Main Street: Nov. 7, 2018

November 7, 2018

My past two articles focused on respect and civility. The third part of the triad in “communication” is understanding how to communicate effectively.

While the television and social media is replete with “fake news” and purposeful misreporting the news events of the day, it is essential for us to communicate effectively with each other in our daily interactions.

One of my favorite communication quotes comes from Plato, who stated, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”

Within this framework, let’s think before we speak, and when we do, make sure it is of value to the other person. Often though, we speak our mind [not being Emotionally Intelligent and can cause consternation and potential distress for the intended receiver.

However, for some people, communication often is one-sided. It follows that they have something to say, and then they say it without discerning if the other party received the intended message.

Miscommunication occurs as a result, and feelings of hostility or anger arise because the message was not received or understood. I personally have experienced this phenomenon when a person whom I once respected, made an off-handed comment when greeting me and a communication breakdown occurred.

Frustration and feelings of hostility occurred until I contacted the person and asked why they made that statement? It was cleared up, but feelings were hurt. A prime example of think before you speak.

Within this context is an interesting book written by Stone, Patton and Heen titled, “Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most.” I would like to highlight some of their salient points and then comment in parentheses on how to add this to your leadership domain.

What is your purpose for having the conversation? (Define the intended outcome. What do you want to accomplish and how will you do it?)

Watch for the hidden purpose? (Tonality, body language, judging and not actively listening. Your body language and eye gestures speak volumes and make sure they are in sync with your message.)

What assumptions are you making about this person’s intentions? (Are they actively listening to you or just hearing you?)

What buttons of yours are being pushed? (Is the other person pushing your “hot buttons” to get you upset or angry and thus, preventing you from presenting the real intended message?)

What is the “backstory?” What personal history is being triggered? (Do you have a history or situation that will affect your intended message? If so, be cognizant of those items and deal with them accordingly.)

Focus on creating value. (All communication is based on value — giving and receiving: reciprocity. It is a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas, feelings, needs and wants.)

Stick to the facts. (Base your communication on real issues or facts, not opinions or value judgment about what you think the other person is thinking or feeling?)

Be objective, yet compassionate. (Show you care and be confident and open to change. Look at the holistic picture with the end in mind of what you both want in this communication exchange.)

How is your attitude toward the conversation influencing your perception of it? (How are your actions and words affecting the potential outcome? What are your needs and fears and how will you adequately deal with them in the conversation? Can you understand the other person’s needs and fears and address them as well?)

Can you say a little more about how you see things? (What am I missing in this conversation? What information do you have that I might not have? How do you see things differently than I do?)

Were you reacting to something I did or said? (Watch the other person’s reactions to what you just communicated? How are they receiving your message and are you just communicating noise with no reaction?)

What would that mean to you if that happened? (If the intended outcome is achieved, how would you and the other person accept that outcome, and does it create harmony or dissonance?)

Therefore, implementing the above items to increase successful communication, follow these additional four strategies to increase your communication skills.

1. Paraphrase for clarity: (Use this technique when you express to the other person, in your own words, your understanding of what they are saying.)

2. Show that you have heard: (Paraphrasing lets the other person know that they have been heard. If someone is constantly repeating themselves it is a signal that you need to paraphrase more often.)

3. Acknowledge their feelings: (Unless people get the acknowledgement they need, feelings will cause trouble in the conversation and communications will be stifled.)

4. Answer the invisible question: (People attach to each expression of feelings a set of invisible questions: “Are my feelings OK?” “Do you understand them?” “Do your care about them?” “Do you care about me?” Taking time to acknowledge the other person’s feelings says loud and clear the answer to each question is yes.)

Taking these communication strategies to the next level, acknowledging the other party is essential to increase successful communication: It sounds like you really are upset about this? This seems important to you. If I were in your shoes, I would probably feel confused, too. Remember, acknowledging is not agreeing. You are acknowledging their feelings without agreeing with their conclusions.

Therefore, in the final analysis, communication is predicated on EI. A major element of EI is empathy. Consequently, empathy is a journey, not a destination. The deepest form of understanding another person is empathy.

Empathy involves a shift from observing how you seem on the outside, to imagining what it feels like to be you (the other person) on the inside, wrapped in your skin, with your set of experiences and background and looking out at the world through your eyes.

Conversely, failure to express yourself keeps you out of the relationship. Remember what Plato said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”

Speak wisely and employ these proven strategies to communicate more effectively and watch your relationship blossom.

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