(This post was first published here on August 22, 2016.)
Communication is truly one of the key characteristics of great teams. Effective communication is rarely identified as a strength in the teams I’ve had the privilege to observe over the past twenty years. In fact, when doing a cultural assessment, most of the teams I’ve worked with rank it as one of their top five weaknesses. I’ve also heard that it’s the number one reason marriages fall apart. (Not sure if that’s true, but I do recall hearing it from a marriage expert.)
Communication is a pretty simple idea: someone wants to (or should want to) send a message of some sort, and someone else wants to (or should want to) receive that message. It’s simple to understand—and really challenging to do.
Many times the sender and the receiver do not know that communication needs to take place, so they don’t attempt to send a message, and they don’t pay close attention when one has been sent.
The three main points we wanted you to gather from our module on communication are as follows:
- Communication is really important if you want to have a high performing team.
- Communication is really challenging for many reasons. It’s important that you understand that it’s challenging so you will give it the effort and attention it requires.
- Communication can be improved by understanding some helpful philosophies and techniques.
Regarding the second point, most of us believe when we send a message, it is clear. There are many reasons we might believe this, but the reality is that many people will not understand what our message is. Remember the Fuzzy Definitions exercise and how we all understand certain words differently? Remember the Fun Little Quiz exercise where the questions might seem clear, but weren’t? (Q: “What was the President’s name in 1970?” A: “Barak Obama”)
Because it’s not easy to get others to understand our message correctly, we need to work hard to make our point clear, especially if it is important. Remember when we talked about the seven times/seven ways philosophy? The more important your message, the more often, and in more diverse ways, you need to communicate it.
I believe the most powerful way to communicate is through actions. I really believe in the expression, “I can’t hear what you’re saying because your actions speak too loud.”
Regarding the third point above, here are a few of the ideas we shared with you:
- Seven times seven ways: By the way, it’s a bit ironic that I’m attempting to communicate this review to you only one time, and in only one way. Hmm… I wonder how else I could do it?
- Magic Johnson’s statement that “every pass is 100% my responsibility: Even if the receiver messed it up, Johnson would challenge himself to say, “How else could I have thrown that so it would have been received well?”This made him one of the best passers of all time. I believe the same attitude would pay great dividends to someone wanting to be a great communicator.
- Seek to Understand: Speaking of Magic Johnson, I hope that any receiver would also take a 100% responsibility for receiving a message well. “Seeking to understand” means listening as well as you can, asking questions where there might be a chance for misunderstanding, and repeating back, in you own words, what you believe the person is attempting to communicate.
I hope this review of a critical characteristic of great teams has been helpful. I also hope you find yourself sending and receiving messages more effectively this week.