Information Overload and the Art of Communication

by Jonathan

information overload

What does it take to connect with others so that our message stays with them? How can we frame our communication in a way that bypasses their built in perception filters and leaves a lasting impression?

As a writer, this subject is of special interest to me. Beyond that, the benefits of mastering effective communication touches our lives on every level. I believe it was Tony Robins who said that “the quality of our lives is in direct proportion to the quality of our communication.”

Have you ever noticed that a common denominator in many movie scripts is that the plot is built around a lack of good communication? Think about it. How often does unrequited love really boil down to un-proclaimed feelings, or wrong assumptions based on a complete lack of communication?

I can’t count the times I have been watching a movie and thought, “just tell them how you feel and quit playing these silly games.” Of course, that wouldn’t make for a very interesting plot, but here’s the thing…

Life is not a movie; we want to get it right!

If the quality or our lives is directly affected by how effectively we communicate, then it’s worth looking into, don’t you think?

So, what does it take for our words to actually register in the minds of those we want to reach? First of all we need to get past their IOF’s. People everywhere are being increasingly bombarded by way to much information.

How have we responded to this overwhelming effort to capture our attention? Our very survival in this mass media culture means that out of necessity we have all developed Information Overload Filters, or IOF’s.

The human brain can only process and absorb so much external data before it all becomes noise, or more accurately – static. Our home stereos come with built in static filters that allow us to enjoy the music without being annoyed by the unwanted noise. Well, adaptation has allowed us to develop something similar.

As the static increases, so do our filter settings

Have you found yourself ignoring more emails these days? Do you quickly discard unopened mail without hesitation? Are you starting to tune out conversations and advertisements at an unprecedented rate? Don’t feel like you are the only one. It has come down to preserving our sanity. Most of us have our IOF’s set on higher settings as the static continues to increase.
What’s the danger?

The flip side of continually turning up our information filters is that we will unavoidably filter out desirable information in the process. Does the phrase “throw out the baby with the bath water” seem to apply here?

This is where the art of communication comes in. Information Overload Filters are now a fact of life. This means that first of all, being heard requires that we make it past those filters. If your friends email spam filters are set too high, they will never know that you tried to reach them. If you can get them to white list your email address, then the filters will let your message go through.

How can we craft our words to get past these filters?

We need to touch them where they live. This means that we need to give them a legitimate reason to allot some of their precious time and energy to listening to what we have to say. If our conversation leaves them feeling that we contributed some value to their life, they may even white list us, so to speak, and open the door for continued interaction.

This principal applies equally to all areas of life and business. If you want others to give you the time of day, you need to give them a reason to do so. This means that listening to you MUST provide value for them on some level.

Keep in mind that this does not imply that everyone is now motivated by their own selfish interests. All it means is that there is a limit to how many different directions we can comfortably focus our limited attention. Information overload requires that we craft a stricter set of priorities to maintain our sanity.

The challenge belongs to the communicator

We can’t eliminate information overload, the fact is, that it is only going to get worse. So if you want to be heard, then it is up to you to develop the art of communication in a way that makes allowances for higher Information Overload Filter settings.

7 Ways to be heard in this age of information overload

1) Listen and learn. How can we communicate value to our listener if we don’t know anything about them or their current situation? This means that we need to actually pay attention to what is going on in their life FIRST! There is a saying that the reason God gave us two ears and only one mouth, is so we would listen twice as much as we talk.

2) Empathize. Being empathetic means that we try to put ourselves in someone else’s situation or circumstances. Make an effort to step into their life, to feel their pain or joy in your heart. If you want gain some insight and discernment into what they are experiencing, this is the way to do it.

3) Avoid making judgments. You can’t possibly understand all of the factors at work in someone else’s life. Like you and I, they are probably doing the best they can with what they have to work with. None of us has all the answers so do them the courtesy of not judging them.

4) Respect their feelings. We all have a right to our personal feelings. Often times, the worst thing we can do is to infer that someone’s feelings are invalid by saying, “you shouldn’t feel that way.” The most common response, internally at least, will be, “don’t tell me how to feel.” That’s a communication killer. Much better to legitimize their feelings by saying, “I can understand why you feel that way.” In case you are wondering, I learned this from 25 years of marriage.

5) Speak to their senses first. We are genetically hard-wired to pay attention to things we can experience through our senses. Talk to them in a way that allows them to picture and experience your expressions. Strive to help them experience the reality of your words in their imagination. Use your words to paint a picture that they can easily visualize.

6) Add an emotional component. Make sure that the mental picture you are communicating has feelings attached. We remember things that we attach emotional significance to. When the picture begins to fade, the feelings will bring it back to life. When you use your words to paint emotional word pictures in the mind of your listener, you will have touched them where they live.

7) Do it because you care. Sincerity cannot be faked. On a gut level, others know whether or not you actually care about their welfare. If you don’t care then just leave them alone, and go develop some compassion. Creating value needs to be rooted in genuine concern for others. The hard sell mentality and pushy domineering ways of the past are dead, and good riddance. Open your heart before you open your mouth, and everyone around you will feel it.

Well, that’s what I have learned about communication.
How about you, do you have something to add?
Let’s discuss it!

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Phil - Less Ordinary Living

Jonathan -

You certainly got my attention with this post. It is such a challenge to get anyone’s attention when the world is so crammed with information.

I don’t agree that everyone these days in purely out for themself – however there is an increasing tendency to protect ourself from the endless noise.

You are so right that communication is a two-way process – listening, understanding and empathizing is vital. I always try to see the best in everyone I meet (except behind the steering wheel) and that helps tremendously.

Thanks for a riveting post,

Phil

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Phil, remember when we looked forward to emails? There certainly is a lot more noise these days. And yes, it is getting much harder to get peoples attention. As you mentioned, our perception of, and motives toward, other people are an important part of effective communication.

For anyone else reading this comment, Phil Bolton is one of the highly qualified contributing authors for Sharing Life Skills Newsletter. That alone is a great reason to visit his blog Less Ordinary Living.

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Sandra Lee

Jonathan, This is a really beautiful closing phrase: “Open your heart before you open your mouth, and everyone around you will feel it.”

One added thought is the fact that 1 out of every 5 people are “highly” sensitive, so their filters will be set even higher if they are tuned into caring for themselves well. This would surely fall into the first category of “listen and learn.” It’s helpful to understand people’s diverse sensitivity levels.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Sandra, one in five, that’s an interesting and insightful little statistic. I wonder if one in five has the filters set lower than average? Either way, trying to understand where each individual is coming from BEFORE we try to make our point will certainly raise our level of effectiveness.

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ZuzannaM

Hello Jonathan,

This is absolutely fantastic post and a most important subject about communication and how affects ones life. You are 100% plus right with the explanations. I really loved the point, “why God gave us two ears and one mouth,” So true that is. Thank you so much for this educational blog. It is truly fascinating post for me to read~ Zuzanna

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Zuzanna, thank you for your kind words. It is easy to forget that listening is the larger part of communication. My wife helps me to remember that point.

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Julie

Jonathan, once again you’ve written something so reassuring. I loved it! When I see how “everyone” seems to be “everywhere,” sometimes I feel like I’m the only one struggling with this. (Except, Sandra Lee, are you perhaps one of the 1 in 5, as I am? Nice to meet you!)

Your points can be synthesized into “the human factor.” That is, we must remember that behind the massive electronic network is another person trying to communicate with us. Whether they actually complete a two-way connection or not, we should always be aware we’re using a different form of speech. It may be a bit more awkward and take a little longer for some of us to “speak” online rather than face-to-face, but it’s well worth the effort. The connection becomes real. Sometimes, we even make friends this way.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

What a great reminder Julie, “behind the massive electronic network is another person trying to communicate with us.” Yes, it really is all about the individual people. Thank you for pointing that out.

Speaking online is a relatively new skill for the human race and I think we all go through a learning curve, so don’t feel like the lone ranger.

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Frank

To be able to effectively communicate is not just a talent but an art. So many times we try to impress people with our expansive vocabulary that our words get lost in translation. I have found that saying what you mean without the fluff is the best way to get your point across. So in an easy to understand message I will say to you Jonathan outstanding post. This is great.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Frank, yes, it is an art, and like any art we can get better at it with practice. Like you I appreciate the fluffless approach. Part of the challenge is to say what we mean while still being tactful and considerate of the other person.

Some people seem to confuse being straight with others as a license to be inconsiderate or abrupt. That actually defeats the purpose of communication because it stops the two way flow. So the ART aspect is a very important one and I can see that you are good at it. Thank you!

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Healthy in Houston

Thanks for writing this. Both the communication and information overload issues are so often overlooked. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get at those movies and t.v. shows that center around lack of communication! Sometimes it seems like the information age is both a blessing and a curse, and as a new blogger I want to make sure that I’m not adding to the “problem” by providing false or worthless information just to get my voice heard. It’s also difficult to sift through all that’s out there to find something worthwhile. Thanks for being a meaningful voice with valuable information!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Greetings HiH. The challenge of being heard is an increasing one, even when you have something valuable to say. As the noise level increases so do the filter settings. The good news is that sooner or later those who appreciate your contribution will connect as long as they feel appreciated in return. They are the ones to focus your communication efforts on.

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Amit Sodha - The Power Of Choice

Hey Jonathan, I concur with Phil, this post really got my attention and I feel it’s your best one yet!

I especially loved your example of the movies and plots. This has been on my recently so as with synchonicity, I found someone else thinking the same as me.

Thanks Jonathan.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Amit, I figure if it wasn’t for poor communication skills there would be significantly less movies and country western songs. We can make a joke about the situation but it’s really quite sad because there would also be a lot less divorce and violence.

In many ways the quality of our life truly is in direct proportion to the quality of our communication. You used “synchonicity,” what a great word. Only a person with good communication skills would have picked that word. Well done my friend.

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Chris Akins

Jonathan,

This is a great post. I think the most profound statement you make is “The challenge belongs to the communicator.” One of the pre-suppositions of NLP is that the meaning of any communication is in the response it gets. Too often, people place responsibility for the meaning of the communication squarely on the sender, when the reality is that the goal of any communication is to convey a message. Thus, the responsibility for communicating in a manner that conveys the correct message must be on the sender. Otherwise, the sender sets the expectation that the receiver can read his or her mind.

In other words, we should be careful how we communicate to ensure we convey the intended meanings. It also helps to confirm how the message is being received.

Thanks for a thought provoking post.

Chris

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Greetings Chris, how nice to see you here. Even though I try to express myself as clearly as possible, I (and probably most communicators) have still been in situations where it is almost impossible to prevent the hearer from translating everything with a huge amount of spin. Thankfully, those are very rare exceptions.

I am a big fan of NLP and it is a fundamental part of my core approach (not an NLP master but would like to pursue it further someday).

By the way, I enjoyed your article on public speaking very much. I am one of those odd balls who loves public speaking. I love the energy created with and by the audience. It’s a real buzz.

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Nea

I think number 7 is the most important thing when working on communication. No matter how many tactics we use, the effectiveness is minimized when people aren’t genuine. I make sure that I’m coming from a real place of care and concern when communicating with others. That goes for both my writing and my face-to-face interactions with people.

You made some great points here. Thanks so much!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Nea, I can honestly say that your genuineness shines through. I can hear it and feel it in your articles, and I can see it in your smile. You always seem very real to me Nea, thanks for that.

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Sandra Hendricks

Hi Jonathan,

I like all the points you made while helping me discover why I tune life out sometimes. I especially think that “avoid making judgments” is IMPORTANT.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Sandra, it’s ironic how easy it is to slip into making judgments, and yet none of us wants to be judged. We never really know what is going on in someone else’s life and admitting that helps us avoid the judgment syndrome. I think we all do the best we can on any given day.

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Elmar Sandyck

I totally agree with Phil. It really is a big challenge to get people’s attention because of information overload. When I was just starting out I often wondered how the top blogs I’ve been reading survive and stand out. The secret is actually simple: effective communication and excellent listening. :)

Looking forward to more thought-provoking posts Jonathan!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hey Elmar, I know what you mean about the struggle to stand out, but the upside is that we eventually find our own unique voice.

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Jeanette

Jonathan,
I myself often find that I am in the information overload zone. What I have found is that so often we try to communicate more and listen less. In the last few years I have come to realize that it is truly the other way around. We need to listen to others more. So many times that is all someone is looking for to be heard and recognized. However, when we do have that opportunity to share information that will help another, I agree that empathy is the way. Honoring their feelings as you mentioned is so important. Sharing our own experiences with others helps them see where you are coming from and that you are willing to open the doorway to being vulnerable.
Thank you for reminding us of what the focus should be in this fast-paced world of information!
Jeanette

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Jeanette, as I read your comment I was reminded of the saying: The reason we have two ears and only one mouth is because we were meant to listen twice as much as we talk. There’s a lot of wisdom in that approach.

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Galen Pearl

A good question along the lines of your advice about providing value with what you say — Is what I’m about to say an improvement on silence?

I read this with a lot of interest because you are describing me in terms of the IOFs. I find that I’m becoming less connected rather than more. It just got to be too much. So I am more selective, and I have to assume that those I wish to communicate with are, too.

Great advice, as always. And as always, a big improvement on silence!!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Galen, I just love that question (Is what I’m about to say an improvement on silence?). I think all too often silence is us underrated and undervalued. Personally, I am a big fan of quiet.

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Nancy

Hello Jonathan,

Communication is KING! You have given us so much to wrap our hands upon. Thank you!

I love what you state about painting a picture with your words. Great advice and I so enJOY painting those pictures.

In gratitude,
Nancy

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

So right Nancy, whether we are talking or not we are still communicating on some level and the better we do it the greater the benefits.

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Larry

Thanks for the 7 rules, I agree to each and every point! The hardest part for me is avoiding judgments. They say it’s always hard to put up with the vice and shortcomings that you think you’ve overcome yourself.

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Motivational Speaker | Craig Harper

Hey Jonathon.

Love your thoughts on communication.

Just like we all have our own nutritional needs on a physical level, so too do we as individuals have specific dietary requirements on a cerebral level. That is, some people thrive on a ‘diet’ of hard-core motivational language while some function best with an arm around the shoulder and some re-assuring words. Some will respond optimally to clear and specific instructions and information while others learn best when the lesson is wrapped up in an interesting and inspirational story.

People who only have one communication style rarely make good bosses, coaches, teachers, speakers or leaders. In fact, they tend to struggle with any task or role that requires an ability to connect with different egos, attitudes, personalities, ages and belief systems. That is, different people.

Craig

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