Accuracy In Communication
Accuracy in communication is one of the most critical communication skills. It sounds so obvious and simple! Yet this essential aspect of communication is often overlooked. The impact can be massive. For better or worse. This applies to both verbal and written communications.
Accuracy in communication puts you on the same page. Your message is clearly and accurately delivered. It is clearly and accurately received. The possibility of misunderstandings, misinterpretations and even poor decisions, is radically reduced.
An initial misunderstanding can quickly and easily escalate into a critical incident. Many people have paid a high price for not checking the accuracy of facts, instructions and interpretations. Even one initial inaccuracy can cause irreparable damage. Careers and reputations have been damaged. Key relationships and friendships have been eroded. Lives have been sacrificed. All because of some inaccuracy in communication which could have been avoided.
In 1983 an Air Canada flight reportedly ran out of fuel midflight because the crew confused pounds and kilograms while fueling the aircraft. Tragedy was only averted because the plane was able to make an emergency landing. You have probably heard stories of parents being given the wrong baby in hospital. Or cases where tragic mistakes have been made in surgery or medical diagnoses.
A great percentage of conflict results from a failure to pay attention to accuracy.
Major Threats To Accuracy In Communication
Major threats to accuracy usually involve some type of ‘misunderstanding’, or faulty interpretation or flawed perception.
Some of the most common threats to accuracy are listed below. Many of these will be familiar!
- Not checking the facts.
- Perception. Perception is totally subjective and carries a high risk for producing inaccuracies. How often have you been caught up in arguments about the accuracy of what was said or done?
- Expectations. We have a bias towards fitting information to our expectations. We literally see and hear what we expect to see and hear. (Often missing everything else!)
- Assumptions. These are amongst the most deadly enemies of accurate communication.
- Not listening. Stephen R Covey said “Most people do not listen to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Because they are focused on their own thoughts, they can miss large chunks of what is being said. They may be impatient or bored and ‘tune out’. They may be distracted by what is going on around them. To truly listen, we need to be present and pay full attention to what the speaker is conveying verbally and non verbally.
- Taking a subjective opinion or statement and presenting this to others as ‘true fact’. How many times have you witnessed the harm from workplace gossip and rumours? Inaccuracies from a single individual can cause extreme harm. These inaccuracies may be intentional or unintentional.
- Length or complexity of the message chain. Accuracy is radically eroded by the length of the message chain. How many people does the message pass through? The final message may bear little or no resemblance at all to the initial message. Each person shapes the message and passes it on with bits missing. They add in their own interpretations and embellishments. Sometimes this is done to make it more juicy or to push their own agenda. Sometimes it is simply a function of how we each process information.
- Different meanings and definitions. People may attribute significantly different meanings to the same word or behaviour. This dynamic is often a source of conflict in couples relationships.
- Faulty conclusions. Faulty conclusions commonly arise from faulty or missing information and inadequate information processing.
- Ulterior agendas and motives. When a person wants to promote a particular view or outcome, inaccuracies in communication are intentional. Plenty of examples can be found in advertising and politics.
- Cultural variables. These include language and the meaning of different behaviours and cultural norms.
- Environmental factors. This category covers variables which can interfere with concentration, attention and comprehension. These range from background noise, climate control and lighting, to computer glitches.
- Personal Factors. Accuracy in communication is impaired according to personal factors like tiredness, pain, shock and fear. Anxiety, boredom, stress and emotional arousal (e.g. anger, hurt, guilt and so on) have a significant impact on communication. This is true for both the ‘sender’ and the ‘receiver’ of information.
Each of the above threats to accuracy can be effectively addressed and managed. Some are self explanatory and can be easily implemented. Other threats to accuracy can be removed by developing specific communication skills such as the listening skills and questioning skills.
You may also like to read the companion post 5 Communication Strategies.