You’ve heard me talk often about the need to listen with the intent to understand. The better you get at this the better you’ll understand what’s being said.
But the other side of communication is talking. Just because you said something doesn’t mean your listener understands. Simon Sinek says “Communication is about ensuring others hear what we mean”. Just because you said it doesn’t mean your listener(s) understood it.
Our word communication is from the Latin communcare, meaning to share. “The act of developing meaning among entities or groups through the use of sufficiently mutually understood signs, symbols, and semiotic conventions.” To quote Simen Sinek again “Communication is not about saying what we think.”
Act like an owner
I once worked with a client that was publicly owned and had a leadership team from all over the world. It seemed to the CEO that there was too much command and control attitude coming from his leadership team so he began talking with them about acting like owners, not just managers running a company that was owned by the stockholders. He was hoping this “Act like an owner” attitude would institute a more caring and inclusive approach by his leadership.
However, one member of the leadership team seemed to “double down” on the command and control approach to his leadership. The CEO asked me to talk with the individual to see if we could figure out why the message didn’t seem to be getting through.
I talked with the VP and asked what he thought of the “ownership” approach. His response was very positive. He agreed that the entire team should act like owners and that should produce some great results. I was having a hard time aligning his words with his actions so I asked him what “ownership” meant to him.
As it turns out the neighboring country had invaded his homeland 600 years ago. They took over all the land and essentially enslaved the native population. To him, that was ownership. Complete control to rule the land as they wanted with a complete command and control attitude. His reaction was that the leadership team should absolutely act like owners!
Communication is about conveying meaning
“Communication is about ensuring others hear what we mean” Ownership meant one thing to the CEO and an entirely different thing to the VP. The meaning had not been communicated. Because this leadership team was a globally diverse team, it became almost necessary that we parse the language to assure the meaning was understood— to ensure others hear what we mean.
Extraversion vs Introversion
I began to see a similar issue a few years later working with the Asian culture. In North America, it seems that our extraverted, outgoing leadership style is the style that is associated with a lot of corporate leaders. In Asia, it seems that the introverted, quiet, thoughtful style is the one that is more revered by the culture.
I began to observe that in North America if someone was walking past and the CEO was sitting quietly, apparently “not doing anything” it would be a good time to stick their head into the office and interrupt the “not doing anything” moment with a question or a statement. In the Asian office, if the CEO was sitting quietly, the person would silently tip-toe past the office so they wouldn’t interrupt the CEO’s deep thought.
Two different cultures with different beliefs about the same action.
Communication is about sharing meaning
Our corporate world is becoming more global all the time. The Covid pandemic has accelerated the use of virtual meetings which puts even more emphasis on speaking and listening with the intent to convey and understand meaning.
Communication is a two-way street:
- Learn to listen with the intent to understand
- Speak with the intent of ensuring others hear what we mean
We must do both for the betterment of everyone and the company.