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Lessons Learned – Mistakes Repeated Vol. 2 If You Don’t Have This… You Don’t Have Anything!

I’m writing – you are reading – WE are not communicating. Not yet anyways. Communication comes from the Latin, which means ‘to come to a common understanding’.

Re-Learning how to communicate in a fast moving race down the ever-lengthening TO-DO list or e-mail inbox greatly increases efficiency, avoids mistakes, decreases risk and avoids conflict. 

Every Project closure needs a time for lessons learned. Alas I am not the only one who sees the same mistakes repeated far too often. The way we communicate – that is come to that common understanding is the most efficient way to solve problems and keep them solved. Unfortunately, work-arounds and compromise seem to be the norm.

Tom misreads the tone of Frank’s ASAP e-mail, thinking the final system check isn’t time sensitive and ignores it. Frank, getting no response either thinks Tom, has no desire to resolve the issue or is just a jerk. In fact perhaps Frank’s e-mail or Tom has not shared pressures on him from security and higher management. In fact what is happening is the lack of a real understanding between Tom & Frank exacecerbates the situation with numerous rounds of e-mails and a potential souring of the relationship.

In order to reach this common understanding we need to get better at getting to the heart of what the other person is trying to convey. We need to understand where the speaker is coming from (context) and why it is important to the speaker (personal interests). 

A speaker’s attempt at communication is always masked in their own language phraseology, intended or unintended tone, root problem and why it is so important to them. It will be difficult or even impossible to fully understand the intent of the speaker without doing so. As Steven Covey said so long ago –‘seek first to understand then to be understood’. 

In the mediation business we talk of intent-action-impact. I intend a certain message; I translate it into a message or action but then it is received and has an impact on the receiver of the message. The impact is quite often different than intended.

Failure to look at the speaker’s intent, purpose, interests and actions, often results in more e-mails, questions, whys? And why nots? etc. further increasing the number of interactions and e-mails. This, in turn, results in a perceived need to speed through the e-mail inbox and dispense with them. 
Usually we fall back to the more expedient and less effective compromise.

Without real communication you have nothing. Whizz through the To Do list and inbox and then sit back and await their return. Reacting and interpreting the message from within your own context further inflames the situation. From there we make assumptions about the other person. This often results in the other guy becoming the bad guy. Once people get entrenched in preconceived notions (‘everything is about money with him’, ‘he’s calling me a liar’, ‘it didn’t happen that way at all’).

At that point everything out of the other person’s mouth is misinterpreted, cast in an unflattering or opinioned way and communication in the sense of coming to a common understanding becomes all the harder to achieve. And without the understanding there is no way out of conflict, growing compromises and second guessing. Just an ever faster treadmill race down the in-box To-Do list. 

What makes communication so hard to do? 

  1. We are all human and have learned ways of listening that have made us successful in the past.
  2. Often in today’s age of overloaded inboxes, the ability to speed through the list and getting things done quickly is one of the skills we learn.
  3. One of the things we lose in our quest to be quick is the loss of understanding and consequently efficiency.
  4. Another loss in our quest for speed is achieving truly innovative quality solutions.

Can we be more efficient and effective if we communicate better?

The best way to become a better communicator is to become a better listener. There is some good research on listening, which suggests some common barriers to listening. Listening from our own context –where we are at the moment affects how we hear a message. Hence when thoughts are on budgets and the speaker speaks of timeline we tend to interpret the speaker’s words and perhaps intents differently. 

Another barrier is anticipating what the speaker is going to say next, hence inserting our thoughts for the speaker’s. When we do this we are prematurely evaluating the speaker’s message before we have truly ‘understood’ what the speaker is intending. Our first instinct is the human reactive instinct to respond in some way instead of listening. 

Instead of truly listening we prepare our rebuttal or if we agree we try and ‘help’ the speaker complete their thoughts.

The purpose of Listening is to Listen, nothing more nothing less.

After we listen we need to ensure understanding of the speaker’s intent. In the Latin sense of the word it matters not whether the speaker didn’t speak clearly enough or whether we were not intently listening with the aim of truly understanding. It is a joint responsibility to come to a common understanding. 

So how can we communicate better? Practicing active and introspective listening can make all the difference. This can only be done by pausing, asking questions open, closed, examples, permission, and most importantly active listening. Active listening turns a passive activity like listening to an active one. 

  1. It begins with a paraphrase of what you heard.
  2. The critical question – ‘Did I get that right? ‘Did I understand that correctly?’
  3. The speaker then has an option – ‘Yes you did’ or ‘No you didn’t’
  4. If the answer is No, the speaker repeats trying to clarify the portion the listener missed from the speaker’s intent.
  5. The listener again paraphrases and repeats the key question – did I get that right?
  6. Only when the speaker is satisfied that the listener has understood correctly do the roles reverse.

I use active listening in my mediation work resolving conflict between parties. It is amazing to watch as participants to the conflict continue to repeat familiar arguments and attempts to insert rebuttals. 

Get real! – explaining it one more time as if it were a logic exercise is not effective. Understanding being empathetic and setting aside your own needs for a moment requires maturity, business acumen, detached objectivity and sometimes considerable skill. Understanding why it is so important

To become a better communicator become a better listener 

The purpose of listening is to listen –nothing more, nothing less

Properly executed Active listening brings understanding

When both parties share a common understanding then you have communication. That is communication and without it you have nothing.

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