Posts Tagged ‘Communication’

Listening–some trade secrets

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

We are all great lovers, drivers and listeners aren’t we… or rather we like to think we are!  In case you have room to improve here are a few tips to help:-

  • Ask good questions:   Questions show you are interested, which encourages them to open up, it helps them focus and perhaps helps expose things they haven’t thought of
  • Use reflective listening:  This means repeating some of the meaning of what they are saying, not parroting their words, but a paraphrase that either shows that you have got it or shows you might have misunderstood, but that you are interested in really understanding
  • Positive body language:  They are more likely to feel that you are interested and genuinely engaged if your body language demonstrates this.  Look at them, don’t fiddle or do anything to suggest your attention is elsewhere.  Lean in, show appropriate reactions to their story.
  • Withhold Judgement:  You may or may not condone their actions, but you need to fully understand what has happened before you jump to judgement
  • Silence is golden:  If you aren’t asking questions or using reflective listening, then you should keep quiet, apart from little noises like “Arh ha” etc.  Nodding is good.

All of the above takes quite some effort, and if you are going to invest this wisely, then you need to ensure that your schedule is clear, and the place is appropriate.  Good listening builds strong relationships and is at the foundation of good communication.

The danger of knowing what is best…

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

A company I know has a leader who has a vision of where they need to go to survive the threats that the economy and competition pose.  I am quite prepared to accept his analysis;  I believe most of his team are too.  So what could possibly go wrong and why is he facing difficulties in getting them to do what is required?

As usual with change, it all starts with communication.  The things they are not telling him, the things that he isn’t hearing and those they can’t discuss.  If you feel that a person doesn’t want to hear what you have to say or feel, then you subconsciously find another way to get the message over.  It maybe by withdrawing intimacy, by withdrawing co-operation or by pursuing your own version of what is right. 

When there are a number of people who feel similarly ‘not heard’ then factions develop and problems arise.  In effect, they take their toys and go home; the team is no longer and you just have a group of bodies inhabiting the same space. 

The only way out is to get the communication flowing again, you have to over-emphasize what you are doing to ensure that they know you have ‘got it’.  You have to act on whatever you have agreed or promised to rebuild trust.  Stephen Covey wrote about the idea of the Emotional Bank account, which I like.  The idea is that the good things you do make deposits in your account of goodwill, and the negative (or more accurately their view of what is negative) actions make withdrawals.  This being Life, the rules are not fair, and you can work for ages to build a small amount of trust and one ‘bad’ action can wipe out the entire balance with the statement “Here (s)he goes again!”  It is tough, it is frustrating but it is the only way.

Good luck…

Leadership and Followership.

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

A client was having problems and the leader was finding it difficult if not impossible to get things done.  He had a relatively clear agenda and one that should make the business more profitable.  However, the very people who stood to benefit from this were somehow just not committing to it.  Why you might ask?  It turns out that not only was there a lack of effective leadership, but there was no culture of followership.  This meant that in effect there was no emotional contract to support him.  It is one thing having a label on your door, but if you want clever people to pay any attention you have to win them over, if you don’t have the muscle to force them.  This requires a number of personal skills such as building rapport, listening and communicating in the way that the listener requires in order to ‘get’ what you are trying to sell.  You need to make a case for Change, which means taking the time to explain (not just tell) them how they too will benefit from the process. 

You don’t necessarily have to do this with everyone, but you certainly have to with those you deem to be the key players, and you need to win over enough to create the momentum to get started.

7 deadly sins of communication–part 3

Friday, October 16th, 2015

This the third in the series exploring our bad habits in communication. 

Nagging is when you keep on and on at someone to do something.  By definition, if you have asked the same person for the same thing  multiple times they either aren’t getting the message or aren’t receptive to it.  You have to try something new.  Find out why they aren’t doing it, are they unwilling or unable to help?  If they are unwilling, maybe you need to put your case in a way that makes it clear what they get from helping you.  If they are unable, then what can you do to help?  A lot depends on the power balance.  If you are talking to a boss, a colleague / friend  or a subordinate / child.  You have to adjust you strategy accordingly.  We are all familiar with the fact that it gets easier to ignore someone when they keep banging on about the same old thing…

Threatening and punishing can have their place, but really need to only be used as a last resort, and only when we intend to follow through.  They seldom have a positive impact on a relationship, so unless it is terminal, it is usually better to use them sparingly and again when it is done in such a way that after the event, they will understand the necessity.  Bribery to gain control is really just the other side of this coin and equally ineffective.  Think about it, if you reward your child in order to get them to stop screaming, what message do they take away?  When I scream, I get what I want… do why wouldn’t they repeat this lesson? 

Good luck!


7 deadly sins of communication – part 1

7 deadly sins of communication – part 2

7 deadly sins of communication–part 2

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

When we blame someone (or something) we are seeking to explain or excuse a failure.  Now there is a time and place for analysing what went wrong and who was responsible but usually we do this we are seeking to distance ourselves from what has gone wrong.  Again, it is all about the intention.  It is seldom that it is all down to a single person.  If they work for us, are we monitoring them properly?  Have we given them appropriate support and resources?  Should we have known earlier and acted ourselves?  “Let him who is without sin…” and all that!  If we are acting in a timely way, and seeking to avoid a problem, then it is more effective to focus on what can be done to avoid it or correct it.  Analysis and what can be done better and how to avoid further repetitions happen after in a cool, calm place.

Complaining can take a number of forms:-

  1. Venting:  which we all do from time to time but serves little useful purpose, but is damaging when done too often or too long.
  2. Active, effective complaining:  this is when you are explaining what is wrong, and what you would like done about it calmly to the person who is in a position to put it right, and
  3. Ineffective complaining:  this is similar to venting and serves little purpose as you are failing to be clear or addressing the wrong person. 

If our complaints are intermingled with blame, then they usually feel like an attack and once more we tend to get either meaningless apologies or or defence and justifications; either way we are not motivating the person to address our issue.

More tomorrow…




7 deadly sins of communication–part 1

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

A psychiatrist named William Glasser identified seven habits that damage and undermine effective communication.  They each have a positive counterpart, the things we can do to promote good, healthy communication and relationships.  They are:-

Negative Habits Positive Behaviours
  • Criticising
  • Supporting
  • Blaming
  • Encouraging
  • Complaining
  • Listening
  • Nagging
  • Accepting
  • Threatening
  • Trusting
  • Punishing
  • Respecting
  • Bribing (or rewarding to control)
  • Negotiating differences

I think this list is pretty useful and self explanatory on its own, but it maybe helpful to explore it a little further.  No one likes to be on the receiving end of the first list, and most of us would deny doing it to others.  I suspect our intentions may often be positive, but under stress, our behaviours can let us down and what emerges either is, or feels like, these negative things.

You may feel it is either justified or needful to point out what is wrong with something or someone.  However, the key is not only how you do that that but also in your intentions behind this.  If you do so to hurt them (perhaps because you feel they hurt you), because you are frustrated, stressed or angry, or simply to make yourself feel better than them, then it will always come over as negative and as soon as they feel this, they then will only either block out what you are saying or defend against it.  Not only do your intentions have to be positive, but your language must also signal and reinforce this.

I will further explore this over the following days, so stay tuned…

Not quite the 9 o’clock News

Monday, October 14th, 2013

I’m interested in all aspects of communication but this story really takes some beating.  Leslie Grange, a signer for deaf viewers on the BBC news, appears to have decided that merely reporting the news was a little dull, so to brighten the days of her deaf viewers she started spicing up the stories.  Here are a few examples:-

“Questions started to be raised around the time of the Japanese earthquake when several viewers emailed us to complain about our reports of radioactive zombies sighted near the nuclear reactor. We dismissed them as some sort of organised hoax.”

“However, when there were similar numbers getting in touch to ask if Rebekah Brooks was really in trouble for raping a monkey, and why the BBC was claiming that, as a special summer treat, the Prime Minister had told the nation’s teenagers they didn’t have to pay for anything any more, we realised something was wrong.”

“I would like to apologise to everyone in the deaf community,” Grange told reporters today, “though when I had Cameron tell Obama “your statesmen-like profile leaves my willy plump” – well, frankly I don’t think that is so very far from the truth.”

We tend to accept that information coming from authoritative sources is correct and accurate, and it is only once it crosses a certain threshold that we question it, but perhaps we ought to ask more often “How do I know this is true?”  Within a company it is not unusual for things to be accepted as correct because everyone is repeating them, rather than actually going to the source data.  Group think is a dangerous basis for making decisions. 

It’s not about the nail

Monday, August 12th, 2013

If you are a man, then this video will probably make you feel that this is all about you.  You may even laugh… it is very well done.  However, it raises an interesting point.  At work, we very much focus on the facts that are being conveyed.  We listen for them and pay attention to this type of content. However, just like this video, most conversations contain two types of information, what is happening AND how we feel about it.  Men tend to dial into the former and neglect the latter.  At home, this is a bad idea, but there is a cost to ignoring emotional information in the work place.  We need to know how someone feels about something.  Are they excited, scared, bored?  Do they have an objection that they are suppressing, perhaps based on personal values, perhaps because they don’t think it will work, but don’t think you will listen. 

Asking “How do you feel about this?” is NOT the same as asking “What do you think?” and you should always ask both questions and be clear with the other person that you are looking for a different bit of information.  Ignore emotional content at your peril!  

Communication across the divide

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I was listening to a radio program based on a book “Far from the Tree” about deaf culture.  It was a phrase that gave me pause; it had never occurred to me that deaf people might have a separate and unique culture.  I listened on and learnt about the nuance of meaning the deaf could convey with a gesture akin to the way we use tonality and the penny dropped.  In the same way as each language enables particular subtleties in meaning in particular areas, so the deaf are able to convey shades of meaning to each other that we can not.  They experience the world differently and share those experiences via a different medium… of course they have their own culture.

This got me thinking that in the same way that there is a gulf between hearing and non-hearing communication, there are subtle gaps between each of us.  We all use words which carry uniquely different weights and resonances for each of us; expressions can trigger a variety of emotions depending on our culture and upbringing.  We gloss over all this in the haste of our daily lives but these micro-failures of communication happen all the time, even with those we love.

If it is important, then take the time not just to say what you want, but also to test what they have heard and how they understand that.

“No two animals…”

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

I was listening to the radio this morning and heard a scientist, Professor Brian Cox, say “No two animals see the world in the same way.”  He was referring to how catfish sense things through the murky waters via vibrations on the river bed and a swarm of chemicals in the river. Another example would be how, for instance, snakes find their prey via heat sensors near where their nose is.  Bats and dolphins use echo location, bees and other insects use infra red wavelengths to see markings on flowers that we can’t see.  So he was illustrating that different species have a whole spectrum of senses they each deploy in different ways to map and explore their worlds. 

As humans we are used to the idea that blind people can find their way, unsighted, through environments that are highly complex and would bewilder a sighted person; perfumiers can distinguish an amazing complexity of scents, similarly wine growers have a much keener ability to analyse tastes. 

However, his statement is true at a much more basic, though more subtle level.  We each have our own little world, which we label ‘real’; we have a set of rules of what is right and fair, and how things ‘should’ be.  We have a set of values and beliefs about what is true and how the world is.  Some of these come from our upbringing, our societal and familial beliefs, some from our experiences.  We each build a little inner model that helps us understand and navigate our lives.  However, what is seldom discussed or realised. is each of these unchallenged models is totally different, and we only find out about that when we get into arguments with people about what is right or real.  We often hear about how men and women have different views on what is important, or what is ‘going on’.  That is just one slightly more visible element of these different worlds we inhabit.  There is more information about this here.

We need to be aware of these unchallenged assumptions, beliefs and views as they interfere with our communication and can cause friction and arguments, just think about the troubles in the Middle East.  One really good example is how the Americans are indoctrinated into believing they are the biggest and best nation in the world and appointed by God to keep the peace… their peace, which in fact means waging war all over the world, far away from their homes!

If you wish to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding and stress remember Professor Cox’s words “No to animals..” And that includes you an me.. “ see the world in the same way”