Report on the “Effective Communication – are you hearing what I am saying?” lunchtime CPD talk given for business matters by Marjory Morrow on 28th January 2015.
business matters is grateful to KPMG for the use of their conference room for this talk and for the refreshments provided for those attending.
The slides that Marjory used to illustrate her talk are available below and a (36 minute) recording can also be accessed.
Marjory gave this talk as part of the “Resilience @ Work” series of CPD lunchtimes. She started by expressing a little of her discomfiture at covering the subject of Effective Communication in just over thirty minutes. Having resolved to “keep calm Marjory, you can do it” she outlined the key points around which her talk would be structured; her “top tips and best practices”.
Quoting from George Bernard Shaw, Marjory stated “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. Recognising that this talk was part of a series on Resilience, Marjory suggested that one of the most upsetting and frustrating feelings in the workplace is when you feel invisible, unheard and misunderstood. This can be a great source of stress. On the other hand, honest, open, clear communication can greatly enhance our sense of wellbeing, even in situations which are challenging and demand resilience.
She moved on to give us her definition of effective communication: the transference of information in such a manner that there is clarity of both content and emotion and where the response given is given with the same level of transparency. Marjory emphasised that it is not enough to pass on what you might think is a clear communication without being around long enough to check that it has been heard and understood by the recipient.
If you are the recipient, you are not exempt from responsibility either – you need to reflect back to the originator what it is that you believe you have heard. This allows checking that the message has really been passed on effectively.
Marjory illustrated the potential for miscommunication by means of an anecdote which succeeded in making her point in a most amusing fashion. She then asked how often someone had responded to an email with the phrase “got it” only to demonstrate that they really had not “got it”. Communication has the potential for pitfalls.
Stepping back to basics, Marjory suggested a number of reasons why we would wish to communicate:
- Complete a task
- Share an idea
- Gather information
- Connect with someone
- Share our story
- Show empathy, support, etc.
With these in mind, she moved on to share seven top tips/points for learning and considering:
- We are all ‘wired’ differently, with different personalities and values – we may be introvert or extrovert, task focussed or people focussed, an organiser or a dreamer, creative or practical. The issue with this is that we all tend to hear through the filter of our own particular style which may lead us to make conscious or unconscious judgements – this led Marjory on to:
- Don’t judge actions, instead try to understand motives – Marjory used the example of her husband, a man of few words, whose email communications tend to be short, relevant and to the point. This can, however, be interpreted as disinterest, or worse, an indication of displeasure, by the recipient. She has suggested to him that “mirroring” the approach taken by the person and taking time for a few words of “social” conversation within the email can, and do, bear fruit in ensuring that the communication is on an effective footing. Marjory also drew our attention to recognising that, to some people, their overriding value will be accuracy and truthfulness, perhaps at the expense of tact and diplomacy, whereas others will place helpfulness and positive upbuilding in the highest spot.
- Listen – it may seem odd or even obvious to state that we have to listen but Marjory emphasised that this is more than listening with our ears. We have to question as well. Factors she highlighted included giving someone your full attention with good eye contact, concentrating on what the person is saying rather than thinking about what your own response will be, giving appropriate verbal and non-verbal responses which will encourage fuller and more effective communication on the part of the speaker. In questioning, two key points are: don’t interrupt and, as the conversation draws to a close, ask reflective or clarifying questions.
- Remember that understanding is more important than agreement – often, if we make agreement the priority, we don’t give room for two different viewpoints and the conversation may well degenerate into a battle. Different viewpoints can challenge and inspire us and are particularly useful in the context of working in a team. There will be times when agreement is needed but these can be facilitated if a search for real understanding has taken place.
- Avoid using ‘Relationship Killers’! – it is all too easy to invalidate or disqualify someone’s thoughts, feelings or needs by the way we respond and the phrases we use. Marjory gave some examples which we might use without really thinking and which might inhibit or even stifle the communication process and result in closing down rather than opening up the flow of information and the relationship. She suggested we reframe our concerns as questions which might result in better information and a feeling from the other person that they are being listened to and valued.
- Learn to respond, rather than react – Marjory asked us to think of where someone using Relationship Killers had caused us to react – to “have our buttons pushed” as she put it. Our reactions generally fall into one of three styles: Passive, Aggressive or Passive-Aggressive. Marjory briefly gave examples and illustrations of these and offered us a fourth and preferable style: Assertive Communication. People who use this type of communication choose to believe that everybody has a high value and so they are not afraid to be clear about how they are feeling and are also clearly intent on building trust. Their key message is “you matter and so do I”. They are good at drawing out from people what it is that is their real issue. In doing this, the assertive communicator will:
- Make use of ‘I’ Statements – an “I” statement is really the opposite of a judgement statement. Judgement statements say things like “you always” or “you never”. These, generally, are not helpful. It is much better to use “I” statements which focus on how what is being communicated affects you so that the communicator realises the impact and effectiveness (or lack of) of what they are saying. “I think” (sharing thoughts), “I feel” (sharing emotions and including a ‘because’ clause detailing the reason for your feeling) and “I would like” (offering a constructive and positive way forward in the communication) were highlighted by Marjory as useful phrases. She went through a couple of detailed, useful examples of how these might be used in practice, contrasting the assertive “I” approach with the other three mechanisms.
Marjory summarised her talk, emphasising that, rather than spend time looking at communication and presentation skills, she had, in trying to pull out the key principles of effective communication, chosen to examine the interactions between people. In her own words, “If we get some of these core level responses right we’re going to start being able to communicate more effectively.” She recapped the seven principles and, finally, gave us a quick “myth buster” relating to body language and vocal tone in communication.
Her talk was very well received, and people left aiming to put the theory into practice.