistic assumptions or a poor understanding of the solution.

It’s time to smash a myth about communication holding back the ability to connect with people, demonstrate business value and influence behavior change.

The myth: communication, let alone effective communication cannot be taught or learned; people either have it or they don’t.

The Reality: despite a commonly held belief that effective communicators are born, anyone willing can learn the art and science of effective communication.

Success requires guidance and practice to develop the skills of an effective communicator — but it is entirely possible for individuals and organizations to learn and embrace the use of these principles.

Why the myth?

Every myth has a life of its own, and it takes different shapes in the culture and in the individual.

For the individual, the myth probably started as a useful defense mechanism when an attempt to communicate didn’t go as expected. The experience was significant enough that an internal story about it was created to manage self-expectations and reduce the pain of failure.

At a cultural level, we reinforce the myth. People with less experience compare themselves to people with more experience. Individuals are told of their errors (spelling, grammar, ums, uhs and the like) without guidance or feedback to help them learn a better way.

Admittedly, the explanation is oversimplified, but that’s not to say we can’t learn from it.

There is no need to accept the notion that good communicators are born and the skill cannot be learned.

It isn’t true. The myth is false.

It is possible to teach and learn the art and science of effective communication.

While the myth is wrong, it does contain a thread of truth: the skills of effective communication cannot be bottled. The learning process is as unique as the life experiences that have shaped each individual and organization.

The good news is that learning about the principles and putting them to practice has a positive impact. But it also means that effective communication takes effort – though it doesn’t always have to be “hard.” The progression of communication is nuanced; consistency and quality of outcome is a function of understanding, practice and proper guidance.

Those who effectively communicate value at the top range of the scale (generally considered professionals) are often students of the craft, routinely engaging in coaching and other guidance and continue to seek out opportunities to improve.

While it may seem ‘hard’ in terms of time, effort and skill invested into the outcome, not everyone is a professional (or needs to be).  Anyone can improve his or her ability to communicate and successfully work through the progression.

Putting the myth to rest, with proof

Two simple steps to end this myth:

  1. Stop believing it
  2. Stop repeating it

It’s possible to advance from common communication to effective communication by simply gaining awareness, incorporating purpose and using simple feedback to confirm if the message received matches the message sent.

Try it out today.

Here are three steps to craft a personal experience that this myth is busted. This is meant to offer a personal insight into the process of communication – it creates awareness and demonstrates that learning is possible.

Start with a 20-30 minute time constraint (less is fine, too). The key is to do the best possible job within the time and then reflect on the experience.

On a current communication or something new, do the following:

  1. Set an intention: write down, with a pen on paper, the purpose of the communication
  2. Take responsibility: think about the message and the audience – consider the best approach, which might include a good story and the right time/method to deliver the message
  3. Get feedback: deliver the message, pause, and then ask for feedback with a simple question like, “Does that feel right?” Then listen.

If someone understands, they often start by confirming that it “makes sense.” Keep listening. They need that added pause to fully process and evaluate the information against their range of experiences.  Most people will offer a story or a ‘counter-story’ to test their depiction.

The same approach applies if they don’t understand. In either case, listen closely.

This point cannot be emphasized enough. The stories that get shared help to clarify the message. They offer clues for refining the communication to make a more accurate connection (now and in the future).

Feedback and reflection improve the practice of effective communication

Want to get better at effective communication?

Reflect on the entire experience – stated intention, preparation, delivery, feedback and resulting navigation to understanding.

Be curious.  What worked?  Where might a new approach work better?  Following the original process, create and deliver a revised message to a different person.

Did you complete the exercise?

Myth busted?

If you didn’t, take a few minutes to share the reasons. I find that these reasons speak volumes about my own relationship to the myth.

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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