Commandments For Effective Communication

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”
Bernard M. Baruch

Just about everybody has heard about “The 10 Commandments.” Some of us even memorized them when we were little … because we were taught that was the way we should communicate with one another.

Ever since that time, various people have written their variations on “The 10 Commandments” or their commentary on what constitutes effective communication. Take Cecil Osborne, for example. As a nationally recognized marriage counselor, he has written the “Ten Commandments For Husbands” and the “Ten Commandments For Wives.” They’re worth noting. He writes:

Ten Commandments For Husbands

1. Treat your wife with strength and gentleness.
2. Give ample praise and reassurance.
3. Define the areas of responsibility.
4. Avoid criticism.
5. Remember the importance of “little things.”
6. Recognize her need for togetherness.
7. Give her a sense of security.
8. Recognize the validity of her moods.
9. Cooperate with her in every effort to improve your marriage.
10. Discover her particular, individual needs and try to meet them.

Ten Commandments For Wives

1. Learn the real meaning of love.
2. Give up your dreams of a “perfect marriage” and work toward a “good marriage.”
3. Discover your husband’s personal, unique needs and try to meet them.
4. Abandon all dependency upon your parents and all criticism of his relatives.
5. Give praise and appreciation instead of seeking it.
6. Surrender possessiveness and jealousy.
7. Greet your husband with affection instead of complaints or demands.
8. Abandon all hopes of changing your husband through criticism or attack.
9. Outgrow the Princess Syndrome.
10. Pray for patience.

Well, in last week’s “Tuesday Tip,” I gave you 4 of my 10 “commandments” for better communication on and off the job. Let’s look at the other 6 of my communication strategies this week.

= 5. Slow down your back-and-forth exchange.

Too many people are guilty of jumping into the conversation with their response the very moment the other person stops talking. Some people even jump in BEFORE the other person stops talking. I know I’m guilty of this. The problem is … it never works. It always hurts the communication process.

To get over this bad habit, to slow down your back-and-forth exchange, I suggest David Levin’s “hand-off technique.” It comes from the Native American tradition of using a talking stick in council meetings. The idea is … you can only speak when you have the talking stick, and no one else can speak until the stick is passed to them.

Specifically, when someone is talking to you, instead of jumping in with your response as soon as the other person finishes, you must first acknowledge the fact that you heard what he/she had to say. It could be as simple as saying, “Interesting point … I know what you mean … or … If I understand you correctly ….” Comment on what he said before you continue with your response.

I also suggest Bob Parsons’ “3-gulp rule.” As a certified life and business coach, when he hears an important point, he does not give an immediate response, outside of a nonverbal acknowledgement such as an “hmm” or a nod of the head. He then ponders what he heard and how he’s going to respond as he takes 3 gulps of water. It gives him time to think about his response as it tells the other person he’s going to get a thoughtful response rather an a flippant, off- the-cuff remark. The technique works beautifully.

When you follow Levin’s or Parsons’ techniques, you actually hear what the other person is saying. But you’re also sending the message that you really heard him/her. You’re sending a connecting message of respect, care and understanding.

= 6. Ask more questions.

The reason is simple. So much of the time we just don’t get it right. And the only way to ensure understanding is to ask more questions.

It’s what one obese man should have done when he went to see his doctor. The doctor put him on strict diet and said, “I want you to eat regularly for 2 days, and then skip a day. Repeat this procedure for 2 weeks, and the next time I see you, you should have lost at least 5 pounds.”

When the patient returned, he shocked the doctor by having lost nearly 30 pounds! “Why, that’s amazing!” the doctor said, “Did you follow my instructions?”

Weakly the patient nodded, “I’ll tell you though, by the end of each 3rd day, I thought I was going to drop dead.”

“From hunger, you mean?” the doctor asked. “No,” responded his patient, “from skipping all day!”

Donna McCullough, from the Cedar Rapids School District, was a recent attendee. She writes, “The best thing I learned at the ‘Journey’ came from reading and then applying the concepts in your ‘Brave Questions’ book. This past year we had Thanksgiving dinner for our 3 adult children in our blended family. I placed questions from your book under the dinner plates. As the meal progressed, each person, followed by the other, read and answered their question. The purpose was to help everyone get to know each other better since my husband and I have been married only 5-1/2 years. Some of the questions were:

“What is one holiday you will never forget? What holiday tradition would you like to establish in your family? Describe a memory of spending Thanksgiving or Christmas with your grandparents. What is something you did that was ‘out of character’ for you?

“All three kids listed their most memorable holidays as the two different Christmases the five of us spent together. Not only did ‘Brave Questions’ provide conversation during dinner, but showed us that our efforts have paid off and our family has truly blended. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in your ‘Journey to the Extraordinary’, and thank you for the techniques that have changed our lives for the better.”

= 7. Empathize

Once you’ve asked some braver questions, listen for the emotions that are openly expressed or subtly implied. And then, as Levin says, echo back the feelings.

All you have to do is ask yourself, while you’re listening to the other person, “What’s the other person feeling right now? … or … What emotions was the other person experiencing in the situation he just revealed?” And then echo those feelings back to the talker.

Your empathic echo might be as simple as saying “Oh” or “Wow,” along with an appropriate nonverbal reaction such a caring look in the eyes or a sympathetic look on the face. And you could, of course, echo back an entire sentence, using feeling words like frustrated, excited, frightened, or confused. You might say something like, “You must feel quite upset by that performance review.”

Every time you empathize, you connect. It’s one of the great “commandments” of effective communication. As Bernard M. Baruch puts it, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

= 8. Judge the heart and not the surface.

In our busy world, it’s so easy to stereotype or categorize people. We think of good and bad people, rich and poor, black and white, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, right and wrong. They tend to be labels and categories that separate us, that tend to point out the good in us and the bad in others. They are all “disconnects.”

But I’ve found a way to get around all that … and that is … look for the other’s heart and intentions. Lots of people have good hearts and good intentions, but they lack the skill to communicate that well. So we get upset with those folks or simply write them off.

Such was the case in our church a few weeks ago on Easter Sunday. My mother-in-law was leading the choir, which was almost entirely all women, with the exception of Big Jack. Big Jack was a newcomer, but he was so enthusiastic that he volunteered for every job around the church, including the choir.

Come Easter Sunday, when the choir was giving their performance, Big Jack was by far the loudest singer and by far the worst. He drowned out most of the other choir members with his terrible off-pitch singing. In fact, it was so bad, that several members of the congregation started laughing when Big Jack began to sing, thinking it was done on purpose for some comical reason. And then suddenly, the church went quiet. People began to cry. They realized they had judged the surface of his performance rather than his heart. When they took a second look, they saw a man filled with joy, praise, and thanksgiving, and he was singing his best to worship his Lord.

What I learned that day is an important communication lesson for all of us. When we’re about to judge someone else, slow down. Look below the surface to see their heart. And “understand with gentleness.” It’s bound to connect you rather than distance you from that difficult coworker, customer, or relative.

= 9. Tell stories.

Without exception, all the great leaders and all the great teachers of the world have been great story tellers. Somehow or other, they know that stories bring an almost instant intellectual understanding as well as an emotion connection. It’s why I use stories in every presentation I give, and it’s why I share stories in every “Tuesday Tip.” I know you’re more likely to get the message when it’s accompanied by a story.

But a great twist on the whole idea of story telling is telling other people’s stories. Levin uses that approach. He says you may want your team to take ownership of a project, display 100% integrity, and be committed to exceptional service. You could tell your team, “You need to take ownership, have integrity, and be focused on service.”

However, you would be a great deal more effective if you said something like, “I was talking to Barbara the other day and she told a great story about a customer she was working with. (Insert the story here.) And I thought her story was so perfect, because it showed such ownership, integrity and commitment to service on her part. But the best of all, I could tell how good she felt about how it worked out.”

Obviously, her story would have a bigger impact on the audience than a simple pronouncement by the boss.

And if you’re not used to using this technique, start looking for stories. Consider it to be a part of your job. Ask around. Enlist others. Find out who’s done an outstanding job. Find examples of people demonstrating the kind of attitude or behavior you’d like to see. Then find a way to share these stories with the rest of your team. Weave them into your informal conversations and add them to your presentations. They’ll really help you connect with your team and the other folks in your life.

=10. Keep an open mind.

We all treat our coworkers, our customers, and everyone else with a certain bias. And sometimes that bias can help us make wise choices and protect us from danger. But other times our bias prevents us from learning from and appreciating one another.

The “Washington Post” newspaper actually tried an experiment along these lines in 2007. On a cold January morning, they sent a man to the Washington D.C. Metro Station with a violin to play six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

Four minutes later, the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk. Six minutes later, a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again. Ten minutes later, a 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

For 45 minutes, the musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After an hour, the violinist stopped playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This true story raises some very important questions. Are you diagnosing your customers’ worth based on your perception of their appearance, the car they drive, the house they occupy, or the part of town from which they come? Are you basing your treatment of others on your pre-conceived biases or on the best information available?

As author and psychotherapist Wayne Dyer puts it, “When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” So keep an open mind. As I tell my audiences, you never know who’s in your audience and those people can influence your life forever.

Communication is possible, and connection is probable … if you follow these 10 commandments for effective communication.

Action:  Take a look at your biases. Where do you tend to pre-judge others? Catch yourself doing it. And the next time you do it, tell yourself to withhold judgment until comprehension is complete.