Several things in my personal life lately have caused me to arrive at a conclusion about what makes communication work well. Hang on. This is going to get deep.
This is not a revelation in the sense that no one has ever realized it before. It’s more of a revelation in the sense that suddenly something clicked in my own mind. Here it is:
Communication works to its fullest potential only when it happens against the backdrop of trust.
Let me share a couple of personal stories that illustrate why this is so.
I’ve been trying to teach my 13-year-old son the nature of trust lately. He is a good kid, but like many kids his age and younger, he occasionally stretches the truth with me. Or he tells me his version of the truth. Kids have a way of convincing themselves that something really happened a certain way and then it becomes truth to them.
Truthfulness is something he will learn with time and experience. As part of his learning, I’ve tried to help him understand that trust takes a long time to create but only an instant to tear down. One lie — or one instance of bending the truth — is all it takes. Then we have to start over at square one.
When a lack of complete trust exists, it’s difficult for my son to communicate to me about things that are troubling him. Is his throat painfully sore or just a little scratchy? Is that kid really picking on him for no reason, or did he do something to provoke it? He gets frustrated because he’s trying to communicate something to me and I’m not fully receiving it.
I also thought about trust as it relates to grown-up relationships. I’ve just begun a relationship with a wonderful woman I’ve known for many years — most of my life, in fact. We were friends long before we began dating. We have a shared history and we trust one another.
That trust came into play as we had a conversation recently. The subject was difficult, but we communicated quite well. She expressed something that was on her mind and I was able to receive it with empathy and understanding. I could respond and she could understand my perspective because she trusts me too.
I have been in other relationships with women I didn’t know nearly as well. We’d not had the time to build trust in one another. So, when those difficult conversations came up — as they inevitably do in any relationship — communication couldn’t take place to its fullest potential.
This is why communication is so difficult in the workplace. Employees don’t trust management. One co-worker doesn’t trust the other. A customer doesn’t trust the company they’re dealing with. If trust ever was created, things happened to tear it down — lack of transparency, broken promises, office politics.
Communication can’t take place in that kind of environment. Executives and PR professionals can say all they want, but audiences aren’t in a place where they can listen with empathy and understanding.
We communication professionals like to treat communication as a sterile, unemotional process. At its core, though, communication is wrapped up in human issues like trust. There’s just no escaping it.
Filed under: Back to the Basics, Employee Communication, Executive Communication, Lessons From Life | Tagged: bending the truth, empathy, PR professionals, relationships, trust, truthfulness, workplace communication |