Far too many people – whether it be in their personal or their work life – believe that TALKING to someone is the same as COMMUNICATING with them. They believe that conversation (whether it is one or two sided) is enough – that “saying something” and acknowledging a response is sufficient – that sending an e-mail or leaving a voicemail message is equivalent to (if not more efficient than) spending time in two-way discussion. People often think that if they speak authoritatively they will be able to influence the behavior of others (because individuals do not argue with someone who seems to know what they are doing) – that “give and take” conversations serve only to delay the decision-making process. These individuals are firm believers in the principle that “he/she who speaks first, last and loudest is right” so they often will talk an issue to death (or send a declaratory note or leave a one-sided voicemail) rather than allowing someone else to have the “final say” (or, sometimes, any “say” at all). Rather than accepting that individuals have two ears and one mouth (might that not indicate that someone SHOULD listen twice as much as they talk?) they think since the words (and the volume in which they are spoken) are of greater significance and importance than are thoughts and sentences expressed by others (heard rather than expressed – considered rather than imposed). If we wish to communicate effectively we must listen before expressing ourselves – think before verbalizing our thoughts.
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION is a sum of several important parts – not simply words spoken or actions deferred. Communication is the act of thinking about what we wish to say BEFORE uttering words – of organizing the thoughts we wish others to hear and discuss so they will initiate appropriate (and intentional) actions. Conversation is an exchange of words meant to create a meaningful relationship – communication is the transformation of thoughts and words into meaningful (and intentional) action. Conversation typically involves what you wish to share with another – communication focuses more on what you wish to accomplish. In order to communicate effectively we must:
· Identify our objectives and organize our thoughts before we express our wishes or desires
· Listen actively to others
· Speak ONLY after considering the ramifications of our words
· Establish and assign ownership to a shared vision or idea while transferring accountability with responsibility to individuals assuming the risk (and receiving the credit)
· Intentionally follow-through to make sure expectations are met and objectives are accomplished (while avoiding our natural tendency to “rescue” or “save” another from mistakes or failures)
· Allow mistakes (our own and those of others) to become learning experiences rather than death sentences – discuss alternatives without imposing “capital punishment” on anyone making a mistake
· Praise openly and honestly – criticize privately and quietly.
To communicate well we must identify what we wish to accomplish – figure out what we want our words to change, alter or enhance – before we begin to talk, write or “tweet.” Politicians often seem to say whatever they think you want to hear – in a manner convincing enough to make us forget what they may have said yesterday or what they will be saying tomorrow – often abandoning their principles or core values in order to appease the masses. A conversationalist enters a debate with his or her ears (and mouth) wide open, clearly identifying and discussing the “means” but often failing to bring to fruition an “end.” An effective communicator plans his or her outcome before speaking, listens (and considers) responses then works towards mutually satisfactory and actionable results. Ineffective communication is often expressed by “telling” others what to do and how to do it. Effective communication is a participative process – not an event but a series of ongoing compromises. A conversationalist can “talk ‘til the cows come home.” A communicator will first ask (or somehow identify) where the cows live, determine what obstacles might prevent them from returning home, then encourage (facilitate and initiate) their safe return to the barn. Conversing is often socially and politically correct – an everyday part of life lived in co-existence with others. Effective communication is often more focused (with a purpose in mind), specific (to the point and directed towards a clearly-identified outcome), intentional (less casual, never entered into without thought, consideration and two-way participation) and result-oriented (NEVER done without rhyme, reason or rationale).
One of the most overlooked aspects of effective communication is intentional and measured silence – when listening becomes active and saying nothing helps to formulate direction. When one is speaking, he or she is not actively (OR inactively) listening. When planting thoughts, unless they are given the time to germinate and the conditions to thrive it is hard to harvest their full bounty. When we speak loudly and forcefully to be heard above the noise around us, we often lose sight of the fact that a whisper can be much more effective in a quiet, listening room than can be a shout in a crowded building. Silence often creates discomfort – but it is not YOUR responsibility to fill every void with the sound of your own voice. In order to communicate effectively we must allow silence to be deafening at times – echoing within the conversational void as if it were an angry sea pounding upon an unforgiving rocky shore. Allow your thoughts and ideas to fill the moments of silence that listening (rather than talking) creates – encouraging and allowing others to enhance your ideas and contribute their own – then EXPRESS shared and mutual thoughts into encouraging words that initiate, communicate and motivate change.
Effective Communication is transforming words into actions through carefully directed compromise that produces “win-win” situations (rather than telling others to do something within a “win-lose” mentality). Converse with others if you wish to share experiences, thoughts, feelings or dreams. While one needs to converse in order to communicate, not all conversation becomes effective communication. Communication is conversation on steroids – an exchange of thoughts and ideas that results in an investment of time and resources focused towards the accomplishment of an intended (and intentional) consequence. People who “can” tend to talk (often about what they intend to do or hope to accomplish)…people who “do” communicate (directing their conversation towards tangible accomplishment and deferring the credit for success to those involved) in order to produce results.
Talk is cheap. It fills time and space with words (but does not necessarily require an investment of resources to create an intended intentional result). While conversation is a necessary part of living within a community, communication is the key to creating change. When you need to accomplish something – when an action must result in an equal and opposite reaction that alters or modifies a condition or behavior – communicate your thoughts, your intents and your expectations clearly by stating the facts then listening for (and encouraging) buy-in from all involved. We should all strive to be better conversationalists (as good two-way conversation can improve relationships and help support one another). When we make a conscious effort to communicate more effectively by gathering our thoughts, listening to those around us and allowing others to contribute to “corporate” success we not only enhance and improve relationships but (possibly more significantly) we can help to change the world.