10 Communication Myths We Thought Were True

I am taking a break from writing for a few days to strategize for the second half of 2012 and for a speaking engagement in Southern California. While I’m away, I’m re-posting some of my most popular posts from the last year. I hope you enjoy reading or re-reading these posts. I’ll be back and better than ever on July 16, 2012!

You can improve your ability to communicate. You can get better at it. Oftentimes, you don’t even have to learn something new. By simply unlearning false assumptions and common misconceptions, you will notice that your communication style becomes more effective.

At some point, each of us has probably thought that one of the following 10 myths would make us a better communicator.

1. We thought that we could take someone else’s message and simply pass it on.

This is like learning to paint by numbers. The true artist paints from an inborn passion about what s/he sees. When we paint by numbers, we attempt to copy someone else’s passion. If we want people to truly hear our message, it must be communicated with passion and belief. We must own it. We must communicate the importance of our message. This happens when we’re are able to communicate with conviction. If we are not gripped by our message, our hearers won’t be either.

2. We thought the message was more important than the people we were talking to.

There’s a difference between talking to a wall and talking to a person. Yet, if we don’t communicate properly we may get the same response from both. Our message must communicate a belief in people. Our communication must show respect and what kind of expectations we have in our hearers. If those who receive our message feel like they are being talked down to or belittled, they will turn us off quickly.

3. We thought that how we lived didn’t have an effect on what we said.

Many times we try to communicate from the perspective of the person we’d like to be instead of the person we are. Authenticity is a powerful communication tool. We must communicate with words consistent with our actions. If we talk the talk, but it doesn’t match the way we walk the walk, then we will face a credibility issue. Sometimes the way we live our lifves speaks so loudly people can’t hear what we’re saying – unless the two match up.

4. We thought that leaders should always say something.

A leader may be passionate, knowledgeable, and have something very worthwhile to say. But if the message is delivered at the wrong time, it won’t have a chance to connect with the hearer. There are times we must know when to communicate and when to be silent. Leaders understand that the right message given at the wrong time can have negative consequences. Consider the timing of every communication. Ask yourself – Is this the right time to say this?

5. We thought that our own style of communication would work in every situation.

While we may have a certain way of communicating that is most comfortable to us, our hearers have a variety of ways that they process information. Use variety. Mix it up. Within the first 15 seconds of our communication, people are making decisions as to whether they will keep listening or reading. What will we do to make our message stand out from the rest? The key is to be creative while remaining consistent and understandable.

6. We thought that people would know how to respond to our message.

When I was in the third grade, the popular way to ask a girl if she liked you was to write her a note expressing your affection and then give her three options to proclaim her answer (yes, no, and my personal favorite…maybe). Of course, my preferred (but often rejected) response was a “yes, but at the very least, I had let her know her options.

When we communicate, we must clarify the appropriate response. We should help our hearer to know how they should respond to our communication. Clearly spell out what kind of action steps they need to know. Give appropriate deadlines and guidelines if necessary.

7. We thought that we only had to say it once.

The truth is, we need to say the important things often.  Dr. Phillip E. Bozek in his book, 50 One-Minute Tips to Better Communication says, “Busy readers tend to notice the beginning and endings of documents. Place must see information in strategic first and last locations on the page, and place the less important details in middle paragraphs.” In whatever mode of your communication, if it’s important, it’s worth repeating.

8. We thought that all we had to use was words.

With all of the options available to us through technology and the internet, there is no reason for us not to use visuals and media to enhance our message. Many times it is not enough to say something in order for our hearers to get it, a message must be demonstrated and visualized as well. It is true that a picture can sometimes say it better than we can.

9. We thought if we had something important to say, that people would naturally connect with us.

One of the first questions your hearer asks themselves is, “Who are you?” They won’t believe your message unless they find you believable. It is our responsibility to connect with our audience. People need to develop some kind of relationship with us if they are going to hear what we’re saying. The definition of rapport is “Relationship, especially one of mutual trust or emotional affinity.” The rule of thumb is: No rapport – No response.

10. We thought that people wanted to hear every detail.

The best communicators have the ability to take something complex and to make it simple, understandable. Because there is so much information to sort through out there, we must keep our communication brief. A shorter, concise, focused statement communicates much louder than pages of detailed information.

Most of the time, brevity will be our best friend. Remember, our job as a communicator is to express, not impress. We shouldn’t try to wow our audience with our expansive wisdom. Just say what needs to be said in a way that people will hear it.

Now that you’ve heard 10 ways we thought incorrectly about communication, what do you think we should do about it? I’d love to hear your response in the comments below.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Matt P.

    Thanks for a great post! One thing that I believe is often under appreciated when discussing communication is that it is a two-way street. Communication involves different stages including initiating contact, listening, and (I believe the most important)responding.

    So often difficulties in communication come about because people may be great at sending a first message, they might even read/listen to everything that gets sent their way, but it is so easy to not respond.

    Working with undergraduate students, I so often see that difficulties arise because people find as many excuses as possible to explain why they didn’t respond. Accountability is as important as initiative in communication, in my opinion.

    Thanks for all the great advice!
    -Matt

    • tim milburn

      Matt. Thanks for adding some great insights on the importance of a good response. Your comment made this post even better.

  • Phil Bell

    Thank You! Excellent post and super practical. I love the challenge to mix up the way we present. It’s so easy to communicate the same way week after week and not realize that our audience will begin to tune us out…

    • tim milburn

      Hi Phil – appreciate your comment. So true. It’s important to communicate in such a way that they actually hear you. Then…take the time to actually hear from them.

  • Annie

    “Our job as a communicator is to express, not impress.”

    I absolutely love this line! Great post!

    • tim milburn

      Thanks for the comment Annie. The best communicators speak from who they are but they are able to get out of the way of their own message.

  • Ian Hunt

    Very good article – practical and easy to understand. What advice would you give to establish rapport with someone who will not return your emails?

    • tim milburn

      Ian. Thank you for your comment. In regards to rapport, it may be time to leave email and communicate through other channels. Can you meet face-to-face? Can you call this person? Can you send this person a handwritten note? I have found email to be a useful tool for passing on information. But when you add any type of emotion or time-sensitive messages, the closer you can come to actually talking to a person, the better off you’ll be.

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