Getting Through

The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through. ~Sydney J. Harris

Have you ever had someone tell you something, expecting that you have understood him, only to find have you completely missed his point?

I had that experience yesterday. Despite the fact that I am, in general, very competent at helping sort through challenging conversations or confounding situations in the workplace, I strolled right into a confusing and unclear conversation and made it worse. Though I initially thought I was dialed-in to the nuance of the situation, I soon discovered I was full of assumptions and projections that had me confusing “information” with “communication.”

Because I noticed pretty quickly that the conversation was going down hill fast, I managed to cease and desist with my ineffective tactics and shut-up and listen. In my head, I suddenly felt much like a cat who has recently slipped into a filling bathtub and, having just pulled itself out of the water, pretends that it meant to be ungraceful from the beginning. Smooth.

For me, the handiest part of this situation was that the person with whom I was speaking was able to tell me that I didn’t understand what the heck she meant. I was able to listen to her well enough to comprehend my general missing of the point. I was able to ask her a few good questions and really listen for her answers. By her telling me that I didn’t get it, and me asking her to describe her point in a way I could understand, we got through – we communicated. It worked. There was connection. There was appreciation. There was progress. And, most importantly, she felt understood in a way that allowed her to contribute to the improvement of the situation at hand.

My questions for you are: in what circumstances do think you are communicating but you are actually only giving information? Does it work well? How might if work better if your message really got through?

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