Monday, May 13, 2013

Communication Hacks [Lucy Freedman]

Much as we may love what we are working on, our effectiveness depends on how well we communicate about it.

This is the first in a series about ten “syntax errors” and hacks that will fix them. The errors are based on the understanding that human communication has a syntax, or structure, which determines the quality of the outcomes. SYNTAX is a system that can be used to debug interpersonal communication.

Each short blurb in this series includes something specific you can do to cut through the chaos whenever you encounter that particular Syntax Error.

Ten Syntax Errors

Error No. 1 No Clear Goal
Most of us are used to thinking about goals for projects, career plans, business ventures, or athletic achievements. We know that all of these activities benefit from having well-defined goals and timelines, even if we change them as we go. While we plan out our route for our next vacation trip or academic degree, we are less likely to think about our goals in the short term.

Case in point: when did you last stop and think through the desired results of a conversation you were getting ready to have? The majority of people come to conversations with their intended outcomes only partially formed. Very often the impulse that starts the conversation takes us to less-than-optimal destinations.

Day-to-day casual conversations probably don’t call for a lot of goal-setting ahead of time. It’s those conversations about which you may be a little uncomfortable that would benefit from a few moments of focused intention. These are the conversations most likely to go south, just as you thought they would, unless you get really clear on your outcome.

If your answer to the question, “What do you want from this conversation?” is mostly what you don’t want to have happen, you may unwittingly be setting it up. For instance, “I don’t want the other person to be upset about this,” may well set you on a path that will upset them. Take the extra moment to ask yourself, “What do I want instead?” and state the desired result in the positive. “I want him or her to be open to hearing what I have to say.” Just focusing on that intention, rather than what you want to avoid, will change the tone of the conversation and make your desired result more likely.

Clarifying the goal is also a great hack for moving discussions out of the muddle and onto the right track. Before you go around and around one more time in a frustrating meeting, stop the back-and-forth and say, “Let’s see, where are we headed? What do we want to come out of this?” or some variation. Not only will your time be spent more productively, you may become the local hero who keeps the action in forward motion.

There’s more to becoming really skilled at setting in-the-moment communication goals, as well as goals in general. It’s a topic that we emphasize throughout the Syntax Influence Course, where you get to practice this and other valuable techniques.

Correcting Syntax Error #1, No Clear Goal, helps prevent many of the other downstream errors that will be covered as the series continues.
Lucy Freedman is the president of Syntax Communication Modeling Corporation, co-author of Smart Work: The SYNTAX Guide to Influence and developer of the Syntax Influence Course

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