Episode 12: Communication

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In this series, we're focusing on nourishing a culture of leadership by applying timeless principles of life to the art of leadership. In this episode, we're exploring Communication. Whether implicitly or explicitly, we are all communicating all day long - exchanging ideas, concepts, and thoughts through our words and body language. Being aware and intentional in these communications is a core leadership capacity.

Leadership Development Focus: Communication

The Case for Communication

We invite you to think of why we communicate. Communication is prompted by a need or desire.  Anytime you want or need something, you communicate. The communication need not be verbal.  When want or need is not present, there is no reason to communicate.  A working definition of communication, simply stated, for our purpose is ‘an exchange of ideas, concepts, and/or thoughts between two or more entities’.

There is both sending and receiving as part of communication. Communication requires an exchange.  At different times, one entity is the transmitter and one is the receiver. Imagine a walkie-talkie. When the person transmitting is finished transmitting, she says ‘over’. At that point, the receiver gets a signal that the transmission is done. It is then possible for the entity who has been receiving, to become the transmitter.

Communication as an exchange may be easier if we mimicked the walkie-talkie model and actually had the habit of saying ‘done’ when we are finished transmitting, and listening for ‘done’ as the receiver. If we did this, we would not experience people talking over each other, and we could enhance the likelihood of people feeling heard. Understanding can be increased. There is a difference between talking and communicating.

Communication Alignment

There are many parts of communication.  These parts include implicit/explicit communication as well as your body language and tone of voice. As the transmitter it is also important to be aware of the alignment of all of your aspects of communication.

Implicit & Explicit Communication

Implicit communication can be something someone hints at, is inferred, or is something you take for granted that the other party already knows.  It requires the receiver to guess at what you mean (i.e. dropping hints about what you might like for your birthday, or expecting that your business colleague knows you prefer meetings in the afternoon when you ask them what time they prefer to meet). Explicit communication is clear and direct. There is no room for confusion or doubt (i.e. stating what it is you want for your birthday.  When scheduling a meeting, saying ‘I prefer to meet in the afternoon, what day works best for you?’).

Are you speaking clearly in accordance with what you mean, or are you implying things with your transmission instead of being clear and open. When people don’t have to guess at what you are trying to say, and they don’t get confused by the mixed signals you are sending. If your implicit and explicit communication is in alignment, communication improves.  What you are transmitting becomes much more believable.

Body Language & Tone of Voice

Is your body language and tone of voice in alignment with the words you are speaking?

Imagine someone sitting in a chair, nervous and trembling, when asked ‘are you okay’, responding with a quiet and shaky voice with ‘yes, I am okay’. Is this believable when the person actually looks like they are about to be pounced on? Imagine a couple going out to dinner and one person asks the other about what she wants. Her response may be ‘I don’t care’ when in reality her energy field is communicating a desire to go and have a healthy salad because she had an unhealthy lunch. Is the ‘I don’t care’ believable? What is the real transmission that is happening in both cases? It is a mixed message coming across, leading to confusion.

The leadership of communication requires the owning of those desires and needs and being willing to effectively express these needs and desires to yourself and to others. This seems simple, and yet it is something most people don’t do without a commitment to developing themselves as better communicators.

The Presence of Need or Desire

Assuming that communication is prompted by a need or desire, what is the likelihood of successful communication if need or desire is absent? Imagine either the transmitter or the receiver having no need or desire for the communication.  We believe that the likelihood of successful communication when need and desire are absent is nil. It is likely that two people are talking and still not communicating.  If someone comes up to you and starts talking, and you have no need or desire to receive the communication, the transmission is likely to be received as meaningless noise.

When we look at how this plays out in organizations, there is a lot of talking, sometimes one sided, and far less actual communication. The typical staff meeting is an example. People have gathered, they have had their meeting, and they walk out still wondering what the point of the meeting was. Communication has not happened. Someone has spoken, the receivers were not receiving as their need and desire to receive the information was missing. Comments like ‘I wish he had just sent me the three point memo instead of wasting my time in a meeting’ are heard as the people are exiting the meeting.

As leaders it is important to get into the practice of asking ‘is there a need or desire for receptivity here?’  If there is no receptivity, to pause rather than diving into what you want to say and to take a moment or longer to create that receptivity. You believe your point is valid and you want to make it. The receiver does not yet know the point is valid. One way to create the receptivity is by asking a question. Another way, that includes a question, is to say something like ‘if this was such and such, would you want to know about it?’ This heightens the curiosity in the receiver and a desire to hear more develops. Another question, before barging in with your point, is to ask ‘are you open for a suggestion?’ People ordinarily respond ‘yes’ to this question. Without being consciously aware of it, they have heightened their receptivity to hear you.

Developing Leadership Skillfulness with Communication

Step One: Right Timing

Pay attention to right timing for receptivity. One way to learn about right timing is to have an understanding of the grief cycle. Below, we present an oversimplified model of a grief cycle, the one we use in the Genuine Contact™ program. Because change is constant, loss is also constant. It may be something or someone you want to lose or you do not want to lose. Regardless, it is loss. It is the loss that triggers grief, even if something is also gained. With loss the human being naturally enters the grief cycle as a way of healing. All people are in different parts of the grief cycle for different losses all of the time. Yes, when you look at someone, assume and accept that he/she is in the grief cycle.

Familiarize yourself with the stages that we present here. Grief may be related to the topic you wish to present, and it may be related to something else altogether.  Grief may be about something small and simple, or about something that is catastrophic. People go through the grief cycle, in relation to the same event, at different speeds. Regardless, loss and its accompanying grief cycle work affects communication.

Stage 1: Event

First, there is the event, something has happened. It is a point of change.  It may be positive or negative. It is an event that signals loss of what preceded it.

Stage 2: Shock/Anger

The event is followed by shock and/or anger at the loss. Imagine yourself in shock, anger or both. How receptive can you be in that state? You are simply not capable of receiving in that state. Sometimes people hide that they are in shock or anger and yet they are in it. Understanding the grief cycle helps us to understand that shock and anger is happening even if a person (or group of people) is attempting to hide it.

Stage 3: Denial

After a period of time, ranging from seconds to years, the person shifts from shock/anger and into denial…thinking and behaving as though the loss has not happened and that everything and everyone is back to how it was. The person may be saying or thinking ‘I cannot believe that just happened’.  You can tell that a person is in denial because when asked, they tend to deny that they are in denial, which is a bit of a conundrum unless you understand that this is typical denial based response. Denial is an absolutely necessary stage for healing. Denial is not a good place for communication because the person is in the midst of denying what just happened.

It is not so good to get stuck in denial and yet being stuck in denial happens, just as does cycling in a seemingly endless loop from shock/anger to denial and back to shock/anger.

Stage 4: Memories

Assuming that a person moves onwards, there is a shift from denial to memories. You can detect this shift because the person talks about things of the past often using a phrase like ‘do you remember when…?’.  Memories is a time of communication as stories are shared and hopefully listened to and heard. It is not a suitable time for all forms of communication. Sharing of stories moves the process of grief forward. You, as  a leader, can enter into communication with people at this point by joining them in the memories, in the story sharing and in the ‘do you remember when we….’.

Special Note on Communication: When a person is in the event itself, or in shock/anger/denial or memories, it is a poor time to transmit a solution or a new fact, however valid it may be. This is a typical communication problem that leaders exhibit. While they are announcing something that is a loss to people (this is an event), they use the same speech to provide the solutions that they have come up with and want to shift into action. The receivers are not receptive to solutions at that point, and unlikely to understand sufficiently the actions to be taken. Communication fails. Far better if a leader, understanding the grief cycle, makes the announcement that is experienced as an event, and leaves it at that, reconvening in some days or some weeks to provide the communication related to solutions and actions. If this length of time is not possible, then pausing for some time after announcing the event, before moving on to announce solutions is advisable to allow for increased receptivity for the transmission.

Stage 5: Acceptance

After memories people shift into acceptance that what once was is no longer. This is followed by letting go. Both are times of some receptivity, and yet it is not until after letting go is complete that there is the best receptivity for taking in something new.

Stage 6: Open Space

Receptivity increases as the person moves onwards in the grief cycle to open space. This is the very best timing for being open to new possibilities, solutions, ideas. It is a stage of exploration of what is and what can be. Receptivity continues to be high onwards in the grief cycle past open space as people take what they gained from exploring in open space, and reframing their reality.

Special Note on Communication: If you have something you wish to transmit as your part of the communication, it is important to pay attention to where in the grief cycle the person is to whom you wish to communicate, particularly in relation to the topic you wish to address.

Step Two:  Right Mode

Use a simple technique from Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) that is taught in sales training to improve communication for the purpose of success with selling. This simple technique helps you to be in the same frequency as the ‘receiver’.   Listen for key words when your intended ‘receiver’ is transmitting. Are they words conveying

  1. Seeing?
  2. Hearing?
  3. Feeling?

For example, you might here the person say ‘I see what you mean’ and you will get a clue that they are visually oriented.  You might hear ‘I hear what you are getting at’ or ‘it sounds to me like such and such’ and you will have the clue that they are auditorally oriented. Adjust your transmission accordingly to also convey seeing, hearing, feeling so that you are in resonance with the ‘receiver’.

When you adjust your transmission to use visual, auditory or feeling words based on what you picked up as to the orientation of the person, you develop rapport and communication improves.  You can actually test out whether you have picked up correctly on the orientation by shifting your words to the visual, auditory or feeling orientation. If the person picks up interest when you do, you get a confirmation that you have discerned correctly. If you are unsure of the receiver’s mode or when you are dealing with a group of people, intersperse all three in your messaging.

When you feel that your communication didn’t quite ‘click’, one reason may be that there was no rapport in the visual, auditory, or feeling orientation between transmitter and receiver. The transmitter may have used all auditory oriented words and the receiver needs visually oriented words in order for the communication to go well.

You can, through practice, develop unconscious competency with this skill for communication, adjusting your words without even thinking consciously about what is needed.

Step Three:  Right Message

Practice saying what you mean

Practice meaning what you say

This seems simple, and it is simple once you practice to make it a habit. You might be thinking, but I do say what I mean and mean what I say. It is worth checking out whether you are really doing so in all of your communications. You might discover that you have some learning and practicing to do to adjust your transmission to actually say what you mean and mean what you say. As you observe what you are really doing, check for those extra and assumptive words and phrases that might have become habit such as ‘well you know’.  You lose people when you communicate with superfluous words.

For most people, new habits need to be formed to truly say what is meant and to mean what is said.

There is the other end of the communication to be considered also. If you are the receiver, and you are not clear about what has been transmitted, you need to be willing to ask for clarification of what was said and what was meant. If you are not good at doing so, practicing seeking clarification as the receiver needs to be part of this step so that you know what the transmitter actually meant. This would increase effectiveness with your communication because you would be seeking data instead of making assumptions about what was said.

Strengthening Your Leadership Skillfulness in Communication

Expand your capacity with communication. Once you have an enhanced awareness of yourself as a communicator, draw some conclusions for yourself about what you personally are currently good at and what you need to do to grow your skillfulness with communication.

You may wish to take a deeper dive into Neuro Linguistic Programming as you expand your skills in communication.

About the Developing Leadership Series

We work the Genuine Contact way, nourishing a culture of leadership, applying timeless principles of life to the art of leadership. In this learning series, Birgitt Williams and Rachel Bolton are sharing our own wisdom and insights about the art of leadership. We'll be inviting you to consider your own experiences in life and business so far, and how you want to further your leadership development with this theme.

In this series, our intention is to offer you unique opportunities to continually develop your leadership. By developing your leadership you expand your potential. Your life changes and you gain greater insights and capacity for leading your life. Your leadership of your team, organization, congregation, and even your family brings about possibility thinking, transcending ordinary thinking and ordinary results.

In each episode, we will be exploring one key principle. You will hear our own experiences and understanding of each of these timeless principles.  We'll suggest simple activities you can do to develop your own leadership by working with these principles too. Subscribe to receive future episodes by email.

Rachel Bolton
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We specialize in developing leaders, teams, and organizations for the new leadership paradigm of "leading so people will lead". In this series, our Dalar team of Birgitt Williams and Rachel Bolton are sharing our own wisdom and insights about the art of leadership.
Rachel Bolton
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