How Well are We Really Communicating?

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Charles Duhigg just published an interesting book called “Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection”. The thesis is that effective communications cannot be just at the level of facts and figures (data), but also at the level of emotions – how we feel about the information and the relationships with the people involved. Indeed, Positive Intelligence makes a similar point that all communication works along two channels: data and emotions.

Presentation Excellence has been training people to adopt this perspective for decades, which is why they are so many succeed at making mission-critical presentations Our foundational formula, ADAP – Audience-Driven Authentic Presentations –  states that people make decisions based on the emotions they experience not the data itself, and thee presentation and the presenter need to address these issues. For instance:

  • Less is More: too much information is overwhelming and people shut down
  • People want Intelligence and Insights to make decisions, not just data. Presenters need to consider what the point of the data and whether it’s directly related to helping the audience to act
  • Most audiences don’t “sign the bottom line” immediately; instead they report the information back to their committee/team for the final decision. That means the information must be presented in a way that your audience can effectively communicate the data-and-emotional-information to their audience. As in the “game of telephone” the message finally delivered, should not be different than the original one.

Duhigg similarly drives home some key points, including:

  • To engage an audience, don’t ask dead-end questions with simple yes/no answers, but deep questions that invite people to discuss their values, beliefs and experiences (why are you interested in this kind of investment?)
  • To show the audience that you are listening to their answers, follow-up with another question every once in a while that builds on the first answer. Showing you are listening, provides a sense of psychological safety which is needed for collaboration.
  • Demonstrate that you are committed to meeting a range of the audience’s needs by paying attention to the range of questions and answers the audience provides, as well as their body language, since they indicate what’s really going on in their minds.  For instance, he shares a story in which a prostate doctor shares with patients that an exam suggested that rather than proceed directly to an aggressive intervention (surgery), periodic blood tests and biopsies might be appropriate. Yet, almost everyone opted for surgery. By adding after the question “ what does this cancer diagnosis mean to you?” before asking how they wanted to proceed, allows the patient to absorb the alternative opportunity available, and reversed the trend!

To be effective in life and work, being a powerful communicator is essential. Communication is a learnable skill. To get better, ask people at home and work to be “accountability partners”’ and give you feedback. If you then resolve to practice new skills to be more effective, they can serve as a coaches empowering you to improve.