Lesson 1: Pay Attention
Any parent can easily relate how demanding kids are for attention. My daughter will dive into a continuous chant of “daddy,” repeated perfectly every three seconds until my full, undivided attention is offered. Typically I found myself doing my best to ignore the chant, until recently. One evening, after a good three or four minutes of ignoring the chant, I finally asked, “What?” Quietly, and all too late for me, she replied, “I have to go potty.”
Lesson: Communication is about timing. As a support manager I often reminded my staff, “Get the right answer, to the right person, at the right time.” It all goes together; if any piece is missing, the client won’t get the result they need.
Lesson 2: Listen with your Eyes
My wife tells me I am horrible at body language. My ability to be logical, exact, and brutally honest has no need for reform I am told; but when it comes to realizing there is more to communication than just words, I have much to learn.
Having a two-year-old has helped illustrate that need. Given that most her words are still incomprehensible, I am forced to realized what is happening through visual stimulation. Take the other day for example, where my daughter was whining about something or other. Her language becomes even more difficult to understand through whines. It wasn’t until I visually took in the situation and realized “ix my new” meant “fix my shoe” as she was tugging at said shoe repeatedly.
Lesson: Words alone don’t tell the whole story. “More than voice or even words, nonverbal communication cues you in to what is on another person’s mind. The best communicators are sensitive to the power of the emotions and thoughts communicated nonverbally.” (Susan M. HeathField, About.com)
Lesson 3: K.I.S.S.
The old adage, Keep It Simple Stupid has never had more meaning for me, before I had a two-year-old. When I have the opportunity of waking up my daughter, I always take the moment to ask her the plan for the day. This is what I get back from her: “Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, go to grandma’s house, come home, play, read story, go to bed.” The plan rarely deviates from this schedule, and I never get any elaboration. But, if you look at it, not much is needed. She has hit on the most important details with pinpoint accuracy. The chronology is even accurate too.
Lesson: Keep your communications simple. Less is more. Be truthful and accurate. Stick to the facts and important events.
Lesson 4: Be Aware of What is Happening!
I had a professor in college who tested us on every acronym relevant to the IT industry. The tests often comprised of more than 50 or 60 acronyms he would expect us to have memorized. It drove me nuts. It wasn’t until job interviews I realized the wisdom in his thinking. People speak in acronyms because it becomes second nature and we use them to see if you know what you’re talking about. In an IT interview, the guy with the most acronyms the other guy doesn’t know wins.
You’ve got to be ready. It reminds me of an old computer game from Lucas Arts called Monkey Island wherein you had to sword fight with local sailors. The only way to win the sword fight was to outwit (or rather out-insult)the other guy. The only way to gain insults was to go around the local area and learn them. You lost a lot of fights until you learned them all. The same goes for communication. Knowing what is going on around you is crucial to prepare for timely communication.
Recently, on a snowy day, my daughter called me at work and said, “It’s no way and no man home.” Now, being aware of the situation, and recalling that I recently promised my daughter we would build a snow man, I quickly caught on: “It’s snowing and we can make a snow man when you get home.” Because I knew my surroundings I knew how to interpret what I heard.
Lesson: Keep yourself current. Communication media, methods, and languages age and evolve so quickly. It’s like comparing dog years to human; you can choose not to adapt new media, but you will be aging faster than your birth certificate.
Lesson 5: Don’t Ever Think You Can Outsmart Someone
No matter how smart you believe you are, it is truly a humbling experience when you are out-smarted by a two-year-old. Not more than a month ago, in an attempt to get my daughter to the dinner table I humbly realized the need to ask the right question. My daughter was caught up in the moment of very important play/work.
Her baby needed pushing in the stroller and she was in a very critical stage of being a good mommy to her baby. After numerous futile attempts to get her to join us at the dinner table, I finally asked, “Are you going to come to dinner or not?” As my speedy little girl ran past the table, she exclaimed, without missing a heartbeat, “Or not!” and scurried away to complete her duties. I was speechless and astounded. I had just been outsmarted by my daughter. My question was not intended to give her that option, though I had hoped to convey there being a negative consequence for not coming to dinner.
Lesson: Ask the right questions. The best way to identify intentions, desires, goals, plans, and purpose comes from asking good questions.
“Questions define tasks, express problems, and delineate issues. They drive thinking forward. Answers, on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. A mind with no questions is a mind that is not intellectually active. No questions (asked) equals no understanding (achieved).Deciding what category of question to ask at any point in thinking is a matter of judgment. Having a range of powerful questions to choose from is a matter of knowledge.” (Dr. Linda Elder, Asking Essential Questions)