When you think about communication, you probably think of conversations, letters, and meetings. These are platforms or opportunities for communication to take place, but they're not the full communication. Communication is not merely the expression or exchange of ideas; it's also the reception of those ideas. When an idea isn't received, communication hasn't taken place, no matter how many words have been expressed.
If you're attached to the dictionary definition of communication
, there's good reason to set that aside, at least until you finish this article. This article is an invitation to expand your definition of communication to inspire you to be committed to the outcome of every conversation you engage in.
Communication Is More Than Words
If a person can repeat back to you every word you've said, does that mean they got your communication? What if they can repeat your words, but they miss the context of why it's important? When a person misses the context of what you're sharing, and doesn't ask questions for clarification, they haven't gotten your communication. They're hearing your words, but they're not listening to the message.
Communication Occurs in the Space of Listening
Listening provides an open doorway through which a communication can be fully understood. It's like an electrical circuit. The circuit is only completed when listening takes place. Listening creates the space for receiving a communication.
Communicating without listening is like mailing a letter to a friend and that letter gets lost in the mail. Your unread letter is a failed communication because nobody received it.
Be Committed to the Outcome of Conversations
You did your part. You wrote the letter and delivered it to the post office. It's not your fault the post office lost your letter. There's nothing you can do, right? Not exactly.
When you're committed to the outcome of a conversation, you'll do everything you can to ensure your message is understood correctly. It's easy to get upset when you're misunderstood and tempting to shut down. When you're committed to the outcome of the conversation, you'll resist the urge to shut down, you'll ask questions for clarification, and refine your message until you're able to speak directly into the other person's listening.
How You Define Communication Determines the Quality of Your Relationships
How you define communication determines the quality of your relationships with friends, family, coworkers, and your boss because we all live our definition of communication.
If you consider communication as simply the expression of thoughts and ideas, you're more likely to engage in conversations like you would a fierce debate. You might dump your ideas and put up your fists, waiting for the next argument to counter. If you consider communication an exchange of ideas, you're more likely to listen to opposing views before firing back with your own.
However, if you consider communication to be the successful understanding of someone's ideas, you'll be more likely to approach any conversation knowing the other person has something to teach you. You're more likely to ask questions for clarification in a sincere attempt to understand their ideas. When you do that, you're going to make the other person feel heard and understood. Isn't that the point of communication?
Be the Person Who Listens First
Master negotiators are listening experts
. They listen with their eyes and ears, and know exactly what the other person is thinking and feeling. When you communicate with others, you need to be like a master negotiator but with the selflessness that listens in order to understand, not manipulate an outcome.
We've all experienced the desperate attempt to get a point across to someone who won't listen. Likewise, we've all been the one who won't listen. Not listening thwarts communication. Often, both people want to be heard before they'll listen. This model doesn't work.
Somebody has to start listening first. Why not be that person? Show the other person what it's like to be heard, and they'll be more likely to return the same.
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.