Relationships are at the center of each action (relationship with self) and interaction (relationship with others) and communication is at the center of each relationship. This article considers how we communicate with ourselves and with others as the key to unlocking a team’s full potential and a relationship’s (including the one with yourself) promise.
Become a Master of Communications and rule your destiny!
The word ‘communicate’ comes from the Latin verb meaning “To Share”. I think we can all agree that the sharing of useful information in a timely manner is pretty dang important. I imagine you can think of some people for whom communication is free and easy (at least I hope so) and others where it is awkward or strained. It’s in these uneasy communications that much about our nature can be revealed.
Here are a few ways to identify the source of communication breakdowns:
(often ‘flowing’ in this order)
In the diagram above, our Pre-Biases are at the core. Here they have the greatest impact, while remaining hidden from view. It can take some work to uncover them and even more to root out the weeds and replace them with something more fragrant and lush. Each interaction is an opportunity for this work. Ask yourself what pre-biases might you have based on any one or more upcoming interactions with another person. Envision your next meeting now… What do you think you know about them? What makes you so sure? If you’re not sure, where did that belief come from? And how might it affect future interaction(s)?
Pre-Bias can come in the form of discriminatory thoughts and behaviors around age, race, gender, ethnicity, etc. or in the more generalized biases of appearance, wealth, and fame; and normalized biases of your particular community / culture’s way of life.
It’s important to know that all humans are looking for a sense of belonging resulting in a pre-bias rooted in our DNA for those similar to us and that we share the most history. In modern times we typically work with and interact with a (relatively, if you live in a city) diverse group of people with diversity and inclusion a priority among mission-driven leaders. Managers need to know that greater perspective leads to innovation and they need to be willing to question their pre-biases that limit perspective and ultimately lead to shitty decisions. Just look at our federal government for an example!
Moving up out of the center of the diagram let’s start by looking at your Agenda. Part of your Agenda is set by your Pre-Biases about yourself, the other part by your situation. If your situation is such that if you don’t get it your way you will suffer dire consequences, then please do whatever it takes. Otherwise learning to be okay without an agenda can be huge to your success. Replace it with a goal to learn their agenda and then work to merge the two. How does this look in the real life? Managers may start interactions with an honest desire to get to know the individuals they manage. Ask questions about family, hobbies, dreams, and workplace improvements before asking for their best effort. Then actively finding ways to engage their family, hobbies, dreams and workplace improvements will assure you never have to ask for their best effort as you will already have strengthened the bonds of trust and loyalty. It starts with their agenda, not yours (mine).
As the arrows move clockwise, influences both positive and negative may become cumulative. For example, if the Agenda is held too strong one will likely feel more pain in the Inquiry realm as interactions will be full of one’s personal needs/desires making them appear to lack empathy and/or be self-centered. Additionally, a strong Agenda leads to the likelihood of an interrogative style of communication resulting in Defensive reactions. To avoid this, questions need to be an honest inquiry versus loaded with one’s Agenda and Pre-Biases. Leaders need to be skilled at Inquiry and a good inquiry often means listening more than speaking. Therefore, a good question allows people to share openly and relies on an empathetic listener at the least. Even better is someone that has our best interests in mind and may be resourceful in helping to get them. In order to be this person, you need check your own motivations. Is your inquiry out of fear? Caution is healthy, but fear can be destructive. Often we fear things we probably shouldn’t and fail to fear others we probably should. Either way, inquiry out of fear is almost always interrogative in nature and almost always leads to a Defensive response which is next-up on the communication circle.
Defensive communication will be: (often in this order)
How can we get people to share instead of being defensive? The answer is much easier than solution.
Answer is to become a trusted source and seen as an ally. Inquiry into your own defensiveness is a good start. In what relationships are you most defensive, not able to open up? Perhaps at home (love you mom!) and often at work, especially with the boss. Managers need information and it can be hard to get. If you’re asking for something it’s probably because it’s late, straight-up interrogation! Inquiry might be asking, “how can I help?” or “may I please have an update?” but to ask, “where is the report?” is not really a question. Just remember that good questions open people and bad questions shut them down.
Those put on the defense must develop a strong offense to survive. As children we are constantly assaulted, so the earlier we harness our defenses the better as this is a physical and spiritual offensive where playground bullies grow-up to be President (Trump). Follow the circle and you’ll see that the Offense feeds the Ego into abnormal proportions leading to an Agenda fueled by offensive behavior / communication. Of course not everyone makes it from Defense to Offense and many have Ego’s that are left empty and Agendas lost among all the noise. Still in other cases, the Defense was made strong by walls and Ego trapped within.
All of these scenarios make communication difficult. They can be openings however, as we all experience them to varying degrees throughout our lives. Life is a spiritual journey and the Ego has the strength to absorb the mistakes and the failures and set a new Agenda that is full of honest Inquiry and a shedding of our Egos into a shared story of success.
The Empower Project
empowering young men and their communities.