3 Keys to Communication Success

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Our daily lives offer endless communication challenges. Dealing with family and friends, clients and team members, and service providers, among others, has become a bit like walking a minefield. Here are three keys that can really make a difference in the quality of your interactions with others. Leverage human nature by applying simple techniques and avoiding common pitfalls to make your daily communication more effective.

1. Listen to understand. 

If you’ve ever caught yourself making your grocery list in your mind while you were supposedly listening to someone? Whether it’s with family, co-workers, our boss, or friends, we all can fall into this false-listening mode. There are so many distractions and we’re always trying to multitask, but when we don’t listen well, we’re creating big problems for our relationships – both in the short-term and in the long-run.

Listening deeply means listening to UNDERSTAND instead of listening with the intent to respond, to disagree, or to have our turn to talk. Most certainly, listening to understand is way better than tuning out or fake-listening, which is unfortunately common practice.

Bill Nye (the Science Guy) once said, "Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't." So listen with a curiosity to learn something new or see things from a new perspective. 

2. Avoid ‘threat’ triggers.

We humans are wired to protect ourselves from harm, above all, and our brain is always on the lookout for threats. Now that we can map the brain’s processes with fMRI scanners, we know that the tricky thing is that social and emotional threats (being ignored at a meeting) can affect our physiological response just as powerfully as physical threats (being chased by a tiger).

We can easily trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response in others with seemingly innocent comments, a facial expression, or tone of voice. Once triggered, the ‘threat response’ may completely derail your communication success. The more we are aware of others’ needs and triggers, the better we can do at avoiding these emotional landmines during our interactions.

A helpful way to learn and recall some of the key triggers for this threat responses, coined by neuroscientist David Rock, is SCARF: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. Read more about it herehere and here.. 

3. Gain Commitment, not just Compliance.

“Just do it because I said so...

“Do exactly as I tell you…”

“I suggest you solve it this way:…”

What happens when we are speaking to someone about a problem they (or we) need to solve and we tell them exactly what they need to do, or we give them ‘THE’ right answer – that is, our way of thinking of it or doing it?

How do they feel about that communication? How do they go about completing the suggested steps (if they go about it at all)?

Probably without much enthusiasm or commitment.

And if we have any sort of authority over them – such as if we’re their boss or parent – we may be able to force them to comply with our request or suggested solution, but we can’t really force them to be committed. Don’t underestimate the power of committed action. When people participate in CREATING a solution to a problem, they are MUCH more committed to implementing it effectively. They try hard to make it successful instead of merely doing the minimum necessary to get by. (Check out a short ‘vlog’ I did about this subject: /blog/leading-for-compliance-vs-commitment-vlog.html.)

So, communicate more successfully by taking the time to learn more about what values, goals, and priorities your communication partners have, and figure out ways to make what you want from them match what they want for themselves. Gain their commitment by getting their buy-in.

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[Edited for typo and new link by Author on 4/8/14]

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