Communication – The Water Story
Angel is my dog, and as dog owners say, I am her person. She has spoken to me since the day we met, sometimes as clearly as if she could speak English. Of course I don't mean this in a freakish, supernatural way; but somehow I can look at her when she is "talking" to me and know what she means.
The first day I met Angel, I had volunteered at a vet clinic owned by my friend, Kris. I opened the clinic that morning and cleaned the cages of the few animals that were there. As I was caring for some cats, Angel was bouncing off the walls of her kennel at the prospect of someone to play with. She was tiny then, just 12 pounds or so, and was as white as a snow angel; I found out later that the clinic staff had already named her Angel.
Making sure it was ok to expose Angel to the other animals, I asked my friend, "What's wrong with the little white dog?" In a small but wonderful way, her answer changed my life forever. "Oh, nothing," she said. "She just needs a home!"
Coincidentally, I had just landed a great job running the education division of a large trade association, and within a week, my husband and I would be moving from Orlando to Tallahassee. We told Kris that if Angel hadn’t been placed in a permanent home by the time we bought our new house, we would come back for her. Then, visiting her later that week, we said to hold her for us until we found a house. However, by the time we left – only six days after I met her – we decided to purchase a kennel and take Angel with us to live in the hotel.
Fast forward two years to Angel teaching me her first lesson about communication, listening, and persistence.
One evening I was sitting in the kitchen with my husband, Paul, and our friend, Millie. We were engrossed in conversation and I was ignoring Angel. She started nose-butting us, one by one. Then she started barking. Then butting and barking. We all assumed she wanted to go outside, yet she wouldn't go when we opened the door. This continued for several minutes.
Angel’s next move was noticeable and significant. She walked over to her water dish and forcefully planted both front feet on either side, dropped her head, and heaved out a very loud, dramatic sigh! The water dish was empty! She had told us over and over, but we hadn’t listened. Instead of giving up, she used several different methods and tones, including body language, to make her point.
We learned that when Angel speaks, we should listen. To this day, she will come to get us when a cat is locked in a closet or when one of the other dogs is ready to come back in the house, when someone new is in the yard or when the bathtub is overflowing. And she makes it very clear when it is time for us to go to bed, ready or not!
Angel’s lesson to leaders is clear, isn't it? Communication sometimes requires that we try different methods, that we pay attention to our body language, and that we be attentive to our tone and words. Eventually, we need the other person to listen. Our responsibility as leaders is to be persistent until we have the attention of others and until they hear us.
This is much more difficult than it sounds, but here are a few points to live by:
First of all, be a role model regarding the important skill of listening. Ask yourself, "Do I demonstrate the active listening skills that my employees will need to use when I speak to them?" (We’ll talk more about that later when we hear about Jazz.) Then be a role model regarding the important skill of speaking. Ask yourself, "Am I building the right background for them? Am I starting in the middle of the story and assuming they know what I know?"
In preparing to communicate with others, respectfully get their attention. Ask if there is time to talk and be polite about your interruption. Better yet, ask for an appointment. (Isn’t that what you’d ask of them if they needed you?) Then set the stage for the conversation. Give them the information you’ll be discussing and be sure they have time to review it.
Next, follow the lessons taught in speech classes:
1) Tell the audience what you’re going to tell them
2) Then tell them
3) Then tell them what you’ve told them
In a similar way, use these guidelines when you’re talking to someone about what you want them to remember or do for you.
As you begin your conversation, present the information from their perspective, starting with why they should care. (You don’t have to sell them on doing the job; you’re the boss. You could bark out orders if you'd like, following up and looking over their shoulder; but this won’t get you very far in the long run.)
Then be concise with your request. Take time to share details in an organized, logical fashion. This works even when you aren’t making a formal presentation. Leave a few bread crumbs so they can see where you are going. Like Angel, use body language, tone of voice, and careful selection of your words to make your point.
Some time ago, UCLA did a study and found that only seven percent (7%) of our message to others is understood due to the words we use, our verbal choices. Another 35 percent (35%) of our message to others is perceived via tone of voice, our vocal choices. A whopping 58 percent (58%) of our message is received via our body language, our visual choices. (Please note that I am using the word choices deliberately.)...
...want to read more? Watch this space or see amazon.com for Taking in Strays: Leadership Lessons from Unusual Places, my brand new book just released March 2013!!