You Hear Me But Do You Perceive?
In a scene from the movie The Imitation Game, a teenage Alan Turing first discovers Cryptography from his fellow student Christopher Marcom who describes the code of cryptic as “messages anyone can see but no one knows what they mean unless you have the Key”.
To this, Alan responded, “How is this different from talking? When people talk to each other they never say what they mean, they just say something else. You are supposed to know what they mean. Only I never know. How is that different?”
It sounds so simple: say what you mean. But all too often, what we try to communicate gets lost in translation despite our best intentions. We say one thing, the other person hears something else, and misunderstandings, frustration, and conflicts ensue. In high stakes business negotiations there is no room for misunderstandings and communication breakdowns. Your goal is to make yourself and your company’s position understood.
Like being a good negotiator, effective communication is a learned skill. The more practice you put into it, the more natural and instinctive it becomes to communicate effectively.
A primary skill, to be an effective communicator, is not to talk but to listen.
In order to fully understand and connect with the other person, you must listen in an engaged way.
- Focus on the speaker – their body language, tone of voice, and other nonverbal cues. If you’re thinking about other things, checking text messages or doodling, you’re almost certain to miss the nonverbal cues and the emotional content behind the words being spoken. And if the person talking is similarly distracted, you’ll be able to quickly pick up on it.
- Show genuine interest in what is being said – Listening is not the same as waiting for your turn to talk. You can’t concentrate on what someone’s saying if you’re forming what you’re going to say next. Make sure your posture is open and inviting, and encourage the speaker to continue. Your openness may lead to the speaker telling you more that you know.
- Respect the other person’s point of view – you may not agree with them but you do need to set aside your preconceived expectations, prejudice and judgment in order to fully understand their view/position. Avoid interrupting the speaker with having to be right or having your point of view be accepted.
- Reflect to acknowledge your understanding – some great ways to reflect back is to paraphrase: “What I’m hearing is…” or “Sounds like you are saying…”. Ask questions to clarify certain points: “What do you mean when you say…” or “Is this what you mean?”
Ask yourself, “Did I leave the conversation with some value? Did I allow the other person to contribute?”
Pay attention to nonverbal communication.
Most of your communication isn’t what you say, but how you say it – your body language, facial expressions, the tone of your voice, its inflection, eye contact, and how far away you are when you talk to someone. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements.
All the while you’re reading the other person’s nonverbal signals, be aware of your own. Make and maintain eye contact, keep a neutral body stance and tone to your voice, and sit up straight when you’re talking to them.
Questioning is another key to gaining more information and is fundamental to successful negotiation and communication – we all ask and are asked questions.
When you begin with several closed-ended questions, it is likely to cause the other person to answer in short phrases and fall into a passive role. Open-ended questions help you set an interested, open, collaborative tone. The other person is then likely to open up. By using the right questions in a particular situation, you can improve a whole range of communications skills: for example, you can gather better information and learn more; you can build stronger relationships, manage people more effectively and help others to learn too.
Early this year I made a trip to China and happened to visit an art gallery. I asked the owner the meaning of the Chinese characters written on a painting. He told mean the artist wrote “I nine wild horses.” He added, the artists’ choice of words was to help his audience not just “ nine horses” but to go beyond.
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