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In this issue of PSSP, we're going to examine a principle of communication that few people consider, yet has far-reaching consequences. While we spend a great deal of time preparing ourselves (as we should) for crucial communication encounters, we can spend so much time on ourselves (how we look, how we come across) that we overlook the informational and emotional needs of the recipients of our communication. To set that imbalance right, let's take a look at the cardinal principle of good communication.

“All Effective Communication is Other-Directed”
Vol. 4, No. 4

From our earliest upbringing on, we've been praised for our speaking. Baby's first words are greeted with peals of joy and laughter. In school, the kid who speaks up gets the best grades. In the workplace, as Dale Carnegie stresses, leadership gravitates toward the person who is willing to get up on his or her feet and give a speech.

What we are not rewarded for is effective listening. Kids who hang back and don't "contribute" are often ridiculed for not being "part of the group." Workers, who may be diligently but quietly absorbing details of a meeting, are not seen as "team players." Finally, the biggest mess-ups in organizations can often be laid at the feet of people not listening well.

All this leads us to a critical understanding: communicating effectively is ultimately not about YOU. It's about the OTHER PERSON!

Let's look at some typical situations where this rule plays out.

Customer Service

There's almost no better place to see self-directedness vs. other-directedness (and its natural result, poor listening) than in customer service. A person's customer service attitude is most clearly perceived by the words he or she uses. Here is a list of phrases we've all heard way too many times and what's going through our minds when we hear them:

"Calm down!" (Does this ever work?)

"I'm busy right now." (Who isn't?)

"Let me see if I got this straight." (It isn't rocket science.)

"Next." (Oh, I get it. I've just been renamed "Next.")

"Sorry about that." (Are you really?)

"That's not my job." (Whose, then?)

"Sorry, we're closed." (Again, are you really?)

"We did the best we could." (Try stretching a bit!)

"We're understaffed." (I should care?)

"What do you expect me to do?" (Your job!)

"What seems to be the problem?" (Maybe you?)

"You just have to wait." (Is that as in death and taxes?)

And finally the two meanest ones:

1. "It's not our policy to..." (The American Revolution was about a country that said to us "It's not our policy to...")

2. O.K., as in "My call has been dropped for the tenth time." "O.K." (It's NOT O.K.!)

At CEI, we have an expression that goes "All customer service is trained. It is never instinctive." When customer service is trained, you're more likely to hear these other-directed phrases:

"Here's what I can do."

"How does that sound to you?"

"I don't blame you for feeling frustrated by that."

"Please help me understand."

"Sure. Let's see what we can do for you."

"Thank you for letting us know about that."

"That must be problematic for you."

"We want to be responsive to your needs."

"We'll handle this right away."

And then the best of the best:

"I'm sorry you were inconvenienced."

"I apologize for the difficulty you've been having."

The last two point up the speaker's empathy with the customer, not his or her culpability. Also notice what word occurs most often in the latter list that hardly appears at all in the first: the word "you." The pro in customer service always puts "you" first and leads you to what we like to call "CUSTOMER DELIGHT!".

Public Speaking

The most common illustration of our principle in public presentations is when speakers are so focused on their material and their comfort as speakers that they totally miss building rapport with their audience. The self-directed part of the principle takes these forms:

  • Overdependence on notes

  • Poor eye contact

  • Absence or ineffective use of nonverbal communication

  • Use of written English as opposed to spoken, conversational English.

  • Providing information in quality and quantity the audience doesn't need.

Finally, deliver your presentations with energy. As the great speech coach Roger Ailes states, audiences will forgive you for many sins, but will never forgive you for lack of commitment. And audiences measure commitment by displayed energy.

Nonverbal communication

Whether in front of a group or one-on-one, you will enhance or detract from your effectiveness by the way you manage your nonverbal communication. The research is clear. 93% of your impact in any face-to-face communication lies in nonverbal communication: the things we see about you and hear in your voice and speech.

Overall, there are two kinds of gestures—open and closed. Open (other-directed) gestures include:

  • Gesturing toward others with your palms up.

  • Smiling

  • Nodding your head in agreement.

  • Maintaining good eye contact.

Closed (self-directed) gestures include:

  • Clasping your hands together (especially in front or behind—the "fig leaf" and "CYA" respectively)

  • Touching your face, hair, etc. (preening).

  • Looking away into space.

  • Gesturing back toward yourself, especially when trying to reach out to your listeners.

The closed gesture that most clearly demonstrates the difference between self-directedness and other-directedness is folding your arms in front of yourself while speaking during a meeting. When we call our clients on this closed-off pose, they'll most often retort, "Yes, but it just feels good. I'm not closed off. This is comfortable for me." The problem is that those observing this person usually conclude that he or she is closing off based on their associations with that gesture in the past. Gestures aren't about your comfort. They're about the other person's comfort.

So, there are some examples of areas of communication where the "other-directed" principle makes a huge difference. There are many more. Behind them all lies a decision: do I or don't I want to be an "other-directed" communicator? Not only are the best communicators other-directed, they have made a lifetime commitment to be other-directed in all aspects of their lives.

Join us in that commitment, and make the world better!

Yours in good communication,
Jan and Neal Palmer

And that's our People Skills for Skilled People for today!

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