Tags: KC CC

Mistakes in communication

This KCard presents some common mistakes which are made by some of our clients during their communication activities. The important point isn't really the list which couldn't be complete anyway, but rather the idea that some widespread assumptions made in communication should sometimes be questioned.

Thousand words worth pictures

'A picture is worth a thousand words'. This must be one of the most common mistakes we've experienced our clients making. The saying is so widespread that even just the idea of questioning it makes someone look like an ignorant! People use this saying to justify the fact that they focus all their presentation and communication on visual support (like slides) and dismiss or neglect verbal aspects.

Nevertheless, many objections can be made to this focus on visual communication, here are just a few:

Basic psychology tells us that people have different level of usage of their communication channels, in other words some people will tend to prefer visual communication while others might prefer auditive (in a given context). It isn't a good idea to bombard an auditive with visual data, it just won't affect him as much as speaking would.

Some words simply don't translate well into pictures. Obvious examples are feelings, such as 'lowliness' or 'fright'. On a more business level, in general, dynamic words are difficult to translate, like processes, actions or events. For each of these examples it might be possible to create a suitable picture, but this picture would be so complicated that its interpretation would require much more effort than that of the word.

Of course, the word could simply be written on the picture, but this is a poor way of using a word, because words usually need putting into sentences to make sense, then your pictures get overloaded and inefficient.

Pictures, especially slides, also have a static nature which verbal expression does not. Precisely, while presenting your case verbally you can adapt in real time to the reactions of your listeners. When using slides, if you feel you're presentation isn't hitting its target and that the way you're presenting your cause isn't the best it is usually too late, you won't be able to adapt your cautiously prepared slides in real time. This aspect is particularly important when the communication is aimed at influence, where you need to convince and not only inform.

When using pictures to present your messages you open the way for an additional risk of confusion, this is that your audience looses focus and spends more of their attention on the form (colours, pagination, fonts, spacing, diagrams...) than on the content (the actual message). This is particularly obvious when preparing your slides with your co-workers, you just have to see how much time you spend discussing format details instead of the real message content. This also risks happening with your audience who might get distracted by the strange look of your arrows or bubbles.

We're definitely not saying here that you shouldn't use visual support for your presentations but don't over estimate their strength nor under estimate their weaknesses. In particular, adaptivety to the reactions of your listeners is a very important part of communication (a vital part in convincing) and this is a drastic advantage of verbal communication against visual 'prepared' communication.

Stronger and louder

When someone fails to communicate an idea the most common reaction is to simply repeat the same message louder and stronger. What happens in this case is usually that the listener tends to close even more and iteratively becomes less and less open to the communication.

The solution to this situation is to adapt your message to your listener's views. As soon as you feel that the listener is closing you should try to know why and then adapt your message. A simple way to discover what's not pleasing him is to let him talk. In fact a good sign of someone closing (and not paying attention anymore) is someone who is trying to take his turn to talk.

Listening before talking

A common thing that happens is that people who enter a communication with a defined objective (and a plan to achieve it) tend to want to lead the communication to be sure to unroll their plan. This is tempting of course, because people think that if the other leads the communication they will not be able to use their plan as prepared.

However, letting your counterpart speak before you (and most people really do want to speak first, you just have to let them do so) will give you valuable information for your own communication that will follow. Of course, this approach is more complicated as it requires skills to create and adjust your message in real time during the communication. That's why most people prefer heavy preparation of slides which requires less skill. But what's for sure is that skilful agile communication is much more effective (especially for influence kinds of communication).