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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 April 11, 2019

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

    I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

    I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

    Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    How Communication Skills Help Your Success

    Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

    Create a Positive Experience

    Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

    When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

    What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

    Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

    As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

    Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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    Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

    Help Leadership Skills

    It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

    Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

    As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

    Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

    If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

    Build Better Teams

    Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

    In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

    If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

    When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

    Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

    Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

    1. Listen

    Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

    Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

    People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

    Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

    Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

    2. Know Your Audience

    Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

    Here is a good way to think about it:

    Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

    You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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    3. Minimize

    I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

    He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

    Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

    State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

    The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

    4. Over Communicate

    So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

    What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

    Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

    Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

    Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

    There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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    5. Body Language

    The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

    When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

    In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

    When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

    Conclusion

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

    Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

    There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    Now go communicate your way to success.

    More Resources About Effective Communication

    Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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