Breakdowns happen when you and I think we are talking to each other, but we are really talking past each other. We are so engrossed in what we have to say that we don’t realize we are carrying on our own monologues, not dialogues.Judith Glaser
I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures.… I divide the world into the learners and non-learners.Benjamin Barber
In my own life and work, I often encounter situations where there has been a breakdown in communication. It frequently is the result of one or more people being sure they have the “right answer”.
It is easy to reach the state of being sure we have the “right answer”. Since we each have different vantage points and interpretations, our memories of the same situation can be very different from one another. I bump into this frequently with my wife and family, when recalling past events.
We’ve all been taught to come up with the “right answer” by our education system. And for many executives and professionals, we’ve specialized in fields of practice. We’re then sought out as experts for the answers to problems. We’re often promoted into management positions based on our expertise, and ability to advocate for our beliefs.
And most importantly, when we’re in a high stress situation, we can be quick to react with an answer that gives us the semblance of control when we’re feeling threatened.
Breakdowns in communication occur when we become so addicted to being right that we stop listening, and talk right past other people. We can quickly move from telling, to selling, to yelling as we try to convert people to our point of view, or impose control. At an extreme we stop learning from other people, and resort to attacking them for their perspectives.
The problem is, breakdowns in communication and loss of learning in groups, organizations and communities leads to a downward spiral of declining engagement, creativity, and innovation, and over time to a fear based culture that can result in a long term collapse.
How do we stop the downward spiral?
We start by observing our intention in any conversation:
- Are we no longer curious to learn from other people’s perspective and experience?
- Are we focused on telling or advocating for what we believe is the “right answer” to the exclusion of the insights and viewpoints from other people that are important to achieve an effective resolution?
- Are we talking past other people, and not engaging in an effective dialog, leading to a breakdown in communication?
- Did everyone go silent because we are in the highest authority position in the room?
We can choose to shift our intention to create the best possible course of action by sharing what we perceive and seeking to understand and learn what others perceive? I help leaders and teams learn and practice to create an upward spiral of engagement, creativity, teamwork, and innovation.
Now is a good time to recognize that our most effective conversations have a balance between sharing and seeking to understand others’ perspectives.
I help executives and leadership teams to avoid the breakdowns and create better paths forward. Together we build trust, cultivate generative leadership, and grow organizational effectiveness to create a better future today.