Talking May Not Be Communicating

Lately I have been noticing how difficult it has become to achieve effective communications. It may just be me, but I find the fast pace of the work environment has people speaking and e-mailing in abbreviated styles. This has caused me to reflect on some work that I have used over the years. The work was based on a book and a communications program by Sherod Miller and others. I believe the book was titled Connecting with Self and Others and the communications program was Working Together. The focus of these resources is to break down the communication process into “styles” that can help individuals understand the process better and be more effective at communicating.

What I have experienced is that many of my communications recently get started without creating much context. The conversations, face-to-face or telephone, and e-mails just jump right into the heart of the matter. I find myself struggling to figure out the context and what is being asked of me in response. I’m so focused on trying to understand what to say and what is really being asked that I can’t really listen or read for the true meaning. It leaves me feeling very unsatisfied with my communications.

The work of Sherod Miller and others really helps me understand what is needed in these types of communication situations. Their model breaks down communications into different styles and provides an explanation for why and when each style is needed. The first style they call “small talk”. Small talk is that attempt to connect with the other person and be social. The intent is to get people relaxed and build rapport. I find that in today’s fast paced work world this style is missing a lot, especially with e-mail. When this is missing, I find myself lost for the first few seconds of the conversation or in the written e-mail. While I’m still trying to connect with this person and put the conversation into perspective the other person has moved on and I’m losing out on some very important information.

Many times in these situations the other person has moved on to the second style of communication; “shop talk”. Shop talk is really just what you would think. It is that attempt to gather or give information that is needed to understand the situation. It is usually very matter-of-fact and business-like. However, if the other person does not engage in a few seconds of small talk, I miss some of the important and critical shop talk. As a result, once I have figured out who it is and made the connection to the situation, I have to ask the person to go back and repeat some of what they had just shared.

People may find this a little picky and that I should be more attentive to what is being said or read my e-mail more carefully and completely. However, I find that without some time for connecting and some basic context for the conversation, I’m less sure of myself and my responses. I find I don’t fully understand the nature of the situation and I don’t spend the needed time to get a good grasp of what I need to say or do next.

To be able to address this situation, I find that I rely a lot on another style of communication called “search talk”. This style is used to gain an overview of the situation and to search for what is needed in the situation. It involves asking a lot of open-ended questions to draw out from the other person what I need to know in order to make better responses.

Sometimes, and maybe too many times, I resort to “control talk”, where I end up being too directive too soon. Due to the time crunch, I end up telling, advising, delegating, or assigning before it is time to do that. This can sometimes cause the other person to shut down and not share some very critical information. Both parties in this situation leave unsatisfied with the conversation and disappointed with the outcome.

If the conversation goes really south, then I might find myself using a couple of not so helpful styles; “fight talk” and spite talk”. In these cases, the conversation begins to move very rapidly into a conflict and end up not being productive at all.

Unfortunately, the style I use less frequently than I probably should is “straight talk”. When I am aware of my own emotions and am conscious that this conversation is very important, I can better deal with what is happening and be direct, honest, and compassionate. I own my own feelings and express them with no intent to control the outcome. When these rare moments do occur, I find more satisfaction in my conversations and more understanding of what is needed to address the situation.

If you find yourself experiencing a lot of talking without much communication, perhaps you can discover how to influence your conversations to make them more meaningful and effective.

Until next time, pay closer attention to your conversation and become aware of what style might be needed at the time.