Good communicators take care to get their message across so it is received as it is intended by using a communication skill called metacommunication. As a result they have more influence and receive more cooperation. It is critical to metacommunicate when you want to successfully discuss something tricky that has the potential to trigger a reactive response in your listener.

When you approach another person for a conversation or a request it is important that you communicate about the communication before you actually communicate.  This process of warm up is called metacommunication. When you metacommunicate you make a link with the person so they are more ready to receive your actual communication. As you approach a person, take a moment to observe how ready they are to receive your communication. It is highly likely they are absorbed in their own area of work and not even thinking about what is on your mind.

Pause! You need to say something that prepares your listener.

Metacommunication ensures that you send your message when the listener is prepared and ready to receive it.

Other names for meta-communication

  • Headlines
  • Sign posts
  • Flags
  • Introducing a conversation or the communication
  • Warm up
  • Lead in

Benefits of metacommunication

  • Builds a link and makes a foundation for the communication that will follow.
  • Gives the `receiver’ an introduction to the communication that is about to follow so they are prepared with the purpose, intentions and structure of what you are about to say.
  • Helps a `receiver’ to get on your wavelength or frequency.
  • Relaxes the receiver, and helps them to pay attention.
  • You can relax and think clearly because you have a structure which helps you to think and plan

Example of metacommunication used at the beginning of a conversation

For instance if you want some help with a report say ` Hi George, I have a request’  then pause as George absorbs this, next say `its about last month’s report’ , again pause.  Maybe it’s obvious George is busy so ask `is now a good time?’.  Up until this point you have been metacommunicating and now George is more ready to receive your communication. If George appears ready to receive your request, now you can communicate by saying ` it’s about last month’s data, do you have a moment to check some figures for me?’

How else is metacommunication used?

Metacommunication is also used extensively to structure a conversation so your listener hears clearly what you have to say. For instance

  • Let me ask you a few questions so I am clear 
  • I will give you my opinion and then I would like to hear your response to my ideas 
  • Let’s discuss this situation…

If you want to learn more about how to be a better communicator in practice check out my next Courageous Conversations Workshops in 2018.