Dollars and sense: Communication is like a two-way radio

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Communication is like a two-way radio.

The sender sends a message to the receiver and the receiver responds.

At that moment the receiver has become the sender and the sender the receiver.

In all of our communications, whether with friends or family, in social and community activities or on the job, we are constantly changing roles from sender to receiver and back again.

Unless we recognize that we are always playing this dual role, our messages may degenerate into a one-person diatribe and no real communication will take place.

Just as in any radio interchange, static may develop between the sender&8217;s radio and the receiver&8217;s radio causing distortion in the message.

What was received was not exactly the same message that was sent.

This is even more likely to occur when the message is long, or deals with complex matters.

These distortions may emanate from the sender or the receiver.

Static that emanates from the sender&8217;s radio may be caused because the speaker did not speak clearly, used terminology that was not familiar to the listener, assumed the listener was more knowledgeable about the subject than was true, or was as excited about the project as the sender.

Static may come from the receiver who does not fully listen, is not interested in the subject, has other things on his or her mind or resents being involved in the situation.

How has the message been received?

It is the responsibility of the sender to assure that what he or she is sending is being received as sent.

One way of doing this is to build in the feedback loop.

The sender sends a message to the receiver; the receiver responds.

When this response is received, the sender, who has now become the receiver, filters this response through the computer we all have between our ears which has been programmed to seek out clues as to how the message has been received.

If what was sent was not what was received, a correction can be made in the next message.

Myra:Mike, I need to know what equipment is available, materials in stock, time estimates and what people will be assigned to the projects.


We will have all the materials we need and can get the job started on Monday.


Fine, but I still need the figures on each of the items I mentioned so I can write my report.

When Mike received Myra&8217;s message, his mind-set was geared to getting the job started.

Myra&8217;s objective was to obtain information for her report.

The message was distorted by the perception each had of the purpose of the communication.

This was corrected by Myra&8217;s next response.

She picked up the clue and acted on it.

Ask questions

It is not always easy to pick up all these clues.

To augment this, ask questions.

After every four or five interchanges, ask a question to obtain reaction to what has been covered to that point.

&8220;What problems do you anticipate may develop if we do it this way?&8221;

&8220;How much additional time will your people need to complete this phase?&8221;

From the answers to your questions, you will pick up additional clues and make necessary adjustments.

When the matters involved are complex, to be sure that the communication has been received and understood, ask a few specific questions on key points.

This will quickly identify problem areas and immediate clarification can be given.

Observe non-verbal clues

Dr. Kim Park, chief engineer of a technical facility, cautions:

&8220;My people are professionals and highly knowledgeable in their fields.

They tend to rush ahead of me and anticipate what I will say.

Often they are right, but there are times when they turn me off before I am finished, assuming they know what I am going to tell them.

To overcome this I watch their nonverbal language carefully – their eyes, their facial expressions, their body language.

If it appears that they are no longer listening, I stop talking for a few seconds and after a pause, ask a specific question on what I said.

This brings them back on track.

Louise supervises several people who have limited knowledge of the English language.

She depends on observing body language for feedback.

She says, &8220;If I see a blank expression on their face or a deep frown, I know I didn&8217;t get my message across.

I repeat it in simpler words and demonstrate nonverbally what has to be done.&8221;

Feedback on written communication

In face-to-face communication the feedback loop is easy to use.

It is in itself an interchange.

When the communication is in writing, there is no opportunity for immediate feedback.

To overcome this, schedule conferences or meetings after the receivers have had a chance to study written instructions or reports.

This gives the both parties an opportunity to assure that what has been sent and what has been received are congruent.

When you are the receiver

Your boss is giving you instructions and you are not sure just what is meant.

Create your own feedback loop.

Ask questions.

Don&8217;t wait until the end of the discussion, when he or she asks &8220;Do you have any questions?&8221;

All through the discussion at appropriate times, ask a question relating to what just has been brought up.

It may be in the form of paraphrase:

&8220;So the way you want this to be done is…&8221; and restate in your own words how you have interpreted the instruction.

If it is wrong, it can be clarified, and if it is right, immediate approval will reinforce it.

In some cases a specific question on a specific point will augment your interpretation and avert errors that might have been made.

By the end of the discussion not only do you have a clear picture of what is to be done, but also your boss knows that you know.

John Moser is president of the Moser Group, Inc. He can be reached at 980-6131