Communication: Who’s Responsible?

communicationThere is a common saying in reference to communication: “Communication is always the responsibility of the sender”. Is this always true? What is the responsibility of the recipient?

Like many things in life the onus of responsibility is not black and white. Communication can be conveyed by many channels; face to face discussion, presentations, emails, reports, videos, etc. Some of these naturally require planning to instigate, whereas others can be utilised with very little thought or effort.

Communication also may be both casual and formal. Formal communication involves planned activity and outcomes, regardless of the channel used. There is generally time to compose appropriate messages and formulate suitable responses to questions. Casual communication lacks notice, structure or planning.

In the instance of formal communication; let’s say a new initiative is being announced at a team meeting, the sender is responsible for ensuring the message to people outside the team is consistent. The saying rings true; communication is the responsibility of the sender.

The sender, in this case the team manager, needs to have considered the interpretation of the message by the audience and structured the delivery channel and the words in such a way this particular audience will willingly receive and understand. This means using language at the appropriate level for the audience, including information in the message that addresses known concerns and providing opportunity for questions, providing post meeting reading to strengthen the memory of the actual message, etc. It may even include pre-release priming of the audience or particular individuals with information to create a receptive audience.

In short, where formal communication is occurring the sender can have a high degree of control over the reception, understanding and response to the communication by researching and planning the delivery of the message. And they should take responsibility for creating good communication.

Casual or informal communication presents us with a different ball game, and thus a different set of challenges. Although it is informal communication, inappropriately presented it can have a major impact, positively or negatively, on change, project and relationship outcomes. In a communication plan a section should address these risks and provide people with an operational framework to prevent issues arising. This is rarely provided.

Within any communication there will be individuals who consciously or unconsciously seek to sabotage the communication process. For personal or political reasons they do not wish to hear or understand your message. They read between the lines and imagine/invent additional messages which then prevent them conveying the intent of your message to themselves and others.
Unconsciously poor recipients will exhibit poor listening skills and defensiveness due to fear of some type of failure, work overload, or past negative experience. If you find yourself building arguments as a person talks you are exhibiting poor recipient behaviour.

Recipients or listeners have a responsibility to participate in an open minded manner in conversations. Communication is enabled where people seek first to understand, and then to be understood. Where they don’t understand they should ask questions and seek knowledge.

Do you take responsibility as a recipient for enabling good communication?

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