No one masters communication completely. The topic, like world cultures, keeps growing as new technology and new thought leaders emerge.
I've never met anyone who claimed to be a lousy communicator. Most people think they communicate well. Yet, given the current political unrest, racial tensions, international conflicts, and divorce rate, how could that be? How could the civil discourse be so uncivil?
Having the following communication standards might help:
- Strong communicators tell the truth: Telling the truth--without twisting the timeline, adding information, omitting information, editorializing, distorting the facts, or otherwise misrepresenting a situation or information--becomes the foundation for all other interactions between two people. Truth-telling is the circuitry for trust. When that connection is broken, there's no basis for further attempts to communicate.
- Strong communicators listen: They know what's inside their own head. The goal is to get to what's inside the head of the other person. Someone who refuses to listen is like the soldier who listens only to propaganda from his own party. To find out what the enemy is about, that soldier must listen to the enemy's transmissions. When you're always in "talk" mode, you'll always be at a disadvantage, knowing only what you think or intend to do.
Listening (not just hearing) benefits strong communicators several ways: 1) You demonstrate interest in the other party. 2) You learn. 3) You can respond appropriately.
- Strong communicators read body language: Words are never the whole story. Meanings are conveyed in tone of voice, voice volume, facial expression, eye contact of the lack thereof, smiling, nodding hand and arm gestures, stiff or relaxed body posture, a smooth walk or a limping gait. All of these things and more tell you how someone feels about the topic of their presentation.
- Strong communicators choose precise words: Reckless writing and speaking doesn't happen with strong communicators. They take care to eliminate "hot" words (unfair, unreasonable, disapproval, complaint) and phrases from their conversations and documents so as not to elicit an emotional reaction over an improper word rather than over the intended idea. They mean what they say, and say what they mean.
- Strong communicators pay attention to emotional context: Strong communicators understand how the listener's mindset can positively or negatively affect how someone hears what you say. So they make sure to understand the context and select the appropriate emotional backdrop against which to deliver bad news.
- Strong communicators understand the importance of timing: They're not going to ask the boss for a raise just after learning that the stock price has fallen 35 percent. Nor will they give a briefing about losing their biggest client half an hour before making a big sales call with a new prospect.
- Strong communicators understand how grand-standing affects persuasion. They know that people feel pressure to say things they don't mean when egos become involved. For example, in a meeting Marco speaks up to support Solution A to a problem, with three other colleagues in the room, agreeing with him. Kevin debates the issue, saying he wholeheartedly disagrees with Solution A. Marco restates his position solidly for Solution A, although he cannot state his reasons so clearly as Kevin. Kevin again refutes Marco's position, clearly stating his own position and reasons for Solution B. The 3 onlookers appear to take Kevin's position, which has now been stated so eloquently.
Marco will find it difficult to persist in his opinion for several reasons. 1) The disagreement has become public, where onlookers must take a "side" for winners and losers. 2) Winning will now involve ego.If the goal is to gain consensus rather than force agreement, Kevin will need to find a way for Marco to change his opinion without losing face with the onlookers. Confidentiality provides that cover.