Communication is a System

The other day, a friend of mine said, “Women communicate better than men.” It was an interesting comment so I asked her, “What do you mean?” She said, “Women tell you how they’re feeling, how their day went, what is going on in their lives.” I said, “Oh, you mean women talk more.” “Well, yes,” she said, “communicate.”

And I realized we don’t all mean the same thing when we use the word “communicate.” Indeed, the way that my friend related it is most close to the dictionary definition, which defines communication as fairly one-way. It defines communication as “imparting information.”

By this standard, you may say, “I communicate well. I am clear.” But in the sense of human relationships, it is more accurate to say that the measure of whether you communicate well is whether the other person understands you. You can “impart information,” but if the other person does not understand you, you have not really communicated. It may not be that you were “unclear” by some objective standard. It may be that you are not transmitting verbally, and non-verbally in a way they can hear. Or it may be that they are distracted in some way.

The result of effective communication, is not just that you impart information. It is that you impart it in a way that others can hear – that it is sent out and received. When they “get” it, really get it, then you have communicated.

And so, communication does not depend on just one person or the other – a “clear speaker” or an “active listener.” Communication is a system in which the speaker must find the best way to impart information to that listener. And the listener must do her part to hear the speaker and ask questions if she does not understand. Then speaker can clarify by answering questions. Then listener can repeat back to see if she’s got it. Then speaker can see if he is coming across based on what listener repeats back. It is a back and forth, a give and take. It is like a dance. Both partners must be paying attention. And take responsibility for the outcome.

What you do in each role affects the system, the clarity, the understanding. Communication is complex and is rarely seen for the system that it is. As such, it is often ineffective.

The goal of this blog post is to raise your awareness. Look for signs, whether you are the speaker or the listener, as to whether the message is truly getting across. Commit yourself to having the information get across – regardless of which role you are in.

(Postscript: I do not know if women actually talk more than men.)
If you have been reading my blog recently, you know that I have a communication training coming on October 24, 2017 (Tuesday). Here is a link to more info:

This week, I asked one of my participants why she is coming. Here is what she said:

“I’m coming because I want to improve my ability to interact with others – both family and friends. I want to learn and practice really listening to people so I actually HEAR what they are saying and let go of what I want to say. I am attending with my husband to improve my communication skills with him. Happily married for 43 years and looking forward to many, many more, I find sometimes I don’t really listen to what he is saying and I don’t think I fully encourage him to share what it is he wants to communicate. I am really grateful he has agreed to join me at your workshop for many reasons, e.g., he will hear and learn what I hear and learn from you as our coach rather than me trying to tell him what I heard and learned; and, hopefully we will have the opportunity to practice together at the workshop under your direct guidance.” — Joan Virginia Allen

About the Author

Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching attorneys and management since early 2008. She wrote a book, published by the American Bar Association, "Coaching for Attorneys: Improving Productivity and Achieving Balance." She coaches attorneys and managers one-on-one, and provides in-house training designed to improve productivity and bring accountability to the organization.

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