Friday, July 23, 2010

“Commo” Check - Part I

In the military, before every mission, big or small we conduct a communications (commo) check. We check radios, phones, frequencies, channels, code words, challenge and passwords, etc…etc…etc…

When I was the Commander of a truck company in Iraq I was a stickler on the “commo” checks. Every day, every mission, every single time trucks moved--no matter what, I made sure that Soldiers and Lieutenants checked and rechecked the radios in the trucks, hand held GPS, truck mounted GPS, convoy communication signals and more. It didn’t matter if the checks were done on the last mission or a hundred times before—new mission, new checks. “Commo” checks must be done continuously, systematically and flawlessly—no matter what. The one time they are not done correctly or corners are cut: Systems will fail, guaranteed.

Everyone being clear on the mission, their individual role, their role on the team, and all backup plans is imperative for mission success. Misunderstandings, unclear expectations, and any breakdown in communication can and often does come with deadly consequences.

So, why don’t we look at communication the same way in the real world? In our everyday lives? It’s not deadly; but think about it, isn’t our peace of mind, relationships, and personal well being just as important in this “Mission” we call “Life”? We often take the communication in our relationships for granted and when we do, the relationship suffers. Guaranteed! We have to work on it every single dayboth at work and at home. I know, “YUK!” Sometimes it’s just so much easier to ignore it and just pretend it’s fine or just stop talking to people we don’t communicate well with. Sometimes that’s ok (and necessary), but let’s face it, we can’t ignore our spouse, parents, siblings, and/or coworkers forever now can we? NO, so let’s get busy with our “commo” checks!

Are you a model communicator?

Have you ever been so clear in your mind about what you want to say only to say it and have it be completely misunderstood or received completely opposite of what you intended? No doubt the biggest barrier to relationship harmony is ineffective communication. Think about it. Think of a person or situation that causes stress. I guarantee, communication, or the lack there of, is the culprit in one way or another. Either we don’t get our message across effectively, or we don’t send a message at all. First, let’s be clear on what communication really is, since often times we miss some important elements of the process.

Webster’s Dictionary defines communication as "sending, giving, or exchanging information and ideas," which is often expressed verbally and nonverbally. The communication process is a six-step cycle, and unfortunately, the communication can break down or become confused at any step.

Sometimes the message isn't even clear in our own brain, and yet we still expect others to know what we mean!

Then the encoding, sending, and decoding phases all provide opportunities for errors and misunderstandings to crop into the process.

In the fifth step: The receiver filters the message and decides what it means based on their own values, beliefs, filters, and memories.
If any of these steps fail, the result is confusion, conflict, and frustration.

During this process we throw in the non-verbal communication such as facial gestures (smiling, frowning), body language (arms crossed, giving someone the "finger", legs shaking resembling nervousness, sitting upright giving someone their full attention), and the impression you give to others with your appearance (dress, body image, body odor).
The tone of your voice can also be expressed non-verbally. For instance, if you are saying one thing, but your tone of voice is saying another, then that reflects how you are truly feeling without speaking a word about it (yelling and crying while saying you’re okay).
Quick Tips to Improve Communication

Reflecting on this process, because we are only in control of ourselves and not others and how they react, let’s look at small steps we can take to start communicating more effectively:

1) Take Ownership of Your Speech: Use “I” and “me” and “mine” in statements as often as you can. This marks your words as your own and helps you to avoid defensive reactions from the receiver of your message that often result when “you” qualifiers are used.

2) Be Clear: Always strive for clarity in interpersonal communication. Do not rely on hope that the other person will understand “the gist” of what you are (or were) trying to say. Be clear and be direct.

3) Don’t Jump to Conclusions: This is a big one. To really jumpstart improvement in interpersonal communication, avoid jumping to premature conclusions about your counterpart or what they are trying to say. (Husbands and wives immediately come to mind.)

4) Avoid Assumptions: Our assumptions are often times just plain wrong and they can hinder effective communication. As Alan Alda once said, “Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your own assumptions are your window on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”

5) Respond, Don’t React: This is probably the most crucial and difficult skill to learn in improving interpersonal communication abilities. Respond thoughtfully and carefully to others. Do not “react” because reaction is most often an unthinking and disrespectful activity. We’ve all been there, but the good thing for us is we can change how we respond in every situation with thought and practice.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Slow down. Go into any conversation/situation with clear intentions about what you want to happen and how you want it to happen. Visualize your perfect scenario and be clear about how you will react when it does not go according to plan. BE PREPARED so you can respond, not react.

Words can hurt or they can heal. So, it's very important to become aware of what words you choose to use when communicating to others as well as to yourself. With that said, let’s do a “Commo” check in our own lives and our own relationships then in a couple of weeks in Part II we can get into more detailed strategies.

Until next time…

Michelle Jones,