How often do you find yourself being as clear as you can but not being understood? Communication can lie at the heart of many conflicts, both at home and work. Understanding the importance of communication skills and how to improve them can help you to increase effectiveness and harmony in any area of your life.
5 Key Areas for Good Communication Skills
1. Do not assume you have been understood!
We can often assume someone has understood, or that they should just know what we are thinking! In truth very few of us live or work with mind readers so this can be a tricky assumption to make.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw
We need to check for understanding and one of the best indicators of this is how people are responding.
2. The meaning of your communication is the response you get!
The response someone gives can indicate whether or not you have been understood. This can be great if you have been, but what do you do if you haven’t? Be attentive to the nature of the response – where is the misunderstanding, to what extent, and has there been any point of connection? Crucially, what information is coming back to help you understand them and what they need to hear from you so that they can understand you?
3. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” – Stephen R Covey 
For me, one of the masters of interviewing is Sir Michael Parkinson. Watching his TV shows years ago I was often struck by his remarkable ability to just listen to his guest, to understand and find a point of connection and then to respond. The interviews were usually a fluid conversation, and it was wonderful to watch such gentle mastery of communication skills. So often one witnesses the opposite – a battle or simply a missed opportunity.
“Poor listeners listen to respond, great listeners listen to understand” – Steve Keating CSE 
4. Understanding yourself and others
We might have been listening, seeking to understand and checking for understanding and yet, somehow that point of connection is still elusive. And where there is conflict or the potential for something better, the importance of communication skills in daily life is clear. What else helps us in our quest of for better communication?
I enjoy working with models that allow us to understand our own style and motivation, those of the people we live and work with, and to then see how and when to adapt to improve our communication skills.
One such model is that of Meta-Programs in NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming). This offers a way of looking at the framework we use to create meaning and motivation. We can use this to better understand ourselves and others, and to learn how to adapt our communication style to reduce misunderstanding, conflict and be more effective.
It is important to bear in mind that these will be contextual, and can therefore change in different situations and over time. There is no right or wrong way to be, it simply gives you insights so that you have more choices about how you communicate and behave.
They exist along a continuum, so for ourselves and others we can find that we can slide along a Meta-Program depending upon what we are dealing with. For example, the Big Picture – Detail Meta-Program can often be a key conflict zone. Think about yourself for a moment, are you someone who makes decisions based on the key factors? Or perhaps you like to research and get background information; and the bigger the decision the more detail is needed.
Now imagine you are trying to make a decision with someone who operates at the opposite end of that continuum. Whether it is booking a holiday, choosing a school for your children, or managing the home finances – being able to understand where you and your partner are in terms of how you view things can be immensely helpful.
At work, presenting a detailed case to a big picture boss or client will not help to seal the deal. Micro-managing and abundant detail will drain big picture employees of their motivation faster than you can blink. But by the same token, missing out important information for someone who operates with detail reduces the value of what you are bringing to the situation. And, of course, there will be times when one or the other, or both approaches are needed – flexibility is key not just for effective communication but also in effectively navigating our way through life at work and at home.
I will revisit this fascinating aspect of communication skills in future blog posts but in the meantime, as you read through the list of core Meta-Programs below, you might like to consider these points:
• Which do you connect to and which do you struggle with?
• What motivates you and how do you respond?
• Where is the other person coming from, and how to motivate them?
Some core Meta-Programs:
1. Big Picture – Detail
2. Towards Goals – Away From Stress
3. Options & Choices – Procedures & Rules
4. People Oriented – Task & Work Oriented
5. Pro-active – Reactive
6. Different – Same
7. Internally Referenced (do I think it is ok?) – Externally Referenced (what do others think?)
This is an approach that can be used to reduce conflict, create better workplaces and harmony in the home. One of my favourite books on understanding the Meta-Programs and adapting your language is Words That Change Minds by Shelle Rose Charvet . Clear, practical and accessible – useful in any walk of life if you would like to work on your communication skills.
5. When it is going wrong – be even more flexible!
Sometimes when we are really struggling to be understood or to motivate someone, we fall into the trap of keeping on with the same approach and language. And often with increasing vigour, when what we need to do is to pause, step back and try to see an overview. Asking ourselves how we are communicating, and what is their framework for being motivated and communicating? Then adjusting our approach to suit them, rather than us.
A lot of this sounds obvious and can appear to be deceptively simple. But, a quick stroll around workplaces or supermarkets would suggest that the more we value the importance of communication skills in daily life, the more effective and harmonious our lives can be.
Whether you have been reading this for insights into better communication at work or at home, I hope you have found this to be of interest. If you are interested in discovering more please visit Chantry Health Events to find out about the Improve Your Relationships Workshop which builds on this for happier personal relationships and increased effectiveness at work.
References and Resources:
 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey, Simon & Schuster UK, 2004 – various editions and CDs available
 Words That Change Minds, Shelle Rose Charvet, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1995