Overcome Preconceived Notions

As a writer and speaker I have often referred to the American Management Association report that ninety percent of all problems in an organization is a direct result of poor communication.  Marriage and family counselors also point to poor communication as a common cause of interpersonal conflicts.  There are numerous reasons for ineffective communication and I have covered some of these reasons in previous columns.  Today, however, I want to focus on how preconceived notions determine to a large degree the way people accept information – or refuse to accept information.
Of course, the easiest people with whom to communicate are people who are receptive to you and enter the communication process expecting the best.  The hardest people with whom to communicate are those who are suspicious of you and enter the process thinking that you want to harm them, belittle them, or treat them negatively in some way.  When you face a situation like this, “you’ve got a hard row to hoe.”
So how can you overcome an atmosphere of negativity?  Even though you may have had nothing to do with creating the bad situation, you can begin to eliminate it by remembering the “WIIFM” principle.  People either overtly or covertly ask the question, “What’s in it for me?”  This is not necessarily a selfish question.  It is just a question humans naturally ask when they invest time, energy, ego, or money into something.  It is a question familiar to salespeople and others in the business of motivating individuals and groups to take certain actions.
Parents want to communicate with children.  Teachers want to communicate with students, coaches with athletes, and employers with employees.  The answer regarding how to communicate with and motivate any of these groups begins with clarifying in your own mind and then helping the individuals clarify what they stand to gain from taking part in the action you want them to take.  For years, I have emphasized that one person cannot truly motivate another person.  What we can do, however, is create atmospheres or environments that are conducive to self-motivation.  We can drive others; we can entice others; but all true motivation must come from within the individuals.  People do things for their reasons, not for our reasons.  This is what we need to keep in mind when working to create an atmosphere for effective communication.  
My book titled “Are We Communicating Yet?” is subtitled “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear that counts.”  People fail to keep in mind that effective communication does not occur merely because a message has been presented.  More important than what is said is how others perceive and respond to what is said.  The greatest obstacle to good communication is the assumption that communication has taken place when it hasn’t.
I think we all have faced the challenge of speaking to individuals and groups who, for one reason or another, were not ready to accept us positively.  When this occurs we have to work overtime.  We have to honestly sell them on the idea that we want to communicate positively and help them.  Effective communication, like effective motivation, depends on having an understanding of people and their wants and needs.  The ability to identify what turns on individuals, as well as the group of which they are a part, is the key to being a successful motivator and a successful communicator.
English statesman William Temple said, “The first ingredient in conversation (and communication) is truth; the next, good sense; the third, good humor; and the fourth, wit.”  Writer Jonathan Swift added, “One of the best rules of conversation (and communication) is never to say a thing which anyone can reasonably wish had been left unsaid.”   
Realizing the importance of good communication, Mountain National Bank of Sevier County (TN) is sponsoring me to speak on the topic at a special “Lunch and Learn” meeting from 11:30-1:30 on Thursday, May 5.  There is no charge for the event and you can make reservations by phoning Susan Smelcer at 865-428-7990 before May 2.
Carl Mays, author of 13 books and speaker at over 3,000 events, can be contacted at carlmays@carlmays.com or 865-436-7478. His books, including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, Are We Communicating Yet? and Winning Thoughts, are available in stores, on www.carlmays.com and www.amazon.com. 


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