Learning from the Disconnects

As a communicator, perhaps nothing is worse than scanning the audience halfway through a presentation only to see people fiddling with smartphones, fidgeting in their chairs, or—worst of all—falling asleep in a puddle of drool. If someone had filmed my life, my communication blunders and mistakes could be turned into hours of humorous outtakes. Learning to connect with people has been an ongoing process for me, involving trial-by-error and plenty of disconnects. Yet I am grateful for my failures, for they have taught me valuable lessons about getting through to others. Hopefully you can glean from my missteps as you hone your own skills as a connector.

My Biggest Disconnects as a Communicator

1. I Put Myself Before My People.

Connecting is all about others. However, as an inexperienced leader I wore myself out trying to get people to support what I wanted to accomplish. Eventually, I learned that instead of trying to conform others to my agenda, I should position myself to see from their vantage point. As I gained awareness of the needs and hopes of others, I was able to add value to their lives in practical ways. I had to prove that I had their best interests in mind prior to earning their wholehearted commitment.   

2. I Neglected the 3 C’s of Communication.

(1) Clarity

As Lee Iacocca said, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” Clarity helps people prioritize. Once they know what matters most to you, they can structure their workload accordingly. Also, clarity gives people confidence. Having sight of the mission, and knowing what’s expected of them, empowers people to make decisions without second-guessing whether their actions are in tune with those of the leader.

(2) Continuity

George Bernard Shaw spoke truthfully when he said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” As a leader, you should occasionally feel like a broken record—repeating the same stanza over and over again. People have to hear something several times before it sticks. Do not fear being repetitive; connection requires it.

(3) Creativity

In my experience, to keep the message moving with energy, people need to be provided with more than words. They need an experience: something that they DO that connects them with the vision. They also need an expression: something that they SAY that connects them with the vision. In addition, they need an example: something that they SEE that connects them with the vision.

3. I Underestimated the Value of Listening.

Over time, I discovered that instead of trying to impress others and be interesting to them I should be impressed and interested in them. That could only happen if I become a better listener. The ability to listen is the foundation to building positive relationships with others and a vital skill in communicating effectively. Listening shows respect to others, introduces you to new ideas, and alerts you to problems that you otherwise would not even know existed.

4. I Failed to Initiate Important But Difficult Conversations.

Leaders must perform a tricky balancing between care and candor. Leaders overly concerned with showing care create dysfunctional relationships in which conflict gets swept under the rug. Oppositely, leaders who speak candidly, without considering the emotional impact of their words, put unnecessary distance between themselves and others. In a healthy and developing relationship caring should never completely suppress candor, nor should candor entirely displace caring.

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