Despite all best efforts, some people are simply difficult to communicate with. You’ve likely met a difficult communicator; no matter how hard you try, they seem to miss chunks of conversations. No matter how clear the note, they still twist the message. No matter how explicit the instructions, they still manage to screw them up. It doesn’t seem to matter what type of communication you use, how quickly or slowly you speak, how many metaphors or descriptions you provide, or how transparent and clear-cut your writing is.
I’ve got a few ideas of my own as to why certain people are persistently difficult to communicate clearly with:
1: They habitually fail to pay focused attention to the person or item at hand.
This is a big problem in an age where information flies at us a mile a minute, where we are in a perpetual state of stimuli overload, and where people are proud that they can “check emails and have a conversation at the same time” (hint: they can’t). After a while, having a fractured attention span that wanders from one thing to the next – even if it is only wandering to the chattering in the person’s own head – becomes habitual. This is a habit we need to break. Focus and attention span is something that can be improved through concerted effort and mindfulness, but it is possible. This is something that I myself am working on improving, and while it might not be easy, it is rewarding.
2. They have an agenda they are pursuing.
Realistically, we are all pursuing our own agendas at all times. These agendas can be completely benign (I’m hungry, so I’m going to bring this conversation to an end so I can eat), altruistic (I want to help this person), or more…suspect (use your imagination). Depending on the urgency and prevalence of that agenda, communications can very easily be twisted to ensure that the person hears or reads what they need to hear or read at the time. With some people and in certain situations or organizations, this can colour just about any communication instance.
3. They do not feel you have anything of interest or worth to say.
This is pretty self-explanatory, and can be due to myriad issues. At any rate, the person simply becomes accustomed to filtering out what you say. This can be seen in situations where weak leadership has lead to mistrust or downright dismissal of just about anything a manager could have to say.
4. They’re paranoid.
We’ve all encountered at least one person who interprets just about anything directed at them to be either an insult, a threat, or at the very least something that contains subtext of which they must be deeply suspicious. I find this is usually paired with either whipcrack tempers or with timidity and low confidence.
5. It’s not them…it’s you/me!
This is a tricky one; if it seems like everyone is impossible to communicate effectively with, or if you never have a good reasonable chat with a person, the issue might be looking at you from a mirror. Look for the common denominator – if you have trouble with everyone, is it likely that the whole world is made up of crappy communicators except yourself? If you are the only person in an organization who persistently has a major communication hang-up with a particular individual, does that mean that the individual is a good communicator with everyone except you? Admitting that the problem may be us is difficult, but the good news is that means it is possible for us to change the situation. Maybe you need to get to know the other person better and develop more understanding of their mannerisms. Maybe you need to improve certain areas of your communication style to ensure you are giving the message you need. Either way, changing ourselves is a lot easier than changing other people!