Tuesday, 27 August 2013

We get what we make

Last week I did a work trip back to Finland to host a one day training for a small group of IT managers. The main topic of the day was about communication and influencing in a context of change and managerial work. The invitation was pretty much ”we are going through a big organisational change and the communication of the managers need to be in place first”.

Although I had a rough idea what kind of aspects they would like me to cover I decided to start the day by asking ”What would you like to understand more about communication”, just to get a better picture where they are. The conversation started flowing, I took my marker and started to put questions on the flipchart.

  • How to turn a negative message into a positive one?
  • How to avoid misunderstandings?
  • How to be clear and convincing?
  • How to get the message through?
  • How to motivate and energize people?

Any bells ringing?

Often in my work I come across these kinds of questions. People are seeking ways and tools to navigate in different communication situations. And that’s usually the expectation when coming for communication training. To get those practical tools to build that clear and convincing message that will get through. That’s quite normal.

But I always feel at unease with these kinds of expectations, and that’s why I decided to shake a bit the basic underlying assumptions about communication. Many times I start with the beliefs that are related to the transmission model and constructionist model. Basically all those questions in the list fall into the beliefs of acting according to the transmission model. We so often evaluate the effectiveness of communication based on how clearly something was said and how accurately the others heard it. To understand what’s going on one needs to understand the more holistic picture of communication: how meanings are made and how we are contributing to it.

In the training the conversation about different beliefs led me to highlight some of the points I use the most:
  • One cannot not communicate.
  • Every communicative act is a choice – conscious or unconscious
  • There is no shared understanding. Everyone gets things in their own way, no matter what. And in that sense everyone is always right, from their own point of view.

These points take us a bit deeper level of communication. Jesse Sostrin* has said that instead of asking “how” questions it’s more important to ask “why”. If we were trying to understand why others are communicating as they are, I guess we could become more curious about each other and more responsible of what we are creating in communication, whether it was our overall experience at work, the organisational atmosphere, or our relationships. After all, we get what we make. 

* Spoiler alert! There will be a post about the myths of effective communication based on Jesse Sostrin's new book Re-Making Communication at Work (will be published in November 2013). Stay tuned! 

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