Communication; it’s that hard to define, often slightly intangible yet ubiquitous word that anyone can say they’re good at. We all communicate, how can we not be great at it? Don’t we do it every day, all the time, everywhere we go? We tweet, we e-mail, we blog, we request, enquire, give feedback, network, chat, type, talk, sing and……do we ever stop? We have never been so communicative! We do it all at once with lots of people in many different places. We’re so “on it”!

My extended family has always been adept at holding 15 different conversations at once, often across each other in a crowded room. This takes intense concentration on the one hand and a radar-like ability to pick up on other conversations at the same time. Sometimes it feels like the world has become like a giant version of my family all talking at once. But I love communicating, it’s my thing.

Good communication of course is a two way thing, but we often forget this. It is one instance when maybe it is not so worthy to be the giver as to be the receiver. Of course we need to listen too, but we know that already….

We have become less good at communicating, but far more adept at broadcasting. We send information out in vast quantities, using a mass of different mediums and wait for some responses to come back to us. It’s like throwing a load of balls in the air, often not really watching exactly where they land, and then spending the rest of the day waiting for someone to throw one back.

We have so much information circulating around us, but can we actually remember the contents of our conversations at the end of the day? On the one hand, we are amazing, and we must surely be in the midst of some evolutionary process that enables our brains to do all these things successfully at once. However, not everyone is using the same type of communication and not everyone is listening and paying attention to the same thing or at the same time.

The challenge for many of us on a day to day level is how to ensure well functioning communication in the workplace. Most of us work with other people in some way; people we sit next to in an office, those we go out to visit or who visit us, or people we just “connect” with but don’t often meet. Apart from the (sometimes not so obvious) fact that we can have an actual face to face conversation with someone, we have phones and computers to do talking, Skyping, texting, messaging, e-mailing and a whole host of other things.

But for all these different things we love to use, we don’t necessarily have a good way of using them effectively.

Just imagine a whole office where we are all doing these things at cross purposes. Perhaps there is a person who sends out e-mail after e-mail and gets really annoyed at the lack of responses because the person he is sending them to is someone who doesn’t really use his computer very much but is always on the phone. On the other hand you may wait patiently next to someone’s desk for them to get off the phone, you begin to talk and they say; “can you e-mail it to me?”.

I have seen these scenarios and much worse in the work place. Many of them could be made much less frustrating if we knew how to use complementary means of communication. Often it’s little problems that are repeated over and over again that cause the big frustrations. Communication is an intuitive thing, and we work hard on the content (we don’t want to say the wrong thing) but we don’t pay so much attention to the process.

The issue of how we communicate often gets overlooked. Choosing the right way to exchange information under the right circumstances is crucial when we are working together. It is not just a question of people not having time, but a question of people having the right time to converse with each other in the right way.

Sometimes it is better to look at the ways we are communicating as a team, organisation or group and decide together what works and what doesn’t work. Together we can find out which methods are really productive and which are a waste of time. How do we deal with the busy manager or the person who doesn’t respond to their e-mails? Well, until we ask them, we probably won’t know.

We need to look at the different ways that we, as people working together share information and connect, converse, exchange dialogue and communicate.We need the opportunity to take some time out, to sit down and work out some ideas. When we do this, things become much less frustrating, and far more productive.

*Lyrics by Harry Nilsson

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