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Talked To Any Brick Walls Lately?
Why the window shades roll down behind their eyes!

by Linda Blew Carlson &
Melody Goodwin Akins

           “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Unknown

           If you ever talked to someone who just didn’t get the message, you might have felt you were talking to a brick wall. Brick walls are people who lose interest while you’re talking or who don’t respond to your messages. Their eyes glaze over and they seem to be someplace else.

           This article will give you, the small business owner, the following:

  • An overview of the communication challenges in today's business environment;

  • A revolutionary new way of looking at how we think;

  • An approach to business communication that will enable you to create an environment that encourages better-than-routine performance on a consistent basis;

  • An opportunity to obtain materials and tools that will enable you to tap into the unused mental powers -- yours and others.

The Challenge

           Research over the past two decades shows that about 92% of the conflict in all areas of life is related to misunderstanding. At school, at home, at work, anywhere we happen to be, tension rises when information is miscommunicated and misunderstood.

           The trouble is that we are miscommunicating and don’t even know it. We assume the other guy “got it” and don’t know they didn’t “get it.'

           This crisis in communication affects all of us, no matter what our roles. Bosses and employees feel the tension everyday most of the time and think it is normal. They only become aware when expensive ‘how to” communication training programs fail to facilitate the timely achievement of business goals.

           Despite the newest innovations in technology and technique, performance stalls and job satisfaction plummets.

The Context

           Today’s organizations and teams operate in a highly turbulent, changing world of increasingly complex situations. People handle this by adopting the philosophy that the only ‘stability’ there is, is ‘IN-stability,’ and the only ‘constant’ is that ‘change is inevitable.’

           These caveats are borne out in the working lives of our employees. As one employee stated, “Some of us are faced almost daily with the prospect of losing our jobs or having them transformed into something we have to be re-trained to do.”

           Those who admonish business owners to ‘keep it simple, sweetie,’ are living in the past—a time when change was slower and there were recognizable ‘bodies of knowledge’ that could actually be learned and applied in relatively stable business environments.

           Gone are the stable environments that provided the context for much of our communication. Without context, information is just meaningless data—irrelevant and intrusive sound- or word-bytes to be ducked (or filed away for a nebulous ‘future reference’).

           To illustrate this, here is a real-life example.

           A small business owner (We’ll call him Bob) recently complained that he had a secretary (we’ll call her Jennifer) who he knew was intelligent and capable, but he was constantly frustrated by her message taking. It seemed to him that he spent more time clearing up miscommunications than getting new work done. He saw that she made a good contribution in many areas, but he was so frustrated with the message taking that all he wanted was relief. 

           He was ready to fire Jennifer.

The Style Sleuth Digs Deeper

           I asked Bob to explain the difference between how he wanted her to take messages and how she actually took them. It soon became clear that he believed that telling Jennifer what he wanted should be enough.

           On further investigation, it turned out that Bob had four distinctly different client types, and that, although he needed the same basic information for each type, there were things like whether or not to ask for a vendor code, whether a vendor had authorization to access the Company extranet, and for billing questions, whether the purchase was on a purchase order or an open order. These differences were important in Bob's decision making.

Jennifer’s Story

           You can learn a lot about how your employees think, by observing how they keep their workspaces. In Jennifer’s case, I focused on the area around her workstation and telephone. It became obvious immediately that Jennifer was a list-and-schedule-maker, and very well organized.

           Jennifer admitted that Bob had, indeed, told her about these different client types, but confided that she had become hopelessly confused and was ready to quit. To help clarify the situation, I asked her to tell me how she preferred to receive instruction from Bob.

           Her reply was an exclamation, “I’d tell him to WRITE IT DOWN!”

           Why was I not surprised :)?

Jennifer and Bob Become a Real Team

           After listening to Jennifer, I suggested to her boss, Bob, that he work with Jennifer to a simple procedure for taking messages from each of his client-types. The last time I checked with Bob, he and Jennifer were working well together -- very well. Sure, there were some initial rough spots, but Jennifer was a valuable employee and Bob had come to understand that she needed to have some specific 'style-related' input from him to get the results he wanted from her. Jennifer understood Bob’s 'style.' She learned how to ask for the details she needed to understand clearly what he expected in individualized message-taking.

           Jennifer’s boss had the same problem most managers have today. He believed that information and communication are the same thing. They aren’t.

Information Overload Leads to Attention Deficit!

           Today’s business environment demands that we work ‘smarter,’ so we need to know some facts:

           ‘Attention’ is now the coin of the realm in almost every area of life.

           If you do not know how to get clear understanding the first time you say something, you will spend a large portion of your day correcting mistakes instead of getting productive work done.

           Recent studies show that in most settings, as the amount of information goes up, the amount of understanding goes down!

           Your communications are especially ineffective if you make people work to understand you. (Most won't bother to put out the extra effort.)

The Context

           Do this exercise: On any given workday morning count the number of times you are distracted by ‘input’ from your environment (alarm clock, toaster, microwave, children, spouse, pets, car, traffic, news of the world, no parking spaces, cellphone calls...) all before you even get to work! Your employees face the same situation.

           While some of these ‘distractions’ can be avoided, due to the fast pace of today’s world, most cannot. By the time the workday begins, everyone’s ‘attention tank’ is more than half empty.

           The ‘buzz words” today are “attention” and “deficit.” Put them together and “attention deficit” is another term for tension caused by a speeded-up way of living. It affects almost all businesses since people are already distracted before they get to work.

           Is it any wonder that people can just ‘space out,’ and either not concentrate on what is being said or fail to relate to it?

Preparing to Communicate Mind-to-Mind

           How can you craft your communications to create understanding to help your employees keep from parking their already overloaded brains at the door?

           First, you need to know how your own mind forms messages. You can better facilitate understanding if you know what your mind does to a message before you give it. Do you look for the overall pattern, the specific way to do a task, or are you more concerned with the 'why' of any project?

           Next, you need to consider how the employee's mind automatically listens to information. No matter how carefully you form a message, you won't get genuine understanding if the receiver listens for things you never say.

           Pre-communication preparation may sound like 'think before you speak,' but it is a much more powerful strategy. By paying attention to certain easily-learned patterns, you can quickly individualize your communications. You can increase overall effectiveness because you and your employee will be ‘on the same wavelength.’

           That means you will increase your chances of getting a better than routine performance – consistently - by about 75%. How much is that worth to you?

~ ~ ~

Linda Blew Carlson and Melody Akins consult with individuals and organizations of all sizes. This site shows you an amazing short cut to pre-communication preparations that makes a potentially hard job easy. www.ICTech-Works.com or tlc@ictech-works.com.