Why metacommunication is important

When you approach another person for a conversation or a request it is important that you prepare your listener to receive your message.  Metacommunication is the words you use to warm up your listener to the thing you want to communicate.  It is a communication about the conversations that will follow.

You prepare your listener – so they are ready to receive

When you metacommunicate you make a link with the person so they are on your wavelength and more ready to receive your actual communication.  You help the other person to engage in a conversation, by readying them for the communication that will follow, so they are prepared.  You might prepare them by saying what the purpose is for this conversation, your intentions and how you will structure the conversation.  Metacommunication ensures that when you send your message the listener is prepared and ready to receive it.

Your message will be received as its intended

Good communicators take care to get their message across so it is received as it is intended by using  metacommunication.

You reduce the listener being triggered (activating prehistoric brain)

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.  Metacommunication engages the logical, thinking, and planning parts of your listener’s brain. They are more likely to relax and pay attention.

 You will have more influence

If you metacommunicate you will have more influence and receive more cooperation.

Other  names for meta-communication

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

Metacommunication examples

Example of metacommunication used at the beginning of a conversation

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.

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 `it’s about last month’s report’ , again pause.  Maybe its 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?’ 

Metacommunication used to build a link and make a foundation for what is to follow.   

Metacommunication is also used extensively to structure a conversation so your listener is prepared for what you are about to say before you say it.  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…
  • I will let you know what I noticed and then I’d like to hear your perspective
  • I’d like to make a few comments in that
  • I have an idea I would be interested in sharing
  • I will explain the situation and then hear what you think