‘Small C Communication’ II: Practice, Practice, Practice

In my previous post, I wrote about how my mother’s illness is robbing us of “communication with a small c.” That’s the everyday, organic communication in which we engage with our family members, co-workers, friends and neighbors. It’s the kind of communication employees often say is lacking in the workplace and the kind they wish their bosses would engage in more often. It’s the kind that’s often missing from marriages and other close relationships.

“Small c communication” seems like such a simple thing to do, yet we don’t do enough of it. I’ve been thinking about why that’s true and what people can do about it.

One reason “small c communication” might be lacking is because people don’t always know how to do it. This seems odd to me, but I’m an extrovert and a verbal person who also happens to have a career in communication. It comes naturally to me, but that’s not the case with a lot of people. Those who don’t possess communication skills, however, can learn them if it’s a high enough priority.

The problem is that many folks don’t place very much importance on communication. Some bosses think it’s a “soft” skill that’s not important to running a business. Of course, they couldn’t be more wrong. Many studies, including the landmark IABC Excellence Study, demonstrate that a healthy communication environment is one characteristic of high-performing companies. “Small c communication” is just as vital to a healthy communication environment as “big C” strategic communication.

Even in our personal lives, sometimes we undervalue communication as a component of healthy relationships. We might think we can check the communication box because we exchange basic information about who needs to be picked up when or what chores need to be done around the house, but no relationship can thrive without the meaningful “small c communication” that I wrote about last time. I believe many people avoid this kind of intimate communication because it requires total presence, transparency and vulnerability. When we share what’s really on our hearts and minds, and when we ask our loved ones to open their inner selves to us, we’re venturing into high-risk territory. But it’s also high-reward.

So, what steps can we take — at work, at home or anywhere else we interact with others — to begin mastering “small-c communication”?

Beyond learning communication skills, I believe the most important thing is to practice. Real, meaningful, powerful “small c communication” doesn’t just happen. It requires learning by doing. Just do it. Be intentional about it.

If you are a manager, that means setting aside a time every day to talk with the people who work for you. The president of a business for which I once worked said he considered communication the most important part of his job and he scheduled regular time for it. Otherwise he knew he wouldn’t do it.

If you want to improve communication with your spouse or other family member, set aside time throughout the day — not just 10 minutes at the end of the day — to practice it. Learn active listening and other communication skills, if necessary, but the most important thing is to not allow other demands to push communication aside.

Practicing “small c communication” is the only way to make it an integral part of your life, whether at work or at home. If it’s a regular part of your life, you will notice a positive difference in the quality of your relationships.


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