Redefining Communication

First published Saturday, May 10, 2014

Yesterday, as part of my working day, I attend a monthly business networking event provided by the Innov8 Network – a business to business group initially kick started by the team at the Bridge Innovation Centre, but now co-ordinated by a small group of people drawn from the local business community. The topics being presented by two guest speakers covered the work of the Princes Trust at the Pembrokeshire Adventure Centre and the follow up to the launch of the 102.5 Radio Pembrokeshire Business Awards.

In between this however was the typical activity of a business networking event – conversation. I was talking with a gentleman who has attended the network on occasion, and with whom I have had dealings in another capacity in the last year or so. We were discussing some of the work he has undertaken, and some of the programmes he is wishing to develop, picking up on some of the challenges that various industry sectors face.

As we talked, what became apparent is that much of the training and guidance available whether in the workplace or via the education system assumes that the recipient has a base level of understanding in relation to communication to begin with. Now, in the main, a good percentage of people have some grasp of this concept, although whether it is deep enough is another matter.

Being able to communicate effectively is a core component of any relationship with another person. From the relationship between a parent and child, or that between romantic partners, to the relationship between teacher and student or boss and employee, communication or the lack of, will have a significant impact on the strength and success of that relationship. Put yourself in the shoes of a teacher, faced with a class of 30 or so teenagers. The teacher is trying to do their job, namely impart the knowledge that the curriculum laid out in front of them says they have to, with an ultimate aim of the students sitting and passing exams to achieve qualifications that will, it is hoped, equip them for a successful career. As recent news stories have shown, teaching is an increasingly difficult job in some instances, and whilst there are undoubtedly other factors contributing to the behaviour exhibited by certain students, I would suggest that a long term breakdown in communication between the ‘establishment’ and the students has played a part.

How can this be overcome? There is unlikely to be an instant fix. However, consider this scenario. Obviously it is important to ensure that the basics of education are maintained and established with everyone. Possibly more important however is encouraging and developing a strong set of communication skills, and by this I mean the ability to listen, understand, show interest, ask appropriate questions, ‘engage’ and respect the views and opinions of others. Respect is a core element – regardless of whether one agrees with another or not, and of course differences in opinion  can make for interesting and productive discussion, respecting the views and opinions of another is crucially important. Second to this is the ability to listen, not just hear. How often have you stood talking to someone, whilst your mind has been composing the shopping list or trying to remember what time the dentist appointment is then realised that whilst you’ve heard the other person speaking, you’ve not listened to what they have said?

When you listen, and show an interest in what someone is saying, you are better placed to understand, and if you don’t you can then ask questions and develop the relationship with that person, whether it be purely for the duration of that conversation, or as part of a longer term connection. The interaction has the potential to be more positive, even if opinion and views expressed differ. Every individual has a contribution to make, and if they are given the opportunity to do so, be heard and listened to, understood and respected, in turn they will likely feel valued and appreciated and more likely to respond positively to further engagement and relationship building.

It may not always be easy to change how we communicate with others, whether face to face, by email, by phone. Initially it is about making a conscious choice to behave with more awareness of others and self, or indeed behave differently to how we have previously. Over time however new ‘habits’ are adopted and become subconscious actions. So, here is a ‘challenge’ to consider – the next conversation you have with someone, whether partner, child, colleague or a new contact you are making, try ‘tuning in’ more actively, focussing your attention on that person, listening to what they are saying, and what their body language is saying (that’s a whole other topic!), and taking a little more time to understand, question and develop that relationship.

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