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Don’t blame the audience for not listening, communicate better!

Hands up who remembers the 1983 pop song ‘Kissing with confidence’ and the classic line “Do you have spinach on your teeth?”

I was reminded of it when I returned home from a networking event last week, only to discover that I did in fact have a morsel of spinach on my tooth. It had clearly been there through most of the event, during conversations with numerous people. So why had nobody mentioned it? Why did they find this piece of communication so difficult?

At the same event, I was part of an interesting discussion about effective communication within a marriage/relationship and the frustration some people feel when their partner “doesn’t listen”. The same complaint is often heard in a corporate context, about an ‘unresponsive’ audience.

This raises a fundamental question – who is responsible for the safe receipt of a message: the speaker or the audience? I firmly believe it’s the speaker.

The fabulous Dr Steve Peters thinks so too. In his excellent book The Chimp Paradox he suggests that the key to success is what he calls the ‘square of communication’. Put simply, this means that in order to effectively get your message across you need to ensure that you deliver it: at the right time, in the right place, with the right agenda and in the right way.

So if you raise relationship issues with your partner while they’re bathing the baby or watching the rugby, you might not get the desired result. If you address a lay audience about an exciting scientific advance but use too much technical jargon and show dense slides, they might switch off. And, maybe, if you draw attention to a rogue piece of spinach on a stranger’s tooth, in the middle of a networking event, you might cause embarrassment and awkwardness!