I’ve written a number of articles expressing how important communication is to not only projects but also to our everyday lives and how we interact with others. From our spouses to our work peers to our children, communication is something we often take for granted in terms of how our messages are received.
For every single communication there exists two elements – encoding and decoding (and we don’t need to be cryptographers to do it!). Encoding a message (verbal AND non verbal occurs when the sender puts a “wrapper” around their message that is intended for the receiver to use when receiving the message. We often “encode” our communications without even being aware of it but it happens. Encoding a communication is our way of styling the message to be better understood by the receiver.
How we encode messages can be driven by our ability to know our audience. For example if we are writing an email to a C-suite level executive we will very likely use tone and language far different than if we were having a casual conversation over a beer with your friend. Encoding can also be subconscious. How many times have you returned a text message with just “ok”? Did you mean to be short with that person or were you just pressed for time and not able to express any other sentiments? How will the receiver of that message interpret what you just sent?
Decoding occurs when we receive a message. Again this can be verbal and non-verbal messages such as an email, phone call, conversation, text message or even a look. Decoding is how we interpret the message beyond its literal meaning. Here’s an example – say out loud the phrase “Liver and onions, my favourite.” How would your message be decoded by someone? Try it again but put the emphasis on the word “my”. How is that message decoded differently? Because it was encoded differently by putting emphasis on a different word.
The same principle applies to every communication we send and receive every day of our lives. How we decode messages can be influenced by a number of factors – history with and knowledge of the sender, our experience, even our current mood.
Being a good communicator is not only about saying the right words but it is also crucial that you understand your audience and build the appropriate tone and language into your message, verbal or non verbal. Understanding the encoding of a message to decode it appropriately is equally as important.
By practicing effective encoding and decoding in our daily communications we will develop faster and deeper understanding of those we communicate with.