By David Lapin
The foundation of robust communication rests more on the ability to hear than on the capacity to speak. Communication is ineffective if it isn’t heard, no matter how eloquent the speech. As leaders, we need to hear our people, but equally important, we need to make sure the people we lead are hearing us. This applies on a day-to-day level, but is particularly important when having a serious conversation with an individual about his or her performance.
Almost every time a company conducts an employee survey, communication features near the top of the areas that need improvement. This is like the charlatan “guru” I know who recruits naive followers by looking in the eye of any woman he meets and saying to her: “I can see in your eyes that you are having communication difficulties in your relationship.” Who doesn’t have communication challenges in their relationships?
When communication tops the list of complaints in an employee survey, I urge you to probe further. Ask employees what forms of communication they seek. They are unlikely to want more meetings, e-mails, phone calls, or memos. So what do they want? They want communication they can trust and that they can hear. The effectiveness of communication is not a function of how much you have said or how frequently you say it. The only measure of effective communication is how much the other party actually hears and how accurately they have heard it.
Children sometimes play a game known as telephone. One kid whispers something to the next kid and that kid whispers the same thing to the next person, and so it continues around an entire circle of kids. By the time the message comes back to the originator, she laughs at how drastically it has changed. Organizational communication, or personal communication for that matter, is just the same. Many times, no matter how often you say something, the other party doesn’t hear it or hears what he or she wants to hear. If they haven’t heard correctly, you haven’t communicated it, and repeating it or saying it louder doesn’t help. You need to discover what is blocking your communication and remove it. Then you’ll be heard, even at a whisper.
The purpose of communication is more than the transmission of information; it is also to convey inspiration. Communication is not just about getting people to do things differently; it is also about getting them to be different and feel different. When people feel different, they act differently. When people act out of inspiration rather than compliance, they do so with much more energy and innovation than when they do it just because they have been told to.
Communication is the artery through which an organization’s human energy runs, but like arteries, communication also can become blocked. Fear and mistrust are the “cholesterol” that blocks the arteries of communication. When you mistrust someone, no matter what they say or how well they say it, you will not hear their true intent. When someone you mistrust greets you warmly, you may wonder what he or she really wants from you, and you will be unlikely to believe in his or her friendliness, even if it is genuine. Someone you mistrust could give you a thoughtful gift and you might not be able to help wondering what his or her ulterior motive is. Mistrust filters even the best intentions out of communication. This is why when trust erodes, the feelings we try to communicate get blocked and relationships break down. Trust takes time and effort to build, but it can be lost in an instant.
Losing trust does not only result from lying, cheating, and broken promises. People can lose trust in you the moment they begin to doubt your authenticity. People trust us less when they find us arrogant or full of ego. They trust us less when we instill fear into them, persuading them to our point of view with our positional power rather than the integrity of our intent. People lose trust in us when we become defensive or put them on the defensive by making accusations that question their intent or character. As leaders, we often do these trust-eroding things without even realizing it, and when we do, we lose the trust of our people without knowing it. Then, when we communicate with them, we are puzzled when they don’t seem to hear us.
When leaders feel secure, they exude an inner confidence, and they influence others with the power of their authenticity and human stature. These leaders don’t need to intimidate people. As Sun Tzu puts it in “The Art of War,” “individuals who dominate others, are, in fact, enslaved by insecurity and are slowly and mysteriously hurt by their own actions.” Secure leaders build trust and open the arteries of communication so human energy can flow freely.
You cannot hear a tyrant—channels of communication flow more openly when you use your personal stature rather than your positional status to get things done.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher Avoda Books from “LEAD BY GREATNESS: How Character Can Power Your Success” by David Lapin. Copyright 2012 by David Lapin.
Rabbi and corporate advisor David Lapin is CEO of Lapin International, a leadership consulting company that helps organizations develop inspirational leaders and self-driven teams that outperform the competition. Lapin identifies a business’ most current strategic opportunities and operational challenges while understanding and unraveling the complex dynamics of the human spirit. For more information, visit www.lapininternational.com.