Three Reasons Why We Fail In Our Attempts to Communicate

Cool-Hand-Luke-quotes-3“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.”
from Cool Hand Luke


We fail to succeed in so many of our communication attempts. So many…

I’ve read and/or heard things in the last few days that helped crystallize some thinking for me on this problem/issue – Why are there are so, so many unsuccessful attempts at communication? People speak or write a message that is not heard, read, listened to, understood. They try to communicate, but the effort is unsuccessful.

Why are there so many failed attempts at communication? Here are three reasons communication fails. (You will probably want to add your own reasons for such failures).

#1 – We undercommunicate by communicating our message too few times.

People are bombarded with messages. And even when they give their undivided attention, it is practically impossible to remember all of these messages. Consider a conference, with speaker after speaker. Each one is good; some are world-class good. But, when you need to sit with yourself, pondering and internalizing the message you just heard, you have to tune it to the next message coming your way. So, that one great message gets lost in the avalanche of so many good messages.

A good communicator needs to communicate his/her key messages over and over again. As Verne Harnish put it in Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, you have to communicate your message so often that the people begin to mock you.

#2 — We undercommunicate by being so familiar with our own messages that we assume our audiences know more than they actually know.

I put it this way in my speech training: treat your audience as though they are intelligent, but ignorant – intelligent people, but ignorant about what you have to say. In other words, get very good at being an explainer.

Adam-Grant-cover-OriginalsHere’s an excerpt from Originals by Adam Grant about this problem:

(we’ve internalized our message so thoroughly that) it’s no longer possible to imagine what it sounds like to an audience that’s listening to it for the first time. This explains why we often undercommunicate our ideas. They’re already so familiar to us that we underestimate how much exposure an audience needs to comprehend and buy into them.

#3 — We undercommunicate by being unclear about our “central” message.

Maybe we are “cloudy” in our own thinking. Maybe we water it down too much. But the result is this: we are not clear. It might help to use this very phrase, on purpose: “My message about this is ______________.”

I think the first job of a speaker/writer/communicator is to answer this question; “what is my message?” Only after that is answered can we then work on the best way(s) to communicate that so-very-clear message.

So here’s my list of three this morning. We fail to communicate because of:

#1 – too few times
#2 – too little “explaining”
#3 – cloudy or watered-down messages; no central message.

What do you think? What would you add to this list of reasons we fail to succeed in our communication efforts?


Let me again recommend that you take a good look at this graphic, “The Rule of Seventeen.”  Read my blog post about it by clicking here.



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