It’s always the classic scenario: the dreaded, terrible first date.
We see it all the time on reality TV or social media— one person talked about themselves the whole time. Not a single question was asked of the other person. A second date? No way. (Unless they’re paying for the meal, in which case, you might have to rethink that decision.)
Unfortunately, many of us find our long-term relationships in the same boat as a bad first date.
We only talk about ourselves, and we fail to make the conversation about the other person.
The challenge we face when we get to know people well or have worked with people for a long time, is maintaining a high level of curiosity. We cease engaging others in things that are important to them. We stop asking questions and getting to know them—at work, and especially at home. We assume we already know everything there is to know, and stop putting effort toward discovering new things.
This leads to poor communication…and poor communication fails to uncover negative emotions and dynamics.
Negative emotions then become like mold. Invisible at first, they fester and grow, and, because unaddressed negative emotions never die, they live on long after the issue passes. The biggest casualty is the relationship.
All of those unaddressed and unspoken fears, concerns, obstacles, and pains become a lens through which they filter everything you say. This leads to long-term stress and strain on the relationship. People start to feel misheard and misunderstood, or sense that they’re being dictated to instead of conversed with. It’s a failure of being sensitive to others’ feelings and point of view. And that degrades the relationship.
Why do we struggle to communicate?
Our communication can often fail for one simple reason—
We’ve been conditioned to talk to people a certain way our whole lives. We ask a question, we get an answer. If we don’t get an answer, we ask another question. Communication becomes transactional.
The struggle has worsened in the digital age. Digital, written communication doesn’t always connect well with other people. We aren’t great communicators, so we aren’t great writers. Things get lost in translation. Emails, texts, social posts—if it’s digital, it can be easily misconstrued.
Interestingly enough, 96% of us believe we’re good listeners. But studies reveal that the majority of us “great listeners” don’t retain even half of the information we’re told.
Good listeners? I think the “first date” phenomenon begs to differ.
Yet because we hold the belief that we’re great listeners, we sink into our bad habits. We become complacent. We remember the one or two successes we’ve had with listening and rest on our laurels. We may be ignorant to our failures, and fail to stay genuinely curious the rest of the time.
When poor communication results, we either blame the other person for not putting forth effort toward the relationship, or we just shrug our shoulders and let it end.
It’s a cycle we get stuck in.
The Trickle-Down Effect of Poor Communication
We aren’t naturally proactive listeners. Instead of listening to understand our counterpart’s world view, philosophies, and experiences, we listen to respond.
This issue isn’t isolated to personal relationships though, but spreads to the workplace.
In any corporation, if the leadership has poor communication, if they lack curiosity, empathy, and genuine concern for their employees, this will trickle down to the other rungs of the organization. People start to feel used, or as a means to an end. They’re simply there to get a project done.
Yet good communication also has a trickle-down effect. When leaders are good at communicating, collaborating, and making their subordinates and coworkers feel good about themselves, others will begin to emulate and model that style of leadership. But if even a few higher-ups fail in this regard, it goes down the chain of command.
Pushback follows pressure. Strain at the top will cause strain at the bottom.
Failing to recognize communication issues in the corporate structure can rot a company from the inside out. Unfortunately, most of us don’t recognize it. We just revert back to our habits, to what we know.
To poor communication.
Personalities Under Pressure: What it looks like when we’re bad communicators
If you’re dealing with an Assertive and there’s poor communication, they’re going to be a lot more frustrated, or might shut you out of a project entirely. They’ll feel like you’re not taking them seriously, or that you’re wasting their time. Because of this, they’re not going to want to collaborate on solutions.
If you fail in your communication with an Accommodator, they’re going to take it personally. They won’t feel like you like them. And instead of being productive and collaborating, they’re going to spend a lot of time trying to rebuild the relationship.
The worst thing you can do with an Accommodator is fail to listen to them. Once an Accommodator gets to the point where they feel used, abused, and taken advantage of, they’re going to shut you out.
As far as Analysts go, their goal in communication is to gather information. Poor communication puts them ill at ease. Being clipped, short, and not listening says to them that you’re not interested in the big picture, or not interested in all the work they’ve done. If there’s no follow up, empathy, or appreciation, there’s a danger that they’re not going to be as invested in the next project. After all, the message they received is that what they do doesn’t really matter to you.
Why Companies are Failing to Prioritize Communication
A recent report from Axios HQ cites that the cost of ineffective communication on the US economy alone is a loss of $2 trillion dollars every year. And even 86% of educators, corporate executives, and leaders believe that ineffective communication is the main reason for workplace failures.
So why aren’t we seeing companies prioritize communication?
For one, things that get measured get priority. And what gets measured is profits, losses, reach, and the other factors. But what doesn’t get measured is what causes the real problems. You can’t measure communication status. You can’t measure empathy, or kindness. So those take a backseat at companies. Where are we seeing this show up? Employee retention.
It’s getting more difficult to not only recruit people, but to retain them. We fall back on blame—blaming a younger generation, or a different communication style without examining ourselves. Business becomes impersonal. The normalized attitude now is, “If you don’t, I’ll just find someone else who will.”
It becomes solely about money.
The trouble is that many companies forget that they don’t make money, their people do.
The Best Advice If You’re Struggling at a Company with Bad Communication
Maybe you’re finding yourself in an uphill battle. You work in the midst of a corporation with poor management, and the lack of communication is insufferable. This can be discouraging, because you feel powerless.
Here’s my suggestion for dealing with this environment:
Step into Tactical Empathy™.
Get out of your emotions, do some self-Labeling, and then prepare yourself to listen. When you listen, Label and Mirror your boss. Allow them to talk about strategies and projects without attacking or criticizing. It builds trust. You’ll find out more information, which sets you up for future conversations. It’s all about defusing the negative emotions and drawing your team toward you so they trust you.
This isn’t easy to do, and it’s humbling to make someone else the priority in a conversation. But remember the purpose of demonstrating Tactical Empathy™—to earn trust-based influence. You’re in a long-game. You’re earning trust and building a relationship so you can influence the other side.
Don’t underestimate the power of solid relationships to persuade.
But don’t take my word for it—download one of our ebooks today and start practicing the skills. Make a point to listen without interrupting and see what happens. Pay attention to what you learn, and use Black Swan skills to listen deeper.
Treat every conversation as an opportunity to get to know the other side. Even old relationships need the same care as a new acquaintance. It makes all the difference.