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3 simple keys to effective communication

Last updated on: June 2, 2012 16:47 IST

3 simple keys to effective communication

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Amit Bansal

While it is easy to lose your cool in extreme situations, letting go of your ego-states and understanding the 'self' will help you improve the way you communicate at work.

A little boy got angry with his mother and shouted at her, "I hate you, I hate you."

Because of fear of reprimand, he ran out of the house.

He went up to the valley and shouted, "I hate you, I hate you," and back came the echo, "I hate you, I hate you."

This was the first time in his life he had heard an echo. He got scared, returned to his mother for protection and said there was a bad boy in the valley who had shouted at him.

The mother understood and she asked her son to go back and shout, "I love you, I love you."

The little boy went and shouted, "I love you, I love you," and back came the echo. That taught the little boy a lesson that life is like an echo: We get back what we give.

-- from You Can Win by Shiv Khera

The same applies to communication as well. It is a state of mind articulated into words and has a boomerang effect almost in all situations.

As progressive species, we have achieved highest levels of intellectual and technological advancements; however, interpersonal communication is one puzzle which we continue to decipher on a day-to-day basis.

The author is a career counsellor and trainer who heads PurpleLeap, an organisation that works with colleges to make students employment-ready

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Illustration: Uttam Ghosh




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1. Dealing with extreme situations

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In a lot of situations, we fail to communicate effectively and statistics prove this. It is evident in breaking family structures, political turmoil and a general intolerance and animosity at all levels of human interaction.

In the same way, business conflicts are really people problems where the trouble boils down to a breakdown in interpersonal communication. Psychological research is being conducted to understand the hidden circuits in our brains, which make this most practiced skill a seemingly impossible art to master.

Some age-old ingredients which are offered up as recipes for good communication are: speak less listen more; understand the other person's perspective; use appropriate words; be assertive and so on and so forth.

Reflecting on the anecdote which I used in the beginning, the child's reaction of 'I hate you' was a result of a communication breakdown with his mother.

The extreme reaction was in response to some expectation that was not fulfilled. A similar situation can be transposed to a workplace scenario, where the reaction to an unfulfilled expectation -- a raise, promotion, last-minute changes, alterations to a project or last minute travel plans -- can trigger such 'I hate you' reactions.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh




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2. Managing your ego-states

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The result of such impulsive 'I hate you' responses can be exactly what the boy received in the form of an echo.

We get an 'I hate you' thrown right back at us in one way or the other. Understanding this analogy through Eric Berne's transactional analysis model makes sense, because what happened in the little child's story was a communication transaction.

Berne made complex interpersonal transactions understandable when he recognised that people can interact from one of three 'ego-states' -- Parent, Adult or Child -- and that these interactions can occur at overt and covert levels.

Each one of the ego states in is effect a 'mind module', a system of communication with its own language and function; the Parent's is a language of values, the Adult's is a language of logic and rationality and the child's is a language of emotions.

Effective functioning in the world depends upon the availability to of all three, intact ego states.

When we learn to switch between ego states to complete communication transactions, there are possibilities of reaching effectiveness in communication. Like in this story, the mother's reaction was not similar to the child's.

It came from a more mature 'Parent' ego state which helped her complete the communication loop and arrive at a desirable state of effectiveness.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh




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3. Understanding the self

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Understanding the 'self', however, is the key to success in communicating with and understanding other people.

Therefore, if I have a clear understanding of my own ego state I will know what triggers my transactions in a particular ego state.

And when I have clarity of my own reactions and whether they are mature, logical or emotional I can communicate better with people and ensure that if a respondent's reaction is emotional, I will not clash it with my emotional response, similar to the echo of 'I hate you'. Rather, I will switch my ego state to respond maybe from a more mature level or logical level.

Getting to the root cause of miscommunication will really help transform our interactions in the workplace.

Constant understanding of our own communication pattern will help us understand why we react the way we do and help us alter our communication style. Though the model looks complex, its application is surprisingly simple.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh




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