Friday Reflections: Communication

This week I am reminded that one of the hardest things for humans to master is effectively communicating.  This one skill impacts every nuance of our lives.  It impacts the quality of our relationships.  It impacts our ability to apply our knowledge and gifts at work.  It impacts how others perceive us.

At home or with friends communication is easier.  Often words aren’t as important because the people who have come to love us, know who we are at our core.  They know our patterns, our intentions, and our shortcomings.  

At work all bets are off.  In fact, communication becomes the WORK.  The truth is for many, it is not easy or natural to have forced interactions with others.   When left unchecked most people simply avoid talking to others if they do not want to or if they do not have to.  On the surface this seems fine, however “want” and “have” are subjective terms and we can unknowingly eliminate opportunities to have meaningful conversations with those who might actually contribute to our success or growth.  

Reflect on your week at work. Think about the conversations you chose to have and those you had to have. How many times did you forego a conversation and simply make a judgment with the limited information at hand? It is human nature to avoid interactions with those who may push us in a direction that we are uncomfortable with or to discuss something with conflicting point of views.   In an effort to avoid discomfort, we stick to people who see things as we do and won’t question our judgment.  The least amount of friction validates our belief systems and keeps us from doing things differently.

Most jobs require collaborative, trusting environments to get anything worthwhile done.  We are not meant to be islands.  Our gifts are meant to compliment another’s.  This week I remind myself that good leaders can only accomplish so much through emails.  We get so caught up in the obstacle in front of us we forget to look at the bigger picture of the culture we are creating with our inactions.  Simply put, what we choose not to do is sometimes more impactful than what we choose to do.  

Looking ahead I need to remember these communication pillars of team building:  

Schedule it in: Communication is work and needs time.  We all want to be heard and things to run smoothly, but we all have a habit of “not having time” to meet.  We are great at complaining about meetings, but when we eliminate these structured times we lose touch with small details that go into our collective success.  This being said, I hate meetings that waste my time so if you are leading, create an agenda, be respectful of time, and have outcomes.    

Set time for in person communication: Alber Mehrabian found that communication, when broken down, is 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and 7% words.  That is why so much meaning can be lost in an email or a text.  So much interpretation depends on the physical context of words. Eliminate the time spent on mulling over an email and set an in-person meeting.  It will be quicker and more effective.

Acknowledge it isn’t all about you: Your perspective is not the only perspective.  Great teams can hear different views and trust that most people have good intentions and want what is best for the group goal.  Do not hang on to an idea so hard that you are unwilling to see it from a different lens.  That is a sure fire way to shut down the contributions of others.  When people feel unheard they start to lose investment in the goal at hand. 

Talk about stuff that isn’t work: Part of communication is knowing the person you are conversing with.  If you do not invest the time to get to know who someone is outside of work you are building trust on a shaky foundation.  Knowing that someone is battling health issues, was up all night with sick kids, or struggling after a break up not only offers a window to what he or she is thinking, but also allows you to provide grace when your colleagues aren’t feeling their best.

Ask good questions:  Communication requires listening.  Listing requires questions.  The more you follow up with questions the greater understanding you will have of the person’s needs and intentions.  We can learn a lot form the simple questions: “What do you need?” or “How can I help?”  When we don’t take the time to get a person’s full perspective we can misperceive things and leave with judgements that are not fair or accurate. 

So dear readers I challenge you to try something with me.  Here is a 30 day challenge for the month of April:

  • Once a day ask someone who you do not talk to regularly at work about something they are invested in or doing outside of work. 
  • Forego at least one email a week to have an in person interaction with a staff member to get more detailed information.
  • Set a meeting time (even if just monthly) to communicate with a colleague about a shared goal.  Come prepared, with an outcome in mind, and leave with an action plan.
  • Ask someone for help or for a fresh perspective on something that is a struggle for you at least once a week.  

It all starts with how we treat others. How we treat or lead others is based on how we communicate. I’d love feedback on how your monthly challenge went!!!  

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