Excellent communication. It’s what we’re all after, when the first
rule of communication is to assume you’ve been misunderstood.
We generally work very hard to express what we have in mind, and in
giving instructions to go over each one step-by-step. We also try and
listen carefully, and to repeat back what we think we’ve heard to be
And if we’re selling, we try an anticipate objections. But there’s one
part that’s very helpful we often leave out.
I learned it from my Dad, a great communicator, when I was a
I didn’t like to listen too closely, and often knew less than I thought
I did. Like most teenagers. He was a gifted teacher, a patient and
careful communicator, and convincing judges no doubt prepared him to convince
Now this will mean nothing to you if you haven’t driven from a
northernsuburb into Chicago on Lake Shore Drive, but I hope you can think of
something similar in your own experience.
As you make the drive, there are several turns and then one big swing
toward the Lake. If you live there and are at all ‘directional’, you
always know the Lake is on your left when you’re going south and going
into Chicago is south.
Coming home, you keep the Lake on your right.
Thesuburbs were laid out on a grid, long before planned communities, and
one area where you can turn right, right, and right again and get back
where you started from. (When I moved to rural North Carolina and tried
this, I ended up in another county!)
Now, on this particular occasion I was going to the ballpark for the
first time, and my Dad was telling me how to get there. He carefully
my the instructions, drawing me a map on a piece of paper, and said,
when you get to XXX, instead of turning left as you always do, you’re
going to go straight ahead.”
I said I got it and was ready to head out the door. Just before I
he said, “Just remember: Resist all urges to turn left.” I said “okay”
and headed out.
When I got to the turn, I saw what he meant. Straight ahead looked
like a dead end. If I was sure of anything, it was that I should go
and follow the hundreds of cars swinging left. Only my father’s “resist
all urges” kept me going straight ahead, and on to the ballpark.
And the fact he phrased it that way piqued my curiosity. “What’s
that?” I thought. So I remembered.
I also felt very close to him as the turn appeared. This is the sort
of engagement you like to have with someone you’re learning from or
working with. I thought he was really something to have anticipated how
would be feeling.
TAKE HOME POINT: We are more likely to get someone’s attention, to convince them, and to motivate them by engaging their emotions.
Saying “Do not turn left” puts the negative in your mind, raises
resistance, and may be forgotten. Saying “turn right” may also be
forgotten when needed, especially since he’d grown up there, driving
that drive a thousand times, and obviously had done it himself. He had NOT
resisted the urge to turn left, and knew all about it.
This is a small example with small consequences.
However, I’ve thought of this communication many times as I’ve given
people instructions in how to do things and tried to get inside their
head to figure out how best to convey the information. It’s come in very
handy. If the person doesn’t get an “ah hah” at the moment, they tell
you about it when they get back, and they are grateful, as I was.
Respond, not react!
Here are some examples that direct you to manage feelings, think it
through, and respond, not react:
- When someone says in a negotiation, “Your fees are way out of
resist all urges to get defensive.
- When you’re telling a teenager
something they need to do, resist all urges to get drawn into arguments
- When you’re “hijacked” (flooded with anger) resist all
urges to say the first thing that comes into your mind. Stop and count
ten or take a timeout and come back to it.
- When you’re giving an
and it starts to unravel at the end, resist all urges to give up.
Whenever you’re trying to solve a problem, resist all urges to think
and white. Most of the time there is more than one possible solution.
- If you see the devil with a blue dress on … j.k.
These suggestions point the listener toward things likely to occur,
in some cases almost certain to occur, and alerts them to feelings they
should note but hold at bay in order to allow for correct action, sound
judgment and wise decisions.
To put the icing on the cake, you can go on to the “And if” portion
of instructions. In the first example, if I missed the turn, nothing
happened except I’d get lost.
Another day I was heading into what’s called The Loop, the major
business district of Chicago, where he worked. Chicago has great public
transportation and most people take the elevated train into the City
(the “el”). I would catch the el just two blocks from our house and take it
to the Loop.
“Then,” my father said, “leave the station and turn right. If you
turn left you will be in Skid Row and you don’t want to be there.”
“What’s that?” I asked, instantly curious.
He was not referring to the band. What he was referring to was
largely removed in Chicago with urban renewal, but the USC site defines Los
Angeles’ Skid Row as “an extensive cluster of missions, shelters,
drop-ins and Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels, the largest service-dependent
ghetto in the nation.”
My father described it somewhat differently, and did not fail to make
an impression on me.
I turned right.
This is akin to those helpful people who tell you in giving driving
directions, “And if you get to a Jack-in-the-Box, you’ve gone too far.”
It’s always good communication to anticipate some of these
Susan Dunn is a professional coach who specializes in emotional
intelligence for individuals and businesses, with applications to all
areas of your life. Read a brief biography or visit: http://www.susandunn.cc
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