“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
The root cause of most organizational and relationship issues lies in ineffective communication. When one person misunderstands or misinterprets the words or actions of another, confusion and misalignment emerge. When this friction is unresolved, conflict ensues. Long-term ineffective communication quickly erodes organizational culture and perpetuates a toxic working environment.
There are three conditions that are required to create and maintain lasting, meaningful, and productive relationships through communication. These conditions create a foundation for effective communications at all levels of your organization.
3 Conditions Necessary for Effective Communication:
The first condition for effective communication is to enhance your capacity to truly listen. All of us regularly participate in what I call Level One listening. By looking at the person who is talking, nodding our head occasionally, and uttering “uh-huh” we signify to the speaker that we are engaged in the conversation. Truthfully, at Level One we are not really listening much at all because we are distracted by what is going on in our head. Our brain is comparing, reflecting, and running internal commentary on what is being said. At Level One, we are listening primarily for the purpose of formulating our next response or retort which means oftentimes, we listen only to the point at which we are ready to interrupt.
To truly listen – and ultimately communicate more effectively, we need to practice listening at Levels Two and Three. Level Two and Three listening is not hard to learn but requires effort.
When we listen at Level Two, our focus is on the other person instead of ourselves. We listen attentively to understand and do our best to silence our own internal observations about what is being said. We wait for answers to questions to be fully expressed before thoughtfully responding or forming our next question. The conversation slows down and the intentionality of the exchange increases.
For anyone in a position to lead or influence others, Level Three listening is essential. We demonstrate Level Three listening when we pay attention to the tone and energy of the conversation. Level Three listening allows us to see what is hidden between the lines and hear what is not being said out loud but can be felt. The conversation slows down even more and becomes spacious. Critical information can be derived from Level Three listening that has the potential to influence important leadership decisions.
Over the next few days, I encourage you to evaluate your level of listening, shift to a higher level of listening, and notice what unfolds in the conversation. You might be surprised by the new information and insight that becomes available to you!
The second condition for effective communication is minding your metaskills. A metaskill is a way of being, a stance or energetic field we bring to a conversation. We have all been engaged in conversations that feel tense, hostile, or even abusive. That energetic field has been created – consciously or unconsciously – by us or by others and the conversation rapidly becomes unproductive.
By mindfully choosing a metaskill such as compassion, curiosity or humor (when appropriate) we create the condition for a more thoughtful and productive conversation. To become better at minding your metaskills, notice the stance or attitude you occupy when meeting and conversing – are you open and engaging, or task focused and direct? Then, start deliberately choosing the metaskills that will create an emotional field that serves your relationships and sets the stage for effective communication. Never underestimate the impact of your way of being and the emotional field you create!
The third condition for effective communication is being open to different perspectives. Seeing an issue from someone else’s perspective and being willing to metaphorically stand in their shoes is crucial to connecting with others, especially when a problem needs to be solved or conflict resolution needs to occur. When we are willing to do this, people feel heard and understood.
When you are engaged in exploring multiple perspectives, this ground rule can be very helpful: “Everyone gets to be right, only partially.” In other words, there is some degree of truth in everyone’s perspective. Often when we feel that our perspective isn’t acknowledged, we fight harder to be heard or disengage from the conversation and perpetuate, even amplify, the issues that need to be resolved. We are wired to see the world based on our individual experience and context which means being open to different perspectives will take a lot of practice and self-regulation.
The strength of your organization’s communication starts with the foundation created by these conditions. Without these conditions, conversation breaks down and innovation slows — generating conflict, misunderstandings, and mistrust. As a leader, it’s essential to create these conditions in yourself and model these behaviors for others to follow.
Grow with purpose.
Emily Rogers is an executive coach, business consultant and retreat facilitator. She strategically advises and supports organizations and individuals in growing and realizing their full potential in purposeful and balanced ways. You can connect with her at www.emilyrogers.com.