3 Levels of Communication Everyone Needs to Know

Communication is something that we all do every day. Young and old. With physical disabilities or not. We all communicate in one form or another.

Yet, in my experience, only a few people ever really think about communication.

I’ve given this a lot of thought lately and not just from a theoretical standpoint. You know, all those communication theories and models where they describe a message with a sender and receivers, etc.

Communication Theory by Shannon 26 The elements depicted in Communication Theory may

No, I’m talking about a practical level of communication that every one of us should understand, at a personal level and in business.

Allow me to illustrate:

When we communicate, either through writing or speaking or any form of medium like podcasts or videos, we have to go through three distinct stages:

  1. Be heard
  2. Be understood
  3. Be persuasive

Level 1: Be Heard

First, our message has to be heard (or read or consumed in any way). If what we say does not reach the other person physically, then we can’t expect them to understand nor do something about it.

When we call or FaceTime our friends and family, it is important to be heard first. You can’t expect them to understand your story, or follow your elaborate (or simple) instructions on where to find that item you left at home if they don’t hear you.

In the business setting, if your campaigns or ads don’t reach people — they don’t see nor hear it — then you can’t expect any kind of return or action.

And if you’re on the receiving end, provide feedback to the sender and say that you received or heard the message. This will convey to the other what they need to do next—if they either have to repeat it again or worry about the next stage.

This happened to me a few times. I have been fond of leaving audio messages to communicate with colleagues and clients. After recording my message, I went about my day. After 2 days, I was wondering why I wasn’t getting any replies. When I checked my message, apparently my voice note wasn’t sent. Now talk about an epic fail. Good thing I didn’t complain nor got angry.

Level 2: Be Understood

Once you get passed the first hurdle, which is a physical barrier, your message has to be understood. This is where the theories on communication come in—where feedback is necessary in order to make sure the message got across and was received as it was intended.

Taking from my personal story a couple of times, when I’m on a call, sometimes the network connection isn’t stable so even if I heard what the other person was saying, I couldn’t understand it. I can only understand every other 5 words they are saying.

This often lead to asking the other person to repeat it again, and for some reason, the other person raises their voice and gets pissed. And because of time constraints and trying to guess the context of the message, you just nod along as if you understood the entire message.

Look, if your message doesn’t get understood, don’t assume that they are not listening to what you’re saying. Make sure they really heard and understood your message. You can do this by asking them to repeat what you just said.

You can apply the same principle in your business.

Let’s say you crafted an awesome campaign. You run ads, distributed it via email, etc. You are getting traffic on your site, but not conversions.

Your message got heard (on in this case, people saw it physically), but they didn’t understand it. It didn’t resonate with them that’s why they didn’t take action.

If you are at this stage in the communication and you’re on the receiving end, make sure you provide feedback in the form of reiteration or paraphrasing. Re-state what they said to confirm if you understood it.

“Okay. So, if I understood you correctly, you want me to do 1-2-3, correct?”

Level 3: Be Persuasive

Look, at the end of the day, when we communicate, we want the other person to do something about it—no matter how small that is.

Whether we’re looking for approval, a nod, a complement, some form of feedback, or for them to download something or buy from us.

Again, this isn’t something that you usually don’t think of naturally.

When talking to your spouse, you want them to hear what you’re saying, understand what it’s about, and give some form of response. If you’re talking about your next vacation and you are sharing about some research you did about Europe, you’d want your spouse to pitch in or share some other ideas, not just say ‘okay’ or not do anything at all.

In business, this is the ultimate goal you want— have your audience take action as well:

  • In an email, the action you want them to do is to click on a link (your call-to-action).
  • On your website, you want them to browse through the site and learn more about you
  • On your blog, you want them to apply the stuff you’ve written, or comment, or share it to social media
  • On a product page, you want them to add the item to their cart, then eventually purchase it
  • In your ads and landing pages, you want them to perform whatever action you want them to do

These levels of communication aren’t ground-breaking. Heck, I thought of it so it’s not something special. But it is worth reflecting on every once in a while.

Have there been times when you wanted someone to take action but didn’t? Did they understand what you were trying to say in the first place?

Was there a time you complained that someone doesn’t understand you? Did you make sure that they heard the message first?

Always assume positive intent. Make sure you got heard, understood, and only then should you expect them to take action.

Ariel Lim

Ariel Lim

Management consultant / MBA / Inbound marketer who helps startups generate leads, create and execute strategies.

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