Communication through language has been used since 50,000BC to symbolise thoughts, feelings and knowledge from one person to the next.  Communication is a basic human ability, however conveying concepts verbally and non verbally can become a challenging mind field due to people’s perceptions, conditioning and interpretation.

Taking a step back from one of my earlier posts on successful reinvention conversations, let’s explore principles to effective communication and how to inspire action within ourselves and others.

1. Inspire Through Desire and Standard

The Compliment Sandwich is a famous technique for providing feedback through coupling one positive trait with an area of improvement. Its effectiveness is driven by the same principle of encouraging positive behaviour:  desire, standard and inspire. Behaviour is governed by the identity people attain from different labels; people validate ourselves based on what they’re described to be. While we can’t control the labels we receive, we can inspire others by the identity we give them. 

How this Applies: Many obtain motivation to learn through Positive Reinforcement Theory. It’s fundamental risk and reward process regulates our pleasure system. “If I do more of this it feels good, I get positive feedback”. For example, receiving praise from a presentation with stakeholders builds confidence and cements a perception of yourself as a public speaker.  The desire, standard inspire hooks onto our emotions and steers action based on positive affiliation:

  • Desire:  “Scott, I really appreciate it when you’re able to get the business proposals out on time…
  • Standard: It’s really important that our client get it on time because it’s what we’ve agreed to do for them,
  • Inspire: and you’re such a great contributor to our team’s performance in maintaining positive relationships with our customers.”

2. Always Be Giving (ABG)

The Art of Charm’s Jordan Harbinger notes one key to effective exchange is to “always be giving”. Emphasis is placed on how we can serve others over what can be gained. Keeping score or expecting immediate reward is off the table. For most, communication and influence as an additive process, when it’s actually about doing less. Harbinger views life as a subtractive process not an additive process.  He notes that in order to be effective,  we must subtract the things holding us back. One can either wait or create in life; there is only one way to wait, but a thousand different ways to create.

Why this is Relevant: Dr. Robert Lustig, author of ‘The Hacking of the American Mind‘ states that pleasure seeking activities always come from a place of ‘taking’, “what can I get out this?”. Research suggests that over time, pleasure “taking” results in addiction.  Thus for effective, long term growth, should seek to help and give to others, allowing a reinforcement of mutual gains.

3. Don’t Take Things Personally

The second of The Four Agreements by Toltec Don Miguel Ruiz is ‘don’t take things personally’. Everything someone says or does is a reflection of their own reality. Miguel uses the analogy that we exists as second lead actors in someone’s film of life. People’s interpretation are influenced by stimuli from their upbringing, circumstances and current emotional state. I’s crucial to listen, however removing attachment to what’s being said – whether good or bad, enhances communication because responses are measured and more likely to produce positive outcomes.

What can You Do: Freeing personal association means whatever anyone says or does not affect us. This doesn’t mean we have to agree, however we can still respectfully disagree.

On a previous project I spent a significant amount of time creating a customer journey storyboard for a big stakeholder meeting. On the day, my manager decided not to use it. Later, I received feedback that the storyboard didn’t meet her standards.  I sought to clarify and that I appreciated her feedback but my colleagues and I had difficulty interpreting what was required. Had I just gotten upset and taken it personally, I would have not allowed for a positive feedback process.

4. Adopt Empathetic Listening

Empathetic listening is at the heart of “seeking first to understand, then to be understood”. Built on messages continuously transmitted through our words and actions, empathetic listening is grounded on the “ability to see someone’s frame of reference”. Furthermore, understanding someone’s paradigm means listening with intuition for feeling, not just meaning. Active listening targets the logical “what”, but empathetic listening is rooted in “why”.

What Happens Currently: Most of us engage in conversation as a monologue, constantly thinking about what we’re going to say next. This can be both complementary or in contrast to what someone else has said. Active listening focuses on engaging our senses, however misses the human or emotional element of;

“What does that person feel?”

“What are they actually trying to say?”

It’s common for someone’s message to be packaged up differently, as shown through their non-verbal cues and nuances, how they’re speaking, their tone, demeanour and specific language. Empathetic listening is understanding before prescribing;  someone truly feels heard when we rephrase their content and reflect their feelings. Seeking to understand requires consideration and seeking to be understood requires courage.

5. Trust is About The Other Person

“Trust is not about what other people think of you, but how you make them think about themselves”-  Robin Dreeke Demonstrated through establishing value and connection, a person’s priorities, challenges and goals are uncovered with trust. Effective leaders inspire change via this code of trust; putting the needs of another person first. They do this while keeping in mind their own objectives.  Empowering others with the ability of choice, automatically assists achievement of our own goals. The flow on effect of helping others realise their goals is attainment of our own.

What We Do Instead: We make trust about ourselves. We attempt to convince or influence other people on the basis  of trusting us because of *insert characteristic here*. For example,  John thinks that if he performs well at his job, it will make his manager trust him more. Perhaps it will lead to greater work or flexibility of his conditions. Actually, trust exists with his manager validating his own thoughts and beliefs: “John performed well meaning what I thought of him was correct”. It’s not about John so much as it is about his manager validating his own perception.

6. Be Conscious of What You’re Not Saying

While the stats vary, over 50% of all communication is through body language and tone.  The key is not to be crazily analytical but self-aware that most of what’s being said is through what is not being said. No single body language is an reliable indicator alone, however body language can provide further information and be used as a signal for truth.

Why is This Important? Open body language, high rise tone and pitch conveys positivity supporting clear communication. More is taken from what is done over what is said as action speaks volumes. Similarly, promises made to ourselves are equally as important. If we fail to do something, we might berate ourselves at first, however if the pattern repeats, complacency strikes, eventually becoming the accepted norm. Come late to meetings too often and the pattern becomes habit. Our behaviour communicates unreliability to others and labels are hard to change. Rather than attempting change that perception, its easier to just conform to what is believed of us.  It is easier to be comfortable than to be challenged. What silent messages are you relaying to yourself and others?

7. Acknowledge Communication is Flawed

Communication exists in an imperfect vacuum of coding and decoding messages. Hundreds of cognitive biases exist, including a bias blind spot; the belief that we are less biased or can recognise more biases in others. Recognising communication is imperfect can encourage transparency and seeking clarity as often as possible.

What This Means: If something goes wrong; our project hit a curve ball, the data doesn’t line up, our proposal has been unsuccessful, we can choose how to respond over reacting. Most common technical problems are often people problems – a break down in communication leads an incorrect course of action/inaction.  Seeking to clarify, confirm and reiterate things allows for fluidity in communication; where input and feedback processes support next stage or implementation or contingency plans.

8. Feedback is Priceless

Customer feedback is critical in the establishment of any product, service or finding product-market fit. Most metrics measure the response to which customers interact and provides invaluable feedback including improvement insights, what’s working well, sources of acquisition and behavioural patterns. However when it comes to communication, we don’t adopt this as successfully due to: victimisation and defensiveness.

Victimisation is the mindset that “things have happened to me” and defensiveness is a bias that our behaviour whether good or bad is attributed to the conditions, not our character.

What do Do: To ensure effective communication feedback should:

  • When Giving: Clearly base on results and how it made you feel, not attack character or behaviour. Even in a professional sense, relaying “feelings” doesn’t have to be overly emotive. For example:
    • Manager: John I want to understand why we weren’t able to deliver the proposal on time, it leaves a bad impression on customers and makes me feel like we aren’t in control of our work. VS
    • Manager: John, why are you so unreliable? It makes us look bad and I don’t know what’s up with you, you’re always underperforming.
  • When Receiving: From a place of care and self improvement. I myself have received 2 pieces of feedback recently: 1. On my behaviour being awkwardly misinterpreted and 2. On my inability to read people and change tact. Were these things hard to hear? Yes. Did I want to shirk them off and say people misread me? Yes. But doing so wouldn’t lead to a greater understanding of myself, how I converse with others and how I can better improve.

9. Accept That You Can’t Control Outcomes

Quoting Simon Sinek for the up tenth time, great leaders inspire action. Not manipulate or coerce, but inspire. Communicating through fear or manipulation is driving action based on short term pain and remains ineffective in the long run. It’s the difference between 40% and 120% effort. One is “I have to” the other “I want to”.

Inspiring action starts from the inside out; beginning with why, to how and then what. At the core of effective communication is the acceptance that things may not turn out as intended. Embracing that things steer off path shows a level of respect but also that true win-win has not been achieved. If the outcome isn’t conducive of a mutually beneficial exchange, a “No Deal” approach could be considered.

In contrast: I repeatedly ask questions to gain more information about outcomes I: A. Don’t understand or B. Have not been happy with the results of. Seeking to clarify is one thing, but seeking to clarify as a form of resistance is another. Tension can rise from over questioning or non-acceptance of certain outcomes. In my last role I wanted to work on particular project within the bank. Asking more about why I couldn’t right now didn’t help move the process any faster, but created frustration instead.


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