Stop Talking, Start Communicating
By Geoffrey Tumlin
McGraw-Hill, 234 pages, $20.95
We may be living in a world of low monetary inflation, but we live in a world of high communications inflation. Technology allows us to connect – and communicate – in a host of ways not available to previous generations.
"Just as an inflated dollar loses its buying power, our dramatically increased rates of communication have cheapened our messages," Geoffrey Tumlin, an Austin, Tex.-based communications consultant, writes in Stop Talking, Start Communicating.
"We suffer from chronic transmission overload, pervasive distraction, and cascading communication problems as too many people weigh in on too many issues. As a result, it often takes more time and more energy to transmit even relatively straightforward messages. We need to regain the purchasing power of our words."
Today's communications frenzy fits our nature, Mr. Tumlin notes. We love to talk, are action-oriented, and love to solve problems. Technology allows us to have wide-ranging conversations, instantly. But he argues we also underestimate communication's ability to create problems. We discount the number of problems that poor communication can cause in our lives while exaggerating its problem-solving capabilities.
Speed and convenience rule. But that means we are failing at higher-order personal communications that require thought and deliberation. Such communications involve trying to understand the other person's perspective, in what might be a complex situation, as we grapple with emerging ideas and the need to comprehend a conversation changing with every sentence.
We have defaulted to lower-order communication, often asynchronous, with people taking part at different times and with lag times between messages. Most of our daily communications are quick and expedient, encouraged by the digital communications revolution. "Like other complex skills, the higher-order communication competencies deteriorate when they aren't used regularly," he warns.
The solution starts with three vital communication habits:
Listen as if every sentence matters
All interactions – at work, at home, with friends – benefit from paying close attention to what the other person is saying. "When people know they are being listened to about an important matter, their words pour out in a flood," he notes, adding that if you listen acutely, it might surprise you to find out how well your colleagues and employees understand the problems and potential of your company.
Talk as if every word counts
Our words can profoundly affect someone; a small conversation can end up influencing another person for a lifetime. We often don't know when this might happen, so be alert, making every word count.
Act as if every interaction is important
Treat every opportunity for communication as if it's important. Push back against the tendency to seek quick, easy communications channels. Instead of a terse e-mail, walk down the hall and talk to a colleague, even if it might mean spending time discussing his cats. It's worth the effort because the conversation may have an unexpected depth that points toward a solution to a problem you are facing., unlike the quick interchange.
Also, invert your expectations: Expect less from technology and more from people. The problem with our increasingly tech-centred view of communications is that we assume our devices can handle sophisticated communication encounters that, in fact, they can't.
You probably have succumbed to five unrealistic communications expectations he lists:
First, that new and powerful devices have made communication easier. But communication is more difficult than it ever was. Communication is not only for trading information but also for persuading, resolving conflict, commiserating, teaching, and motivating – higher-order initiatives that tech can be weak on.
Next, that better communication technologies mean better communications. Mr. Tumlin argues that communication capabilities have raced ahead of our communication abilities, and that communication is actually getting worse. Technology has fragmented our communications and scattered our mental bandwidth across multiple channels.
Third, that what you want to say is the most important part of the communication process. In fact, what you want to say is only the beginning of the process..
Fourth, that communication to an audience doesn't require any special consideration. In fact, adding people to a conversation makes communication harder. Individual and mass communications are different, and using technology to try to multiply your message can be misleading.
Finally, that you have communicated once you hit the send button. You have only communicated when someone understands your message.
Mr. Tumlin also warns that communication technology opens us up to many people, with the result that important relationships are being trumped by individuals you barely know. He asks you to make a pyramid of the important relationships in your life, and then contour your communications energy to them – not anybody who wiggled into being a Facebook friend.
This is an important topic, and the book covers it in an easygoing manner, with lots of tips about all aspects of communications, including dealing with difficult people and conflict.
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Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter