About 1,730,000,000 results (0.37 seconds) is the typical internet search response to an enquiry about communication techniques. Those listed on the first page provide a series of rules or instructions to follow.
Most reflect a consideration as to who you might be communicating with and suggest an approach that includes listening, showing empathy and asking questions. They also share another common trait; communication is output focused, and an end in itself.
But is that why people communicate, or does it have a more meaningful goal, that of building a connection? The fundamental difference between communicating for its own sake and using communication to connect is the inclusion of emotional intelligence, or more accurately applying practical emotional intelligence to go beyond the output of good communication and reach the outcome of connection.
Whereas improving communication techniques is a rules-based approach, building a connection through communication is driven by principles, the first of which is to the individual.
Principle #1: Know yourself
The concept of knowing yourself is not new with its origins generally attributed to the Ancient Greeks. Both Socrates and Plato spoke of the power of knowing yourself and in doing so, knowing more about the world around us.
An important part of this self-knowledge is understanding that, as an individual, we all have an operating style. This style is the default setting in which we wish to interact with the world and reflects both personal preferences regarding input, how to receive information, as well as output and how we prefer to transmit.
An individual’s transmission might be described as high powered that is they broadcast to the world, or it might also be described as far more muted, they prefer a quieter approach.
In terms of input, the individual may naturally prefer the big picture, strategy, options, and opinions. Conversely, they may be uncomfortable with opinions and prefer facts, data, and outcomes. Knowing yourself is an essential ingredient in building connections.
Principle #2: Understand others
If we acknowledge and take the time to understand our way of operating, it stands to reason that everyone around us will in fact have their own style too.
More importantly, their style might be the same, slightly different or the opposite of ours. As Albert Einstein said, the point is to understand and in doing so recognise the differences and as well similarities.
If communication is an attempt to connect differing styles, it becomes clear that communication will be easier with some people than with others.
With this growing recognition of individual styles, consideration can be given as to how to bring it all together to build connections.
Principle #3: If you give, you get
With greater awareness of what might happen, who is going to make make the first move?
For many, this is a real sticking point, especially where there are pre-existing tensions in the relationship. Why should I be the one that tries? Why is it up to me? There is no easy answer to the question of why other than to turn to Shakespeare’s Henry the IV Part 2. The quote uneasy lies the head that wears a crown is an acknowledgement that leading in anything, such as building better connections is not easy. It is simply a price of leadership, and if the object is to make things better, then someone must lead.
Therefore, to go beyond just communicating, to be a leader in building connections then be prepared to, at times, push past the barriers, both of your own making and those of others. The good news is that often the reward for taking the first step is a positive response from others.
Principle #4: Flex to connect
While it is very true that birds of a feather will flock together the reality is that the best results are achieved through connecting with birds of a different feather. Which means the situation must be flexible. To flex is to bend, as the green reed bends in the wind (Confucius) if there is no flex, the approach remains rigid, according to Confucius like the mighty oak something will break.
To flex is to begin to move the communication away from the differences, in transmission and reception, towards a common ground. This might mean lowering the transmission and becoming more focused, it may need bringing a little more to the table and looking beyond the data.
There are several flexing techniques that can be used. The Universal Flex is a technique that combines active listening with thoughtful questioning. Like any technique it takes practice and might seem a little laboured at first, however with time it will become second nature.
The Universal Flex
The universal flex combines two well-known techniques to build a connection between communicating parties. In summary, the process is as follows.
- Ask a question.
- LISTEN, don’t form a conclusion.
- Ask a follow-up question that reflects and seeks to draw out more detail from the previous answer.
Very soon the communication will flow, both parties will know more about the topic at hand, and each will feel the other is truly engaged, which leads directly to a meaningful connection.
To view communication as simply a discrete technique is to ignore reality, the parties involved have their own unique styles and will approach communication through the filter of their style.
While a process-based approach to communication may lead to a positive output, truly building a connection with someone requires a step beyond a simple process to a level of deeper understanding and acknowledgement of the individuals involved.