Monday, 9 March 2009

How to communicate more effectively

If this relationships and communication stuff really is a breakthrough key to future success in commerce, leadership, organisation, change and learning then you better get on to it.

Diary note: “find a communication course for my people to do”.

WRONG. Two reasons:

1. A course or three in communication won’t do it.

Most courses focus on understanding why and how to communicate. But understanding doesn’t affect behaviour. For instance, noticed that University Business Schools can’t actually do Business?

Communication’s similar. Understanding doesn’t change behaviour because the way we communicate is mainly determined by reflex and habit: unconscious norms and untested assumptions.

We can “put on a good show”, but when tired, under pressure or in familiar contexts we typically quickly revert to habit and reflex behaviour.

Another thing: we usually aren’t conscious of our communication behaviour. Others typically don’t want to upset us by telling us, unless they are upset themselves. That’s called a fight. Fights don’t fix communication behaviour. They make it worse.

2. It starts with you. Not them.

The only communication behaviour you can change is yours. You have to risk changing first. The leader risks first.

If you stop blaming, shaming and justifying; start communicating in ways least likely to provoke a defensive reaction, then you and those you relate to can begin to learn: new perspectives, insights, new shared purpose, new relationships, new organisation.

Try this:

1. Give 5-10 of the people you relate to (choose from above, below and along-side you in the hierarchy plus suppliers and customers) a chance to give you feedback, anonymous to begin with, on the way you communicate.

2. Ask them to identify three of your helpful communicating behaviours (strengths) and two corresponding unhelpful ones (weaknesses).

3. Pick a couple of strengths and one weakness and ask those 10 people to observe how often you do the helpful stuff and how often the unhelpful stuff.

4. Try to do the helpful stuff more often and the unhelpful stuff less often. Share your progress with your ten “coaches”.

5. When you’ve substantially improved (it may take 3 months or more) pick the next three.

6. Suggest to your 10 that they do the same, making you one of their ten.

This can turn into an administrative nightmare that outweighs the benefits, so consider an on-line feedback system to make regular (quarterly) feedback do-able.

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