Communicating what really matters


When I was a child, my mother constantly told me that "people understand each other by talking," and I believed her. With years of experience, I have learned that she was right, but it was a partial reason. In order to speak (meaning: communicate) we need to have several things first:

  1. Convention. All participants must "agree" or "agree" on a code that we will use. To exemplify this, we must speak the same language, otherwise, the talk will be ineffective. In addition, we must agree on what each word means. When I say "giraffe" it must mean the same thing to everyone.
  2. Context. All people must have a minimum of background knowledge to understand what we are talking about. We tend to make two mistakes at this point: taking for granted that they know what we are talking about and not asking for clarification for fear of demonstrating ignorance.
  3. Objective. This part is tremendously complicated to achieve! Many times we do not know what we want to achieve with the conversation and we allow ourselves to be distracted, get lost or, even worse, move away from what really matters. It's like starting to talk about how much you love lattes and ending up discussing animal cruelty. Both topics are important, but they are not relevant right now, in this context.
  4. Deadline. It is very important to know how to be punctual in what you want to communicate. We tend to repeat and seek new approaches to what has already been said. Communicating well also means respecting other people's time.
  5. Confirmation. Let people explain to you, in their own words, what has been communicated. In this way you can be sure that you have been clear in your explanation or request or, if not, that you have not yet succeeded in communicating correctly.
  6. Empathy. By far the most complicated. I like to use an analogy to explain it: A quarterback has one job (to throw the pass) and the receiver has one job (to catch the pass). If the quarterback doesn't understand the running back's situation, he won't try hard enough to send the ball in the simplest and best way to complete it; likewise, if the running back doesn't do his best to gain leverage and be in the spot where they have agreed the ball will be sent, it will be an incomplete pass.

Many years later I was able to discuss this with my mother and, happily, we were able to establish effective communication. We communicated what really mattered and afterwards, we had a delicious coffee that I prepared for her.

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