When Communication Falls Apart

When Communication Falls Apart

It could easily be argued that getting communication right makes every aspect of living better — at home, at work, at church or any stage — anywhere, really.

Everyone knows how it feels to get it wrong. I recently made a flippant remark during a coaching session which haunted me for days until I got it cleaned up the following week with the person who likely suffered because of it.

And I’m an ‘expert’ communicator.

Ahh, what an amazing teacher, life.

In my years of working in business, I’ve experienced both stellar communicators as well as what I could only classify as abysmal. I’ve also performed in both categories at one time or another. At some point, I made it my life’s work to make improvements to the way I speak and write, while helping leaders do the same.

I’ve made mistakes, for sure. If you’re communicating at all, chances are likely you have messed something up a time or two yourself.

But I’ve learned so much along the way. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that almost any mess can be cleaned up with the willingness to face the truth about your communication, beg forgiveness, and try again. It’s rarely the mistake you make that lingers, it’s the way in which you did or did not clean it up.

And I’ve practiced and taught three useful conversation guidelines:

  • BE CURIOUS

  • BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER

  • SUSPEND JUDGEMENT

Though the concepts are simple and I won’t bother explaining them in detail, I’ll make just a few observations about each one.

Being curious means you genuinely want to learn more from someone about something. Harkening back to some of the work of Steven Covey — seek first to understand, then be understood. This is helpful because humans are generally making all kinds of assumptions, which as you know does not work.

Actively listening to the person you’re speaking with means you’re not half-listening while considering your reply. It means giving them direct eye contact, without looking towards the barista when the machine begins to whir. It means devoting ALL of your attention as if that person is the most important thing — right now.

Honing the ability to suspend judgement is an epic shift. We are judgement-making machines. We make judgements automatically and naturally, partly because our brain is looking for ways to be efficient and if we can quickly categorize something we can save energy thinking about it. And partly because our egos want us to look good so if someone else looks bad, we can somehow look better.

Practicing these three conversation guidelines promises to make your communication more fun, more interesting, and more effective. Remember, when you practice something you develop stronger abilities for it, and this doesn’t happen overnight. But my promise is that when you do these things more often than you don’t, your communication will create transformation.