Three Items of Top Importance to Good Communication

For good communication, safety is of first importance. If people feel safe to talk, trust will build and information will flow freely. Safety is built by respect, clear and agreed purpose, and a commitment not to shoot either the messenger or the mistaken.

Respect that contributes to safety includes compassionate consideration of the other's comfort, timing, and ability to know and solve their own problems, and a mutual commitment not to tell the other's story, either to him or her, in his or her presence, or behind his or her back.

For good communication, observation is of second importance. Observe and journal after the conversation with the goal of gaining skill to observe while in conversation. Notice signals of safety disruption, in either oneself or the other person(s) or someone not present.

Signals that someone is not feeling safe to talk include less talking, sudden silence, and absence from the conversation. Signals of safety disruption also include sudden increase in talking pace or pitch or volume, movement into another's space, and overkill in word or logic or tone.

For good communication, knowing what one really wants is of third importance. Upon noticing a decline in conversational safety, ask again, What do I really want? Has my goal in this conversation or in my general purpose shifted? Is there a bigger or deeper desire now than I knew before?

Knowing again what one really wants can help restore safety to a conversation. Here's how: Clearly state the plan to stop the present topic and talk about talking before continuing. Then reaffirm respect, apologize if necessary, then clarify and agree again on what both want from this conversation. Then resume.

Some of the ideas in this article came from: Patterson, Kerry, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzer. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes Are High. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Copyright 2015 Wilma Zalabak

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