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Communicate with Clarity

“What we got here is a failure to communicate.” – from the movie Cool Hand Luke.

On July 7, 2016 Delta Flight 2845 landed at Ellsworth Air Force Base rather than the intended destination of Rapid City Regional Airport. Despite receiving several messages from air traffic control, the pilots did not realize their error until, upon final approach, they noticed the runway lights and number were incorrect. They made a safe landing, but at the wrong place.

While this is a dramatic example, failure to communicate effectively is one of the most common challenges in organizations, on teams, and between generations. And it comes with a price tag. David Grossman reported in “The Cost of Poor Communications” that a survey of 400 large companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees. Debra Hamilton asserted in her article “Top Ten Email Blunders that Cost Companies Money,” that miscommunication costs even smaller companies of 100 employees an average of $420,000 per year. It is evident that understanding how to communicate clearly and effectively is of critical importance.

When we communicate well, the message we send should be the message received by our intended audience. Both communication senders and receivers are responsible for ensuring that the message is clear and understandable.

Senders are responsible for:

  • Understanding the audience and tailoring the message accordingly. This means knowing the communication preferences of others and recognizing what issues might prevent them from focusing on your message. It also includes being mindful of the words you use and seeing the audience’s perspective.
  • Developing and presenting a clear message. Be clear about your goal in communication, and plan and organize your message to achieve that end. Failing to plan is planning to fail!
  • Selecting and using appropriate communication tools. Some communication is best accomplished face-to-face, while other messages are effectively handled by phone or email. Consider the best tool for your situation. For example, a difficult conversation is best handled face-to-face, while simply sharing information can be done via email. When in doubt, meet face-to-face or talk via phone—you will get valuable non-verbal cues from the other person.
  • Involving the listener. Ensure that communication is a dialogue by asking questions, seeking input or feedback, identifying and addressing concerns, and clarifying any misunderstandings. Pay attention to the other person’s cues and continue tailoring your message accordingly.
  • Following up. Get back to the listener as appropriate to make sure the appropriate messages are received and acted on. When in doubt, confirm that you’re on the same page.

Receivers are responsible for:

  • Becoming actively involved. Tune out distractions (like cell phones and other devices!) and send verbal and non-verbal signals that let the sender know you that you understand. Make sure communication is two-way rather than one-way.
  • Avoiding the temptation to evaluate. Listen without interrupting until the sender gets the message across. Remain open and curious without judging, criticizing, or jumping to conclusions prematurely. Remind yourself, “It’s not right, it’s not wrong—it’s just different.”
  • Search for meaning. Frequently in communication there is meaning beyond the words spoken. Decode the full message by considering what is not verbalized but is important. Consider the speaker’s feelings and possible concerns. The most effective communicators are empathetic, placing themselves in the sender’s shoes, seeking to understand the other person’s perspective.
  • Confirm your understanding. Practice active listening by acknowledging, paraphrasing, and restating what you heard. Don’t forget to ask questions. Close the loop by letting the sender know you received the message sent.
  • Bring closure. Summarize what you heard, state your own position (particularly if it is different), and agree on actions to be taken. Know what you’ll do because of the communication. Also, show gratitude for the other person, especially if the person shares something difficult. A “thank you” can go a long way in relationship building.

The most effective communicators work at improving their skills to go beyond “hearing” to really “listening.” In 2019, challenge yourself to be a better communicator by considering your role as a sender and receiver.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – ­attributed to George Bernard Shaw

Dee Oviatt is Senior Training Consultant at ATW Training Solutions. Dee can be reached at dee@atwtraining.com or by calling 515.727.0731.

Want to be a more effective communicator in 2019? ATW Training Solutions offers training on communication, team building, customer service, and leadership to help you and your team become more effective.


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