One of my most impressionable college courses was Group Communication. I still have the book for the course, Effective Group Discussion, by John Brilhart, now faded, worn and dog-eared. I have carried forward one concept from that course more than any other: “Communication is a receiver phenomenon.” Brilhart goes on to quote Richard Thayer paraphrasing the same idea: “Communication always occurs in the receiver.”
This upends the idea of becoming a better speaker. The requirement is to become a better communicator. The Latin root of communication means to share; if you want to share an idea, you best appreciate how the listener is interpreting your speaking. A self-accountable leader must go beyond what they speak and be curious about the listener. The refrain’s “You are not listening to me!”, or “you misinterpreted” pushes responsibility onto the listener; but the listener can only process and interpret what they process and interpret. A leader accepts all communication is occurring in the other person and welcomes accountability for that.
Listeners always are passing communication through filters that are uniquely attached to the individual listener. The executive who says that they don’t need to really get to know their employees also are denying the benefits that information could provide in how to adapt their communication. Other times, what we think we know about someone can get in the way of communication. If I presume that accountants have no idea about customers, that housekeepers don’t know anything about management, or that a nurse has no idea about how to improve efficiency, then my speaking and listening all pass through that filter – and so does theirs if they perceive that about me.
Honing speaking skills is valuable, yet to be a more effective communicator, skills in listening, observation and curiosity are paramount. If you seek to become a better servant-leader, then you hold the bulk of responsibility of communication and accountability. Speaking, and simultaneously being a keen observer and listener, requires mastery in perception, emotional intelligence, presence, and others. For example, if the speaker transmits an idea without an inviting environment and fails at keen observation, communication is diminished, or even fails. Humble leaders appreciate that the listener is the key to communication.
The photo of the elder with the child shows the man being at the youngster’s level, recognizing their need. Start at being curious of the listener’s wishes and come-from before you speak. Remember, all perception is going on inside of them. That’s servant communication.