There are thousands of blog posts, books and training on effective communication. Yet, we as a society still struggle with it. With technology in the palm of our hands, we are glued to our devices and connected to millions- but who is really talking?
The last few weeks I have been internalizing on my accomplishments, my goals and my behavior that may or may not be associated with the first two. My biggest strength AND weakness is communication. And I'm starting to see why. The three elements of communication below sum up the internal and external struggles I've been having.
We hear conversations. We partake in conversations. But what is really going on? Understanding is the core definition of effective communication. When you can understand what is or is not being said, you can teach it back, challenge it, or start contributing (either by risks or continuous improvement).
The difficulty with understanding is that we're not listening to begin with. The reasons could be arrogance (I already know this) or ignorance (I don't need to know this). Don't waste your time or the person's time, who are trying to communicate with you.
How can I / will I contribute?
What is distracting me from understanding this?
Why am I here if I think I know this or don't need to know this?
If you're the smartest person in the room, you're probably sitting in the wrong room.
"Trust? She's bringing trust into this?" It's okay if you thought that. But in the last few months of taking on a new project, I found myself holding back information. I didn't trust how I would share the content or how it would be perceived. I didn't trust my new partners and the agendas they carried in their back pocket.
The other factor with trust is our preconceived notion on what I can offer better than the next engineer. So, too often we tend to over share or under share because "they don't know" or even worse "they don't need to know."
If I compare conversations that I have with my most trusted colleagues versus team members I barely know, I tend to share information:
-with more emotion
-at a more leveled playing field
-in a non-threatening manner
-and even with vulnerability to create empathy with my words.
The understanding element is almost instantaneous because you stop what you're doing and give your undivided attention to this person.
There are pitfalls in this case as well. For starters, you can get too comfortable with your trusted circle and not venture out for a more diverse support group. Next, it can inhibit your ability to create a brand for yourself in how you communicate. And lastly, if your trust is ever broken, you may lose authenticity since you could potentially regress to a new communication form.
Trust is important to enable effective communication but be cautious of how you define it.
I decided to write this post primarily because I've been struggling internally. What's bothering me? Who's bothering me? When I realized that communication is one of my stronger skills, it was with this internal struggle that I admitted it was a weakness.
As a leader at work and even within my family, my behavior is being emulated and I'm turned to by many in their hour of need. I have a habit of suppressing what I want to communicate in order to truly listen to others. This was doing more harm than help. At first, I was proud of myself! I didn't try and fix a problem or try to relate their problem to one of mine. But I stopped trying to understand because I wasn't capable of doing so. Basically, by 'shutting myself off' I was unable to teach, contribute or empathize.
The worst issue was how I started to make assumptions that were mainly based on trust. For example, if I have someone in my life who knows me better than I know me, I tend to stop communicating. She knows how I'm feeling or sees my smile is radiating the room. No matter how well this person knows me, I never communicated what was buried in my mind.
From time to time, it's okay to surrender (lack of a better word) and just open up. By doing this, you remove the weight you've been carrying and the solution may be right there when you start speaking.
Remember, there actually is a positive side to assuming and it's called risk taking, when done right. With the little information you have and high confidence you carry on your baby, it's ok to assume what has or hasn't been communicated and move forward.
Being constantly on the go, we don't communicate as well as we should be. And even worse, with time being a scarce resource, lack of communication can lead to failed projects or even worse broken relationships.
Next time you're sitting in a meeting, look around. What body language are you picking up on? Who is scared, exhausted, energetic or passive? Who can you rely on and who are you wiling learn to learn from? If you try to bring each of the three levels of communication above (in moderation) wherever you show up, I believe you will be more successful in the long-run.
It won't hurt to stop assuming; start trusting; so you can understand what's being said. Don't show up in a glass box. At the end of the day, you are the number one person at a loss for not communicating.
End of Transmission