Communication, is it the air that we breathe? And if so are many of our companies choking to death? How long since you drew a deep lungful of sweet air?
This may all seem a fanciful analogy to you but let me develop it for you. Air is vital for our health, indeed, respiration is literally one of our vital signs. It flows in and out. It is exchanged between systems. It circulates round the body. Without it you die. Is there a single feature here that does not ring equally true for communication?
A good measure of the vitality and health of an organisationís health is itís ability to communicate both within itself to all itís constituent parts and to the outside world. If you go into a building and the receptionist is really clued up on what is going on, animated and informed, then not only is he / she able to do their job properly but everyone dealing with them will start their business with that enterprise in the right spirit.
Letís explore the analogy a little more. Communication has to flow in both directions. It has to be regular, natural and part of our way of life / work. The Ďairwaysí have got to be clear and healthy in order for the right amount of flow to take place. Closed doors, mixed messages, a secretive culture, politics can all be impediments to good healthy communication.
Communication has to be exchanged; you Ďbreathe iní what I Ďbreathe outí. What perhaps we forget is that communication is not just the words we say, the emails we send, or the notices we put up. In fact, studies show that only 7 % of the meaning taken from communication comes from the actual words. The rest comes from things like body language, tone, context etc. If you think that an organisation canít have body language, think again! We have all come across open, friendly organisations, and dour, grey ones.
Also, we give great weight to logic, but logic is relative. How often have we felt that the other personís logic is nonsense? There needs to be attention paid to the power of feelings. They are usually the real arbiter of our actions, no matter how we like to dress it up.
If the air that we breathe is communication, then the meaning we take from it is the oxygen. We would like to think that what we meant was what others understood, but we know, often from painful experience, that this is not always the case!
Whoís Reality? Yours or Mine?
A further difficulty in communicating successfully is that we have all our messages screened by a series of filters we are so used to that they are totally invisible to us. Let us examine the process which translates an external event into meaning:-
1. Something happens in the outside world [perhaps someone speaks to us].
2. We gather that data via the 5 senses [We hear them speak (remembering that we also hear tone and accent as well as just words.) We see their lips move, and their expression, their posture, who is talking (who it is and what kind of person it is. Think how different it would be to hear a policeman say ďExcuse me..Ē, than to hear it from a small child)].
3. Our brains then receive that stimulus via the various nerves, and we have to decide what it means. What it means to us; what it means in this context, what itís significance is.
This process I have just described takes places constantly. If we had to decide what everything meant from base data, we would never get anything done because our brain is constantly being bombarded by stimuli.
In order to test this, take a moment to notice what you can hear right now, listen to all those noises you have tuned out. What are you wearing, can you now feel the material. Notice all the things around you were not consciously aware of, all the things in your field of vision that you have dialled out
So in order to stop your brain going into melt-down, it has evolved a series of filters to tune out everything that isnít important. Now hereís the rub, just because we feel something is important, or is important to us, doesnít mean that the other personís brain filters will agree!
Importance is very subjective and is relative and contextual. It might be important to know that the mortgage rate has gone up by 2%, but would you want to be told in the middle of a soccer game if you were a big fan? Being told that you are stupid by another motorist is one thing, but if your boss said itÖ?
Peopleís filters are invisible and unique and we donít know what they are, and most of the time they donít either!
There are other sorts of filters, such as:-
All of these filters distort what we actually experience, into our own version of reality. This is why the police distrust witnesses who all give exactly the same version of events, because they only do so if there has been collusion. What we think is real, is actual and entirely internal experience!
So what can you do about this?
And as Albert Einstein advocated:-
"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler"
So good luck with your communications in future, and I hope that this article was a breath of fresh air!
Remember communication needs to be:-
Once youíve said itÖ itís out there!
Xercise those communications muscles
Yare you telling them this?
Emotions - how will / are they feelings?
N ever lie!
Richard is a dynamic, professional and thoughtful consultant with strong client focus. - MD, Destination Innovation
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The inability of those in power to still the voices of their own consciences is the great force leading to change. - Kenneth Kaunda