Communicating Reflectively

I’ve always prided myself on my communication skills.  I’ve always felt confident that I could string the right words together to get a point across. In fact, I’ve been able to get through a lot of difficult situations by capturing the essence of a problem and possible solutions through narrative. 

Several years ago, as a middle school principal, I made a comment in a student discipline meeting that infuriated the parents in the room. In fact, they looked as if they were going to leap across the table.  I don’t remember what it was that I said, but I do recall our school counselor stepping in to ease the tension.

A few years later, I had a similar experience when talking with a group of staff in a union negotiations meeting.  Again, I don’t remember what it was that caused their reaction, only that it wasn’t received well.  

Now, those are just two negative experiences out of hundreds–perhaps thousands–of interactions I’ve had. However, as I reflect, I realize that a lot of my communications during the first part of my career were aimed at proving a point, or convincing others to align with my line of thinking.   

While I don’t recall what I was talking about in that parent meeting, it was probably some judgy comment that struck a nerve. And in regards to the union meeting, whatever I said must have seemed insensitive or dismissive.  Clearly, my approach was flawed and left the perception of whatever message I intended to communicate to chance.

Fortunately, a lot has come into focus for me since then.  I don’t think I had some huge revelation about my communications. Instead, I think it has been a gradual learning experience.  My goal is no longer to convince others to see things my way, but instead to value them as partners and to honor their perspectives and experiences.

What is clear to me now is my belief that developing and nurturing relationships, building and maintaining trust, and empowering and inspiring others relies on the way we communicate. 

Three  things I consider when communicating are:

  • Do the words I use make it clear that I value and respect the receiver’s role or perspectives?
  • Do my actions reflect what I’ve said or asserted?
  • Do I have the knowledge or skills to speak about the topic? If not, do I acknowledge that I need to learn more?

I also believe that communication isn’t complete when the conversation has ended or the email has been sent–it’s what happens after I’ve communicated.  

Three things I continually reflect upon are:

  • How was my communication received?  What was the response?
  • Did I close the loop? Did I acknowledge and appreciate their role in the exchange?
  • Is there anything I need to do in order to demonstrate my reliability, sincerity, or competence regarding the content of the communication?

Acting on these reflections has been helpful, especially when I’ve missed something or in difficult situations impacted by variables outside of my control.  However, I am not an expert, and would love to hear your thoughts. What experiences have shaped or informed your communication strategies?  What works for you?

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