Communication is central to our efforts toward productivity and success. But few of us communicate as productively as we could.
One reason is that too much communication is haphazard, misdirected, poorly constructed, or intentionally outright manipulative. Productive communication, on the other hand, aims to understand other people, help them understand us, and get people’s priorities and interests better aligned.
To communicate more productively, focus more on the following:
What’s Going On?
The first step in communicating more productively is to get an accurate sense of the overall situation and relevant relationships. This boils down to holding off from making early interpretations and prejudgments, and instead identifying the details of what is being communicated.
- The information others are putting out. Before you begin to interpret what they mean or what they want, try to get clear on the overt messages – including the thoughts, body language, and specific words – they are presenting to you.
- The context in which you are receiving this information. Is it a job interview, a debate, a discussion of analysis or plans, a power struggle, or something else? Obviously, recognizing the context – including the agenda and relevant relationships – is extremely important.
- The feelings present in the situation: other people’s and your own. Identifying the feelings provides a basis for closer and more powerful connections with the other people involved.
- The aspirations you and others are hoping for in the situation. These may not be “must haves,” but they are nevertheless important elements that can weigh heavily.
- The goals people are working hard to satisfy in the situation, which may include feelings – such as safety, respect, friendship, or control – and/or benefits – such as a contract, concession, opportunity, money, authority, or even a sense of meaning or purpose.
Where Are You Coming From?
Productive communication must be back-and-forth. You have no chance to communicate productively if you don’t know where you stand and what your minimum requirements in the situation may be.
To start this investigation, pay attention to your deeper levels of needs, wants, and inner processes. These include:
- Your thoughts. This is the level at which you are formulating the messages you are trying to convey, and interpreting the messages you’re receiving from others. Your thoughts usually include your aspirations and goals, including your bottom-line requirements, your deal-breakers, your perceptions of both difficulties and current alignments, as well as your ideas about how to persuade, how to move forward, and so forth.
- Your feelings. This is the level at which you are viscerally motivated, and also reacting to others’ signals and emotions. Your feelings are usually tied up with the urgency of your aspirations and goals, as well as your level of trust, confidence, respect, and caring for the others involved. Your self-confidence, self-esteem, and other feelings about yourself also figure in.
- Your judgments. Every element of communication you perceive from others is potentially subject to your internal judgments – or pre-judgments – en route to your interpretation and acceptance or rejection of it. It’s important to notice how you are judging what you are perceiving, because these judgments can easily facilitate or interfere with productive communication. It’s equally important to consider how your own messages may be judged – or misjudged – by others.
How Well Are You Tuned In?
Productive communication happens when the messages are accurately sent and received, of course. But it happens even better when you are tightly tuned in to the other people involved.
This requires connecting with them on a level that flows beneath the surface of language and politeness. You’ve considered where you’re coming from. It’s equally important for you to try to discover where they are coming from.
This includes consideration of:
- Their thoughts, feelings, and judgments.
- The information they are communicating to you.
- What they want from you, on the surface and also at deeper levels?
- What response(s) from you would make their day?
One way to evaluate how well you are tuned in is to rephrase their message, or a part of it, and ask if you got it right, something like this: “So what you’re saying is ….”
The goal is for them to say: “That’s right.”
Until they do, you may not be as well-tuned-in as you think you are.
Strive for Honesty
Productive communication thrives – and depends – on honesty. Obviously, you’re not required to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets to every stranger with whom you communicate. But the more honestly you can express your thoughts, feelings, and judgments – as well as your aspirations and goals in the situation – to other people, the more you will elicit the same from them.
This level of honesty has at least three immediate benefits:
- It will strengthen and deepen the connection between you and the other people involved.
- It will clarify and align everyone’s understanding of each person’s position, of the gaps and agreements between you, and of possible routes to compromise and cooperation.
- It will increase the natural human motivation to join with others and move forward together.
The result of this honesty, understanding, and alignment will be more efficient conversations and meetings, with faster, better resolution of conflicts and differences, as well as strengthened motivation to work together toward agreed-upon goals.
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