by CIO Staff

Check What Was Heard, Not What Was Said

Dec 28, 20063 mins
Business IT Alignment

By Chuck Martin

A lot of verbal communication in business today is like the game of Telephone many of you probably experienced as a child.

The first child in a line whispers a sentence to the second, who repeats it to the third, until the last child dutifully repeats what he or she heard, generally only remotely similar to what was originally said.

When it comes to verbal communication in the workplace, much of the same situation occurs.

The first person knows precisely what she said, because she said it. When the second person repeats it to another, he also is very certain of what he said, since he said it.

What can be lost in the translation, however, is what that second person actually heard before he “repeated” the message.

When it comes to verbal communication, the majority of senior executives say that it is effective within their organizations, based on a worldwide survey by NFI Research.

Ninety-seven percent of executives and managers say their communication to subordinates is clear, understandable, consistent and direct.

On the other side, regarding communication from their direct superior, only a fourth of these same executives and managers say that communication is extremely effective.

So while most executives and managers believe they are communicating effectively, not as many feel they are being communicated to effectively.

The obvious disconnect is between what is said versus what is heard, just like the game of Telephone.

While most managers see themselves as being clear about what they say, those whom they are saying it to are not as clear about what they are hearing.

And as the messages, which could range anywhere from strategy and corporate direction to priorities and meeting agendas, get passed along the ranks, there is even more potential for increased miscommunication–even though all the people believe they are correctly and effectively communicating the message.

Office politics or personal viewpoints also can stop effective communication from being correctly interpreted.

“The biggest challenge I see is that people misinterpret intentions and thus twist communications based on their own fears,” said another respondent. “It is a lot of work to unravel these misses.”

“My opinion of my communication effectiveness doesn’t matter,” said one survey respondent. “What does matter is if it was clearly understood by the listener, which is always a challenge and can always be improved.”

“Communication is in the ear of the beholder,” said one manager. “It seems like there is never enough, and it isn’t at the right level of detail to please everyone.”

“Although I am not as good as I should be, I have found the better I listen, the better they verbally communicate,” said another.

The way to avoid Telephone in business and the solution to create truly effective communication is to determine not what was said, but rather what was heard.

Chuck Martin is a best-selling business book author, his latest being , Tough Management (McGraw-Hill, 2005), the business fable “Coffee at Luna’s” and the soon-to-be published “Smarts.” He lectures around the world and can be reached at