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The Communication Illusion:
The Silent Relationship Killer
By Rene F. Rodriguez
A man yelled frantically into the phone, "My wife is pregnant and her contractions are only two minutes apart!"
"Is this her first child?" the doctor asked.
"No!" the man shouted, "This is her husband!"
I can't hold it in anymore, I just need to say it straight out: most of us suck at communicating! But yet many of us (me included) think that we are great at it. You're going to have to forgive my bluntness, but I needed a way to catch your attention amongst all the articles and information written about this abused subject.
Communication is a part of almost every human interaction, which is why we keep hearing that we need to be better communicators. But let me ask you a question, "How well do you communicate?" Most people respond with some sort of positive assessment of their communication while being somewhat open for more learning. Here is another question for you, "What would your significant other, coworkers, children, friends, boss or customers say about your communication effectiveness?" Before you answer, ask yourself this question, "Will they even tell me the truth?" If your immediate answer was, "Of course they would", then this article is for you.
I have a simple goal and that is to make you paranoid (in a good way) about the effectiveness of your communication with others, and that can only happen when we become aware of what often goes unnoticed. Stay with me and it will all make sense.
The reality of our poor communication, along with what seems to be a collective belief that we are better at it than we really are, is a phenomenon that I have wrestled with for over 15 years. The word/concept of "communication" has been so widely talked about, misunderstood and over-used that it has entered the realm of becoming a cliché. Stanly Kubrick illustrates one of the underlying challenges we face when dealing with clichés:
"Our ability to talk about a subject matter
What he means here is that most of us can "talk" a great game in regards to communication, but when it comes to "walking" it, research and experience show that we stumble not just sometimes, but most of the time.
"The beginning of wisdom is a definition of terms."
Understanding the problem
I found a definition for "excellent communication" that states "a communication that is managed strategically, meets its objectives, and balances the needs of the organization and the needs of key people with two-way symmetrical communication" (Grunig & Grunig). Though I love that definition, it still doesn't help me to understand why it is so hard to be (and be perceived) as an effective communicator.
Why is communication so hard?
How do we fix something that we are not even aware of?
The Six Checkpoints are:
The illustration below shows a simple conversation between Bill and John. If at any point the steps in the process break down, there is the potential for a wide range of miscommunication.
Types of Personal Filters
Words are NOT enough!
Though Mehrabian's model is often oversimplified, and can be misinterpreted when taken out of context, it is nevertheless one of the most widely referenced statistics in communications and carries a powerful message: 93% of the impact we make on others has nothing to do with words.
What can we do?
Here are some tips for effective communication:
Well-chosen language, said in the right way and with body language that is congruent, can touch the heart and soul, find a common ground, tear down walls of division, foster powerful new relationships and move people to take action. Language that ignores another person's emotional state, culture, current life situations, and personal beliefs will miss its mark. Instead of building trust, it can distance us from those we care about and those whom we need to influence.
I know that I was hard on you (and myself) earlier, so I will leave you with some good news. You have the answers, capability and the tools to be an outstanding communicator. In fact, you've had them all along, and the best part, they're all free! Things like good eye contact, active listening, being sensitive to other's stress level and background are all things that you know to be important. Perhaps they have become so familiar that we may have lost sight of their value and subsequently stopped using them. Now it is time to remind ourselves of the importance of these fundamentals and to apply them. Doing so will make the difference between winning and losing a sale, landing the job and not getting a call back, or getting through to your children about the importance of saying "NO" to drugs versus having them ignore you. I hope this message causes you to be at least a little bit paranoid about your communication—paranoid enough to slow down, think before we speak, and listen before we respond. I am ready for the challenge…are you?
Rene F. Rodriguez is a member of the LoanToolbox speaking faculty and Chief Executive Officer of Volentum, (www.volentum.com) a Management Consulting Firm that specializes in creating high performance sales cultures, breakthrough leadership, employee engagement and strategic communication, with significant expertise in applying brain research to improving results.
He is a trusted advisor to Leadership and Business Teams in Coca-Cola, Liz Claiborne, Daimler Chrysler, Microsoft, and other major corporations. For more information please visit www.Volentum.com or call 952-232-1771.
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