Recently, I wrote an article about communication for Discuss HR. In it, I identified a number of aspects of communication. In this article, I identify some of the beliefs that underpin – and facilitate or impede – effective communication.
In his book, The Human Side of Enterprise, McGregor identifies two distinct theories held by leaders (“Theory X” and “Theory Y”) which in turn are manifest in two different styles of communication. McGregor’s classic theory highlights how the communication styles of leaders rest on the different beliefs and assumptions that underpin the two different approaches to communication. By paying attention to our beliefs we can check out whether or not they support our chosen approach to communication.
One discipline which has done this very successfully is neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Borrowing from Alfred Korzybski’s book Manhood of Humanity: The Science and Art of Human Engineering, for example, practitioners of NLP are taught that “the map is not the territory”. Holding this belief reminds us to differentiate between the facts and our view of the facts and opens up many possibilities. It is easier, for example, to maintain a sense of connection with someone whose views differ from our own when we are clear in our own minds that the map is not the territory. This is true even when our partner in conversation appears to be confusing his or her own map with the territory itself.
NLP also offers the belief that “every behaviour has a positive intention”. Holding this belief invites us to look behind some of the behaviours we find most difficult in others in order to identify and respond to the positive intentions that underpin them. This belief is also shared with nonviolent communication (NVC) which suggests that every behaviour is designed to meet a need, even whilst recognising that some behaviours are poorly designed to meet that need. When we combine this belief with a core value of compassion we are equipped both to be present to a behaviour (in ourself, in others) which we do not enjoy and to be curious – what is the need or intention that underpins this behaviour? If we can see past an ineffective or unpleasant behavioural strategy to the need it is designed to meet, we open up opportunities to identify alternative and more effective strategies.
These are just two examples of beliefs designed to open up possibilities to meet our needs more effectively whilst also supporting others in finding ways to meet their own needs. It is worth saying that our beliefs are, often, unexamined, sitting outside our conscious awareness. For this reason it may not be enough to say “I want to adopt this style of communication” since we may not be aware of unconscious beliefs that inform our behaviour and undermine our chosen communication approach. My mother, for example, still laughs when she recalls a neighbour who – many years ago – used to say to her son “speak proper, or I’ll pie ya!” By my mother’s standards, the form that this message took was incongruent with its intention. And of course, it’s fair to assume that any one of us will, at a particular point in time, hold unconscious beliefs that are incongruent with our chosen approach to communication.
I wonder, what beliefs do you hold that inform the way you communicate with others? Please take time to notice them and – if you’re willing – share them here.
Taken together, the areas I have identified over a number of postings can be translated into ground rules which support communication in line with your chosen paradigm. I’ll be sharing some examples of ground rules in my next posting.