Communication Is About Quality, Not Quantity

When we are not heard, we’re hurt.

Talk about change. We’ve never lived on a time when there has been SO MUCH communication … whether it be the mobile phone, the newspaper, the TV, the radio, or the Internet with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo and a hundred other vehicles of communication.

Unfortunately, the quantity of the communication does not equal the quality of communication that is so desperately needed in today’s troubled world. In fact, you can see instances of ineffective communication everywhere you look.

For example, the police in Oakland, California spent two hours attempting to subdue a gunman who had barricaded himself inside his home. After firing ten tear gas canisters, officers discovered that the man was standing beside them in the police line, shouting, “Please, come out and give yourself up.”

And in Modesto, California, Steven Richard King was arrested for trying to hold up a Bank of America branch without a weapon. King used a thumb and a finger to simulate a gun. Unfortunately, he failed to keep his hand in his pocket. By contrast, some people know how to communicate clearly, cleverly, and succinctly. Take these businesses, for example.

**On a plumber’s truck: “We repair what your husband fixed.”

**In a nonsmoking area: “If we see smoke, we will assume you are on fire and take appropriate action.”

**At an optometrist’s office “If you don’t see what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place.”

**Outside a muffler shop: “No appointment necessary. We hear you coming.”

**In a veterinarian’s waiting room: “Be back in 5 minutes. Sit! Stay!”

**At a propane filling station: “Thank heaven for little grills.”

The point is … every relationship at work and every relationship at home rises or falls on the communication in that relationship. And as I’ve shared in the last two “Tuesday Tips,” so much of that communication tends to “disconnect” people rather than bring them together.

So what’s the answer? How can you ensure effective, connecting communication? Try these techniques that come from my program called “The Partnership Payoff: 7 Keys To Better Relationships And Greater Teamwork.”

=> 1. Intensify interpersonal relationships.

If you look through the list of 10 “disconnects” I wrote about in the last two “Tuesday Tips,” you’ll realize that most of them come about because of too much focus on ourselves and too little focus on others. So a great way to improve your overall communication effectiveness is to simply shift more of the focus to the other person.

That was one of my secrets as a professor. Not to brag, but I was selected as the “Outstanding Faculty Member” by two different universities and I have twice been honored as a “Distinguished Faculty Member” by the Institute for Management Studies. It wasn’t because I was the smartest professor around or even the one who wrote the most books and articles. No, I believe it was because of the impact I had on my students.

Time and again, I would invite 12 to 15 students over to the house, and I would make sure to include those who seemed especially disinterested in class or even hostile towards me. Of course, they would ask, “What are we going to do?” I would say I didn’t know, but we would have some pizza, sodas, and just talk. Before you knew it, it was 2:30 in the morning, and none of them were asking … as they did in class … “What time is this period over?” or “Will that be on the exam?”

I learned a simple communication principle during all those sessions. The closer I got to an individual, the greater impact I made on his/her life … because I took TIME to be with him/her, to talk and listen, to intensify our interpersonal relationship.

Quite simply, it’s difficult to have a quality relationship with quality communication if you’re not willing to invest some TIME in the process. One Marine knew that. He was willing to invest the time necessary.

It all started with a nurse who led the tired, anxious serviceman to the bedside of an old man. She said, “Your son is here,” repeating her words several times before the patient’s eyes opened.

Heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack, he dimly saw the young uniformed Marine standing outside the oxygen tent. He reached out his hand. The Marine wrapped his toughened fingers around the old man’s limp ones, squeezing a message of love and encouragement. The nurse brought a chair so that the Marine could sit beside the bed.

All through the night, the young Marine sat there in the poorly lighted ward, holding the old man’s hand and offering him words of love and strength. And occasionally, the nurse suggested that the Marine move away and rest awhile. He refused. Whenever the nurse came into the ward, the Marine was oblivious of her and of the night noises in the hospital … the clanking of the oxygen tank, the laughter of the night staff members as they exchanged greetings, or the cries and moans of the other patients. Now and then she heard him say a few gentle words. The dying man said nothing, only held tightly to his son all through the night.

Along towards dawn, the old man died. The Marine released the now lifeless hand he had been holding and went to tell the nurse. While she did what she had to do, he waited. Finally, she returned. She started to offer words of sympathy, but the Marine interrupted her.

“Who was that man?” he asked. The nurse was startled, “He was your father,” she answered. “No, he wasn’t,” the Marine replied. “I never saw him before in my life.”

“Then why didn’t you say something when I took you to him?”

“I knew right away there had been a mistake, but I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realized that he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, knowing how much he needed me, I stayed. I came here tonight to find a Mr. William Grey. His son was killed in Iraq today, and I was sent to inform him. What was this gentleman’s name?” The nurse, with tears in her eyes, answered, “Mr. William Grey.”

The lesson for all of us? You want to be a better communicator? Then there are no shortcuts. It will take TIME. You have to be willing to intensify interpersonal relationships on and off the job.

If you’re willing to do that, then go on to the next technique.

=> 2. Ask good questions of yourself.

In his book, “Don’t Just Talk, Be Heard,” David Levin writes, “In order to be more effective with others — whether as a leader, a co-worker, or a friend — the most important thing we can do is make sure we’re in the right frame of mind to begin with. To that end, the questions we ask OURSELVES make all the difference in the world.”

He’s right. Poor communicators tend to ask questions that focus on what is wrong with the other person. They ask, “Why can’t he be a team player? When is she going to get with the program? And why can’t he just do it without all the griping and groaning?” Those kinds of questions give you a poor-me outlook on life, and they put you into an adversarial relationship with the other person. Not cool!

By contrast, effective communicators do what John G. Miller calls the “question behind the question.” Instead of focusing on the other person’s faults, they ask questions that make them think about what they can do about it. They ask such questions as, “How can I be more patient? How can I listen better? How can I show more appreciation for my people? How can I be more engaged in her development? And what does this person need the most from me … right now?”

When you ask good questions of yourself, you stop blaming the other person and start focusing on what you can do to improve your communication. And the results are dramatically better … partly because you…

=> 3. Say “we” and “us” more often.

Words make a huge difference. When you talk about “we” and “us,” you’re encouraging cooperation and reinforcing inclusion. You’re saying, in effect, “We’re connected. We’re in this together.”

Just the opposite happens if you have too many “I’s” and “you’s” in your conversation. Your communication focuses on your differences. It focuses on areas of disagreement, dissent, and disapproval.

And from my point of view, public discourse has fallen into this destructive pit. Instead of referring to Americans as Americans, the media pits us against one another. As Lee Iaccoca, the former chairman of the Chrysler Corporation, noted, “We are no longer Republicans and Democrats. We are what the media calls ‘special interests’.”

And the same criticism can be and should be leveled at Congress. As Iaccoca went on to ask, “Ever notice that the members of Congress call those who agree with them ‘constituents’ and all those who disagree with them ‘special interests’?” It’s outrageous, and it’s destructive.

The same goes for your communication at work or at home. Whenever you use or overuse “I” and “you” language, you create a disconnect. Start using more “we” and “us” to connect with other people.

=> 4. Evaluate, simplify and clarify.

Most people just talk, but they never think about how well they talk. And that goes for all their communication … from their informal chit chats at home to a formal presentation at work.

And without some evaluation on how well you talk, you may never bother to simplify and clarify WHAT you say or improve HOW you say it.

That’s why I’ve written out an evaluation of every one of the 2000+ presentations I’ve given over the years. In fact, if a client asked me to come back and speak at their company once again, I could tell them every joke and story I told and every statistic or point I made … even though the first presentation may have been 5, 10 or even 20 years ago. I could tell how well I did, what the audience reaction was like, what went especially well, and what could be improved.

You may not need to be that systematic about it. But if you’re serious about improving your communication ability, it isn’t going to happen all by itself. It will come as the result of some self-examination, some feedback from others, and some hard work.

Start using these 4 techniques more consciously and more frequently, and you will see your “disconnects” disappear as your communication and relationships improve.

Action:  Watch your language more carefully. Are you saying more about “I, me, you, them, and they?” Or are you talking more about “we and us?” Make sure you turn your emphasis towards the latter.