THE COMMUNICATION ILLUSION

Step away from the pressures of the job and finally allow effective communication to have a positive impact on your work life

By KAREN SIEBEN

There are many different departments, key stages, curriculums, deadlines, requests, goals, targets in schools. Not to mention the range of staff, pupils, parents and outside agencies, making up the school community.

A consequence of having to do more with less can be that people don’t have time to have conversations with each other and get to know one another; causing a lack of connection. The perceived pressures and challenges can then result in a lack of goodwill and energy in the profession.

A BUSY MIND

In a staff meeting a head of department or head teacher can think they have given a clear instruction, but many different interpretations may leave the room. This is due to the fact the speaker may believe they’ve said one thing but have actually said something else.

Also, the listener has heard what they thought the speaker has said. When there is a lot to get through on an agenda, this situation is worsened by lots of busy minds, in separate realities, in one room.

When we have little on our mind it is easier to communicate clearly and easier to listen when our attention is given freely to the speaker. But when was the last time you honestly had little on your mind?

We think we listen, but often we don’t. We finish one another’s sentences, interrupt each other, have our own voice or narrative running away, distracting us in the background. We fill in pauses with our own thoughts, we look at our surroundings and we get caught by another person and even walk away.

We’ve all been conditioned from an early age to think caring for others means helping, and helping means finding solutions for them. We rush to give advice and share our thoughts on a perspective; quick to give solutions without pausing to consider that everyone has the answers they need themselves.

In doing so, we only listen to them as long as it takes to think of a solution for them. Then rush off, hoping or expecting them to be grateful for our help. But it was their problem not ours and our solution not theirs.

Therefore, they are less likely to act on our idea, or if they do, they are less likely to be successful as they don’t have the thinking or understanding about the solution in the same way we don’t have the same understanding about the problem in the first place.

SPACE TO THINK

Space is a key factor in our interactions with others. If someone stops talking, it doesn’t mean they have stopped thinking. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. It’s in the space and quiet that new ideas and thoughts can arise.

If we are rushed and thinking from the forefront of our minds, we are more likely to generate ideas only from habitual patterns of thought. That’s generally where problems arise from, not the solutions.

At some point, we decide what people are like and, from then on, we see their persona as ‘real’ to us. We see them in a certain way and have unconscious assumptions, filters and habitual patterns of thought about them. We are never addressing the real them, but in fact, the version that appears ‘real’ to us.

This impacts on how we listen to them – whether it is our partners, children, pupils or colleagues.

Being aware of how we listen to others is helpful. If we think we are talking to someone we perceive to be a difficult person, we broach the conversation and the person we are taking to as a difficult person.

We employ our limited strategies we have learnt to deal with this persona. We look and listen for clues that reinforce our perceptions. In other words, ‘What you see is what you get’.

COMMON GROUND

All working environments have moments when difficult conversations need to be had or people appear difficult to work with. This understanding does not stop awkwardness and defensiveness happening in conversations; we are human after all.

But it does mean we can recognise more easily and more frequently what is occurring and it makes it easier to regain balance and perspective to move conversations and relationships forwards productively.

Our thoughts take various forms or flavours. When we have sad thoughts, it’s because thought is taking a sad form. Our feelings are a barometer for our thinking. Our feelings are a result of our thinking and our behaviour is ultimately the result of both.

No one and nothing outside of us can ever affect our feelings. It comes from our thinking taking form in the moment. This is the same for everyone. We are all creating our own individual realities. Everyone is doing the best with what they think moment-by-moment.

When we realise this, we take things less personally and can become more curious about what someone else is thinking. If all parties in a conversation are curious and open to new insights, thoughts, possibilities and therefore points of view; synergy is more likely to happen.

When we realise everyone is coming from a place of greater neutrality than may first appear, we automatically begin to take things less personally, more objectively and with greater perspective.

We actually become more inquisitive and want to understand the other person’s perspective. After all, when we feel less threatened and are less wedded to our wellbeing being attached to anything outside of us, it becomes much easier to consider other people’s opinions and ideas. It’s easier to see solutions and common ground in situations.

Effective communication is not only possible but enjoyable and easy when we remember that everyone’s thinking looks as real to them as ours does to us.