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3 Steps Towards More Meaningful Conversations

3 Steps Towards More Meaningful Conversations

Women are from Venus and men are to the point. Or how does the saying go? You know the situation – women want to be heard and men want to solve a problem.

I don’t have the magic trick to make men and women communicate effortlessly but I can share one little trick to communication that certainly will help you better understand how to communicate with anybody. I have found that this deeper understanding of communication has been very helpful in all conversations in life.

Information is power?

We live in an age where information is abundant and still the right information at the right time can be the most valuable asset. The number of technologies and channels for information sharing has exploded over the past 20 years and still we pay little attention to verifying the meaning the information.

Talking about information is actually a bit tricky so let’s start by trying to understand the concept of information. The scientific definition of the word is very different from the common, everyday use of the word. In science (information theory), information is a measure of the uncertainty of an outcome — in other words, a measure of the number of possible underlying combinations of data that a message could represent, totally excluding the meaning of what is transmitted.

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On the other hand, in everyday use of the word, information is an expression for manipulating and organizing data in a way that adds knowledge to the receiver. In this meaning it is important to understand that a core characteristic of communication is that it is transmission of information in the reduced state of data.

A popular example of this is the famous exchange between Victor Hugo and his publisher after the publication of “Les Miserables” in 1861. After completing “Les Miserables,” Hugo left Paris for vacation. Being curious about the reception of his book, he sent a letter to his publisher only writing “?”. The publisher answered with “!” — and indeed “Les Miserables” was a success. Despite the very limited information exchanged, they both understood each other perfectly.

What is information?

The common understanding of information is that it is an expression for manipulation and organization of data in a way that adds value to the receiver. It is common to talk about Data – Information – Knowledge – Wisdom (DIKW). In the DIKW chain, data is the basic level, symbols, uninterpreted, and “as is”. When manipulated, organized, and put into context, data becomes information. When you know how to use the information, you have knowledge, and finally when you know when to use what knowledge, you have wisdom.

In this explanation, data does not have meaning and information is subjective. Both the sender and the receiver of data decide how to manipulate, how to organize, and in which context to put the data. Information can be transferred in various forms (newspaper, internet, email, picture, etc). Knowledge only exists in the heads of people; It is highly personal and is harder to transfer since it is concerned with how to use information and the possibilities are endless. A document used for knowledge transfer may cover the most plausible ways of how to use the information, but hardly all of them. When talking about wisdom you add morals and ethics to guide when to use which knowledge.

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The importance of what is not said

We think we understand information, but to fully understand what information is, it is useful to introduce exformation, a term coined by Danish author of popular science Tor Nørretranders. 

    Exformation is produced when information is created. It is all the things that are not communicated. Nevertheless, often expected to be understood by the receiver. This presupposes that the sender and the receiver have a somewhat common understanding of the contextual framework within which the communication takes place.

    Before the sender sends the message there is a process of removing unnecessary information. This process is called incitation. There is an unconscious incitation in which the sender’s values, ethics, and mood are reflected — also, a conscious incitation based experience from previous conversations about the topic, previous conversations with the receiver, the current situation, and the reason for sending the message.

    Upon receiving the message, the receiver has to put the message in a context to interpret the message. This process is called excitation, and it’s the process of adding information based on individual values, experiences, motivation, the situation, and the receiver’s perception of the sender to create meaning for the receiver. Based on this interpretation of the message, the receiver will shift to being the sender of an answer and starts the incitation process to make the information transmittable. In course of a dialogue there are several circles of incitation and excitation, and plenty of exformation — in other words, plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings.

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    The theory is applicable to every day life as well. In art, poetry, fiction, and comedy, the degree of difference between the incitation process and the excitation process is the difference between success or failure. An unquantifiable but distinct difference may lead to what we call creativity, an unexpected perspective on the transmitted data that creates new insights. In a work of art, there has to be enough exformation to stimulate the receiver’s associations and create meaning, but with too much exformation; If the receiver’s contextual framework is very different from the sender’s, the receiver will not understand and may deem the work of art as rubbish.

    Going back to the example of Victor Hugo, it is very clear that he and his publisher referred to the same contextual framework, and this allowed them both to create lots of exformation; They reduced the transmitted information to single characters and still maintained perfect understanding of each others’ meaning.

    3 steps towards more meaningful conversations

    In any conversation where you want to create mutual understanding, not necessarily agreement, try to keep the following three steps in mind.

    1. Focus on the conversation so you are receptive to all the things beyond the words being transmitted.
    2. Ask questions to better understand the receiver’s excitation process. Do you have an example? Do you have experience of this? How do you feel about that? What did you learn from it?
    3. Help the receiver to understand your meaning by sharing elements of your incitation process. Is there exformation that should be put back into the conversation to facilitate understanding?

    It will not work if you focus on the three steps — remember point 1 above — but with some practice, you can focus on the conversation, create flow, and intuitively inject point 2 and 3 to facilitate the conversation and create mutual understanding.

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    I hope that my incitation process in writing this has (consciously and unconsciously) lead me to transmit this message in a way that your excitation process puts it in the context it was intended.

    Did I succeed?

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    Last Updated on February 21, 2019

    The Secret to Effective Conflict Resolution: The IBR Approach

    The Secret to Effective Conflict Resolution: The IBR Approach

    In business, in social relationships, in family… In whatever context conflict is always inevitable, especially when you are in the leader role. This role equals “make decisions for the best of majority” and the remaining are not amused. Conflicts arise.

    Conflicts arise when we want to push for a better quality work but some members want to take a break from work.

    Conflicts arise when we as citizens want more recreational facilities but the Government has to balance the needs to maintain tourism growth.

    Conflicts are literally everywhere.

    Avoiding Conflicts a No-No and Resolving Conflicts a Win-Win

    Avoiding conflicts seem to be a viable option for us. The cruel fact is, it isn’t. Conflicts won’t walk away by themselves. They will, instead, escalate and haunt you back even more when we finally realize that’s no way we can let it be.

    Moreover, avoiding conflicts will eventually intensify the misunderstanding among the involved parties. And the misunderstanding severely hinders open communication which later on the parties tend to keep things secret. This is obviously detrimental to teamwork.

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    Some may view conflicts as the last step before arguments. And they thus leave it aside as if they never happen. This is not true.

    Conflicts are the intersect point between different individuals with different opinions. And this does not necessarily lead to argument.

    Instead, proper handling of conflicts can actually result in a win-win situation – both parties are pleased and allies are gained. A better understanding between each other and future conflicts are less likely to happen.

    The IBR Approach to Resolve Conflicts

    Here, we introduce to you an effective approach to resolve conflicts – the Interest-Based Relational (IBR) approach. The IBR approach was developed by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their 1981 book Getting to Yes. It stresses the importance of the separation between people and their emotions from the problem. Another focus of the approach is to build mutual understanding and respect as they strengthen bonds among parties and can ultimately help resolve conflicts in a harmonious way. The approach suggests a 6-step procedure for conflict resolution:

    Step 1: Prioritize Good Relationships

    How? Before addressing the problem or even starting the discussion, make it clear the conflict can result in a mutual trouble and through subsequent respectful negotiation the conflict can be resolved peacefully. And that brings the best outcome to the whole team by working together.

    Why? It is easy to overlook own cause of the conflict and point the finger to the members with different opinions. With such a mindset, it is likely to blame rather than to listen to the others and fail to acknowledge the problem completely. Such a discussion manner will undermine the good relationships among the members and aggravate the problem.

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    Example: Before discussion, stress that the problem is never one’s complete fault. Everyone is responsible for it. Then, it is important to point out our own involvement in the problem and state clearly we are here to listen to everyone’s opinions rather than accusing others.

    Step 2: People Are NOT the Cause of Problem

    How? State clearly the problem is never one-sided. Collaborative effort is needed. More importantly, note the problem should not be taken personally. We are not making accusations on persons but addressing the problem itself.

    Why? Once things taken personally, everything will go out of control. People will become irrational and neglect others’ opinions. We are then unable to address the problem properly because we cannot grasp a fuller and clearer picture of the problem due to presumption.

    Example: In spite of the confronting opinions, we have to emphasize that the problem is not a result of the persons but probably the different perspectives to view it. So, if we try to look at the problem from the other’s perspective, we may understand why there are varied opinions.

    Step 3: Listen From ALL Stances

    How? Do NOT blame others. It is of utmost importance. Ask for everyone’s opinions. It is important to let everyone feel that they contribute to the discussion. Tell them their involvement is essential to solve the problem and their effort is very much appreciated.

    Why? None wants to be ignored. If one feels neglected, it is very likely for he/she to be aggressive. It is definitely not what we hope to see in a discussion. Acknowledging and being acknowledged are equally important. So, make sure everyone has equal opportunity to express their views. Also, realizing their opinions are not neglected, they will be more receptive to other opinions.

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    Example: A little trick can played here: Invite others to talk first. It is an easy way to let others feel involved and ,more importantly, know their voices are heard. Also, we can show that we are actively listening to them by giving direct eye-contact and nodding. One important to note is that never interrupt anyone. Always let them finish first beforeanother one begins.

    Step 4: Listen Comes First, Talk Follows

    How? Ensure everyone has listened to one another points of view. It can be done by taking turn to speak and leaving the discussion part at last. State once again the problem is nothing personal and no accusation should be made.

    Why? By turn-taking, everyone can finish talking and voices of all sides can be heard indiscriminantly. This can promote willingness to listen to opposing opinions.

    Example: We can prepare pieces of paper with different numbers written on them. Then, ask different members to pick one and talk according to the sequence of the number. After everyone’s finished, advise everyone to use “I” more than “You” in the discussion period to avoid others thinking that it is an accusation.

    Step 5: Understand the Facts, Then Address the Problem

    How? List out ALL the facts first. Ask everyone to tell what they know about the problems.

    Why? Sometimes your facts are unknown to the others while they may know something we don’t. Missing out on these facts could possibly lead to inaccurate capture of the problem. Also, different known facts can lead to different perception of the matter. It also helps everyone better understand the problem and can eventually help reach a solution.

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    Example: While everyone is expressing their own views, ask them to write down everything they know that is true to the problem. As soon as everyone has finished, all facts can be noted and everyone’s understanding of the problem is raised.

    Step 6: Solve the Problem Together

    How? Knowing what everyone’s thinking, it is now time to resolve the conflict. Up to this point, everyone should have understood the problem better. So, it is everyone’s time to suggest some solutions. It is important not to have one giving all the solutions.

    Why? Having everyone suggesting their solutions is important as they will not feel excluded and their opinions are considered. Besides, it may also generate more solutions that can better resolve the conflicts. Everyone will more likely be satisfied with the result.

    Example: After discussion, ask all members to suggest any possible solutions and stress that all solutions are welcomed. State clearly that we are looking for the best outcomes for everyone’s sake rather than battling to win over one another. Then, evaluate all the solutions and pick the one that is in favor of everyone.

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