© October 7, 2007
WOW... it's October, already! Started your Christmas shopping yet ? Yeah, I know... scary thought. Let's just get through Halloween, right? (smile)
You know, I consider myself to be an excellent communicator, and it's generally held that if you can't communicate with me, you might as well give it up, take a vow of silence and become a monk or something, because I make it easy to communicate (that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.) Some years ago I read a quote that said, "A misunderstanding is the mark of a lazy communicator," and I took that puppy to heart, so I go a long way in the communication process to make sure that I'm understood, and to make sure I understand what people are saying, so we're all on the same wavelength.
When I talk with someone, and they misunderstand something I said, I assume I said it wrong, and I try to fix it. When someone says something to me that doesn't feel quite right to me, I assume I took it the wrong way, and I ask them to clarify or elaborate so I can make sure I understand it the way they meant it. But still, as good as I think I am with it, every once in a while the whole thing gets screwed up and, as they say in diplomatic circles, communication fails.
As luck would have it, I experienced such a situation recently, and whenever that happens, I do one of those post game analysis things where they replay the game and put every move under the scrutiny of "the experts" to see what went wrong and where, and in doing so I was forced to re-examine the guidelines and assumptions I use for communication (they say that introspection is good for the soul), and I thought perhaps you might find them worthy of thought, so... here ya go.
First of all, communication is a two-way process. Both parties gotta *want* to be there, and want to understand and want to communicate, or it's not communication. There are a number of names for it (wasted time, for instance) but "communication" is not one of them. Have you ever tried to talk to a teenager who didn't want to be there? HA! Was that communication? I think not! So that's rule #1 -- in my book.
Rule #2: Both parties must assume that the other party is not intentionally trying to hurt them. I have a saying: "I speak intent." It means that when you say something to me, my automatic assumption is that you are not saying it to intentionally hurt me. This is a critical point. If I think you're there to try to hurt me, I'm going to be defensive, ready to defend and protect against your ensuing attacks. In communicating, both people must understand... that we're not here to try to hurt each other. That way, we can relax a little easier, and when one of us says something that feels bad to the other one, we can automatically re-frame it, figure out what was really meant, or ask the other for clarification so we can better understand. Public speaker Dr. Charles Jarvis (I've mentioned him before) says that in any group before a public speaker, there's at least 2 or 3% of the audience waiting to be offended, and if you're waiting to be offended, you WILL be. It is inevitable.
Many times in our interpersonal communication, one party -- and sometimes both -- are also waiting to be offended, and that is deadly to the communication process. I have lost friends -- yes... even me -- over comments I've made that were taken other than how I meant them, and rather than seek or accept my clarification, they chose instead to be hurt and, in some cases, terminate the friendship. So, I speak intent! If you're aiming to hurt me during a conversation, dag nabbit, I'm going to make you prove it ! It will not happen accidentally.
Rule #3: Each party must want to understand what the other party is saying. I know that sounds suspiciously like something I said already, but it's not. Have you ever been in a conversation where one party was more interested in rebutting what the other party had to say than they were in hearing what was being said? Were you that party? In his book "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen Covey says "seek first to understand, then be understood." It's another guiding principal for me -- try to understand where the other person is coming from so you know *their* experiences and references. My good friend Mitch Mitchell of TT Mitchell Consulting is probably one of the best I've ever known at being able to put himself in the other person's shoes and understand -- at an almost empathic level -- what they're feeling and saying. I'm not as good at it as he is, but I'm not bad; and I've relied on him over the years to help make sure I was in the proper frame on various situations. But you have to want to understand what the other person "means", and sometimes that goes beyond hearing just their words, and you can't do that if you're there waiting to "pounce." Seek first to understand, then be understood.
Rule #4: It is the speaker's responsibility to ensure that the message he or she is delivering is received properly by their intended audience (single person or group). Another guideline that I adopted, probably about the time I embraced that "lazy communicator" concept. This means I can't just "throw something out there" and expect people to understand what I mean. It is my responsibility to take sufficient care and provide enough background or reference information so that a normal person can understand where I'm coming from. Note: I didn't say they had to agree with it, just be able to understand it. I've seen many people throw out a concept or thought and expect their listeners to "figure it out." Well, "a misunderstanding is the mark of a lazy communicator."
If all this is in place, I believe your communication will succeed. But, ultimately each person in the communication process must take responsibility for their part, to make it work. It takes two to tango! But, what happens if, despite your best efforts, you just can't get on the same mental accord with the other person? Do your own post game analysis and make sure that your piece is in place. If you are convinced that you're not out to intentionally hurt the other person, that you really do want to understand, that you are in fact communicating as clearly and concisely and compassionately as you can and that you've done all you can to understand where they're coming from and understand their views... then... maybe you're not the one being the lazy communicator, and maybe it's just time to get off the field, and try to communicate another day.
And by the way... if in your analysis you find that you were wrong, by all means offer a prompt and sincere apology -- or two -- to the other party, try to re-frame and do better the next round.
That's my take on it! What do you think?
Have an AWESOME day.
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