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When was the last time you practiced your communication? by Warren Tate

You are possibly thinking, are you mad, I communicate everyday to all sorts of people in many ways.

Exactly how effectively are you communicating? Are you thinking of the receivers perspective or simply your perspective? Effective communication is like a game of tennis, an exchange back and forward, easy flowing and when executed at a high level, looks effortless and fluent. Yet most people who play tennis know differently.

The game of tennis is a challenging one. You have the confines of the court, base lines, service lines, doubles lines or tram lines as they are known and then you have the net – always get the ball over the net, don’t waste a shot.

Enter onto the court, the two players or four, dressed in their finest tennis gear with the latest racquets, ready to face off at alternate ends. One will serve and the other will receive.

Tennis is a great euphemism for communication; this could be face to face or via any other communication channel such as the mobile phone or email.

To start the game of tennis you need to serve the ball. The server, or sender of the communication in this case, has had many influences in his/her life that determines how they see the world – their perspective. The many variables include values, cultural upbringing, education, geographical location, personality traits, learning styles and numerous other influences that make their view of the world their own reality.

The server or sender of the communication selects the right ball (words) that will get the job done, the ball represents the many varied choices of words we have in the English language, words which have many different meanings based on our cultural upbringing. There are many choices of balls to use in tennis (hard court, clay court, grass, balls which are harder and some which are softer) so many choices and these choices are generally based on our preferences, not the receivers. As we know with all of the different meanings of words in the English language, how can we be sure that we choose the right words? We actually don’t, we simply choose the words that we know and understand from our perspective not the receivers.

Words, in communication, draw pictures in our mind and in the receivers mind, pictures and images that are meant to come together as one, be clear in their understanding and received in the way we intended them to be received.

We now are ready, to serve (send) the message which is made up of all of the words (the right choice of ball) to create an image that will be clearly understood by the receiver. Time to serve the ball – right? Well there are other elements that are often forgotten in communication and in the game of tennis, elements that if not negotiated skilfully will results in a fault or loss of points (our message will be missed).

The ball must be served over the net; obstacles that are around us in everyday life. The net represents other people in close proximity also wanting the attention of the receiver, distractions such as noisy environments both outside and in office distractions. If you don’t send the ball (your message) to avoid these distractions, your message thumps into the net and will not get through to the receiver.

You must keep the ball in play, serve into the service box clearly outlined – the mind of the receiver. The problem with this is if you just hit the line (is the ball in or out), we are competing with the internal noise or dialogue that is constant in the receivers mind. Are they fully paying attention or are they worrying about the numerous other issue that are currently occurring in their life. You need to hit the ball right in the middle of the service box (their mind), allowing for all external elements such as wind (voices inside of the receivers head) and remember not to serve too close to the line that allows uncertainty to creep in (how important is this message to the receiver).

As you may recall, the words we use are based on our version of the world, not the receivers, yet we use the words anyway, expecting the receiver to receive the message clearly the way we intended.

The communication break down occurs due to the receiver not understanding your message as they have had many influences in his/her life that determines how they see the world – their perspective and it is different to yours. The many variables also include values, culture, education, geographical location, personality traits, learning styles and numerous other influences that make their view of the world their own reality.

When it comes to speaking and communication, it is simple and automatic from our perspective (the server) yet very few consider the other persons perspective (the receiver) and our effective communication suddenly becomes non effective communication. Too many people serve their communication messages with pace and force (as we are all busy) and expect it to be received and interpreted the way we intended.

Serving an ACE is not effective, the message is completely missed yet the server walks off thinking their job is done, they have served the message, not realising it has not connected at all with the receiver.

Serving a FAULT is not effective either. We have served the message to the receiver yet outside influences have distorted the message, it has not been received in the manner we intended to deliver it and we need to re-send the message.

The ideal communication process is the RALLY, we serve the message, using the right words (tennis balls), that hit the spot so that the message is received by the receiver (the other player), who understand the meaning of the message and returns their message back to you either to confirm their understanding or to seek clarification. You as the server of the message may respond accordingly and continue the conversation (rally) in a free flowing communication that seems effortless for all involved – a free flowing exchange (rally) of communication.

Communication, like tennis, is not as simple as it looks. Tennis takes years of learning, practice and many matches to master yet very few people take the time to work on their communication skills. Like tennis, if you want to be competitive and win in effective communication and control your destination, start analysing your own communication game, seek out a coach to assist in the skills you require and start to enjoy the game we play every single day of our lives.

  Warren Tate