Viewing entries tagged
communication

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Don't Believe Everything You Think

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Confirmation bias is a well-known phenomenon: we have a tendency to seek out information that supports our pre-existing views and to discount that which does not.

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A new research paper adds even more insight into how fickle our brains are. Thomas Kelly, at Princeton University, writes about belief polarization and points out that the timing of when we learn something matters:

“What I believe depends on the temporal order in which I encounter two opposing pieces of evidence. Thus, I can end up with diametrically opposed views, despite having been exposed to the same evidence. The only difference is the order in which I received it.”

Our thinking is much more fallible than we like to believe. A good antidote is to have more humility about our own views and more curiosity about opposing ones. We will gain a more complex and nuanced understanding of an issue, and in the long run, this will likely lead to more viable and inclusive solutions to persistent challenges.

Kelly’s paper is worth reading. It was forwarded to me by Brian Ziv, who has summarized some of Kelly’s arguments in the July newsletter. Thanks, Brian! Subscribe here to read the full newsletter.

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Copyright © 2019 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.

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Impact vs. Intent: Which is more important?

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In the public sphere, much is being said about impact vs. intent. “If the impact of what you said or did makes me uncomfortable or offended or stressed, then you are at fault and your intent is irrelevant.” Impact is being touted as the only thing that matters.

But there is little logic in many of these affirmations; only scolding. Ironically, the same journalists who condemned Joe Biden for the discomfort he caused with his overly affectionate behavior also took umbrage with a mother who expressed her discomfort with young women wearing revealing leggings in church. The scolds blamed Joe Biden for his impact (his intent was immaterial), and then they reversed themselves and blamed the mother for not understanding the intent (and the impact she felt was trivialized). There’s no internal logic; the only consistency is the scolding. It reminds me of the game called Whack-a-Mole, where the objective is simply to squash another, over and over again.

I believe that in most cases, intent and impact matter in equal measure. A few weeks ago, I texted and then called one of my daughters with a suggestion that I hoped would relieve some stress from her daily overload (medical school, planning a wedding, and an upcoming trip). The impact was the opposite of my intent. She gently told me that I was adding to her stress because I was one more person she needed to respond to. We quickly cleared the air, laughed about the difference between my intent and how she received it, and we parted with a better understanding of each other. When I learned the negative impact of my actions—in a dialogue that was mutually respectful—I was open to hearing what I could do that would actually be helpful (which was my intent).

The crux of the matter isn’t who is right and who is wrong; it is whether or not the parties involved see and respond to the dignity of the other. Every experience is an opportunity to grow and learn; it is our choice whether or not to take it.

Communication is about the give and take between two or more beings who have different perspectives and frames of reference. We bump up against differences and misinterpretations many times a day. To function effectively, we need to engage with each other, with curiosity and humility, to try to find new solutions that take differing views and reactions into account. It means that we clarify, seek understanding, and hopefully find some common ground.

Contact us to learn more about the communication skills we teach for leadership and effective collaboration.

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Copyright © 2019 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.

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The 50-40-10 Guideline

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I created the 50-40-10 Guideline as a rule of thumb, based on experience and practice. Approximately 50% of communication takes place through body language, 40% through tone of voice, and 10% is expressed in the words themselves. While this rule of thumb is not rooted in scientific research, it is nevertheless a helpful guide for managing interactions effectively.
 
We often communicate through the written word—text and e-mails—in large part because it feels more efficient, and in the right contexts, it is. But this mode is also most prone to misunderstandings because we lack tonal and visual inputs. Emojis can only take us so far.
 
When we feel that something has gone awry, this is the moment to seek clarification through a phone call, a video call, or in person. If we don’t, we speculate about the motivation or reasoning behind someone’s message or silence. We often plan responses based on that speculation, and we may find ourselves in a mythical world inside our heads.
 
Face-to-face (F2F) is the fullest form of communication. We can witness a sigh, and see facial expressions that accompany a pause, for example. We can see whether the other person is grimacing in that pause, or giving thoughtful consideration to a response. We can clarify on the spot or probe further.

F2F is often impractical due to geographic distance, but sometimes we ascribe impracticality when we simply find it inconvenient; we don’t want to bother with a video-call or meeting. This is short-sighted because it leads us to weaken bonds rather than modify them for more effective collaboration. It leads us to operate with our input and interpretation only, rather than allowing new possibilities to emerge from the input of both parties. I sometimes wait a month or more to have a F2F conversation with a business colleague or friend when I need to clear the air.
 
Every mode of communication has its strengths and weaknesses. The key is to use all of them intentionally, knowing which form is most appropriate for a given circumstance. In the long run, this produces the best outcomes. Contact us to learn more.

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Copyright © 2019 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.

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Working Effectively with Anger — The Solution Might Surprise You

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Anger seems to be all the rage these days (pun intended!), with many people in full-throated celebration of it. Rage and disdain have become acceptable expressions of anger. But are they effective?
 
The words anger, rage, and outrage are often used interchangeably but they are not the same. Anger is an emotion stemming from other emotions, including anxiety, despair, or frustration. I feel angry, for example, when something does not go as I expect and have planned for. My expectations have not been met.

Rage and the “dis- words” (disregard, disrespect, disdain), on the other hand, are expressions of anger. They are choices we make, without fully considering all of the choices available to us.
 
When we express outrage, we are choosing to shame another, and shaming rarely produces the results we want. Similarly, rage is an expression of anger that fills the space but is hard to work with. Disregard and unresponsiveness are frequently an avoidance of our own discomfort with a given situation. All of these responses are laden with judgment, usually without full knowledge and understanding of the complete picture.
 
The most effective way to deal with anger is to “look under the hood.” Examine why you feel as you do; not everyone feels the same for a given circumstance, and we all connect the dots differently. Consider your assumptions and what you do not know. Explore choices thoughtfully. In other words, work with the complexity and make intentional decisions about how to respond, keeping channels of communication open. By doing so, you are much more likely to achieve your intended aim, and also more likely to benefit from unexpected opportunities.

Many who read this post will nod and say: “Yes, that makes sense.” But mindfully attending to our emotions and responses is hard to put into practice without guidance. Coaching helps us to develop healthy and fruitful practices of reflection that lead to the outcomes we want. I have benefited enormously from the guidance of coaches and counselors over the years. We are all a work in progress, and we all benefit from coaching. (See our coaching services here, and particularly the quote by Atul Gawande.)
 
Anger is a natural emotion. How we respond to that anger is a choice. We have far more agency than we realize to modify a situation and create positive outcomes. Contact us to learn more.

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Copyright © 2019 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.

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Populism: Will You Join, Resist, or Help Shape It?

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Much is being said these days about populism: the championing of the common man in opposition to the established elite. Some view its growth around the world with alarm, while others see it as a necessary check on entrenched politics.
 
Populism per se is not the problem. The real threat comes from what gets wrapped up with populism, such as authoritarianism, blind confidence in one’s point of view, a weak commitment to the truth, and/or minimal reflection and engagement with other ideas.
 
Populism can completely overturn a government structure, or re-shape it at the margins. It can lead to more equitable policies, or more reckless ones. What matters is how we work with it.
 
I invite you to help shape populism. Join a growing movement of ordinary people who are committed to building bridges of understanding through Better Angels, a non-profit organization committed to depolarizing America. I have followed this non-profit’s growth since its humble beginnings in late-2016, and I’m impressed enough to donate some of my time to moderating their workshops for free. This is a populist movement I am happy to join.
 
You can also make a difference by participating in one of our Engaging with Difference® workshops to learn a set of higher-level communication and leadership skills that transform interactions into creative and effective collaborations. These skills are broadly applicable to daily interactions, not just political discussions.

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you will engage with diverse viewpoints and reflect on them in new ways. This is an essential element of a healthy democracy.

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Copyright © 2019 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.

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