Welcome to COMM Envy!
Sustainable, legendary, temporal, functional, iconic… What kinds of bridges will you build?
The dissemination of information is often force fed as a substitute for thoughtful, meaningful communication. The function of these two actions couldn’t be more different. The conveyance or dissemination of information is often meant to be impersonal, with the goal of making something known, while requesting or requiring no response. Meaningful communication may start with the dissemination of information, but its delivery is provocative and purposeful; in anticipation of and literally requiring a response to validate its existence. In high school or college, you may have been taught to start a conversation with an open-ended question (requiring more than a YES or NO answer), which is a great! Without a response, our attempts at communication will hold less meaning for ourselves or others.
Meaningful Communication (my personal definition)… that which makes a difference; leads to positive and purposeful results; presenting value to the table of ideas, forging a path of free-flowing conversation which makes way to suggestions that reveal solutions, which may have been long masked by opaque and seemingly debilitating thoughts or obstacles.
Have you ever been in a conversation when someone says exactly what you need to hear, in a way that you needed to hear it? The words satisfy your head and melt your heart all at the same time. It’s like cool rain on a hot day… or a breath of fresh air in the Shanghai smog on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s the type of interaction that can turn a day full of heavy, mundane, treadmill-like tasks into a weightless and exciting adventure. It can transform a web of complicated problems into a colorful tapestry waiting to be unraveled. I know it sounds unrealistic… but it’s happened to all of us. The question is… How?
Meaningful communication can only take place in an atmosphere deemed to be non-judgmental; a safe space, conducive to positive interaction and mutual respect. Ideally, the scene should be free from penalty, blame, shame, anxiety or comparison. Participants should remain firmly planted in the present, with common goals and objectives focused on solving issues of relevance to all.
This may sound utopian, especially since we are all flawed and unable to manage some of these inner emotions all at once… But our inability to obtain perfection isn’t an excuse for us not to improve our current state. Besides, wouldn’t you like for more of your meetings and interpersonal encounters to yield this kind of response? Just think of the increased clarity of purpose and productivity you and your teams would experience!
Meaningful communication starts with listening for what we haven’t heard before; then opening our eyes, minds and hearts to the possibilities represented… not only by what we’ve just heard… but also by what we’ve just experienced.
Does that mean we should bow to the whisper and whim of everything we hear? Of course not. To communicate meaningfully doesn’t mean that we will always agree. It does, however, require self-awareness and mutual respect for the thoughts and ideas of others. It’s also important to note that we will be tempted to run away from inner growth rather than toward it. My advice: extend patience… with yourself and with others during this journey. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Run your race, hydrate and keep moving forward. You won’t regret it.
Let’s start by gather the ingredients.
Ingredient #1: YOU
Meaningful communication cannot take place without an investment from you. Don’t panic – I’m not trying to sell anything here. I’m talking about your willingness to listen… and in some cases to change; to be exposed to and maybe even embrace fresh perspectives, to respect the expertise of those around you – giving up on the idea of being the smartest person in the room, putting yourself in their place and allowing yourself to become vulnerable where you may lack experience, wisdom or insight. You can create an environment for meaningful communication to flourish.
Maybe you have biases which cause you to hear from certain people in certain ways, or not to hear from them at all. This is sometimes called selective hearing. We all have biases and recognizing them is essential to honing your communication skills. Ask yourself: Did I hear what was said or did I hear what I think she/he meant based on previous experience? Is it possible that I could be hearing a change in attitude or a different thought than was conveyed last week? Is the change real or is this just a fleeting attempt at empathy to be followed by more of the same?
Hearing and listening are two very different actions. Hearing implies the engagement of the physical ear and the mind. Listening on the other hand further engages emotions. It requires a level of interest in and empathy toward the person with whom you are engaging. Similar to my earlier example, not only do you hear and understand, but you begin to feel what’s being said. Some refer to this as hearing with your heart.
Example: If a family member, friend or colleague says something that you know is out of character for them, as someone who knows them and as someone who cares about them, you can consciously filter the comment (take it with a grain of salt, so to speak – not allowing it to affect you personally) and reach out to them in conversation to explore the potentially deeper meaning.
What about your own thoughts and ideas? Are you able to relate them to others without fear of manipulation, scrutiny or rejection? Deciding that what you bring to the table is both valid and valuable may be the beginning of your journey to create opportunities for meaningful communication in your circles of influence.
Recommendations for the week:
- Be patient with yourself and others. We have trained ourselves to be independent rather than interdependent. Communication may not come naturally as a result.
- Remember: You add value!
- Listen for what you haven’t heard before and seek to understand.
- Speak with the intent to build bridges, not walls. No one is an island. Let’s start by nurturing ourselves as we prepare to engage in meaningful communication with others.
Ingredient #2… Next Week