As promised, I am going to provide some essential tools that will help you become a world class communicator. The below may seem rather obvious, and honestly much of it is, but these points are far too often forgotten in our zeal to be heard.
Countless books, blogs and other volumes have been written about how to enhance communications. Some delve into complex methodologies exploring the psychology behind communication others delve into complex communicative challenges. Many theorems have merit and can trigger behaviors with beneficial results. While these in-depth analyses and approaches should be lauded, in this post we will explore some of them, but through a more “user friendly” lens.
There are three overarching principles that serve as the building blocks that lead to optimized communication.
The Best Communicators are Great Listeners
John Wooden said it best, “Listen If You Want to be Heard.”
In the fast-paced world in which many of us operate, taking the time to listen can be very challenging. Too often in our attempts to push through the noise all too common in business today, those of us in leadership roles rely on barking orders and expecting our loyal team members to execute. The problem with this approach is that, more times than not, others are left confused. Even worse, employees and colleagues tend to be left a bit bruised as they come to believe that their opinions are not valued. In the worst cases, conflicting priorities lead to broad failures that adversely impact the organization - creating chaos that ripples throughout the company. This applies beyond the business world into everyday interactions with friends and family. It is particularly relevant when serving on volunteer boards and other community related activities.
Becoming a great listener creates an opportunity for enlightenment and will give you the ‘permission” to request the same from others.
Tips to get the most out of Listening:
Ask for opinions
While some people feel empowered to speak up, others will not. Ask questions and then actively listen. If someone has a great idea this gives them the opportunity and platform to share it, if someone doesn’t have an idea it will prompt them to start thinking! With half of the population preferring not to voice their opinion unless asked, often great ideas and unique perspectives never get voiced.
Seek out multiple voices.
You know who has great things to say? Everyone. While I get awesome feedback and advice from trusted leaders, I regularly receive some of the most impactful perspectives from youth and those who I might not instinctively seek for opinions. People who come from varying backgrounds will have unique opinions. When we focus solely on people who think and live like us we fail to grasp the entirety of an issue.
Most people can spot a phony a mile away. Empathetically listen with an intention to thoroughly understand others perspectives. Being genuine, or as I call it “being real” is an underdiscussed attribute that pays significant dividends.
The Best Communication Occurs When We Talk Face to Face
It is a scientific fact that the words we use only serve as 7% of the overall communication. So, relying on texts and emails to address important issues coms with great risk. You may intend your words to be reassuring but the receiver of your message can easily add a tone and tenor to your words that was not intended.
A good example from my personal experience is the term “Please Advise”. I have regularly ended emails with that two-word phrase throughout my entire career. It’s been my way of asking for others' opinions or guidance for years upon years. Well, a few weeks and I found myself mired in an extremely unproductive conversation - during that chat I was advised how “insulting” the phrase was. As you might have guessed the recipient had added a very authoritarian tone to the phrase - one that was certainly not intended. While at the time I jokingly pointed out that “It was not all caps.” It reminded me of the importance of clear communication and why (even in this technical era) I often choose to pick up the phone.
Now, when we do pick up the phone and use our voice as context, tone and tenor are introduced which can help quite a bit, but still that only gets us halfway home. When it comes to overall communication, body language fills in 50% of the equation. While many from my children’s generation may think they can communicate effectively via text, no amount of “/s” or emojis can replace a genuine smile or reassuring head nod - these seemingly tiny gestures speak far more loudly than our words. Equally important we get the opportunity to witness the body language of others who might be questioning the message in real time. If we encounter a quizzical expression or a furrowed brow we can either ask if clarification is required or pivot to a differing approach.
Tips for having your message received as intended:
Face-to-Face will always be best.
Communication is 7% the words we use, 38% voice and tone, and 55% body language. The only way to reach 100% is in-person, face to face.
For complex issues, pick up the phone (if you can’t be there in-person).
Being able to hear the tone of someone’s voice is key to communicating, especially when dealing with complex or difficult topics.
Building a Culture Where Trust is Celebrated and Facilitates Communication
While this is an important part of a corporate or company approach, it is really vital for all interpersonal communication. I have noticed a devolving level of trust between people recently, including a shocking number of members of families and once closely held friendships. People we have known, loved, a
nd trusted are marginalized through disparate views or deeply convicted feelings.
It is important that we continue to foster our relationships with those in our lives - especially family members and friends. Remind them how important their being in your life is to you. Confirm that you love them and value their perspective regularly. We often allow ourselves to believe that our friends and family “know” how we feel. Regular reassurance is essential, especially when controversial topics come to surface.
Our personal lives are of extreme importance. And when we have healthy relationships and conversations with those closest to us, it helps improve our communication everywhere else.
Tips for cultivating an atmosphere for clear communication:
Tell people you value them.
Assuming people know you value their input is an often incorrect assumption. Tell them - with words.
Strive to communicate clearly in all your relationships
As much as we may try to separate things, all aspects of our life are connected. When we practice our best communications in one area it will trickle over to others.
The paradox of this blog is that it “flies in the face” of much that is intended within its content. You don’t hear my tone or see my subtle facial expressions as you read this. Sadly, it is the most expedient method to reach those with whom I am not in regular contact. Until next time, keep the communication crisp, clear, and visible. We can disagree without being disagreeable. We can achieve our goals when we work together.