I did an experiment the other day. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my laptop, my husband was across the room at his computer. We were absolutely in easy speaking distance of each other. I wanted to ask his thoughts on what we should have for dinner that night. Ordinarily I would have just called out across the room, ‘Hey, I could really go a steak for dinner tonight, what do you reckon?’ But on this occasion, I did not. Instead I opened up a meeting invite in my calendar and called it ‘culinary decision making process’. Then I included a short agenda in the body:

1. Discuss and agree preferred framework by which all dinner decisions should be made

2. Agree timing for all future dinner decision-making discussions

3. Agree on dinner for tonight using above mentioned framework

I set the meeting to go for a full hour and then I sent it to my husband. From my seat at the kitchen table I could see his computer and I was watching as the notification appeared on his screen. Now I can’t write here word for word what my husband said in response, but let me paraphrase it for you. ‘Golly gosh that seems to be a bit of an overkill. I do very much enjoy your suggestion for how we might better our communication practices in the future. Can we just have steak for dinner tonight?’ I may have taken some creative license when paraphrasing what my husband actually said, but you get the point.

So after our steak dinner that night, I was reflecting on my experiment and what I learnt. I took a very common work communication practice and I used it in a different context, at home. And it did not work. It was impersonal and it was unnecessarily complicated. It made me wonder why it would even work at work? I know I have been personally guilty of sending someone an email when I can actually see them across the room at their desk. I’ve set up meetings to make decisions when a simple conversation would have sufficed. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.

Andy Smith of Ceros says, “Most of us are used to the business-as-usual approach to communicating ideas, looking at the umpteenth Powerpoint bullet list or Word document. We may even build presentations that we ourselves wouldn’t want to sit through.” What is it about being at work that sometimes causes us to stop communicating with each other like humans? Sometimes we can’t even be bothered using complete words with each other, we reduce everything down to acronyms. At home, every single night I say to my son ‘it’s time for bed’, but I’ve never once considered abbreviating that to ‘Son, it’s T.F.B.’ I know there are other places in our lives where we abbreviate, but the workplace tribes we belong to seem to encourage the greatest levels of lazy communication.

Culture does have a lot to do with it. According to Forbes “Culture is, basically, a set of shared values that a group of people holds. Such values affect how you think and act and, more importantly, the kind of criteria by which you judge others. Every culture has rules that its members take for granted.” Workplace culture is without a doubt one of the biggest determinants in how we communicate with each other.

But cultural norms aside, if we get down to the nitty gritty of what we are doing, by definition, humans communicate by, “Thinking of the information they wish to share, encoding it, and transferring it by either verbal, nonverbal or written mediums directly to a receiver who then decodes the information.”

Thinking, encoding and transferring. That’s 3 opportunities to choose how we do it, every time we communicate. Three intentional choices.

How would communication at work be different if we made intentional choices about what we share, how we package it, and how we get it to our recipient? What if we became consciously more empathetic to our recipients and shared the information we knew they needed to understand us? And then we considered how that information would be received so we encoded it with a story that brought the facts to life. I’ll reference back to Andy Smith of Ceros who says, “Stories are the way to reach out to people and emotionally connect.” And then when we transferred that story, what if we actually had a face to face conversation with that person instead of sticking it in an email.

Now let’s take that a step further. What if the two or three (or however many of you) had a conversation around a whiteboard where you shared in a story together and built a picture of the story? Using it as the vehicle for ensuring everyone understood and participated.

No matter how empathetic in your communication you think you already are. I challenge you this week at work to take pause and make three conscious choices before you communicate. Think about who you are communicating with and how you might put some human-ness back into it. Go on, tell a story, draw a picture, connect.

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