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The Missing Communication Link

The Missing Communication Link

I read a great article on Forbes.com the other day: “10 Communication Secrets of Great Leaders,” by Mike Myatt. There’s really nothing Myatt says in the article that I disagree with, and he shares some fundamental principles about how to be a successful communicator in a leadership position. He also points out how crucial this skill set is:

“I don’t believe it comes as any great surprise that most leaders spend the overwhelming majority of their time each day in some type of an interpersonal situation. I also don’t believe it comes as a great shock to find a large number of organizational problems occur as a result of poor communications.”

This has certainly been true in my experience working with leaders and teams. Much of my coaching with clients has to do with how communication breaks down, how to be a stronger and more effective communicator, and how the patterns of communication among a team either support or get in the way of getting results.

What I found most interesting about Myatt’s article, however, was what was missing (and what, to be fair, is missing from most conversations about communication). He hints at it when he says:

“While developing an understanding of great communication skills is easier than one might think, being able to appropriately draw upon said skills when the chips are down is not always as easy as one might hope for.”

So, what’s the missing communication link? What is it that keeps us from being able to “draw upon said skills when the chips are down?” Myatt doesn’t address this, but my simple answer is: the body. When we haven’t trained our bodies and nervous systems to stay open and relaxed when “the chips are down,” we won’t have full access to the skills and information we’ve learned, just when we need them most.

Here’s an example from Myatt’s article. The fifth communication principle that he describes is “have an open mind.” On some level, this is pretty basic, right? Who wouldn’t agree with this? And yet, Myatt rightly points out that it’s actually pretty challenging. He says, “I’m always amazed at how many people are truly fearful of opposing views, when what they should be is genuinely curious and interested.” And yet, for most of us, our nervous systems interpret opposing views as a challenge or threat. And, again for most of us, our bodies respond to challenge and threat by closing down or fleeing. When I read this section of Myatt’s article, I thought, having an open mind isn’t enough. Having an open mind requires having an open body.

This is why embodied learning is so important. When it comes to effective communication, what I know is not nearly so important as what I can do, especially in challenging situations. So, what’s the key? Practice. I share some suggestions below. Meanwhile, take a look at Myatt’s article. It’s worth a read.

Action Steps: Embodying Effective Communication Skills

  1. Make sure any training you attend is experiential. If there’s not time to practice skills, it’s probably not worth your time to attend.
  2. Pick one skill to practice, and define it clearly. There are a lot of specific skills that go into effective communication: listening, paraphrasing, speaking concisely and directly, being curious, etc. Pick one that you want to get better at. Then define as clearly as you can the specific behaviors that go into executing that skill effectively. Observe others who are good at it. Ask others how they would know if you were demonstrating your chosen skill. Unless you know what it is you’re practicing, and what success looks like, you won’t know if you’re improving.
  3. Stick with it. Find ways to practice your chosen skill every day, and in progressively more challenging situations. Truly embodying a new skill (in other words, being able to use it under pressure) takes thousands of repetitions. Mastery takes time.
  4. Get feedback. Enlist a trusted friend or colleague to tell you how you’re doing. Pick someone you trust to tell you the truth. Working with a coach can also be helpful. Listen to the feedback, make adjustments, and keep practicing.
  5. Get centered. Have one simple practice that you do regularly that helps you train your body to stay focused, relaxed, and open. Otherwise, no matter how much you know about effective communication, you won’t be able to use it when the pressure rises. Download my free audio on “Developing a Centered Leadership Presence” or use another tool that works for you.

Please comment and tell me how you’ve learned to take effective communication skills and actually make them work, especially in challenging situations!

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