How well are you able to communicate your ideas to another person? Think about it. How many times have you argued with a spouse or significant other because of a communication problem, or lack of communication? What about your children? Have you ever asked a colleague or a member of your team to do something only to be totally disappointed because they did something completely different? The whole “bring me a rock” exercise. Most of the time ineffective communication is the cause of our disagreements and disappointments. This week I am going to share some takeaways from a recent workshop I participated in to learn effective communication.
I recently had the opportunity to sit in a two-day workshop on communication. I am always willing to explore options for improving myself, and I understand the benefits of being a more effective communicator. However, as you can imagine, two full days seemed like a lot. I have participated in communication training, and by extension leadership communication training before. Usually they were hours upon hours of hypothetical examples and role playing for scenarios that never actually happen.
To my surprise my expectations were completely wrong! We didn’t participate in role playing with over the top, unrealistic hypotheticals. Instead, during the two days we broke down and explored the causes of miscommunication, and how our own uniqueness contributes to it. It amazed me that just after day one, the workshop participants were sharing how they were taking what they learned and applied it at home that night! I cannot recreate the same impact in a blog that the workshop had over the two days, but I’d like to share some of the takeaways that might impact how you communicate.
How We Communicate
In today’s world there are almost an infinite number of ways to communicate with one another. We have email, text messaging, instant messaging, social media feeds, phones, video calls, pre-recorded videos, and good old-fashioned face to face conversation. Those are just the mediums we use for communication, that doesn’t even consider the message we are actually trying to convey!
When it comes to messaging it gets even more complicated. Have you ever said something (in any of the mediums above) and someone took offense, and you immediately had to clarify because your intent wasn’t understood? Yeah, me too.
Body language, tone of voice and other contextual clues add meaning to the words you’re saying. Most of us don’t put much thought and effort into the messaging and how we are communicating with others. We make assumptions based on our beliefs, what we think is commons sense, and our understanding of specific words. We have mental pictures or conclusions in our mind, and we assume others will have the same. This is far from the case.
When we communicate with others, we all need to be careful to make sure we are clear on what we are trying to communicate, and that our approach (message and medium) are appropriate and can be clearly understood by our audience.
“The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” – George Bernard Shaw
Did you know there are 645 meanings to the word run? I was surprised too, so I googled it. It’s no wonder why non-native English speakers say that English is the hardest language to learn! In this workshop we played a word association game. The facilitator gave us a word and we each wrote down the next ten things that came to mind. It was a relatively common word, and we all knew the definition of it, but in the entire group we didn’t have one word in common.
The language we use while communicating can, and likely will, conjure different understandings in different people. In the workshop, we had the opportunity to do some group work. We had to answer some simple questions individually then meet as a group and find common meanings. Even with these simple questions, we all interpreted them slightly differently and answered them differently. The questions were about communication, but many people would have different answers if they applied the question to work situations or personal situations. The questions didn’t specify, and we interpreted it based on our experiences.
We don’t ask enough questions. I have read Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling probably close to a dozen times. In this book he dedicates a whole chapter on asking questions? Why? Because asking questions (he says smart questions) is the only way to get information. I once listened to a talk on successful interviewing. One of the most common mistakes interviewees have is they don’t ask questions. Ironically this was more common in men than women. Why? I suspect we believe by asking questions we admit we might not have all the answers. If we don’t have all the answers the other person might think we’re not qualified.
On the contrary, we must ask questions. Asking questions shows curiosity and a desire for understanding. I’ll never know what you are thinking, how I can help you, or who you are without asking questions. Earlier I alluded to the bring me a rock exercise. You know when your boss asks for a rock, you bring a rock only to find out it was the wrong rock. We’ve all been there I am sure. What would have happened if you took a few minutes to find out what rock your boss wanted in the first place? Would it have been time better invested than to have to go find another rock? I bet it would. Asking questions is an investment in getting the job done right the first time.
This Week’s Challenge
Today’s article isn’t going to make you a better communicator all by itself. I wanted to share with you some of the takeaways that I took from this workshop. You may already know and understand these things. For this week’s challenge, I recommend you look at how you communicate and find ways to be more effective. A small investment in becoming a more effective communicator can help your productivity.
If you would like to discuss more ways to help your business grow or if you feel you have a specific problem that needs to be addressed, please reach out to me.