Archives For communication

How often do these little indignities repeat in your professional life?

  • You give a presentation about something important, but everyone ignores it.
  • You are asked to propose a solution, but shy away from doing it because you lack the skills or confidence.
  • You get overlooked by everybody — including your boss — because other people sound like they know more than you do.
  • You get passed over for a promotion, because people don’t understand what you’re talking about.
  • You watch a colleague get credit for an idea you proposed earlier but with less poise.

You may have great ideas. You may know more than other people. You may be an expert in your field.

But what good is your experience and knowledge if you can’t communicate it? If you can’t make people pay attention? If you can’t make them value what you’re talking about and want to do something with it?

Knowledge isn’t power.

Putting knowledge to use is power.

And communicating knowledge — in writing and in speaking — in a way that lets people understand and act on it is one of the most valued skills in business today.

Improved communicationsMore and more companies have been approaching me lately to help them improve their communications, internally and externally.

It’s hard to disagree with their desire for “improved communications,” even if what they’re asking for is vague and undefined.

When I do a bit more digging, I find that their real concern is more about solving problems than about improving their communications.

They have problems — with productivity, conflict, teamwork, turnover, customer retention, etc. — that they attribute, rightly or wrongly, to ineffective communications.

Improving communications is a means to an end. The end (or the goal) is what matters.

Improved communications doesn’t necessarily solve problems.

  • If you have an inferior product or service, talking about it more clearly to your prospects won’t help you sell more of it.
  • If you’ve hired the wrong people, helping them communicate more effectively won’t, in itself, improve morale or teamwork.
  • If you lack a coherent strategy and plan for implementing it, clear and consistent communications won’t get you on track.

Improved communications does, however, provide the means by which you can solve problems.

  • It allows you to identity, analyze, and remedy what’s wrong with your product or service.
  • It allows you to figure out why you’re hiring the wrong people in the first place and what you can do about it.
  • It allows you to develop a strategy and to put in place measures for implementing it.

Communication is a means to…

  1. Sharing information and ideas
  2. Building goodwill and trust
  3. Facilitating teamwork and collaboration
  4. Enabling decision making

And all those things are what make problem solving possible.

A failure in communications inevitably causes problems. Always and everywhere.

Improving communications doesn’t necessarily solve those problems. It does, however, make it possible solve them.



Christopher Witt —  July 24, 2013


The Rule of St. Benedict, a book of precepts written 1,500 years ago by Benedict of Nursia for monks living communally, begins with that simple word: Listen.

The entire phrase is “Listen and incline the ear of your heart…”

Listening is a good way to begin just about any venture, not just a book of precepts.

Listening is about paying attention…in a certain way, with a certain attitude, and a certain commitment. It’s about paying attention or, as Benedict writes, “inclining the ear of your heart.”

What makes it so difficult to listen with the ear of our heart?

The Enthronement of the Ego

Ego is the part of us that thinks we’re in charge of our identities, our lives, our fates. Left to its own devices, the ego thinks we’re in charge—or should be—of other people and of the universe itself. Ego is a little god, a tyrant, a spoiled child.

Ego is about being in control.

It requires constant vigilance and aggression, since so many things (our own inner conflicts), events, and people keep asserting themselves. And, because control is an illusion, the ego requires a great deal of denial.

When we listen with the ear of our ego, we hear only what we want to hear and disregard the rest.

We listen to confirm what we already know and believe and value, never allowing ourselves to learn something new, to be challenged, or to change.

The heart (sometimes called the self or the soul) is the place where the intellect and emotions, thoughts and desires, dreams and aspirations, meet. It’s the wider, deeper self that can’t be strictly confined, that doesn’t define its individuality as different from and in opposition to others.

When we listen with the heart, we let go of the pretense that we’re in charge of ourselves, must less of others. We let go of our agenda and expectations. And we open ourselves, well, to who knows what.

(The author Steve Pressfied has a related piece, The Ego and the Self, that is well worth reading. And, while you’re at it, you might want to check out his book, The War of Art.)

The Need for Speed

We’re all busy. We’re always behind. So the natural response is to speed up.

And all our efforts to do more with less only confirm the Red Queen’s maxim: “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

Many activities can be sped up, but listening isn’t one of them.

The only way to hurry listening is to hurry other people—to interrupt them, to convey our impatience, to ask them to cut to the chase—which isn’t listening at all.

To listen with the heart, we have to slow down.

The Primacy of Action

Because there’s so much to do and so little time, it’s no wonder that action gets such high marks. Just don’t sit there, we’re told, do something.

Listening is, of course, doing something.

Listening is an action, but it doesn’t look like it. It looks passive.

To listen with the ear of the heart, we have to keep the ego at bay. We have to tune out distractions. And we have to pay attention to all the ways people communicate (by words and omissions, silence, facial expressions, gestures, posture). That’s all hard work, but it’s the antithesis of mindless action.

To listen and incline the ear of the heart and who knows what you might learn, what other people might say, what might happen.

You can take the listening quiz and test your listening skills.


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