There are a lot of activities that look like communication that really shouldn’t count. Sending an email out into the abyss isn’t communicating. Popping into someone’s office to say something and then moving right along isn’t communicating. Listening to someone talk without saying a word isn’t communicating. If you eliminated all one-way transmission of information from your tally, how much time would you spend communicating in the average week?
You might be a little shocked by the answer. Since I’ve been paying attention to the amount of communication going on in teams, I’ve been alarmed by how little two-way communication is actually happening. I shouldn’t be surprised, because I’m frequently witness to the devastating impact the lack of communication is having on individuals and teams. I just hadn’t made the connection that it’s the preponderance of one-way transmission that’s leading to poor understanding, misinterpretation, and mistrust.
The Twitter Effect
Twitter is a true reflection of our times: all transmit, no communicate. The twitter stream is a torrent of statements without context or nuance; millions of people each wanting to be heard and valued but doing little to validate others. There’s no quid pro quo. Each person is on a parallel track running faster and faster hoping in vain that someone else will connect with them.
Why Don’t We Communicate in Meetings?
You probably don’t realize that it’s much the same in many of your meetings. I am frequently presiding over sessions where team members make statements that are completely disconnected from what the previous person said. Person A says “I think x,” Person B says “I believe purple.” No one tries to understand the other’s perspective. At best you get “let’s agree to disagree” or “let’s take that offline.” When the contributions don’t connect with one another, the team is not adding value above and beyond the individuals. There is no whole greater than the sum of the parts. How lonely, isolating, and disheartening is that?
I’m not sure whether it’s a cause or a result of really short meetings but there is certainly a correlation. How many topics can you actually communicate about in a 30 minute meeting? Maybe 2? So when you cram five agenda topics in, you don’t communicate on any of them.
Real communication requires that you create something in common (that’s the Latin root for the word communication). Until you have evidence that you’ve come to a common understanding, don’t assume you’ve communicated.
Boost your communication quotient this week. Try these techniques:
- I will start my contributions by paraphrasing what I just heard
- I will finish my statements with a question to engage the receiver in a conversation (even in email)
- When it’s important, I will sit down to signal that I want to invest in two-way communication
- I will be explicit about my intent and what I’m trying to get across and ask the same of others
- I will ask for clarification on key terms and ambiguous ideas
- I will share how other people’s messages impact on me and how I’m interpreting their comments
- I will sum up a conversation by asking for the other person’s understanding of what we agreed to
There are many, many more techniques you can use to improve your communication but given the sad state of communication these days, I can’t imagine needing any more than this to demonstrate a marked difference. I’ll commit to work on these with you. Help me get started by telling me what you think. Blogging is the ultimate one-way transmission and I genuinely would prefer to communicate with you!