Successful leaders know where the gap is in effective communication. A gap between the real data and your interpretation of that information.
Communication is much like consciousness…
Communication and consciousness are the result of combining data so that it is more than the sum of its parts.
Yesterday I walked into a client’s offices in Finsbury Square in central London. Oh so uber posh.
After the normal antics at reception including having my photo taken, I was asked to go up the escalators and wait in the pantry. Seriously? The pantry. To my disappointment the pantry wasn’t an actual pantry. I am in a global firm in the City.
I was struck by the amount of people in this “communal kitchen” area. People communicating. People were discussing deals, talking about people development, financial planning and just general chit-chat. It was a mini-village square (albeit very modern with glass and fancy things (called chairs) to sit on).
People were communicating. Talking. I wondered, whilst waiting to see my client, why do we misinterpret things? Why is it we can claim to be the most effective communicants, and yet we misunderstand? We say the wrong thing. We hear the wrong thing? Even though we nod in agreement or understanding – there was a lot of nodding and smiles in the pantry.
The business directory defines communication as “a two way information sharing process which involves one party sending a message that is easily understood by the receiving party.”
To answer the communication-conundrum, which let’s face it has been around since the beginning of time, indulge me a little with some science of consciousness. Here in lies the answer…or at least a good leadership practice.
What is consciousness?
Consciousness is not something we see, it’s something through which we see, which makes it challenging to talk about here. However, the theories say that it (consciousness) hinges on the idea that information coming in from the outside world competes for attention. We only become conscious of something – a ringing telephone, say – if the brain signals it generates out-competes other information that is being generated at the same time. It’s almost like the “survival of the fittest” information signal. If this happens, the signal will be broadcast to other areas of the brain, and we consciously register it.
Other suggestions claim consciousness is the result of data being combined by the unconscious brain, so that it is more than the sum of its parts and that there has to be some degree of communication across different brain areas. The unconscious system in the brain pieces together fragments to devise a meaningful interpretation. This is where the gap happens.
So what’s this got to do with miscommunicating in business?
Everything. We know in this day and age information comes at us from many different sources. We are bombarded with data. In a simple conversation we too are constantly being overloaded with data, not least of all our own thoughts and feelings. Deciphering this stuff inevitably results in miscommunication. Misunderstandings. Or at worst our version of the truth.
Scientist also suggest self-awareness, tapping into the unconscious brain helps you distinguish between the real information and your interpretation of the data. They suggest that in fact it is the unconscious brain that “decides” when to act. They also suggest that through practices of meditation (which in my opinion is simply mastering the act of paying attention) you can widen the gap between when you unconsciously decide to act and actually acting.
Effective communication is therefore perhaps more than “a two way information sharing process which involves one party sending a message that is easily understood by the receiving party” but more about deciphering the real information and to do this you have to mind the gap. The gap in your unconscious brain. I wonder if the people I saw in the “pantry” yesterday were minding the gap.
Do you mind the gap?