Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Fine Art of Communication...Part 1

Part 1: Turn it “UP”!
In today’s world of fax machines, high-speed internet, cell phones, and just about every conceivable method of conveying information at the touch of a finger, effective verbal conversations often seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur. Rather than setting aside time for a face-to-face discussion, we prefer to send a blanket email to our entire office in order to avoid having to repeat ourselves, or we offer up a meager five minute time slot to an employee or colleague who asks to discuss a situation. We have become a society of sound bites, text messages, and “tweets”, short interactions that relegate our conversations to the safety zone of shallow, impersonal exchanges. But while these tools are designed to increase our productivity by enabling us to share more data more quickly, we may be paying a higher price than we realize for the privilege.
Many of us have seen the cartoon where a wife is sitting in her living room while her husband mixes up a cup of morning coffee in the adjacent kitchen…while she sends him a text message from her cell phone that says, “Good morning”. We chuckle at this prospect, seemingly ridiculous as it is, but there is an element of truth in this comic scene that we dare not ignore. That is the element of “de-personalized communication”.
What is de-personalized communication? In a nutshell, it is communication that is sterile, impersonal, designed to be carried swiftly to the recipient but having no one-on-one connection. Referring back to the example above, it is the difference between the husband reading the words “Good morning” in plain printed text on a cell phone screen, and hearing those same words in the familiar, endearing voice of his wife. This may seem like splitting hairs, but consider a few important differences between text and voice communication:
  • A live voice carries inflections of emotion…printed text is devoid of any emotional affectation.
  • A live voice can be reassuring in its familiarity…printed text could arise from anywhere, thus familiarity is absent.
  • Taking the time to actually speak with someone establishes the initiator’s priorities…a printed message can leave the recipient feeling as though they are not a high priority.
  • Perhaps most importantly, face to face interaction opens the possibility of a dialogue…printed communications are one-sided and do not necessarily invite feedback or interaction.
Moving this example from the comments between spouses to the interactions between colleagues, we see similarities that can help us to communicate more effectively and reduce stress in the workplace caused by lost memos and accidentally deleted text messages. Of course, technology is a blessing when it is used to our benefit, but when overused it becomes as deadly to professional enthusiasm as sugar is to a diabetic. Some information is actually communicated more effectively through some form of print/text media, as is the case with business-related data, schedules, financial information, etc. But interpersonal issues that occur in just about every business are exactly that: issues between two or more personsnot two or more computer screens, memo pads, or blog posts. Essentially, as entrepreneurs, we must purposely develop the daily habit of seeing others as individualsand relating to them as such in positive tones. Let’s explore a couple of specific methods for practicing the art of positive communication, because the benefits of cultivating this skill are well worth the effort!

Turn it UP!
This concept I simply refer to as “UP”. “UP” is an anachronism for “Unmitigated Positiveness”. I’ll be blunt here. I don’t care who you are, where you live, what challenges you are facing, or what kind of business you’re in, every single day there is something positive that you can speak! Work may be hard to find, clients may be slow to pay, colleagues may seem unreliable, bills may be piling on your desk, but there is still something positive to be spoken. It’s a re-working of the classic “is the glass half empty or half full” question. For example: You arrive at your office, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and realize that the sugar dispenser is empty. So much for that perfect cup-o-joe you were dreaming of! Now you have two choices: you can either walk to the corner store for some sugar, or you can drink your coffee without it. There are complaint possibilities written all over this scenario because let’s face it; messing up a person’s first morning cup of coffee can be tantamount to running over your cat on your way out of the garage! But employing the “UP” principle, we are stuck withUnmitigated Positiveness”…so instead of complaining and setting the tone of your day to be negative and irritable, you can choose to say “Well, it is a beautiful morning for a quick walk to the store”, or “It would be healthy to cut back on my sugar intake anyway”, depending on which option you choose to pursue. But it gets better!
UP” also stands for “Unlimited Possibilities”. Let’s continue using the coffee example, with you now on your way through the fresh morning breezes toward the nearest grocery market. You are energized by the cool air, your spirits are lifted by the bustling activity of local businesses opening for the day, and just when it couldn’t get any better, sugar happens to be on sale and there is only one person ahead of you in the checkout line. While waiting your turn, you can’t help but overhear the customer in front of you chatting with the store employee about his current search for a particular professional service…one that happens to be the exact service in which your own company specializes! On your way out the door you introduce yourself, exchange business cards, and chat briefly about this new acquaintance’s current project. After bidding each other farewell, you return to your office with not only your box of sugar, but also the possibility (catch that word “Possibility”?) of a new client. Now, obviously this is a fabricated scenario and not every circumstance yields the potential for new business…but some do. Remember, this is “Unlimited Possibilities”, not “absolute guarantees”. So, how does this relate to communicating positively? Here comes the jewel in the crown!
In the workplace, the common cold is not the only thing that is contagious. Outlooks, attitudes, and demeanors are just as infectious. If you want your colleagues and employees to be dour, irritable, and resistant to challenges, all you have to do is inject a grain of negativity into the environment. Not much, just a tiny bit will do because negativity multiplies like warts on a frog and pretty soon everyone is singing “Gloom, despair, and agony on me” in three part harmony. BUT, inject the same amount of “UP” into the day and see what happens. People feed off of the energy of those around them, so dole out copious amounts of UnmitigatedPositiveness and Unlimited PossibilitiesTalk to those you interact with, and choose to use uplifting phrases and energizing terms. Instead of saying “We have to get this unhappy client to quit complaining…”, try saying “Let’s find the best solution to give this client confidence in our service”. Seems pretty trite, you say? Just try it. If nothing else, people tend to notice, even on a sub-conscious level, when someone purposely avoids negativity and pursues positive speech. Actually, positive speech tends to draw others to you much like a magnet because it touches the human need for affirmation and hope for a successful future.
To wrap up, let’s re-visit that concept of “de-personalized speech” and all those painfully sterile text messages, etc. As you pursue employing the “UP” principle, you will see how nearly impossible it is to remain “distant” in your communications from those around you. You will actually want to converse verbally simply because you have something helpful to say and you want your colleagues and clients to hear it directly from you! Remember, positive attitudes are just as contagious as their negative counterparts, leading to the habit of encouraging, uplifting, and productivity-producing words rolling off your tongue! So save the data transfer communications for just that: conveyance of facts and technical details. But when the opportunity exists for a personal exchange of real human voices, seize the moment and choose your words to build up the person with whom you are speaking. On a personal and professional level, both the speaker and the listener will be empowered.
The possibilities that positive communication can bring to your workplace are…well, unlimited!

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