“WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE”. Never was there a better quote for this week’s topic (do you remember where this line came from? See the bottom of this Power Idea for the answer). Strategic Partner, Diane Janovsky shares some really important revelations about communicating with impact. Enjoy this week’s Power Idea.

I was scrolling through Linked In the other day and saw a graphic that caught my attention. It said that business shouldn’t be categorized as “B2B” or “B2C”; rather, we need to recognize that business is always “H2H”, or “Human to Human”.

I couldn’t agree more. One of my mantras is that companies don’t do business with companies – people do business with people. The most effective organizations are those whose cultures emphasize building strong interpersonal relationships, whether internal or external. Doing that requires effective communication.

Communication is one of the most fundamental skills we possess as humans. We are social beings who live in an interdependent world. From the most basic survival instinct, like a baby letting her mother know she is hungry, to the complexity of corporate leaders mobilizing a global and diverse workforce, effective communication is the glue that holds us all together and moves us forward. defines communication as: “The imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing or signs”. Simple, right? Or not. As we all know, this seemingly straight-forward definition belies a much greater level of complexity.

Even when we converse in our native language, mis-understandings and disconnects are common. We’ve all experienced painful “failures to communicate” with loved ones, friends and co-workers where the message intended to be sent was NOT the message that was received.

In the context of business, ineffective communication can lead to results that are less than desirable, or even downright disastrous. In a recent report, the State of the American Workplace, Gallup found that only “13% of employees strongly agree that leadership in their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization”. What can a manager (or any person, for that matter) do to be an excellent communicator?

Cicero, the great orator of the late Roman Republic (circa 75 AD) said, “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my language”. We are all unique in our experience and perceptions. This richness of humanity means that our interactions are, by definition, complicated and unpredictable, so we need to go deeper and communicate using feelings and emotions as well as intellect.

Almost two millennia later, Dr. Stephen R. Covey would give us more details on how to do this in his international bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Habit #5, “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”, advocates for “empathic listening” which Covey considers to be the highest form of listening (the first four levels are ignoring, pretending, selective listening and attentive listening).

According to the book, empathic listening means getting “inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel”. Cicero would have been proud.
Specifically, Covey tells us that we must:

  • Approach interactions with a sincere desire to understand. If not, others will see through the lack of authenticity.
  • Listen not only with our ears, but with our eyes and our HEART. We must engage our right brain as well as our left.
  • Avoid responding “autobiographically”, or from our own frame of reference. Said another way, don’t project our own home movies onto other people’s behavior.

These concepts apply whether we are communicating one-on-one or one-to-many. And when it is time to deliver our own message, having been an empathic listener first allows us to frame how best to be understood within the context of the receivers’ viewpoint. We might even find that we’ve changed our initial opinion or content. Paradoxically, in order to influence others, we ourselves need to be “influenceable”!

All of this probably sounds like a bit “touch-y, feel-y”, but the reality is that using our emotions and right brain, along with strong left brain listening skills, will help us to be more empathetic, to communicate more effectively and to connect more genuinely with other humans in our professional and personal lives. And that is a win/win for everyone!
(Answer: The Movie: Cool Hand Luke!)