Giving your communication complete expression

Give ‘em the Whole Enchilada

Have you ever spoken with someone who never finishes their sentences, did you find yourself filling in the blanks as they hesitate to finish their thought? Not only is this challenging to you as a listener but, it can also lead to miscommunication. It is hard not to complete the sentence in your head putting in what you think they are trying to say. I am not saying that people who do this are awful communicators and I’ve definitely had my own moments when I’ve stalled in my delivery as I’ve tried to pick the exact word I wanted. The point is that this is a great example of what can happen when good people communicate poorly.

People sharing complete messages

When you are trying to get a message across it is vital that you deliver the whole message.

As a quick side note, I first came across this concept in the book, Messages: The Communication Skills Book by Matthew McKay, Ph.D., Martha Davis, Ph.D. and Patrick Fanning. I highly recommend that you check it out. And in the interest of disclosure, I have absolutely no affiliation or relationship with any of the authors or the publishing company, I just really like their book. I think they have some fantastic insights into how to communicate better.  

To continue, the authors state that a complete message includes four parts: observations, thoughts, feelings and/or needs. Think about that idea for a moment and ask yourself if it makes sense. I believe that it is true and I’ve been able to use it as a useful model in my own communication. I’ve examined how I communicate and tried to see when I was lacking in any of those areas. Then I have used it to improve my results. Very often, when you engage in communication and leave out one of these items you are only delivering a partial message.

One place you can test this theory is in your email communication. Email is a notoriously difficult medium to accurately communicate with because you often lack complete context. I have been able to see a marked improvement in both my professional and personal communications when I write my emails with the intention to include facts or observations, thoughts, feelings and then what I need. Write an email with all four of those items and then remove one – you will quickly see the difference.

Let’s take a moment and look at some examples of these types of expression:

“I noticed that you are wearing that great blue sweater today.”
“I just saw Jill and Matthew talking together in the lobby.”

 “You only get out of something what you are willing to put into it.” (belief)
 “You should really try talking to her again, now that you’ve both calmed down.” (opinion)

“I really feel like I dropped the ball on this one and I don’t feel very good about it.”
“I feel very frustrated when I am assigned a project without being given all of the information that I need to do my job.”

“Do you mind if I call you so you can help me stay awake on the drive home?”
“I really need you to take a minute and listen to what I have to say.”  

I mentioned earlier that if you leave out one of these items in your communication that you are only giving the other person a partial message. Why is this such a bad thing? Well, basically you are inviting the other person to come up with their own interpretation of what your true intention is. We have all been part of a conversation where we walked away thinking there was a hidden agenda or else some subtext that we were supposed to understand. In that situation you are only guessing about what the complete message was. Granted, we can make an educated guess. But, have you ever been in that situation and then found out later what you thought was true of that conversation was not because you didn’t know the entire story?

It is important to try and make your communications complete and include your observations, thoughts, feelings and needs. Of course, not every situation will demand that you include each of these in the conversation– when you buy your latte you don’t necessarily need to share your deep feelings on Mocha with the counterperson. However, in the more meaningful conversations that you have at work or the important discussions with family and friends it will serve you well to try and be as complete as possible. You want the important people in your life to get the whole message because it will help you share who you are and what you think with others.