Recently, I had a great conversation with Ron Dunford, CEO of Schreiber Foods, a $5-billion-dollar employee owned company. We were talking about one of my favorite topics, communication. He shared a few pearls of wisdom with me that I would like to pay forward.
We were discussing how to connect and communicate with people. He said that “sometimes we hide behind our technology.” That’s a concern of mine. Less and less of our communication takes place in person. There are obvious reasons for that, such as distributed workforces and a global economy. Much of it, however, is just laziness.
When my kids were all still living at home, we lived in a two-story house. It would drive me nuts when I’d catch them texting one another rather than climbing the short flight of stairs to engage in an actual conversation. We do the same in our offices. People text or send an IM from cube to cube.
You can’t emote via email, text or IM, regardless of how many emoji's you use. Good communication is an active process. It includes not only speech but nonverbal cues and active listening. We miss so much by resorting to using technology to do our communicating.
Ron shared that, “we all listen through our own lens.” It is so true. Not only do we filter information through our own lens, but we are awesome storytellers. So we create a story around the information we absorb through those filters. Without the nonverbal cues and the ability to hear inflection and gauge emotion, we are left to whatever realities our minds decide to weave. This is how innocuous emails or texts become perceived as passive-aggressive or even hostile.
The other way in which we are lazy is by not treating communication as a practice. Most people aren’t born as great communicators. Some have a more natural proclivity than others, but the best communicators work hard at their craft. Communication is not a one-size-fits-all process. It needs to be tailored to the receiver if you want your message to hit home.
Ron offered a simple recipe for improved communication. He suggested that “The easiest way to figure out how to better communicate is to ask your team.” How often do you stop and ask your team or even just the person you are in a conversation with, am I communicating in the way that you need? Yes, that can leave you a little exposed, but without that feedback, how can you expect to improve? I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my wife. I will preface this by admitting that I consider myself to be a bit of a communications wonk.
She was facing a tough challenge and was sharing that with me. Immediately, being ever the good communicator, I reflected back what I heard and then started offering plausible solutions that she might be able to use. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. This was communication at its best. Only, she was getting mad, which didn’t make any sense. Finally, she said, “I’m not looking for you to solve my problem, I just want you to listen to me, let me vent a little.”
Communication is hard work. The payoff, however, is huge. Organizations that communicate effectively make smarter decisions faster. They’re more focused and accountable, and they tend to outperform their competitors . So, don’t be a lazy communicator. Resist the lure of a text or IM. Seek feedback from your team and with those whom you communicate. Treat it as a practice. It’s worth the effort.