"Oh, you mean communication," people often say when I tell them I work on our ability to excel in professional relationships.
How to put this on best?
"Well, not really. Communication skills are part of the relationship skills, not the other way round," I often answer, choosing the harder road of offering the learning that they really need; helping them understand that just communicating well is not enough to be successful. No, to build the relationships we need in business and professional life, we need to excel at connecting people and building connections through time, and that's about more than communication.
These semantics matter …
The context of communication skills is a fleeting interaction in which we seek an exit there and then. The phrase emphasizes the speaker and the message rather than the quality of the relationship. An ability to put our point across may be the very thing that gets us into trouble if we out-communicate those we're dealing with. The more articulate we are, the more we need to strengthen our relationship skills to match. If we see communication as the whole story, we miss an opportunity to broaden our perspective and take our interaction with other people to a new level.
The word "relationship" implies an ongoing connection with other people; what is there between us and what remains when we are part; what we mean when we say we "know" someone. Building a relationship happens through time and may involve sacrificing what we want now for something greater in the future.
As management author, Tom Peters says, "Relationships are all," and, according to Joseph Jaworski, writing in Synchonicity, they are the organizing principle of the universe. In fact, the ability to relate to other people is the most critical skill a person can ever have, simply making everything else easier.
And it takes some attention …
We tend to be so focused on ourselves, fighting for our share of the cake, that we do not see that if we get alongside other people and help make the cake bigger, we'll end up with more. We're so conditioned to put our point across, cutting our case, fighting our corner-even the adversarial language highlights the problem-that it's a mental leap to change our behavior and focus on the other person instead and work on what's happening for them. Nevertheless, that's what we need to do to make progress in our lives.
We grow up pushing for what we want, but that behavior does not serve us any more. We live in an interdependent world, and so success comes from handling our interdependence with skill and insight. That's about relationships. Communication alone is too one-sided. Talking about "communication skills" means leaving us in that self-absorbed, static place where we forget the through-time nature of professional and personal life, and ignore the skills we need to nurture relationships with other people.
More of what worked yesterday is not always the answer …
In fact, it may make the situation worse. What we got to where we are today may be the very thing that will trap us or undersine us now. We can access many excellent sources on communication skills, but most are focused on our end of the equation: being assertive, getting what we want, putting our point across, having impact, persuading people, winning the argument, and so on. When it's the relationship that matters, none of these one-sided approaches is the answer. More assertiveness, persuasion, logic, impact, and influence are not going to solve the problem. We're looking at the wrong place. Putting it bluntly, we need to back off.
So what should we do instead?
Well, the answer begins with a decision to focus on the relationships in our lives, and a recognition that our abilities in that context are worth enhancing. A good way to do that is to have a formula or a method. Here are some key elements to include:
1. Shifting your attention on other people
2. Understanding what under personality and how to adjust what you do to suit
3. Building self-awareness and acting on what you notice in yourself and others
4. Working with what's important to people as the key to progress
5. Having the presence to work with the defect issues in life
The last of these is the most powerful of all and often the quickest way to far resolve an issue.
These are some of the elements of a system of relationship skills, each easily listed and requiring development in its own right.
"Communication skills" does not quite cover it, I think you'll agree.
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