We’re always communicating! – a brief, classic guide to being effective
We don’t always get it right…and things can get messy!
There’s many a slip between the messages we intended to send and thought we had actually sent… and the clearly, ridiculous meanings the receiver made…
We’ve all been there, on both sides too, with more or less hilarious, puzzling or tragic consequences.
So what is effective, successful communication? What are the key principles and skills of such a slippery, complex, interactive, multifaceted art?
In NLP we say ‘You cannot not communicate.’ – which comes originally from the philosophical and experimental research by Bateson, Watzlawick, Jackson, Beavin Bavelas et al, as they attempted to describe the indescribable – the interactional patterns, pathologies and paradoxes and what they called the ‘pragmatics’ of human communication.
Because when people are communicating there is a lot going on!
Human interaction is a living, looping feedback system and there are consequences and effects, and reactions to reactions. The question of who started what, when and how is sometimes completely unanswerable – though most of us are usually pretty clear it’s not our fault!
There are absolute gigabytes of data and information being produced and offered on both sides, and in both the verbal and the non-verbal modes – and its all happening, wonderfully, at the same time.
The weird ambiguities and puzzles of human language are being thrown together into a living human dance of gestures, fleeting facial expressions, postural adjustments, breathing patterns, vocal tonality, volume and rhythm etc
Then there are the implicit cultural rules, family rules, personal quirks and tics about turn-taking, silences, eye contact, proximity, movement, touch, context, relationship etc. and so forth, which only become experienced consciously when the tacit ‘being-normal’ rules get violated.
So there are always two kinds of message in the dance too – one is content, data,report and the other is context, relationship, command – our messages and meta-messages about what’s going on at every level in a living system.
Each person is both a sender and receiver and everyone involved is simultaneously patterning, contextualising, reacting, requesting, suggesting and meaning-making in their own way, consciously and unconsciously.
Whereas on a bad day things can just go horribly wrong, if we’re lucky and skilful we’ll have a good time. Not only will the meaning of my communication be the response you gave it, but it’ll be what I actually intended to elicit from you too. I’ll know my communication mission got accomplished.
The Classic Meta-Rules of Communication are;
- Have a goal – know what you want to communicate to the other person so they can get it, know and understand it, in the way you intend.Know what information you are going to use as evidence of your success – verbal and non-verbal, conscious and unconscious. What will you see, hear and sense in the ‘live’ feedback that will let you know you’re on the right or wrong track, your status either work-in-progress or done deal?
- Stay awake so you can fully receive and pattern in real time what is happening – see, hear and sense the messages from the other person – in NLP this is called having ‘sensory acuity’ and being present or in ‘uptime’ . The responses you get to your behaviour are the meanings the other person is making – it’s the ‘live’ interactive, dynamic feedback in the system, direct and real and happening to you.
- Have an infinite, trans-cultural range of behavioural choices and the personal behavioural flexibility and skills – vocal, linguistic, relational, emotional, physical – to create what is required to meet your goal, and be willing and confident to give it a go. Continue to vary your behaviour until your communication goal is achieved. Well done, because occasionally, we need a small miracle as well.
A Selection of Key Tools From NLP Which Support This Highly Skilled Art are;
a) Perceptual Positions – knowing what you want (1st position), having a felt sense of the other persons experience, concerns and perspectives, being ‘in their shoes’ (2nd position), having an observer’s perspective to see the dance of relationship from the outside and to be able give yourself some effective, realtime coaching (3rd position)
b) Presupposition – ‘the map isn’t the territory‘ - appreciate that we are all only perceiving and patterning our reality and experience subjectively, according to our habits and biases and blind spots. Communication problems often arise from not realising this – our own ‘maps’ appear to us to be self-evidently real and true and other people therefore are mistaken, idiotic, lying, evasive, crazy etc. Creating shared meanings and reference experiences, synchronising and enriching the ‘maps’ is part of the art of effective communication .
c) Framing and Language – using the right kind of words in the right kind of way certainly helps. Language is a perceptual tool not just a descriptive one and the words and phrases you choose will play their part to create, destroy, enrich or impoverish the understanding you are seeking and the communication goals you set.
d) State – self-awareness, emotional intelligence, wakefulness, mindfulness, focus, self- management, self-alignment, congruence, high performance, sense of humour, somatic sensing and tuning to self and others, maybe even a fundamental warm-heartedness – all these learnable, developmental skills are essential to the best practice in NLP and in being effective at all interpersonal, relational goals.
e) Meta-Model - the linguistic tool of champions! Questions explicitly designed by a professional, academic linguist to help people reduce the flaws and limitations in their subjective model of a situation and reconnect the speaker to a more sensory, alive, rich description with more quality, action choices.
Communication is what humans love! We love it and we are always doing it! It’s not always easy and straightforward but when we get it right its the best feeling in the world.
Some people are tremendously more skilled than others and that’s where good NLP training comes in – its one of our main things.
You can actually learn to be better at it – and it’s a profoundly developmental process, taking you to the next level of your personal and professional evolution, enjoyment of life and sense of expansion, meaning and contribution.
You cannot not communicate – so why not decide to do it artfully and wisely, with skill and heart?