“You cannot say something just once,” is the exact advice Tommy Weir shared in a recent coaching session.
“You cannot say something just once,” is the exact advice I shared in a recent coaching session. That implies that if a chief executive wants his message to be heard, understood and heeded it will require more than simply making a statement in a meeting or, even worse, sending an email.
This CEO was holding to the hope that “I told them ... ” was sufficient to rally the troops and point them in the right direction. During our session he was talking about a shift in the company’s strategy, so I asked: “Does your team understand what this means?”
He replied that he “told” them in a meeting and concluded that because he, the leader, said “it”, therefore everyone understood and was on board. While cognitively we understand this simply is not enough when communicating, it is easy to fall into the practice of hoping that merely saying something will suffice.
Let’s not throw stones at this CEO and make a mockery of him. We all are guilty of insufficient and inadequate communication.
Today, I want to share why we need to communicate more than once to become much better at communicating and make a point.
When people listen to others, there is a filtering process, albeit an unconscious one. What is said is filtered, reduced and interrupted before attaching meaning. As leaders we improve greatly when we are aware of this process and consciously work to overcome the effect this has on your message.
The reality is that employees are confronted with far more information – from both within and outside the organisation – than they can possibly fully comprehend and it is often ambiguous, complex and even contradictory. Employees distil and interpret the available information through a filtering process. Through this filtering process, employees create a “construed reality”. This occurs through a three-stage filtering process: limited field of vision, selective perception and interpretation.
Before the actual filtering takes place, the process is moulded by the situation – what is happening at the time of your communication – and the employees’ orientation. This includes what is observable, for instance their age or tenure, formal education, functional background and what is not seen, the psychological factors such as values, cognitive model and general personality orientation.
Unfortunately everyone has a limited field of vision; they do not see or hear everything that is being communicated. In reality, although exposed to everything you say or write, your employees retain only a subset of what you present. They vary widely in how much they scan, as well as their use of different sources for learning about external events or trends. They have a limited and specific “focus of attention”.
For example, while some employees expend great effort reading formal reports and white papers, others rely more on informal interactions to learn about environmental factors.
Further filtering occurs because an employee selectively perceives a portion of the communication within his field of vision.
Think, for example, of the employee who reads a consultant’s report on technological trends in the industry. The executive’s eyes may gaze upon every page (actually unlikely), but chances are, he will not read or comprehend every word. His grasp and interest will affect how much “gets through”. Other factors also matter: his general regard for the consulting firm (or person), whether he likes the editorial style and layout of the report, whether it is consistent with what he has heard or read elsewhere.
The same filtering occurs when employees sit through meetings and presentations.
Finally, your employees interrupt what you are saying and what they think you are trying to say, which by the way may be altogether different. People interrupt and attach their own meaning to your message.
This creates the construed reality, which may be (and probably is) very different from the actual reality and even your own construed reality.
To make your point, understanding the filtering process and adapting your communication for each stage is essential. This is how you align the construed reality with the actual.
Tommy Weir is an adviser on leading in fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, CEO coach and author of 10 Tips for Leading in the Middle East and other leadership writings. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center.