Learn Different Types of Communication
to keep your commitments

Use different types of communication to hang onto what you value.

Communication includes listening as well as speaking, reading and writing.

We use different types of communication to motivate others to help us keep our promises.

The four most common types are speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Listening and reading are included because they often guide our speaking and writing.

When we speak or write to others, they automatically filter our message through their experiences and concerns. They compare what they have just read or heard to what they care about or already believe.

This filtering process leaves them with a message that means something different to them that it does to us, especially if it challenges one of their deeply held assumptions or beliefs.

So, if you buy a car that you think is great and tell someone how terrific it is, without knowing she once bought the same model and it turned out to be a lemon; the message you sent and one she heard are quite different. You told her you bought a great car; she heard you bought a lemon.

The bad experience she had with the same model has become a belief she never questions.

The messages we communicate to one another get distorted this way regularly. We are different individuals with different backgrounds and experiences. Each of us has different histories and different concerns, and everything we hear or see or feel or smell or taste gets filtered through them.

Since we communicate to keep our promises, we need to know what others understood once our message has gone through their filtering system. If it means something we never intended, they may not take the action we hoped they would take. That leaves what we care about at risk.

Most of the time, we don’t have to ask what they understood. Their words or behavior often does the trick. But if we suspect they didn’t understand us, we need to discover what they misunderstood, then clear it up.

"When do we use different types of communication"?

Whenever we clarify our message, we reverse roles. We tell the other person how we interpreted their words or their behavior. What we are really sharing is our "listening."

Our "listening" is our understanding of what they said or did in response to our message. When we share it, we are using two different types of communication at the same time. We are speaking about what we heard.

Our response may indicate we misinterpreted the other person's words or actions. They waved to indicate they understood what we asked of them, but we interpreted their wave as a sign to “back off.” Now we’re feeling annoyed and looking unhappy.

Our "listening" includes not only what we heard recently, but also assumptions we have held for a long time and never reconsider. These assumptions often hide in the back of our mind, beyond our awareness, and dictate how we look at things, how we feel, and how we behave.

If the two of us are ever going to work together, we have to continue sharing what we heard or saw, as well as what we said, until both of us are satisfied that we share the same understanding of what was communicated. If we don’t, neither of us will be able keep our commitments to each other or to someone else.

What this means is that we need to become skilled in using different types of communication. Too often we focus exclusively on our speaking and writing and not enough on our listening and reading.

In particular, we need to pay more attention to the concerns of others before we communicate. Our messages are always going to be measured by those concerns, so knowing what they are beforehand helps us shape what we intend to say.

How self-aware are you?

What hidden assumptions might you hold about yourself or about others that hold you back from asking for what you need at home or at work? What about your listening skills? Would your relationships at home or in the workplace improve if you became a better listener?

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