The #1 Way to Start Communicating Effectively

 Let’s face it: as a leader and a communicator, you want to influence others.It’s hard to influence others if they don’t listen to you.

Last week’s post asked Why Is Effective Communication So Difficult?

The answer boils down to a lack of alignment between the three critical elements of communication:The post shared the giant mistake communicators make: assuming that what you mean is what gets heard.  This is known as projection bias: where you unconsciously assume that others share your current thoughts and feelings.That’s the problem.So what’s the best way towards the solution?

Begin With Giving the Big Picture.

Do you like it when someone starts a meeting with “The reason for this meeting is…”?

Do you love it when an email has a clear subject line and begins with “The purpose for this email is…”?

Do you appreciate it when someone calls you and says “Hi-I’m calling to talk to you about…”?

Of course you do.   We all love receiving the Big Picture first.

Why?  Here are three powerful reasons:

It creates comfort.

Confusion is anxiety producing: mentally (high alert brain waves) and physiologically (stress hormones activated).  When you know the Big Picture, you can relax.  You don’t have to be on the lookout for surprise threats about to jump out at you.

It clarifies meaning.

Giving the Big Picture first answers the unspoken question: what’s this all about? People are meaning-craving creatures.  Our brains are wired to search the landscape of our day constantly asking two questions:

  1. What does this mean?

  2. What should I do?

If we give the Big Picture first, people already have the meaning.  Energy is now freed up to focus on what to do with the meaning, rather than spent on figuring it out.

It gives context.

When we know the Big Picture, we know what’s being included in the frame of discussion, and (as importantly) what’s to be left out.   Like having a good map, clear context helps us to orient and navigate much more quickly.  We can spend our time going where we want to go, rather than wondering where to go in the first place.

(A watch-out when giving the Big Picture first is that the picture may be too broad, in which case it’s best to immediately give enough supporting details to provide clear context.)

Since we all love receiving the Big Picture first, how come we don’t start every communication by giving what we love to receive?    Three reasons:

1. It’s clear in our own mind–it must be clear for everyone else.(It’s not: see projection bias.)

2. We’ll feel that we’re repeating ourselves.  You may be repeating what was shared a day or a week ago on an agenda document, but what makes  you think people need to hear (or read) something only once to remember it? Encoding explores the science of memory.  In a nutshell:  forgetting happens.  A lot.  If it’s already been said, think of sharing the Big Picture as a friendly reminder.

3. We don’t want to come off sounding condescending.

It may feel that you’re being patronizing, but the proof is in the result.  Check in with the people you’re communicating with.  Ask them if they think that your giving the Big Picture upfront induces a “You treat me like I’m stupid” response.

It’s doubtful.  More likely, they’ll be incredibly appreciative of your efforts toward clarity.

It’s clear to me.  I don’t want to repeat myself.  I don’t want to seem condescending. Do you notice the common thread?

They all focus on the sender.  They have nothing to do with how communication is received.

When it comes to effective leadership and effective communication, Rule #1 is the same:

It’s not about  you.  It’s about them.

Start with the Big Picture first.

What successes/failures have you had with sharing/not sharing the Big Picture first?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.  

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