Sunday, December 22, 2013

Communication Hacks 4 [Lucy Freedman]

Editor's Note: Lucy Freedman is scheduled to present at the February 20, 2014 meeting of the Engineering Leadership Special Interest Group of the Silicon Valley Forum.  Think of this post (and her three previous posts on Communication Hacks) as a preview of her presentation next February.  Lucy is President of Syntax Communication Modeling Corporation, co-author of Smart Work: The SYNTAX Guide to Influence and developer of the Syntax Influence Course

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

This is the fourth 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. 4: Paying Attention to Yourself When You Need to Notice the Other Person
This Syntax Error can be a little tricky to recognize. It’s in the category of “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Here’s a key: talking to yourself about needing to pay attention to the other person is not paying attention to the other person. What was that, again? When you are in any way putting attention on your own performance in a conversation or meeting, you are NOT paying attention to the other people! 

The trickiness lies in needing to become an observer of what’s going on without focusing totally on your own agenda, behavior, or opinions. It’s a perceptual skill. 

The times we are most likely to get hooked on ourselves vs. the other person are not what you would think. It’s not generally our arrogance that has us focus on ourselves – it’s our anxiety, fear of failure, threat or embarrassment. Although overconfidence has its costs, those of us who are even thinking about our actions are more likely to take too much responsibility for the conversation rather than too little.  

That means that much hope lies with us. If you consciously notice the balance between attention on yourself (your thoughts, feelings, intentions, information) and on the other person’s thoughts, feelings, etc. and make sure it is kept fairly even, hurrah! That is the big step. 

The more each person manages the balance between self and other, the more we will pull together to reach our most important goals. 

Communication Hack no. 4 is to pay attention to that balance, to be able to use the skills of self-disclosure when it’s your turn, and to ask open-ended questions and listen well when it’s the other person’s turn. 

One of our most valuable Syntax exercises is the practice of three different kinds of listening, depending on the context. The one where you drop your internal dialogue and really tune in to the other person will help you correct Syntax Error No. 4. 

For more on how SYNTAX enables teams to get more done, visit  You can hear about all ten SYNTAX Errors in ten ten-minute programs recently offered as a teleseries – “More Success with Less Effort in 10 Minutes a Day,” now available as a set of ten mp3 recordings. Email for ordering information.  

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