The articles, books and webinars / workshops focusing on communication (a term that is becoming more and more vague, actually…) are multiplying as rapidly as cat videos online, frankly.
Who to pay attention to? How many are publishing because it’s a way to get clicks, a way to push a new book or membership offer, and how many are really spending time standing upon the shoulders of the giants who have come before (or who are working now…) and seeking ways to execute on the most effective thoughts and frameworks to bring dialogue into our lives and businesses that will change things? Few have the time or patience to figure this out.
I must confess to being caught up in this myself. This goes way back for me, to my early days as a musician and composer. I have always been fascinated by how music can touch that part of a human being in a conversation that goes to a deeper place. We are simultaneously very complex and very simple. Truth, trust-building, the components, if you will, that comprise a close and meaningful relationship with someone are common across us all. While music is as individually interpreted as any other form of communication, the use of words can be more of a challenge due to internally established meanings and contexts for each person.
The complexity comes with what Anthony de Mello calls “our programming”. We are each utterly unique in our make-up and our experiences. As a result, how I react or “hear” something from you is quite likely to be different than how someone else does. Hence my focus on dialogue in all walks of life.
I still am a stickler for what I like to call “semantics” (although I don’t think that is strictly the right term…still, I use it as a personal definition in my conversations…). To me, semantics are the ground rules or definitions of meaning for a clear dialogue. So, for example, take the word engagement. That is a HUGE word in marketing, for sure! If I am going over a campaign with a customer or speaking to a group (or writing an article…), I want to define, as clearly as possible, what we’re talking about when we use the word engagement. This can launch a great dialogue that can alter both my and my client’s or audience’s definition and understanding of what engagement is. At the very least, as we continue to work through our dialogue, we have a clearer idea of what each other means when we use the word, which is always a good thing.
While I regularly have several books that I read simultaneously (Thanks, Kindle….) I always have at least one that focuses on dialogue and relationship-building. I recently finished On Dialogue by David Bohm and am currently reading Ask Powerful Questions by Will Wise. One of the things I find most interesting in these and other credible works is the degree of focus on listening. This is really hard for us. I wrote an article awhile ago called How Do You Focus To Listen? I identify to modes of listening we tend to fall into: “listen-to-respond” and “listen-to-understand” and a follow-up article called How Hard Is It To Actually Listen Online?
How important is this?
Well, if you’re not listening, or not listening in a way that furthers dialogue, you are going to fail. The reason is that creating and participating in conversation across any channel, whether online or In Real Life (IRL) takes a focus, or mindfulness, of the the present moment AND an awareness and acceptance of the OTHER in the dialogue. The OTHER, in this context, can be the client in your conversation, the audience for your webinar, the unhappy consumer at the other end of that Yelp review, your adult child on the other end of that Facebook Messenger exchange, the representative at the Customer Service counter at the department store…..that’s right….anybody you are working to develop a rapport with in order to accomplish something, even if it’s just passing some news along. There is always an OTHER.
So much of the time, in what we see as expediency, we consider communication strictly as how we get out what we want to say. This broadcast style of message can work in an emergency (think “yelling FIRE in an at-danger building”), but not so much in most other cases. We live in our own skins, listening to the voices in our heads, formulating what we want to say and how to say it. We may even think we want to get the OTHER’S input, but when given the chance to listen, we shift into “listen-to-reply” mode, formulating our response to what we think they’re saying WHILE they speak….so we’re not really listening, although we think that we are (and we feel we’re being effective by coming up with a fast answer…plus it makes us look smart!).
“Listen-to-understand” is more difficult, intentional and requires mindfulness and patience on our part. We must be willing to set aside our prejudices and preconceptions in the context of the conversation, and be open to surprise. Truly being open to understanding the OTHER in the dialogue can be life (and business…) changing. It might mean we are wrong about something, or that we may be right, but don’t understand why we are unable to convey the message clearly and in a stance of trust-building. Real dialogue, personally and professionally, requires a stance of humility that most of us find, at best, ridiculously hard.
The chance to discover something new and, perhaps, take part in the creation of something innovative is worth the effort, though. Everything we encounter seems to be more complex than before. All the “low hanging fruit” has been plucked in the solutions to our problems. It’s going to take the best kind of collaboration, dialogue and trust to make right the things that go wrong in this period of the 21st century.
Ask powerful questions in the framework of open, mindful dialogue and listen-to-understand.
Let’s innovate the daylights out of this!