There are four essential factors in communication—our intent, criteria, content and process. With a situation in mind, explore each of these with me.
Our intent is our purpose—what we want to accomplish in the exchange. So often a conversation is like a pinball machine—we pull a lever and that little steel ball just ricochets off this peg and that. A good conversation is more like archery. We must take careful aim if we want to hit the mark.
I'll give you three synonyms for the second essential factor in communication: our criteria, expectations or needs. These are the relevant factors to be taken into consideration. Each of us can bring very different criteria to the same situation. Some of us want things right now, others want things to be perfect, while still others want to avoid conflict. It's important that we share our criteria with the person we're talking to.
The content is what we end up talking about. If we haven't made our intent clear and haven't shared our criteria, the content can become the battleground. There are two words that signal the discussion we're having is about to deteriorate into an argument. We call them absolutes—always and never. "You're always late." "Am not." "Are too." "Am not." "Are too." Conversation over and nothing accomplished.
The last essential factor in communication is the process—how we communicate. Albert Mehrabian in his book, Silent Messages, determined that if our message is incongruent, people will depend on what they see—our facial expressions and body language—for 55% of the message they receive; what they hear—the tone, volume, pace and pitch of our voice—for 38% of the message they receive; and our words for a mere 7% of the message people receive. These statistics refer to face-to-face conversations and IF our communication is incongruent. We want to make sure our voice and body language agree with the words that we way. We need to strive for congruent communication.
When we are careful to share our intent and criteria with others, when we think through our content and process, we are much more likely to get the results we want.