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Communication - the neglected skill

Wednesday 12th Jun 2013 - Kate Hodkinson

Many managers are feelings under increasing pressure at work – preparing for CQC, changes in QOF and new services are all adding to an already busy workload. But the pressure problem is often compounded by the need to keep repeating communication both internally and externally. A situation which creates a lot of frustration and takes up considerable time.

Communication is sometimes a neglected skill – even when we have practiced it every day since we were born. We think we know how to communicate once we have learned the meaning of words and how to put them together in an attempt to make sense. Vocabulary and grammar provide us with tools to help but on their own they do not create good communication.  Communication is frequently done in a passive state – and good communication needs to be done in an active state where we are constantly seeking feedback and making adjustments to reach the final goal or objective.

Improving communication skills starts with understanding what we are trying to achieve.  At Thornfields, we use an active definition of communication:

Communication is the work we do to achieve understanding.

It is the final word of this that really encompasses what communication is all about – understanding. If I don’t create understanding in the mind of the other party or parties, I haven’t communicated.

Why does communicating go wrong?

There can be a mixture of personal and system issues that contribute to communication breakdowns. In my experience the system issues are easier to fix as they rely on a process with steps and stages that can be traced and the fault found and rectified. We rarely think of interpersonal communication in the same way – yet, if it goes wrong, we should look at the stages involved and identify where the barrier or interpersonal breakdown occurred.

The stages of the communication chain:

If we get this right at each stage the feedback loop should be complete but a number of things can go wrong at each stage.

  • Incorrect assumptions can be made about the level of understanding of the receiver including the use of jargon, abbreviations and technical language.
  • Everyone has a different set of experiences and understanding that makes them see the world and interpret it differently.
  • Look at the image and see how the meaning changes because of the context.
  • We cannot always know the context in which another person is considering something – unless we do something to control the context.
  • A common communication mistake is to think that once it is clear in your mind it will become clear to everyone else.
  • Most people normally know what they mean – but this does not guarantee understanding in anyone else.

What is good communication?

Good communication takes planning – and the more critical the communication, the more people you have to communicate with and the fewer opportunities you have to do it – the more you need to plan!

Good communication starts with good listening.   Hearing is not sufficient – hearing is the function of the ears – listening involves the brain in an attempt to understand what you have heard.

We can improve our listening by a few simple steps:

  1. Choose to listen – put time aside for it and switch it on. Poor listeners are often engaged in thinking or doing other things.  Most people speak at about 200 words per minute but we can think at 4 times that speed – poor listeners allow that extra time to let their mind wander causing ineffective listening.
  2. Listen actively – demonstrate your engagement with the other party. Aim to understand the other person’s meaning which may be different from the words they use.
  3. Listen for ideas and feelings as well as facts as they can help to convey greater meaning.
  4. Know when to keep silent – and check that you have understood the other person’s meaning.

Good communication rules

Organise your thoughts – jumbled thoughts lead to jumbled messages

  1. Think about who you are communicating with and consider the most effective means of getting your message across to them.
  2. Be aware of your non verbal signals as well as the language and tone of voice that you use – is your message congruent -  do all parts say the same thing?
  3. Be succinct – in both your spoken and written communication – unnecessary words only increase the opportunities for miscommunication and misunderstanding.
  4. Lawyers practice good listening skills.

Is this a poor questions or a poor answer?

At Thornfields, we can provide a range of training interventions to help improve communication for both managers and the team. Our 5 day Management Development Programme, accredited by the Institute for Leadership and Management contains a full day of the manager skills and our one day workshop titled Become a More Effective Communicator can get the whole team thinking about how they can communicate more effectively.

Thornfields offers a range of primary care training courses and bespoke developments that can help a practice achieve their potential. Contact us now to discuss your training requirements.


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