In Part I of this article series, we looked at why communication fails, and how often communication fails to reach its target successfully (in fact, some findings state that only 5% of interactions arrive at a common understanding!). With our projects and teams wanting to deliver faster to meet our customers’ needs, it is vital that we communicate effectively within our teams to ensure we meet our goals, especially in Agile environments where teams are self-organising and decide their own way of working. Collaboration and communication is critical to success.
If we think of this article series as constructing a house, so far we just have the empty section, and now we’re going to start building some foundations.
To do this we need to delve a little deeper into the human brain – how we all differ and how we can tap into others’ brains to ensure your message is received as you intended.
Think about a time when you have delivered a message but your audience is just not getting it. You get frustrated as you feel you’re making sense, they get frustrated as they don’t understand what you’re trying to get across – and it all ends up a bit of a disaster.
It’s not a pleasant experience for either party, and it’s something that is difficult to get right once you find yourself in this situation.
Pre-Conceptions can Distort your Perception
The human brain is a complex (and not overly attractive) organ, and we all use ours differently. Think of your brain as a biological computer which attains information from the surrounding world, stores it, and processes it in a variety of ways. However, unlike a computer which can be programmed to consistently read and process information, the brain has a tendency to focus on past experiences and use these to direct you on how to react to a situation (e.g. how you process different forms of communication can become biased).
For example, if you had a past conflict with the person you are speaking with, you are likely to go into the conversation with your guard up and may read the message they are delivering incorrectly – and vice versa, their defenses are likely to be on high alert and they may come across as aggressive and confrontational when receiving your message, when in fact neither is intentional. We need to remove these pre-conceived unconscious thoughts and ideas to ensure they don’t get in the way of the current conversation.
These pre-conceptions are not just from your own experiences, you may also be influenced by third parties without having direct contact yourself, for example some comments from a colleague regarding a vendor, or the media forming such ideas. Try to keep an open mind for a fresh view when you approach any situation, which can relate to work or everyday life.
“High Roads” vs “Low Roads” in the Brain
Humans are emotional beings, and if you take the time to stop and think about how our brains operate, it really is an incredible thing.
You may have previously heard that the left side of the brain is more logical/analytical, whereas the right side is more creative. Another way of looking at how the brain is structured is looking at the high and low roads. The low road is where individuals tend to put their defences up and take a more pessimistic view, whereas the high road tends to take a more positive spin on things.
You can deal with a situation in quite a different way using each of these modes – and you’ll find that sometimes the low road is best to take and others the high road. For example, if you have some bad news to communicate to your audience, taking the low road you need to consider how those people will feel hearing your news, whereas taking the high road you can turn it around to get your desired outcome.
Low Road: Our competitors are going to beat us to market meaning all of the work we have done is a complete waste of time and effort.
High Road: Let’s all pull together and nail our goal to deliver tomorrow so that we can get that competitive edge over our rival company. We’ll celebrate afterwards.
By thinking about how the “low road” message would be perceived, we become more aware of how your intentions and methods impact upon people on the receiving end of your communication. However, more satisfying outcomes occur when focusing on the win-win “high road” in both personal and business communications and you tend to get more buy-in and commitment to your message.
Cost of “Heat” or “Ice”
It is a well-known fact that poor communication can lead to personal frustration and stress within individuals. Working in such hostile environments in turn can cause serious health issues, and according to Daniel Goleman (a popular psychologist) we need to turn it around!
Various research studies have found that:
- each episode of anger adds an additional stress to the heart by increasing his/her heart rate and blood pressure, which in turn drops the efficiency of their heart – and the heightened heart risk lasts for about two hours after the anger was encountered
- anxiety is linked with impaired immune function, increased cancer metastasis, viral and infectious conditions, artery damage, blood clotting, and accelerated Type 1 diabetes
Stress however, when handled positively, is actually beneficial to us – it helps to keep us alert, active and more energetic! We just need to work on getting the balance right. If you are not turning your communication into a more positive message (even those difficult bad news messages), just think you could actually be impacting your own health as well as the health of your colleagues.
Look out for the signs of frustration or that someone is not engaged in the conversation – they are normally fairly obvious, for example facial expressions, looking away, or the tone of their response. You can even tell in written communication, like emails, that someone is not on the same page as you.
Common Causes with Relationship Issues
- Most people see things from a fixed perspective – others do the same, resulting in these perspectives distorting communication
- The majority of people try to be seen in a positive light, and assuming they are competent, capable, valuable, and needed this helps to build trust within a team – but what if we’re not?
- Most people judge themselves by their own motives and others by their actions, therefore we need to work with people in a way where their strengths count and their weaknesses don’t
- It is natural for human brains to drive away from pain towards pleasure – it’s in our own self-interest – but are we addressing the underlying issue or ignoring it?
In summary, being conscious of the way individuals process information and tailoring the way you communicate with your colleagues can make a huge difference in the way your message is received which in turn ensures you get the commitment from others to achieve your goals. Once you have this awareness, you’re halfway there already.
Now we have laid some foundations in our construction of cooperative relationships.
In Part III we’ll be starting to put some structure up by looking at creating common channels, and how our egos and frame of mind can influence the way we interact with others.
← Part I: Introduction & Why Communication Fails Part III: Creating a Common Channel →