How we take in information on the job affects every aspect of our careers. So that’s why I want to talk about the role of communication filters in the workplace. Success builds on a foundation of information that we use to make key business decisions. It’s not just about what we say and do. There’s a lot more going on than that!
Do you know that three people can participate in the same meeting and come to vastly different conclusions? And they can even report back different core facts from the very meeting they just attended. But why does that happen?
How we process communication
At the simplest level, we receive information through our ears. Of course, sometimes this takes place with varying levels of hearing. Also various levels of listening. But once we get beyond the mechanics of the ear, our brain starts to interpret what we’ve heard. And that’s where problems can arise.
At the same time we take in the words, we add and interpret other communication cues. This includes things like body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. So they also get into the act. And that can get us into some serious miscommunication trouble.
On their own, the different ways we interpret nuances of language or other cues can cause problems. But then we add something called “filters” to the mix. And that also increases our potential for communication miscues. So let’s look at how our communication filters get set into motion.
Communication filters at work
Our brain filters what we receive. And the result? What was said and how we perceive and/or interpret the communication may be worlds apart. Past experiences in our lives, past experiences with the speaker, our current situation, attitude, mood, beliefs all play a role.
Even the speaker’s race, religion, or country of origin can influence how we perceive information being sent our way. And sometimes our filters color the words and/or actions in such a way that we receive something very different than what was intended. If you’re already negative about your job, these filters may even let in more of the negative information.
And one more thing be working to make the negative side even heavier. Communication filters can help you ignore potentially positive cues coming your way. Meaning your brain may be programmed to help you miss out on the good stuff. Not that you are doing any of this on purpose. But it’s just the way our brains work.
But my brain would never do that!
You may be thinking: “How can I not be getting the information correctly? I’m listening. It’s just the idiots around me who say all the stupid stuff.”
Well, the mind is a very powerful thing. You may think you’re getting everything right. But think about all the ways we process cues from others and then store it in our brains. You may be storing that information based on preexisting filters that are coloring the cues.
That’s just how our brains work. We take in things that go through one or more sets of communication filters. And then even when we store it, there has to be a filing system. And so you retain that processed information in memory. With its own filters. And the filters keep humming away.
What can you do about these filters?
Once you realize what’s happening, you can start to expand your “intake valve” by shrinking your filters. If you can learn to take in the entire situation as objectively as possible, this will help you process information more completely. And with the filters off, we begin to receive information to help improve our situation.
But this isn’t as easy as it may sound. So, let’s think about politics. Imagine yourself listening to a politician who drives you crazy. (I won’t mention anyone in particular.) As you hear his or her voice in your mind, can you feel your filters rising already?
And when you listen to that person in real life, can you actually hear all they’re saying? Or are you hearing the words through your own political filters? You might just possibly miss some information — possibly key information — that might be worth taking in. Even reading that, I bet filters go off for you.
It’s about finding common ground
After the speech is over, are you more likely to remember the good things or the bad things that were said? Most likely, if you were then asked to speak to someone from the opposite political party, you might find little common ground. Why? Because you won’t have retained the good things.
This is exactly what happens in business communication. On all sides. Finding common ground with others is key to business success. Even with the people who drive us nuts. And there are plenty of those! But it’s an important part of making our jobs — and careers — work for us.
And to do this, we have to approach those around us with our communication filters off. Or, at least lowered enough to be able to take in more information. And that includes information we might wish we could tune out!
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