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Does Your Communication Need to Shape Up?

two boys sitting back to back in chairs

It ceases to amaze me how often we think our communication is correct, and others are simply bad listeners. How often do we swear that we clearly communicated a message, but others tell us that’s not what we said? Have you ever sent someone to the grocery for three avocados, but they return with two tomatoes convinced it’s what you asked for? Ever asked for iced tea but received hot tea instead?


Unfortunately, the most common response to this is getting annoyed, frustrated, and thinking people are just not listening, and it is ruining relationships. In most cases, what is truly lacking is effective communication.


"Put the thingy in the drawer…"

When I got married, communication became an immediate eye opener. (Hello analyzer pragmatic husband! Meet the emotional enthusiastic controller! What had I done?!)


My husband would speak in data, graphs, and facts while sharing in detail his strong opinions on how the earth rotates and why grass grows. I wanted to cry! I, on the other hand, would enthusiastically speed talk, sharing all the details of my day, how I felt about life, and direct him on how to put the celery in the crisper. 


One day, I was hurrying out the door and blurted, “Put the thingy in the drawer and I’ll be back in 30 minutes.” I stopped and turned around to find him standing in the kitchen, dumb founded and not a clue what I even wanted. That was the day I knew my communication needed to shape up.


Achieving "Shaped Up" Communication

Through many years of facilitating team and leadership development programs, I have come to know that effective communication is the key to any relationship.

 It’s a common occurrence to hear a member of a team give what they think are clear directions, only for the team to then go the opposite way. Frustration rears its head when it seems the team isn’t listening, and feelings of being unheard often lead to retreat.


One of the best activities I have found to challenge a person’s perspective on communication is called, “Shapes.”


  • Partners A and B sit back-to-back. 

  • Partner A is given a picture, Partner B is given a piece of paper and marker.

  • Without showing the picture, Partner A must describe the picture so Partner B can draw it.

  • Partner B may not ask for clarification or directions beyond saying, “Please say that again.” 

  • Partner A does not get to see Partner B’s drawing until it is complete. 


This sounds easy until Partner A says something like, “Put a big heart on the paper in the right corner. Now draw an arrow pointing to the heart.” Both partners are amazed when they compare the drawing to the original picture, finding what they thought was effective communication was received like a cell phone call while driving through a canyon: clear as mud.


Effective communication goes both ways, and it makes being in relationship more worthwhile. Try out the "Shapes" activity to discover which kinds of communication work with different people, while having fun “shaping up” your own with the tips below.

Tips to “Shape Up” Your Communication

  1. Let go of thinking your way of communication is the only right way.

  2. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t understand; ask clarifying questions. 

  3. In your own words, repeat back how you understood it. Ask others what they heard.

  4. Listen with curiosity, caring, respect and patience.

  5. Keep a sense of humor!

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