You Are Always Communicating, but Are You Connecting with Others?

A hiker overlooks the sunset. Text "Not all classrooms have four walls" appears on the graphic.

You can’t not communicate. Everything you say or do,

or don’t say and don’t do, sends a message to others.

- John Woods

Two men riding a bicycle built for two came to a long, steep hill. It took a great deal of struggle for the men to complete what proved to be a very stiff climb. When they got to the top, the man in front turned to the other and said, “Boy that sure was a hard climb.” The fellow in the back replied, “Yes, and if I hadn’t kept the brakes on all the way, we would certainly have rolled down backwards.”

His request approved, the news photographer quickly used a cell-phone to call the local airport to charter a flight. He was told a twin-engine plane would be waiting for him at the airport. Arriving at the airport, he spotted a plane warming up outside a hanger. He jumped in with his bag, slammed the door shut quickly, and shouted, “Let’s go!”

The pilot taxied out, swung the plane into the wind and took off.

One in the air, the photographer instructed the pilot, “Fly over the valley and make low passes so I can take pictures of the fires on the hillsides.”

“Why?” asked the pilot.

“Because I’m a photographer for CTV,” he responded, “and I need to get some close-up shots.”

The pilot was strangely silent for a moment, finally he stammered, “So, what you’re telling me is…You’re not my flight instructor?”

Have you ever had experiences like either one of these, a time when you just seemed not to be working on the same page with someone? Think back to a time where making an assumption created confusion for both parties.

What are some of the negative costs of making assumptions? Henry Winkler once said, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” Always find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings. George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” What’s clear to you is clear to you. We must never put people in a position where they have to read our minds.

Jay Sullivan writes in his book, Simply Said, “We are all basically self-focused. That’s an innate human trait. That’s not a bad thing; in fact, it helps us to survive. But it is also the leading cause of our miscommunication. Our instinctive approach to communicating is to speak to others from our own perspective rather than from theirs. Conversely, we also listen to others through our personal filters, making assumptions and hearing ideas through the prisms of personal experience. Because each of us has a unique path through life, communicating from that personal experience immediately creates a disconnect between us and others. This disconnect is what leads to miscommunication. If we want to improve our ability to connect with others, to understand them and to be understood more clearly, the easiest and most effective way to do so is to focus less on ourselves and more on the other person.” Always remember the first rule of communication: Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t say it mean.

Brian Tracy adds, “Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or playing a musical instrument. If you’re willing to work at it, you can improve the quality of every part of your life.” I personally made a decision over 40 years ago to really study communication principles and styles to help me to become the best communicator I could be. That doesn’t mean I always get it right. We all are continuous works in progress. It is important that we take advantage of every opportunity to practice our communication skills.

Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings.

To whom you’re born and where you’re born is luck. But friends and solid relationships…that takes work and trust and is a part of your legacy. Call me old fashioned if you like, but I actually take relationships seriously. Greg McKeown adds. “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead, we celebrated how much time we spend listening, enjoying time with, and truly connecting with the most important people in our lives?

You are always communicating with others, either verbally or non-verbally. In other words, you are always communicating something, whether you like it or not. Communication is a process of sharing information with another person in such a way that they understand what you are saying. It doesn’t matter how much you communicate with a person if they don’t understand it. Effective communication isn’t just about talking; it is also the ability to listen and understand, to empathize, to read and interpret body language, and to know how to approach another person so you can get your point across in a respectful manner.

Jim Clemmer writes in Managing at the Speed of Change, “It’s ironic but in today’s age of instantaneous communication and technologies that have made us a global village, communication breakdowns are the single biggest complaint I hear from our clients. In many cases, people don’t have the skills to address tough issues with each other. And they do it so poorly, it raises up defensiveness in the other person. Adding to the noise of communication issues is the technology overload. Lots of people confuse ‘communicating’ with ‘dumping information’ through copious electronic messages. This in reality reduces meaningful two-way communication.”

Two birds are sitting on a fence looking over a farmer’s field.

Is that a human? asked bird number one.

“No, don’t worry, it’s a scarecrow” replied bird number two.

Bird number one, “How can you tell?”

Bird number two replied, “He’s not looking at his phone!”

Carrie Barron wrote in The Creativity Cure, “Does technology threaten to supplant face-to-face intimacy? With devices in hand, we can avoid human exchange and the potential awkwardness therein. The mobile phone, while it may bring you closer to those who are far away, it will also take you away from those sitting next to you. She adds, “An older person was baffled by a teen’s suicide since the deceased had 40 Facebook friends. A younger person explained that Facebook friends are not necessarily real friends. You may have never met them and they may not actually care if you had a bad day. Facebook friendship no longer connotes a precious relationship. Recent studies show that empathy is decreasing rapidly in rising generations. Device dependency can compromise a deeper relationship with both the self and others.”

You are always communicating with others, either verbally or non-verbally.

Albert Einstein once said that he feared the day when technology would surpass our human interaction. How would he react today when the most important relationship some people have is with their Wi-Fi? Seen on a t-shirt: “My Wi-Fi went down for five minutes, so I had to talk to my family. They seem like nice people.” I personally love the technologies, but in moderation. Adrianna Huffington sums it up so effectively, “Disconnecting from our technology to reconnect with ourselves and others is absolutely essential.” Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.

How well do you really connect with others?

Author Brene Brown defines connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued: when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.

The ability to connect with others begins with understanding the value of people.

The term connect refers to spending time with our friends, colleagues, family, or generally, our communities. Connecting with others is a good way to boost our well-being as building relationships with those around us makes us more secure and gives us a greater sense of purpose. Connecting is never about you. It’s about the person with whom you are communicating. There’s a message in the way a person treats you and there is a message in the way you treat others. Just listen…and watch. Maturity can be defined as the ability to see and act on behalf of others. Immature people don’t see things from someone else’s point of view; maturity does not always come with age; sometimes age comes alone.

Who do you bring to the party? Oscar Wilde wrote, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” Your energy introduces you before you even speak. John Maxwell adds, “People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.” Within five seconds of meeting someone, you make a lasting impression based on the following order: First, how you look, second, how you sound, and third, what you say. Comedian George Carlin joked, “Scientists announced today that they had found a cure for apathy, However, they claim no one has shown the slightest bit of interest in it.” Imagine if everyone took personal responsibility for the energy they bring to the environments they visit. How do you want to be remembered? How do you leave others feeling after an experience with you?

Do you avoid conflict by thinking before you speak? Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten; I’ve heard it said that it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out. If the words you spoke appeared on your skin, would you still be likeable?

Naomi Judd writes in Naomi’s Breakthrough Guide, “Words hold the power to get what you want and to help you get rid of what you don’t want. Words become the outward manifestation of whatever’s going on inside your head. They reflect your inner world to your outer world. Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words can never hurt you. My elementary school friends and I used to chant those words at recess. We were too young to understand that words do have power at times, more hurtful than sticks and stones. Some words inspire us to open and connect. Some words give rise to protective barriers so we shut down and retreat. Words can create or destroy.”

What’s wrong with simple? I read recently in Bits & Pieces this anecdote. “I called an old engineering buddy of mine and asked what he was working on these days. He replied that he was working on an ‘aqua-thermal treatment of ceramics, aluminum and steel under a constrained environment.’ I was impressed until further inquiry, where I learned he was washing dishes with hot water under his wife’s supervision.”

I ask again, what’s wrong with simple? John Maxwell shares this wonderful story in his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect.

Connecting is never about you. It’s about the person with whom you are communicating.

A preschool-aged boy was eating an apple in the backseat of the car. “Daddy,” he said. “why is the apple turning brown?”

The boy’s father explained, “Because you ate the skin off, the meat of the apple came in contact with the air, which caused it to oxidize, thus changing its molecular structure and turning it into a different color.”

There was a long silence, and then the boy asked, “Daddy, are you talking to me?”

Before you say something, stop and think how you’d feel if someone said it to you. Was this dad, who probably gave this communication his best effort really connecting with his son. I believe it was Albert Einstein who said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

When people try to communicate with others, many believe the message is all that matters. But the reality is that communication goes way beyond words. In an important study, UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian discovered face-to-face communication can be broken down into three components: words, tone of voice, and body language. In situations where feelings and attitudes are being communicated:

  • The words we say accounts for only 7% of the message.

  • Our tone of voice accounts for 38 percent.

  • Our body language accounts for 55%.

Amazingly, 93% of the impression we often convey has nothing to do with what we actually say.

Comedian Jarod Kintz quips, “I’m bilingual, speaking ‘English and Body Language.’ I prefer the latter, because I can speak it silently and without listening and while my back is turned.” Our body language and tone must match our words (congruency). Some people feel they can’t be held responsible for what their face does when others talk. Some people practically roll their eyes out loud. Again, you must take 100% responsibility when you are engaged in a communication with other people.

A frustrated but confused husband quips, ‘My wife just stopped and said, “You weren’t even listening, were you?” I thought, “That’s a pretty weird way to start a conversation.”

Jay Sullivan continues, “Communicating effectively is not just about the way you send out information. It’s also about the way you take in information. Listening well is hard work. We tend to think of listening as a passive exercise, as if it requires no energy from us. Listening well takes energy.”

E. H. Richards penned this wonderful poem:

A wise old bird sat on an oak.

The more he sat, the less he spoke.

The less he spoke, the more he heard,

Why can’t we be like that wise old bird.

Do you give your full attention to what others are saying? Do you put away your phone, turn off the TV, put down your newspaper and really pay attention to those talking with you? There’s actually an app for that and it’s called ‘respect.’ Michael Nichols writes in The Lost Art of Listening, “To listen well, you may have to restrain yourself from disagreeing or giving advice or talking about your own experience. Temporarily at least, listening is a one-sided relationship. Wise people are not always silent, but they know when to be.

Writer and Pastor Charles Swindoll once found himself with too many commitments in too few days. He got nervous and tense about it. He writes: “I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and generally feeling irritated at all those unexpected interruptions I had experienced throughout the day,” he recalled in his book Stress Fractures. “Before long, things around the house started reflecting the pattern of my hurry up style. It was becoming unbearable. I distinctly remember after supper one evening, the words of our young daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me something really important that had happened to her at school that day. She began hurriedly “Daddy, I want to tell you something and I’ll tell you really fast.”

Suddenly realizing her frustration. I answered. “Honey, you can tell me and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.” I’ll never forget her answer: “Then listen slowly.”

The number one barrier to listening effectively is interrupting others. How many of us have said at some time, “I don’t mean to interrupt people. I just randomly remember things and get really excited.” Sometimes we have a confused notion that listening means agreement. It doesn’t. I heard recently in an interview, “In every community, there is at least one person who drives you crazy. If not, you are probably driving someone else crazy. If neither of these, then people are not engaging with others enough.” Whether we agree or don’t is a separate matter; we need to hear what someone has to say without confusing it with whether we see things the same way. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply, we listen for what’s behind the words.

Tom Ford writes, “The most important things in life are the connections you make with others.” The first thing we all should know about us is that we’re not anyone else. A lot more will make sense after that. Paul McCartney writes, “I used to think anyone doing anything weird was weird. Now I know that it is the people that call others weird that are weird.”

Over 35 years ago, I became a certified facilitator in Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator (MBTI) to study the different temperaments that caused people to think and act differently than I did. Following my certification, I actually worked for about 5 years with a church, offering Myers-Briggs as an essential segment of their marriage preparation course. There are just so many applications for this lesson.

The number one barrier to listening effectively is interrupting others.

John Maxwell, after studying temperaments, wrote, “For the first time I recognized that different temperaments caused people to think and act differently than I do. That may seem obvious to you, but it was an important eye opener for me. More importantly, I realized there is no right temperament. I used to attempt to convert people with other temperaments to mine. How ridiculous! I was like the lady who was disappointed with the result of her husband’s eye surgery. She told her friend, “We spent over $4,000.00 on laser surgery for his eyes, and he still can’t see things from my point of view.”

What does connecting with others really mean? Chris Hobcroft writes, “It is more than just talking to others or sharing interests. Connecting with others is a sense of being open and available to another person, demonstrating empathy and compassion- we feel goodwill to the person we are connecting with. Connecting with others often feels good, but this is not always true. Feeling enough trust with someone to share a sad experience or something you are upset about can be a very strong way of connecting with someone as well. Connecting is never based on a shared dislike of other people, or on talking about others, where there are no feelings of trust.

The following are connection enhancers:

  • Be genuine: have a genuine interest in the person with whom you are trying to

  • communicate and connect.

  • Be teachable. You’re not always right. Is your need to be right, greater than your need in establishing solid relationships with others?

  • Be open to learning: always be open to hearing other people’s ideas and stories.

  • Resist the urge to always try and ‘one-up’ someone with your knowledge or expertise.

  • Be of service to others: find ways to make yourself invaluable and people will appreciate you.

  • Be present: pay attention.

  • Feel empathy and kindness for other people

  • Remember names: remembering people’s names will instantly make them feel acknowledged and welcomed.

  • Remain unforgettable. Send birthday cards, remember special anniversary dates, send personal notes occasionally. Follow up on something the person mentioned before.

Make others feel comfortable. My great friends Norah and Doug, after sharing dinner at their table, will always suggest we move to more comfortable chairs so we can ‘sit soft’ and carry on our conversation from there.

Thank people: take the time to really thank people; this makes them feel appreciated.

The following are connection killers:

  • Forgetting names.

  • Being unfriendly.

  • Not holding appropriate eye contact.

  • Gossiping.

  • Finishing other people’s sentences.

  • Interrupting others.

  • Monopolizing conversations.

  • Being overly critical.

  • Being argumentative.

  • Being a know-it-all.

  • Bragging.

  • Name dropping.

  • Exaggerating.

Avoid these like the plague.

Let’s close this lesson with a timeless story from the world of television. One of the first episodes in the Andy Griffith TV series, depicted this situation: Following the death of his wife, Sheriff Andy Taylor decided to invite his Aunt Bee to come and live with Opie (Ron Howard) and him, thinking that she would add the missing, feminine touch. Surprisingly, Opie is not too pleased to have Aunt Bee come in and ‘replace’ his mother. Andy tries to help the situation by inviting Bee to go fishing and frog-catching with them so that Opie can become attached to her. Instead, she fails miserably at fishing and frogging and later at football. Finally, late at night, after Opie is in bed, Aunt Bee talks Andy into taking her to the bus station. Opie hears her crying beneath his bedroom window and guesses she is leaving. He runs down the stairs and out to the truck, exclaiming, “We can’t let her go, Pa, she needs us. She can’t even catch flies, take fish off the hook, or throw a football. We’ve got to take care of her or she’ll never make it.”

Do you have friends who might be uncomfortable taking a fish off a hook? Is that a necessary ingredient for you to have them as a friend?

Are you really connecting with others?

Food for Thought

Think of your favorite elementary or high school teachers. What made them so memorable for you?

Think of a time when you made an assumption that led to a communication breakdown. What are some of the negative costs of making assumptions?

Which is more important: what you say or how you say it?

Try to recall two or three best experiences you’ve had with people in your life. What do these experiences have in common? Did you feel these people genuinely cared about you?

Who would you like to reconnect with? Why?

Choose one quote every day or perhaps one or two every week if you like. How do these quotes speak to you? What applications do you see in your life? Share your chosen quotes with a family member, a friend, a business colleague. Create a ‘quote of the day’ club at work.

I always mean what I say. I may not always mean to say it out loud, but I always mean to say it.

- Betty White

Communication is an art form that is crafted throughout our lives.

- Don Brown.

I could save myself a lot of wear and tear with people if I just learned to understand them better.

- Ralph Ellison

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.

- Anne Lamott

Any fool can know. The point is to understand.

- Albert Einstein

If speaking kindly to plants helps them grow, imagine what speaking kindly to humans can do.

- Anonymous

The way we communicate with others and with ourselves determines the quality of our lives.

- Tony Robbins

Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.

- Isaac Newton

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

- Dale Carnegie

The most important thing in communication is the hear what isn’t being said.

- Peter Drucker

To be simple is to be great.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place, but to have left unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

- Dorothy Nevill

Sometimes the thoughts in my head get so bored they go for a stroll through my mouth. This is rarely a good thing.

- Scott Westerfield

Never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut.

- Robert Newton Peck

If you wouldn’t write it and sign it, don’t say it.

- Earl Wilson

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.

- Robert Fulghum

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.

- Peter Drucker

Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg, cackles as if she laid an asteroid.

- Ellen Glasgow

It is better to remain silent and thought a fool, than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

- Samuel Johnson

Next Lesson: People Come in a Number of Varieties, but Perfect Isn't One of Them

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