Organizations spend thousands of dollars on communication skills training yet so often nothing permanent changes. Sure, some useful techniques are learned and even used for a short time, but then the ingrained communications habits that led someone to training in the first place soon come back.
What’s the problem here?
In my view, the problem is that most communications skills training courses address external behaviours and either completely ignore, or don’t dig deep enough into, internal processes.
Take this example, I was hired to work with an emerging leader who wanted to move up within the organization. He had the technical background and the know-how to do the job. He had the passion, motivation and was extremely ambitious. The organization believed in him. So what was missing?
It was really only one thing. His inability to communicate effectively on a consistent basis with everyone around him.
He did it some of the time, probably even most of the time, but not always. The times he didn’t had damaged his reputation, relationships and career prospects. Whether it was sharing his vision with his team, expressing an opinion in a meeting or having a one to one chat, he needed to show that he could communicate well consistently.
He asked me to teach him communications techniques. Yet we both knew that if he took the time to stop and think about his communication he was really quite good at it.
It’s not about Techniques
It wasn’t about techniques. He already knew the techniques. Sure I could have observed his communication and given pointers about eye contact and body language, even the words he used. But that wasn’t going to change the fact that there were times when getting his point across, and having it accepted, required so much more than these external behaviours.
External behaviours are only a result of our internal processing.
Spending time on traditional communication techniques was going to be a waste of time and money for all involved. Communicating well is not only about knowing what to do, its about knowing how you can best ensure that you actually do it.
This comes down to the multitude of activity going on inside our brains. Thoughts and emotions combine to produce unconscious responses within the brain that help or hinder communication.
A Look Inside
Consider this. For millennia the human brain has been wired to be on a constant lookout for threats and pleasures. In days past this was useful for survival, but in today’s workplace it’s often not so useful. Modern research has shown that even with the slightest ‘threat’ the brain loses it’s capacity to rationalize and think clearly.
An off-hand comment can be perceived as a threat and trigger a chemical reaction inside the brain within milliseconds.
To communicate well you need to be able to think clearly. You need to keep your brain out of a threat response so that you can clearly assess the situation and communicate and respond appropriately.
To help others receive your message, you need to calm their brains and put them at ease so that they can think clearly and fully absorb your message.
My client knew about making eye contact, speaking clearly and using appropriate wording. What he hadn’t thought about was the internal processing. He needed to ensure that his brain, and the brain’s of those around him, was calm, clear and ready to communicate.
Controlling the Internal Processing
1. Take care of yourself
Communicating well is about ensuring you are well. Stress, anxiety and tiredness all lead to the brain becoming overwhelmed. Whether you are delivering a message or receiving a message, your overall well-being is going to impact how your brain responds to the situation.
My client from above discovered that one of the biggest factors impacting his ability to communicate was how tired or stressed he was. He knew the techniques; he just needed to be alert enough to remember to use them.
He knew the techniques; he just needed to be alert enough to remember to use them.
2. Be clear about what you want to say
One sure way to lead the brain into a threat response is to have an internal conflict going on as you’re trying to speak. Work out what you want to say so that you can deliver it in a way that works for you and for your listener.
Everything from focused pre-planning to a 3 second deep breath before you respond to questions can help.
3. Be Authentic
Delivering a message that you don’t believe in is like trying to eat food you don’t like. You may be able to smile on the outside for a short while, but it won’t sit well on the inside and eventually everyone will know. Make sure you believe in your message before you share it with others.
4. Consider others
Communication is a two way process. You as the communicator need to put the other person at ease so that they can fully absorb your message. Consider what their needs, thoughts and feelings are and what you need to do to calm their internal processing.
Before you next spend your time or money on communications training consider what’s really needed. Is it about external behaviours, or is it about the internal processing that impacts the external behaviours?