The art of communication

Last week I had a chance to attend a communication course. To be honest, I have attended my share of these types of ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ courses, and the results have been mixed at best. However, this one is different. Very different.

The course was delivered by Interactifs, a boutique French consulting firm that specialises in communication. Due to copyright and ethical reasons, I am not going to include details of the course. I am just sharing my reflections and learning.

*BEWARE, THIS IS A LONG POST* – IF YOU ARE LAZY, JUMP TO THE ‘GREAT EXAMPLES’ SECTION

 

What I’ve learnt

It’s important to let your audience know your state of mind. The emotion that you are going through (and the others as well). No, it’s not about being in a counselling or AA session. It’s not about having a pillow talk. This is about being clear of how you are. Second, it is important to state what you want. It’s always easier for us to say, it’s all about what others want. This is in fact wrong, at least from the communication perspective, because it creates a layer of uncertainty (the others may not fully understand what you want). If you want to start a conversation, it means there is something you want, so be direct.

In terms of the way we communicate, there are actually two key components to it: content and manner. The problem is that most people mixed up the two. We all want direct and precise information while feeling respected and warm. The end result (not the communication itself) is honest, sincere and transparent discussion – something we all want. Being direct in content does not mean being direct in manner.

Sure, there are always strategy and tactic in terms of what should be said and in what time and place to do so. There is always a right time and place for everything.  And once it has been decided a piece of information is to be communicated, we should follow strictly to the values we highlighted before (i.e. how we want to be heard).

When we talk about effort, we talk about time and resources. There is usually a missing part – energy.  We could be doing something, spent a lot of time on it, and if you notice, the energy level varies. This is important when we talk about communication. We need to have the right energy and we need the other person to have the right energy at the right moment.

Don’t focus on what happened in the past. Don’t focus on other people’s problem (or any human as a problem). Focus on what’s in the future. What needs to be established. And communication is the gateway from the past to the future. Focus on what needs to be done to enable the future, not pondering the past.

There is a need to get constant feedback from the discussion. Always respond to things you have heard too. Not just the key points. And at the end too. Remember all the mafia talks, they always end up saying ‘are we good now?’. It takes lots of practice to do it well because feedback takes on no real meaning if there is insufficient reflection put to it. And reflection takes time.

We are all taught to get the ‘gist’ of any conversation. As the instructor tested us time and time again, we all missed critical information because we jumped to the conclusion as we listen to live conversation. If you are to take notes, verbatim is critical. Also, I found out in my doctoral studies, reading verbatim notes can present very different meaning in different time and setting. It is scary how we interpret what people say.

Communication is not psychological war (I guess it can be). The most effective way is to be clear and make your message heard.

We are always tempted to ‘justify’ ourselves in our conversation. In a recent meeting with an acquaintance, I noted he kept saying ‘do you know what I mean’, ‘this is my view’, etc. I wonder if his brash personality is also constantly looking for validation and support. Most of the time when we talk, we are actually fear of something – therefore the need to talk.

It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about the room for negotiation. It’s not about winning an argument. Communication is not problem solving. It is how to do problem solving better.

You never win an argument by logic (if the others agree with your logic, you won’t have the differences in the first place). Win by action and evidence. Therefore, preparation is key.

Sandwich criticism, although we are so used to it, is bad. Really bad. Sugar coating is a waste of everyone’s time.

Having an opinion is fine. Judging is different. And we judge way too often.

Present/future tense is always better than past/conditional tense. So be clear.

Myths

Whenever we touch on a ‘soft’ topic such as communication, we usually use ‘culture’ as an excuse of not taking up new ideas. The instructor was smart. Instead of asking us how do we communicate in various instances (which of course culture would be a good excuse), he asked “how would you like to be heard?” Using this perspective, everyone said literally the same set of values. The small class of 10 has 5 different nationalities. No one argue on those values. It is the common denominator.

In the class, everyone was asked to give a real work example. Funny enough I notice in every example, it’s always the other person that is in the wrong. No one believes they are at fault!

Great examples

Respect <> Submissive

Gentle <> Manipulative (passive aggressive)

Honest <> Brutal

Melo <> Indecisive

“Do you want to go to the beach?” <> “I want to go to the beach, can you come with me?”

“Can I leave the table?” <> “I want to go to play”

“Would you like to update this?” <> “I need your help to update this”

Finally

One thing I have always wanted to do. And I am making progress. I am trying to cut down on the word ‘BUT’. In fact, I hope I can completely eliminate the use of this word. I have said it before, everything that is said before the word ‘BUT’ is just lies. Of course, we tell ourselves it’s just the way we connect sentences. It is not entirely true. It’s more likely we are just lazy in our reasoning or lazy in accommodating other people’s thoughts. Read your emails. See how many BUT do you use. How would you change the sentence? Does it look really different now? Does it give a different meaning?

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