The First Step Toward Effective Communication
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Posted by: Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Dr. Zimmerman's TUESDAY TIP:
"Communication leads to
community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing."
Dr. Alan Zimmerman's Personal
Outside of breathing, there are
few things we do more often than communicate. So you'd think we'd be very
good at it. But the sad truth is ... we're not. Communication
breaks down all the time.
It's like the blacksmith who told
his new apprentice, "Take this hammer and do exactly as I tell you.
I'm going to put this horseshoe in the fire and heat it up until it's red
hot. And when I nod my head, I want you to hit it as hard as you
Or it's like the interviewer who
asked his new job applicant where he was educated. The applicant replied,
"Yale." "Terrific," said the interviewer.
"What's your name?" The man replied, "Yim Yohnson."
The fact is ... we live in a world
of people, and a good portion of your personal happiness and professional
success depends on the quality of your communication with many of those people.
That being the case, you must learn how to communicate effectively with
people ... so you form peaceful, pleasant, and productive relationships with
To do that,
1. You must understand the
nature of effective communication.
First, effective communication is
not a one-way process. You do not communicate TO another person; you
communicate WITH another person. The difference is in the give-and-take.
When you want someone to accept
your message, you have to make the other person feel important and involved in
the communication. In other words, you have to listen to that person's
message, too. If you don't, you'll make him feel smaller than he is, and
he will make up for it by behaving like a "big shot."
Fortunately, there's an easy way
you can check up on ... to see if you were communicating TO or WITH the other
person. After each conversation, ask yourself if you learned anything or
gained any information from the other person? Or did you only dispense
information without getting any feedback? If all you did was dispense information,
the chances are very good that you didn't communicate and you're headed for
The second thing you must
understand about the nature of communication is that most people don't realize
when they've failed to communicate. As one philosopher said, "There's
only one problem with communication--the illusion that it has been
achieved." Or as Alan Greenspan, the former head of Federal Reserve
Board said, "I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but
I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
As a silly way of illustrating
that, I play a little game with some of my audiences. I'll ask them to
imagine that I'm their boss who is delegating a task to them. I'll tell
them rapidly, as though I'm a busy boss at work, what to do, and ask them to
write it down. I'll say, "Would you please do a, b, and z by
tomorrow at 2 p.m.?"
Then I'll say, just to make sure
I'm communicating effectively, "What did I ask you to do? Tell me
what I said." Only 8 out of 1000 people get it right, telling me a,
b, and z ... while most of them tell me I said a, b, and c. And still
others get the time or some other detail wrong.
The point is simple. When
you ASSUME you understand someone else ... as the word spells a-s-s-u-m-e ...
you often make an a_s of you and me.
To make quick and dramatic
improvements in your communication effectiveness, there are three basic,
straight-forward steps you can and need to take.
The first one has to do with ...
2. Take time to communicate.
It takes time to relate well to
people. Just think about some of the miscommunication problems you've
experienced. Most of the them can be traced back to your impatience ...
or not taking the time to relate to the people involved. As a general
rule, rushing the communication process destroys it.
When I advise leaders to take time
to communicate with their people, to keep their people fully informed, they get
defensive. When I tell leaders they've got to take the time to explain
the "what has to be done" AND the "why it has to be done,"
they tell me, "We're too busy to spend all that time talking. We've
got a job to do."
I'll tell them "Fine, have it
your way. But you're either going to take time NOW ... talking about
things ... or take a lot more time LATER fixing those things." Yes,
effective communication is a time-consuming process, but it is far less time
consuming than coping with the negative results of rushed communication and
So how can you make sure you're
investing enough time in the communication process? Start with these
- Take notes.
When you're involved in a business conversation, whether it's by
telephone or face-to-face, take notes. When you transmit the words
to paper it will slow down the overall pace of the conversation.
You'll spend more time absorbing what is being said and have more
time to thoughtfully respond ... rather than instantaneously react.
- Have key
information repeated back to you. When you're sharing key
information, say something like, "I'm not sure I made that as clear
as I needed to. What did you understand that to mean?"
- Close a
conversation on a positive. Just in case you unknowingly rushed the
communication process, this technique may prevent some lingering
irritation on the other person's part. You can close with something
like, "You've been very helpful in working this out" or "I
appreciate your attention to the details."
The comedian Dave Barry says,
"You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look
that says, 'My Golly, you're right! I never would've thought of that!'"
It would be nice if the world of people and process of communication were
so simple. They're not. But they're not all that difficult either
if you employ three basic, straight-forward communication techniques ... the
first one being "take time to communicate." I'll give you the
other two steps next week.
Where do you need to take more time to communicate? How will
you take and make the time?
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About the author:
As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional
speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman is focused on "transforming the people side of
business.” His keynotes and seminars are noted for high content, high energy,
and high involvement that transform people's lives and the companies where they
To learn more about his programs and products, or to
receive a free subscription to his weekly Internet newsletter, click here.
Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's
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