The Power of Communication with a Small C

I’ve spent my career practicing, writing, teaching and speaking about “Communication with a big C.” You know, things like communication strategy and tactical skills, how to develop plans, how to carry them out with excellence, and how to measure the impact of it all.

But I’m coming to realize that what really matters — in business and in life — is “communication with a small c.” That would include the everyday conversations we have with our bosses, co-workers, friends and family. Without communication with a small c, Communication with a big C is meaningless.

If I had my way, I would spend more time consulting, writing, teaching and speaking about communication with a small c. Inexplicably, there seems to be little demand for such services.

A lot of things in my personal life, and one in particular, have caused me to realize communication with a small c is where my real passion lies and where the greatest  opportunity exists.

My mother is seriously ill. This week she entered hospice care. We don’t know how much longer she’ll be with us. It could be six days, six weeks or six months. One thing I do know is that my mother has been drifting away for several years. That is the nature of Alzheimer’s disease. I know exactly what Ronald Reagan meant when he called it “the long goodbye.”

Communication with my mother is difficult. She can no longer piece together the words to make a coherent sentence. For a while, she knew exactly what she wanted to say, but she couldn’t say it. Now, I believe the disease is beginning to rob her of the ability to know what she wants to say.

We used to spend hours sharing the stories of our lives with each other. Now our conversations are brief and shallow. I can tell her I love her, but the sweetness of those words no longer lingers in her mind.

What a gift it is to communicate with the people who are important to us. Not just our parents, but our spouses or significant others, our children, the people in our office, the people with whom we do business. Yet we often take the gift for granted.

It amazes me how many of us shut ourselves down. We’re our own worst enemies when it comes to communication with a small c. How easy should it be to say:

  • I love you.
  • You are important to me.
  • I’m proud of you.
  • I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
  • I want to tell you what’s on my mind.
  • Tell me what’s on your mind.
  • Let’s sit down and work this thing out.
  • Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying.

But our stubborn internal editors stop those words before we give life to them. They never make it to the ears of the people who need to hear them. And if we’re on the receiving end of those words, those same internal editors stop them before they enter our minds, much less our hearts and souls.

Imagine the incredible difference it would make — in homes and workplaces — if people rediscovered how to communicate with a small c.

As it is, though, companies will continue to hire consultants like me to strategize, to advise them about the most effective communication vehicles, to develop and broadcast content, and to measure what they’re doing, all the while ignoring the powerful thing that is right under their noses — raw, organic, simple communication between and among people.


12 Responses

  1. You speak the truth, Robert. The simplest and most loving communication with one another is sometimes the most difficult to express AND to receive.

    I’m so sorry about your mother. Our family also knows the devastation and heartache of Alzheimer’s. Bill and I will be praying for your precious mother and your entire family.

  2. Robert,

    Your column is profound. Communication with a small c is truly what is the most important, yet it can be so easily impeded and difficult. A few simple words can make a huge difference in the lives of people around us, especially those closest to us. Yet so many times they are difficult to speak. Thank you for sharing your insight from your personal situation so we might realize what we so often take for granted.


  3. Robert:

    Thank you for this. It is a fantastic reminder (to me, at least) to say those words while people can still hear and understand them.

    What a beautiful column.

    Steve C.

  4. Thank you everyone. I’ve become a big believer in living a no-regrets lifestyle. That includes taking advantage of the ability to say things like this while we can say them, and leaving no cards on the table. Even if that sometimes means also having conversations that can be difficult. There is no issue more important than our relationships with the people in our lives, so there should be nothing that stands in our way of making those relationships as authentic and rich as possible.

  5. Thanks for a well-written, thoughtful post, Robert.

    Most of the emotional aches that hit me throughout a day come from my or someone else’s inability to be open and vulnerable enough to say one of the “small c” statements you list.

    I’m also aiming for a “no-regrets lifestyle,” but it isn’t always within my power of influence to break a “small c” log-jam. Sometimes the best I can do is know that I cleaned my side of the street.

    How many issues could be solved within an organization if leaders and line-staff stopped looking for a consultant or a training course to put the “right words” in their mouths? The words are there; we just have to be able to speak them.

  6. Tom, I think you are right. As much as I believe that companies need to strategically think through what and how they communicate (with a big C), I also believe that small-c communication could prevent and solve a lot of problems. Business leaders who be wise to invest in that kind of training for their employees. Unfortunately, my experience is that they view small-c communication training as “soft” and not a serious business issue, when in fact it is.

    Of course, it all starts with individuals and how they choose to live their personal lives because they bring their small-c communication styles into the workplace with them.

  7. Robert, that was a very touching and heartfelt column — thank you for sharing it. I am very sorry to hear about your mom’s illness, and I can only imagine the pain that Alzheimer’s causes to families.

    The small-c communication is really what life is all about. This may sound really corny, but Garth Brooks had a song on the charts several years ago called If Tomorrow Never Comes. Something in that song really hit me the first time I heard it, and I made a point never to leave the house without saying goodbye to my wife and son, and giving them a hug. We aren’t promised one more day on this earth. Too bad we don’t always live like we know it.

  8. well said.

  9. Robert thank you for writinig so openly about a difficult and neglected issue. Reading what you’ve said about small “c” communcation in makes me realise how natural and easy it seems to me when it works, and how painful and destructive it can be when it breaks down – in the workplace or in the family.
    Not all of us have the personal or institutional power to change small c communication … however your article makes me think I shoudl give it another try in those parts of my life where it isn’t working well at the moment. Thanks.

  10. Robert – Thanks for a lovely post. It hit me in the heart. I went through the same thing with my dad last year. It hurts to watch someone who is no longer able to communicate with a small c in the way they did before. I was lucky because my dad had asked me to write his life’s story for him – so I had already spent several years interviewing him and my mom for that. The book was published for his 90th birthday, when he was still lucid enough to appreciate and understand it. My heart goes out to you and your mom – and your son as well.

  11. […] and see what good comes from such an inexpensive investment in employee motivation. This is “small-c communication” at its best, a way to help re-engage a disengaged workforce for the tremendous challenges that lie […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: