Communication breaks down all the time. It could come from our strange language, where a fat chance and a slim chance mean the same thing.
It could come from an inability to listen and comprehend. When five-year-old Timmy found a dead robin, he thought it should be given a proper funeral. He found a small box, put in the bird, cleared out a tiny burial plot, and repeated the words he thought his pastor-father had said at various church funerals. Using an adult-like, somber, drawn-out voice, Timmy said: “Glory be unto the Faaaather… and unto the Sonnn… and into the hole he gooooes.”
The point is, communication can be problematic. As a speaker to hundreds of organizations, as a coach to many top leaders, I’ve learned one undeniable truth: The health of any organization is directly related to the quality of the communication in that organization.
That’s right. You could have really nice hardworking people in your organization, a great product, enthusiastic customers, and creative marketing, but if your communication stinks, your business is going to die.
By contrast, you can make your communication come alive by using a few time-tested techniques that I strongly recommend.
► 1. Eliminate the non-discussables.
How open is the communication in your organization? Or in your key relationships?
The health of any organization … or any relationship … is inversely proportional to the number of non-discussables. The fewer the non-discussables, the healthier you are. And the more non-discussables you have, the sicker you are.
John Berryman, the poet laureate, said essentially the same thing. He said, “We are as sick as we are secret.” In other words, you can’t have a healthy relationship, team, or organization if your communication isn’t open, honest and frequent.
Go ahead and rate your organization on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “totally closed and filled with secrets” and 10 is “everything is out in the open.” If you’re anything less than an 8, figure out a step you can take to create more openness in the communication.
►2. Re-emphasize face-to-face communication.
When the pandemic shut down face-to-face communication for our students and coworkers, it also seemed to bring a number of disheartening side effects. Spikes in mental illness, learning losses, suicide, and violence cropped up among many populations who were not hardwired for isolation. They were made for face-to-face communication.
Of course we live in an electronic age. Virtual communication is here to stay in some form but I would caution you against letting that become the only way communication takes place, for two reasons.
First, you get more communication breakdowns with virtual communication. After all, the total meaning of a message comes from both the verbal and the nonverbal cues, some of which are less detectable when you’re not in the presence of the other person.
Second, you get less bonding with virtual communication. It’s very tempting to use only virtual communication because its quick, easy, and cheap. But if you want to build a stronger team, create and maintain a particular culture, or deepen a relationship, you’ve got to be face-to-face with the other people once in a while. That’s how we’re made.
Even the broadcast industry has come to recognize that. Paula Kerger, a television network executive, says, “The next generation of leaders needs to be encouraged to work with colleagues face-to-face and not hide behind e-mails.”
Take a look at how you can add a bit more face-to-face communication to your workplace or even on the home front where too many devices are taking away too much of your focus.
►3. Use lots of eye contact.
Different cultures place different emphases on “proper” eye contact, but in most business circles … eye contact is important and valued. As the old expression goes, we trust people who “look us in the eye”.
So you wonder … where exactly should you look? Look people in the eye … not at their shoulder, chest, hips, or around their head to see who else is in the room. Or if it’s a bit more comfortable, look at the bridge of their nose.
When you meet or greet people, make a special effort to look them in the eye. When they come into your office or place of business, try to establish eye contact, even if you’re talking with someone else in person or you’re on the phone. Make a concerted effort to look people in the eye when you shake their hand.
When you’re speaking to a group, look at individuals — in their eyes — and hold their eye contact for two seconds. Your eye contact will appear much more genuine than flitting your eyes across the group from side to side.
To help your communication come alive, I invite you to join my upcoming VIP (virtual interactive program) called “LISTEN UP! How to Triple Your Listening Effectiveness” on April 20, 2023 from 9-10:30 am Eastern Time.
I want in now!
Click here to learn more.
►4. Clarify, clarify, clarify.
You just can’t assume the other person understands you. Every word in our language has several different definitions in the dictionary. So the chances of the other person picking the same definition for every word in your conversation are about nil. It’s not going to happen.
To avoid lots of communication misunderstandings, IF YOU’RE THE SPEAKER, ask the other person to tell you what he heard you say … in his own words. You’ll be able to spot almost instantly whether or not you’re on the same page.
That’s what one overweight patient should have done. His doctor said, “I want you to eat regularly for two days, and then skip a day. Repeat this procedure for two weeks, and the next time I see you, you should have lost at least five 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 third day, I thought I was going to drop dead.
“From hunger, you mean?”
“No,” responded the patient, “from skipping all day!”
Likewise, IF YOU’RE THE LISTENER, you have to clarify what you are hearing. Paraphrase. Say something like, “If I hear you correctly … or … What I think you’re saying is … or … Are you trying to say…?” It will tip off the speaker as to whether or not he’s getting through.
Bottom line? Don’t ever assume you totally understand what people are talking about. In fact, you’d be better off assuming you don’t know what they’re talking about. Take nothing for granted.
Stay tuned for next week’s Tuesday Tip on how to make your communication come alive.