Better Communication for All: Must Know Phrases – Part 1

The key to success is not technology; although in today’s markets it typically plays some role. None the less, it’s still not the key. Nor is the key to success having the greatest idea ever; there are probably more exceptional ideas than there are stars in the sky. Innovation? Over-rated. Passion, dedication and execution? Oh. Now we’re getting warmer.

We are closer to the heart of the matter because regardless of what you might think the keys are, those contributors sit on the same foundation. The foundation for success is:

Culture + Communication + Collaboration

The best organizations understand the value of C+C+C, and are forever trying to curate and encourage it. A great idea without the proper support of C+C+C is probably doomed. Also, notice I referred to C+C+C as “it.” That’s because when properly assembled the whole (i.e., “it”) becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Just the same, if one is compromised, the other two will be negatively affected as well. C+C+C equals one.

Most importantly, above all else, C+C+C is about people. People make up your organization. You market and sell to other people. Put aside all the hype (e.g., innovation will bring you business salvation) and we’re left with one of life’s few absolute truths—cliche, yes—but still true: People make the world go round. In short, you can’t have innovation without C+C+C. You can’t have innovation without the right people brought together, at the right time, in the right way.

A robust set of tools for communication is what separates humans from the other creatures on God’s great earth. However, with power also come responsibility. Communication ain’t easy. Begin human is a full-time job; at least for me it is. No one will accuse me of being a great communicator. I try. I get it wrong more than I’d like to admit. We all do, don’t we? What I’m trying to say is: Within the context of C+C+C, Communication is the foundation of Culture and Collaboration. Without Communication we, as humans, have nothing.

Without Communication we, as humans, have nothing.

Ironically, much of this came up, in some form, during a series of lunch and post-work conversations I had with a trusted colleague. Finally, a couple weeks ago, I said to myself, as I’m fond of doing, “There’s got to be a better way.” A day or so later, while taking the train to NYC for a couple of meetings with clients, I sketched out a checklist that became the basis for this mini-series: Better Communication for All. Naturally, I want to share my finding with others. I hope you’re wanting to collaborate on this as well.

Please note: These are in no particular order. For now let’s get the ideas on the table, from there were can refine and reorder.

• “I see it differently.”

Often, in the course of a conversation, when we see a point to push back on we almost naturally default to, “I disagree with you,” or even “I think you’re wrong.” These are words of division. They don’t foster resolution. They fuel tension and bitterness.

Instead, “I see it differently” allows you to make your case without making it adversarial and personal (i.e., directed at the other person). Yes, you can dive into the minutiae of facts and figures later, but lead with your open-arms contribution first. Put another way, does it make sense to immediately alienate the person(s) you’re trying to sway?

Put another way, does it make sense to immediately alienate the person(s) you’re trying to sway?

Also, this simple phrase gives you a fail-safe should further discussion determine that you were wrong to say they were wrong. It’s easier to save face by saying, “Oh. I see it more completely now. Thanks. Yes, let’s…” Back peddling from “you’re wrong” might not be so easy. We are human, and things do go wrong sometimes. I’ll eventually cover that later in this series.

• “What do you mean by _____?”

We all know the knock on assume. Yet how often do we try to cut conversational corners and automatically fill in the blanks when clarity wanes? So rather than fall victim to assume, “What do you mean by” gives the message sender the benefit of the doubt. Assuming can be dangerous; while clarity mitigates human communication risk.

In addition, when a conversation escalates and perhaps even gets heated, this question slows things down. It not only offers the opportunity for clarity, but it can be used as a subtle way to derail the current trajectory. Perhaps there really is a misunderstanding somewhere along the line?

Who knows, it’s possible the sender isn’t completely sure either. “What do you mean by” is a great tool that buys needed pause, as well ensures everyone is closer to being on the same verbal page, so to speak.

Note: You can use this proactively as: “What I mean by ____ is…”

• “Why do you believe _____?”

As human to human communication goes, expressing what is relatively routine. Much of our day to day interactions are of the what variety. Ordering food or coffee is a what. On the other had, as they say, the devil is in the details. In the spirit of not assuming, often it helps to understand the why of the other(s). Perhaps their ideas are based on misinformation? Perhaps you’re trying to sell them on Z when their major concerns are P and Q? Perhaps they literally missed a memo?

On a more fundamental human level, done correctly, asking why also extends the olive branch of empathy. It’s taking the extra step to develop a deeper understanding and connection. Why is personal. But be careful, you don’t want to be interpreted as questioning the basis of their input. The purpose here is to build bridges (i.e., understanding and common ground), not walls.

Always be mindful not to assume you know why they are thinking what you think they are thinking.

Note: You can use this proactively as: “Let me explain. I believe _____ because…”

• “Can you show me an example?”

There’s a reason we have the cliche: A picture paints a thousand words; as well as: Seeing is believing. Some human minds are better than others with the abstract. And nearly all prefer real over theory. When in doubt, ask for an example.

Here’s a simple example. (See what I did there?) Someone says, “We want the logo to be blue.” Well, there’s sky blue, royal blue, midnight blue, etc. Asking for examples can eliminate a lot of guessing. Nothing is more exact than an example.

Note: You can use this proactively as: “Let me show you an example…”