3 principles of effective communication
Communication without rapport can be like dancing barefoot on broken glass. Every misunderstanding feels sharp and uncomfortable making you wince and, at its worst, can be quite cruel. It doesn't have to be this way.
Once in a while it happens. The conversation that seems to start well, but ends badly. The sense of fracture that occurs within a team meeting which everyone can feel, but no one appears to know why. The presentation prepared so meticulously which didn't quite make the positive impact that it should have done. We've all been there. It's easy to blame the timing/mood/lack of focus/alternative agendas (take your pick). More often as not it is much simpler and yet somehow more profound than that.
My view is that this sense of dislocation can occur when there is a lack of shared intent matched by insufficient rapport and absence of common outcomes. These three issues are frequently at the heart of poor communication. Understanding this is essential if we want to have effective conversations that energise and engage. Next is to act on this knowledge. But how? Let's take these three principles of excellent communication and explore them in turn:
Principle 1. Establish intent
A good beginning is to examine our purpose or motive. What is it we wish to achieve? If this is selfish and one-sided it is hardly likely to attract the support of others. People instinctively recognise the duplicity in our speech patterns, the manner of address and body language. Conversely if our intent is sincere and stated with clarity, the chances are that others will pick up on this and be encouraged to engage in dialogue. This is often just the spark needed to light the fire of a productive discussion.
Start by establishing what it is you wish the recipient(s) of your communication to think, feel and do as a result of fully understanding your intent. Work back from there then challenge yourself by asking 'is that all?'. Put yourself in their shoes. Consider how your communication might land from their viewpoint. Now what can you change for a better, more collaborative and productive result?
Principle 2. Build rapport
Creating connections with others is fundamental to making progress, whatever the topic or issue. Mutual trust and understanding are undeniably necessary for forwarding goals. Communication without rapport can be like dancing barefoot on broken glass. Every misunderstanding feels sharp and uncomfortable, making you wince and, at worst, can be quite cruel.
Building rapport takes skill. It requires suppression of ego as you genuinely seek to understand the perspective of others. Listening with an open and curious mind is essential. Active listening is key. That is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than using the time to think about your response. Don't interrupt the speaker. Allow them the luxury of time to fully formulate their thoughts so that you get the benefit of their best thinking. It may only take a few moments or minutes but can make all the difference to their self-esteem and the quality of their output.
It requires effort to build empathy yet it is incredible what can happen when genuine rapport is in place. People are more likely to consider different ideas and new ways of thinking. It encourages creativity, boosts trust and improves credibility. Remember that creating rapport requires generosity and sincerity. It isn't an act or a sales trick.
Principle 3. Define the outcomes
Sharing what we wish to achieve is essential. Clarity of intent and building rapport are merely stepping stones on the way to specific outcomes. Knowing what these are in advance makes it so much easier to create a common language around why we are doing something. It helps focus effort and builds the case for specific action that others can evaluate, understand and choose to support. It can enhance and deepen team spirit. Yet frequently people can go ahead assuming the outcomes are clear to all without investing the effort to explain what these are and why they matter. It's hardly surprising that tasks fail or projects come apart at critical moments if the team don't have a shared vision of the desired outcomes.
So, next time there's a new initiative to launch or a project to unveil. Stop. Take five and focus on establishing the intent, building rapport and communicating the desired outcomes. Who knows an even better result may arise and certainly a poor one avoided.