The Two Laws Of Effective Communication

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”
Rollo May, psychotherapist

ListeningOutside of breathing, there are few things we do more often than communicate. So you’d think we’d be very good at it. But the sad truth is … we’re not. Communication breaks down all the time.

It’s like the blacksmith who told his new apprentice, “Take this hammer and do exactly as I tell you. I’m going to put this horseshoe in the fire and heat it up until it’s red hot. And when I nod my head, I want you to hit it as hard as you can.” Whoops!

Or it’s like the interviewer who asked his new job applicant where he was educated. The applicant replied, “Yale.” “Terrific,” said the interviewer. “What’s your name?” The man replied, “Yim Yohnson.”

The fact is … we live in a world of people, and a good portion of your personal happiness and professional success depends on the quality of your communication with many of those people. That being the case, you must learn how to communicate effectively with people … so you form peaceful, pleasant, and productive relationships with those people.

To do that,

1. You must understand the nature of effective communication.

First, effective communication is not a one-way process. You do not communicate TO another person; you communicate WITH another person. The difference is in the give-and-take.

When you want someone to accept your message, you have to make the other person feel important and involved in the communication. In other words, you have to listen to that person’s message, too. If you don’t, you’ll make him feel smaller than he is, and he will make up for it by behaving like a “big shot.”

Fortunately, there’s an easy way you can check up on … to see if you were communicating TO or WITH the other person. After each conversation, ask yourself if you learned anything or gained any information from the other person? Or did you only dispense information without getting any feedback? If all you did was dispense information, the chances are very good that you didn’t communicate and you’re headed for problems.

The second thing you must understand about the nature of communication is that most people don’t realize when they’ve failed to communicate. As one philosopher said, “There’s only one problem with communication–the illusion that it has been achieved.” Or as Alan Greenspan, the former head of Federal Reserve Board said, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

As a silly way of illustrating that, I play a little game with some of my audiences. I’ll ask them to imagine that I’m their boss who is delegating a task to them. I’ll tell them rapidly, as though I’m a busy boss at work, what to do, and ask them to write it down. I’ll say, “Would you please do a, b, and z by tomorrow at 2 p.m.?”

Then I’ll say, just to make sure I’m communicating effectively, “What did I ask you to do? Tell me what I said.” Only 8 out of 1000 people get it right, telling me a, b, and z … while most of them tell me I said a, b, and c. And still others get the time or some other detail wrong.

The point is simple. When you ASSUME you understand someone else … as the word spells a-s-s-u-m-e … you often make an a_s of you and me.

To make quick and dramatic improvements in your communication effectiveness, there are three basic, straight-forward steps you can and need to take.

The first one has to do with …

2. Take time to communicate.

It takes time to relate well to people. Just think about some of the miscommunication problems you’ve experienced. Most of the them can be traced back to your impatience … or not taking the time to relate to the people involved. As a general rule, rushing the communication process destroys it.

When I advise leaders to take time to communicate with their people, to keep their people fully informed, they get defensive. When I tell leaders they’ve got to take the time to explain the “what has to be done” AND the “why it has to be done,” they tell me, “We’re too busy to spend all that time talking. We’ve got a job to do.”

I’ll tell them “Fine, have it your way. But you’re either going to take time NOW … talking about things … or take a lot more time LATER fixing those things.” Yes, effective communication is a time-consuming process, but it is far less time consuming than coping with the negative results of rushed communication and disharmony.

So how can you make sure you’re investing enough time in the communication process? Start with these simple techniques.

  • Take notes. When you’re involved in a business conversation, whether it’s by telephone or face-to-face, take notes. When you transmit the words to paper it will slow down the overall pace of the conversation. You’ll spend more time absorbing what is being said and have more time to thoughtfully respond … rather than instantaneously react.
  • Have key information repeated back to you. When you’re sharing key information, say something like, “I’m not sure I made that as clear as I needed to. What did you understand that to mean?”
  • Close a conversation on a positive. Just in case you unknowingly rushed the communication process, this technique may prevent some lingering irritation on the other person’s part. You can close with something like, “You’ve been very helpful in working this out” or “I appreciate your attention to the details.”

The comedian Dave Barry says, “You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, ‘My Golly, you’re right! I never would’ve thought of that!'” It would be nice if the world of people and process of communication were so simple. They’re not. But they’re not all that difficult either if you employ three basic, straight-forward communication techniques … the first one being “take time to communicate.” I’ll give you the other two steps next week.

ACTION:  Where do you need to take more time to communicate? How will you take and make the time?