A Definition of Communication That Works

An effective definition of communication focuses on commitments

Communication is defined as “a process of sending or transmitting information or data from a sender to a receiver.”

According to this definition, if you send an email, tweet, post your photos on Facebook, staple a flyer to a telephone pole, or flirt with the flight attendant, you have communicated.

Whether anyone read your mail, tweeted back, looked at your pictures, read your flyer, or looked back at you doesn’t seem to matter. In the standard definition of communication, it’s the sending of information that counts.

But sending and receiving information is only part of the process of communication. Another part is feedback. Feedback tells you if your message was received and how whoever received it interpreted it. Without feedback, it is hard to communicate.

Yet even if a definition of communication includes all of these elements, it’s only one view of communication. There is another view.

This other view says communication is about commitments.

What are Commitments?

Commitments are promises you make to yourself or to others to look after something you care about.

These promises are what motivate you to speak or to listen or to write to someone.

To increase the odds you will keep your commitments, you use different types of communication.

When is communication effective?.

Communication is effective when it motivates others to respond in ways that help you keep your commitments.

It is ineffective if it leaves you wondering whether someone received your message or, if they did receive it, how they understood it. Until you have answers to these questions, the commitments that motivated you to communicate in the first place remain at risk.

A clear "Yes" leads to an agreement to work together. A clear "No" frees you to ask someone else for help. A "Maybe" tells you an agreement is still possible if you modify your initial request.

All three answers are signs of effective communication because all three allow you to take actions that will help you keep your commitments. So, an effective definition of communication must say something about motivating others.

What keeps us from asking for help?

Some times you can’t or won’t ask for help because of barriers that make it hard for you to speak up or to be heard. Some of these barriers are physical or environmental barriers. Others are cross cultural differences or gender differences.

The psychology of communication shows that most of the barriers to effective communication are personal barriers, especially the beliefs you hold about yourself or about others or about what asking for help might reveal about you.

Maybe you believe you will appear weak if you ask for assistance. Maybe you don't ask for help because you assume others aren't trustworthy. Or, maybe you're convinced you will be punished if you ask for what you believe you deserve or say what you honestly think.

If you are unaware that you hold such beliefs or convictions, your lack of self-awareness keeps you from challenging them or asking for the help you need to honor your commitments.

Like you, your friends, neighbors, co-workers, clients, and business associates are committed to taking care of things that are important to them. To get their help, you need to indicate how helping you also helps them take care of what they value.

Maybe there is some money in it for them. Maybe they owe you a favor. Maybe they will avoid bigger problems later if they will do what you ask now.

You don’t always have to spell out what the connection is . Usually they can figure it out for themselves. But if they can’t, you have to show how they will benefit if you hope to get an answer. Without an answer, you can’t get on with keeping your promises.

What is a better definition of Communication?

A better definition of communication says it is “using the power of language to motivate others to work with us to acquire or protect something we care about.”

Is there something important in your life you could take better care of if you had some help? If there is, what’s holding you back from asking for it?

Is your self-assessment negative and therefore limiting?

Do you worry what others might think of you if you ask for help?

Does communication anxiety keep you from speaking up in public?

Think about the commitments you have made to family, friends, coworkers and customers. What will happen to those relationships if you don’t keep your promises? How will you feel about yourself if you break your word?

Discover the importance of communication in keeping your promises.

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