A Failure to Communicate

Do you fail to listen, interrupt, and find fault with what others say, or do you listen well, seek mutual understanding, and welcome differing opinions? Hi, this is Grant Herbert, Emotional Intelligence Master Trainer and Sustainable Performance Coach, and today, I want to continue our conversation on empathy by talking about another key ingredient of Social Intelligence, Effective Communication.


As we talked about last week, demonstrating Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate Empathy can really help us as we continue to navigate the effects of this pandemic on our lives. Going into battle, so to speak, dominating conversations with our own bias and opinions creates an environment where someone has to win and someone has to lose. It's not healthy and definitely not what we need right now.


In the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, we hear the prison captain justify the beating that he gave Paul Newman, who played the prisoner Luke, by saying to all the other prisoners, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So, you get what we had here last week. Which is what he wants."


It's like he's saying that when people speak up for themselves or express their views and concerns, they want to be beaten up and put back in their place. I would suggest a different way of looking at it. Perhaps I just want to be heard or release the pent up emotions and stress that they're experiencing. They might be going through some really challenging stuff in their life in that moment and really need some help.


Whatever the situation, I'm fairly confident that they're not looking for a beating. When we have empathy, we seek first to understand before being understood. So, let's take a look at what effective communication is and how we can use it to be more compassionate and understanding.


Famous playwright George Bernard Shaw said it so well. "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." For many years, I saw communication as speaking and being heard. If I said something to you and you heard me, I had communicated. I was under the illusion that Shaw was talking about.


Communication is a process with many moving parts. And if we leave any of the parts out, we have ineffective communication. We have senders who encode what they send based on their own beliefs and biases. We then have a receiver who decodes what they heard based on their beliefs and biases.


In the middle of all that, we have a lot of noise from media, family, friends, our own inner dialogue. Sometimes the message comes through distorted and that's where the misunderstandings originate from. This causes conflict. So, let's take a look at three things that we can all do to improve our communication.


Number one is to listen more than we speak. When we are seeking to understand, it's far better to listen than to tell the other person what we think. The more that we learn this crucial skill of listening, the better we will be attuned to what is not being said. We talked about that last week. So, listen more than we speak.


Number two is to keep focus in the logical brain. When we are involved in any type of communication, if we allow the emotion of what's being said to trigger our thoughts and our behaviours based on our previous experiences, and we've talked about that over the previous weeks, then we're going to have a reaction to what's being said.


But, when we get it up into the prefrontal cortex, into the executive command center of the brain, we can then listen and use our Cognitive Empathy to find out what's actually being said. And then we can process that in a logical way and respond.


And number three is to ask more questions than we make statements. Questions are so powerful to gain understanding, whereas statements can put up barriers and put up roadblocks. So, I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to become really good and proficient at asking more questions. 


Effective Communication is a key ingredient of Social and Emotional Intelligence and something that we all might consider doing a little differently, if we want to restore unity of purpose across the world and beat this pandemic and take back control of our lives. By the way, even though I'm going live each week to support you, my listeners, the topics that I'm choosing are the ones that I need to work on in my own life right now.


Well, that's it for me for another week. Join me again next week as we continue our conversation by learning the powerful art of active listening. I'll see you then.

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