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Insights: Communicating Effectively
February 26, 2008
This week, my message revolves around the subject of communication and how, with a couple of hints and tips, you can radically improve the results you get from your interactions with others.
Up until a year ago, I was internal communications manager at the London headquarters of one of the world’s largest companies. I say this not in order to blow my trumpet but because I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to see, at first hand, what really works and what doesn’t when it comes to getting your message across.
Despite my experience there are many times when I get it wrong and end up being the cause of unfortunate miscommunications and/or misunderstandings – so it’s an ongoing learning process and there is no such thing as being a perfect communicator.
Still, there are a few very simple things you can do to ensure your communications are much more effective!
So here goes:
1. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction
Ok, the engineers and scientists among you will recognize this as Newton’s third law of motion. But I think it’s a great analogy for what happens when you try too hard to force your message on your audience. You get resistance! And the harder you try, the more resistance you get.
Please understand that all communications are two-way interactions. If you fail to realize this and think that by simply issuing a communication you will get the results you desire, think again. Even if you get no written or spoken response to your communication, you will get an emotional response from your target audience. The problem is, you won’t know what it is!
Progressive employers are starting to come to terms with the fact that, to be effective, their communications departments cannot simply be disseminators of information and policy, they must - first and foremost - be critical listening posts.
And that brings me to tip number two.
2. Listen, listen, listen!
If you want to be understood, then listen!
Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But think about this. If you want to plant a seedling and ensure it has the very best chance of growing into a healthy plant, you’re first going to spend a decent amount of time preparing and watering the soil into which you will plant it, aren’t you?
Likewise, if you want to get an important message across, you need to prepare the way for it. And you do this by listening carefully to the person or persons you’re intending to communicate with. Listen to their tone of voice (what emotional state are they in?). Listen to what they’re saying (what’s on their mind?). Also, listen to what they’re not saying (does what they are saying align with or conflict with their behaviour and body language?). And listen generously (have you given them enough of an opportunity to complete their message properly?).
3. Be aware of – and beware of – filters
Filters are the source of most communications misunderstandings.
What do I mean by this?
Have you ever said or written something to someone and been completely taken aback at their reaction to what you said or wrote? The reason has to do with the filtering that occurs between the point of issuing of the message and the point of interpretation by the receiver.
Think about it. If all communications were received exactly as they were intended, the world would be a very different place. I’d go so far as to suggest that there would be few, if any, wars, a substantial reduction in marriage breakdowns and hardly enough work to keep the legal profession in business!
I’ll give you an example:
Janet is a project manager and has just met with her client who has brought forward the deadline for one of the important milestones she has been working to achieve. Janet innocently calls her husband John to explain that she has to work late at the office to make up time to meet the deadline.
John puts down the 'phone with a feeling of mild disappointment. He will miss Janet not being at home tonight.
But then his filters go to work on Janet’s message.
First, his ‘global’ or ‘generalised’ belief system, which holds that “people just can’t be trusted”, comes into play. His feelings turn to sadness as he interprets Janet’s communication to be a smokescreen for something else that she couldn’t tell him.
Then John’s life ‘rules’ that he has developed over time, kick into play. One of his ‘rules’ is “if someone loves me they will put me first”. Now John’s sadness turns to a feeling of rejection as he starts to question his wife’s love for him.
Finally, John’s value system gets involved in further filtering of Janet’s message. Stability is one of John’s highest values and as he tries to reconcile what his wife said with this value, he becomes fearful that she may have found someone else and is intent on leaving him.
Do you see how a simple, innocently intended message, can become grossly distorted by the receiver? Next time you experience a communication breakdown, think about how filters may have messed with the original integrity of the message.
Then, my all-time favourite tip for better communication…
4. ‘Count to ten’ before responding
Apply this tip when you receive a message or communication to which you take instant dislike!
You know what I mean…
…the corporate climber at the office who copies you in on an email to the boss in which he tries to take credit for a piece of great work you were responsible for. Or the customer who sends you a derogatory email running you and your company down for your apparent poor service when you know it wasn’t your fault. Or the two-line fax from your bank telling you to rectify your overdrawn account, when you still have funds in the account. Or the tersely worded letter of final demand for payment of a municipal account when you thought you had sorted this out with the customer service division. Or the waitron in the restaurant who appears to be deliberately avoiding your beckoning gestures.
These are typical situations we all face from time to time. Many of us would be inclined to react angrily and shoot off some form of communication, drawing on the first thoughts and feelings that enter our heads.
If you’ve ever reacted angrily to something and wished later that you hadn’t, you’ll know what I mean.
When your communication is driven primarily by raw emotion it might be a faithful indication of what you are feeling at the time but it’s highly unlikely to be interpreted in the way that you need it to be to get the results that you want to get.
‘Counting to ten’ is a vital tip for anyone who is in the communication business (and let’s face it – that’s all of us!). Don’t take 'ten' too literally to mean seconds or minutes or whatever. Rather, see this as meaning you should allow your immediate emotional response to subside well before you respond. You’ll be glad you did. Your response will be more measured, more thoughtful, more appropriate and better appreciated!
If you’re a natural communicator – someone who understands that communication is a two-way give and take process; someone who is a great listener; someone who tries hard to be objective rather than subjective about things people say to you; someone who thinks before shooting from the hip – then it’s highly likely you have the makings of a great life coach.
If this describes you, then why not consider studying with New Insights, in your own time and at your own pace, to become a well respected and rewarded life coach?
It could just be the best decision you ever made!
Till next week…
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