The #1 Principle for Good Communication.


There are many important principles that we need to understand if we’re to communicate well with each other. But I would argue that the most important principle that we need to understand when communicating with someone else is this:

It doesn’t matter what you say. What matters is what the other person hears and understands

That’s it.

End of story.

It doesn’t matter what you say. What matters is what the other person hears and understands

If your communication doesn’t take into account this principle, then it’s dead in the water.

What follows from this is very important. Namely, that when you communicate with someone, you’re not merely trying to lay out your point of view clearly and coherently (as important as that is).

Instead, what you’re trying to do is ensure that they really understand what you’re trying to say.

That is a distinction with a very important difference.

Author Stephen Covey tells of the story of having to call up an on-call doctor, when their newborn baby was ill. The doctor was at an important football match, that most of the people in their town were attending. They called the doctor at a critical time in the game. And they explained to him how their newborn son was going. As a result, the doctor said he’d send through a prescription for medicine.

However, after getting off the call, Covey and his wife  weren’t sure whether the doctor (who wasn’t their usual family doctor) really understood that their son was a newborn baby. So they called again, and checked. And just as well. The doctor did not know that (or perhaps hadn’t heard that), and so he changed the prescription accordingly. Had Covey not checked that, they would have given their son the wrong medication, with potentially harmful results.

The difficulty with ensuring the other person understands you. 

In many a conversation, to get  a person to hear and understand you is not as simple as just trying harder to explain your point of view (although that’s fundamental). Often, there is a very important roadblock that prevents the other person from hearing what you’ve got to say. With this roadblock in place, they might never hear and understand your point of view, especially if the issue you’re communicating about is emotionally charged. And it’s to that roadblock that we’ll be turning to next.


Leave a Reply

2 thoughts on “The #1 Principle for Good Communication.

  1. Do you know, I was just thinking of writing an article on my blog saying this very same thing THIS WEEK. You, sir, are a mind-reader!

    But such an important concept. Whether it be debates about faith matters, political matters – or, in my case, how to talk about classical music to others – many people can happily communicate to their own crowd and think they’ve done well.

    But communicating so the other side understands and is convinced? A far different matter …