I have found through the years that these principles are very relevant to people in any role they are in professionally. You will see that they are relevant to leaders, team members, project managers, consultants, customer service type professionals and sales professionals. They are also relevant to anyone looking to improve their overall communication skills and relationship-building skills in their personal lives as well.
Let's take a closer look at each of the three categories and the principles that are identified in each:
The blockers are those communications that tend to shut down meaningful interactions with people, cause conflicts and create barriers. For the most part, we are unaware of their subtleties because they are very common in people's language.
Once you are aware of them, you will find how they run rampant in everyday discourse, and how they create a negative reaction in you when they happen.
There are four principles that "block" communication, which are defined here as the four guiding principles to avoid:
The Principle of Projection is when people project their meaning onto another person’s words, actions, and body language.
You have no doubt come across a situation in a conversation where even the simplest phrase or words can mean something different to each person. This is because people interpret their own meaning to words they hear, to a tone of voice, or even to someone's look. And if they react to it through the assumption of their own meaning, it is very probable that it will create a block.
This is where the saying "don't assume" comes from. Because assumptions are most times the culprits of communication breakdowns.
This becomes more complicated if both parties are projecting and reacting to each other's communications.
The goal with the Principle of Projection is to always avoid projecting any of your own interpretations onto others. Instead, train yourself to be open without any predispositions, be inquisitive and allow the other person to engage so you can better understand them.
The Principle of Opposition is similar to Newton’s 3rd Law of Physics which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In communication this means that anytime we push, we can expect to get push-back.
Many people don’t realize that they push in their communication because pushing happens in many different ways and is not always obvious to the person opposing or doing the pushing. Some examples of opposition in an interaction include such things as:
Opposition invites opposition. When you oppose someone, you have a fight or flight reaction. The other person will either oppose back or shut down. If the person opposes back, it can cause you to then push your opinion again, which in turn causes the communication to disconnect one exchange at a time. If someone retreats from the conversation, they are no longer engaged. Either way, the communication slowly breaks down trust and takes away the willingness to "be one mind".
When one becomes aware of how this can easily happen, they can stop the opposition from their end by asking questions to help the person elaborate about their objection and their opposing behavior. The goal in effective communication is to engage rather than impose one's opinion. It does not mean that one cannot disagree or have an opinion, rather, it means that one can suspend judgment and invite interaction even when they do not agree. To do so requires interacting in the form of pulling vs. one of a pushing nature.
It is not always easy to work with people who consistently oppose, however, if one is at least aware of it, they can be in control from refraining to play in that tug-of-war. And when both are aware, it builds a more respected trusting relationship.
Acting as if one is an authority on a subject is a disease we call "expertitis." Expertitis is when a person talks with an authoritative opinion as if their opinion is the only right point of view. It is a behavior that comes from the ego where people talk from a superior to an inferior position without necessarily realizing it. People who want to express their opinion, knowledge, expertise or are in a certain role or position, can easily cross the line from expertise to expertitis.
There is a distinct difference between expertise and expertitis. Expertise is a skill or knowledge in a particular field that someone has developed a lot of experience in; whereas "expertitis" is flaunting one's opinion, skill, knowledge or position to talk from a superior perspective.
Expertise is respected, while expertitis has the effect of shutting down communication and becoming a real blocker. People with expertitis talk down to others, use superior hierarchical language, tell people what they "should" or "shouldn’t" do or think. Many times people with expertitis do not even know they have it. It becomes part of their style. Some think it is their role or it is how they can get others to follow or listen.
Expertitis usually rears its head significantly under stress, and under distress. Many people in a leadership role get it. Others who feel they need to prove themselves and don't know how to communicate their value can also easily get it. This disease doesn't only exist at work, it can very well exist at home between parents and kids, or in social settings as well.
The goal is to recognize, that expertitis breaks down communication and triggers the other blockers. Instead there is an effective way to use one's expertise in a humble way through communication that opens people up to listen, while building trust and respect.
The Principle of Control wraps up all the communication blockers and brings awareness to how one's communication behavior can come across controlling. The feeling of being controlled can trigger internal dynamics and can create a major communication block. In any situation, if someone feels the other person is trying to control them, or trying to control how they think or say, they’re likely to oppose, push and try to control back.
Trying to control another person can sometimes be done inadvertently. Many people do not even realize or mean to control. Yet there are others who have a psychological need to control because of some deep-seated, complex ego issues. Either way, control is not only what the communicator does, but what the recipient feels. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the Principle of Control from two perspectives: how ones communication can come across controlling and what the recipient can do to free themselves of any feeling of control.
Controlling an interaction could mean such things as:
Some of these are felt in more subtle ways, others can create a feeling of out-right discomfort, disrespect, harassment or even bullying.
In our human nature, we do not like to feel controlled by others, yet most people like the feeling of being in control. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the difference and to understand the dynamics of controlling behaviors. Ironically, being in control means having the ability to let go of controlling any outcome.
However to do so takes someone who is more developed in emotional intelligence and is more self-aware and knowledgeable about their own human behavior and what matters to others.
To avoid control and the traditional authoritative, aggressive approach to old style leadership, use a more evolved and effective leadership style that is influential, thoughtful, inquisitive and accepting. As a result you will find yourself building much stronger relationships and engaging in meaningful conversation, while leading people easily to a comfortable decision and commitment when necessary.
When people feel like they have control at all times and are comfortable with the engagement, the communication flows smoothly and stronger relationships are built. If they feel like they are being controlled, the communication is blocked and relationships are sometimes severely impacted.
Contrary to the blockers, the enhancers and the sustainers are the communication principles that build relationships and enable us to better understand and connect with people at a deeper level.
When the enhancers are used, they neutralize the blockers and provide double the value for creating highly productive interactions.
We know that the larger mass of an iceberg — in fact, most of it — lies below the water line. Similarly the same goes with communication. Typically when people communicate, what they initially say is the "tip", while the vast majority of the message lies deeper beneath the surface.
Therefore, with that being the case, if we want to truly engage with people in deeper, more meaningful conversations, we need to exercise the Iceberg Principle through an inquisitive, open mindset. We do that through questions that enhance sharing and that make it easy for people to want to engage more. The types of questions that are asked are also critical and the non-verbal cues and tone are equally important to truly engage someone effectively. The Iceberg Principle helps ensure we do not make assumptions and "project" our own meaning onto something someone says and. as a result, neutralizes the first blocker. It is also critical that with the Iceberg Principle when asking questions, we need to ensure we avoid opposing, judging or controlling what is said, so the rest of the blockers do not neutralize the enhancers.
The Principle of Interactive Listening is the 2nd of four enhancers. It is related to the concept of active listening, but goes deeper and further.
Active listening, also known as reflective listening, is feeding back to the sender what you as the receiver think you heard. Whereas, Interactive listening is ensuring that active listening is happening interactively at both ends of a conversation.
Since effective communication involves a two-way interaction, we therefore want to make sure that we are actively listening at that deeper level as we are asking questions, yet also making sure that when we are talking, sharing, or asking questions, that the recipient of our communication is actively listening to us, and truly engaged so we can have a meaningful two-way conversation.
We do that by checking in, not rambling, ensuring we are reading non-verbal cues and gauging if they are interested in what we are saying.
This also sends the message that, in effect, we are truly listening and paying attention to them - both in terms to what they're saying and also keeping them engaged and actively listening to what we're saying.
The Principle of Acceptance is essentially accepting whatever people say or think without judgment. This certainly isn't always easy to do because most people's instinctive reaction is to oppose if they hear something they don't like, or judge a person for their actions or behaviors.
However, there is difference between judging and not liking. You do not have to like or agree with what people say or do, but you certainly can accept that this is their viewpoint or their character. This is sometimes a difficult idea to grasp. The Principle of Acceptance is to recognize that one may disagree with what a person thinks or dislike a person's behavior, but still accept their thoughts on a potentially opposing point of view and not judge their behavior.
When you apply the Principle of Acceptance, you can seek to further understand and use the other enhancers to further enhance your communication.
Just as a chameleon changes colors to fit the environment, so can people change to adjust to the style of the person with whom you are interacting. Many people make the mistake of interacting with everyone as if everyone thinks or processes information the same way they do,. That's another source of miscommunication that many people end up falling into.
Much research has been done to understand human behavior and how each personality style interacts with and differs from the other. Although there are a number of different ways to categorize personality styles, they all come down to four basic styles based on theories developed by psychologist. No one type is “better” than the other—they’re just different. We have to be aware that each style thinks and communicates differently and tend to have a positive and negative side to them depending on how well they manage their behavior and emotions under pressure.
At a high level, there are some personalities that are drivers, like to take risks, love change, and are very success driven. While others are more sociable, like to chit-chat and are more impulsive. Additionally, there are those that are reserved, slow to change, and low-risk takers, and others that need a lot of information, like a lot of structure and rules. Although it is important to understand these styles, it is more important not to label people. Styles are not permanent. People change styles depending on their role, the environment in which they interact, whether they are in a leisure situation or under stress, and most of all how mature they are on the emotional intelligence scale.
The more self aware one is about their behavior, and the different styles and behavior of others, the more one can learn to adapt and effectively communicate accordingly.
The Sustainers are those principles that maintain the communication in the periods of time between having direct contact. They function to ensure that responsibilities, expectations and agreements are clear and shared so as to maintain an on-going, productive relationship. The sustainers are comprised of two principles, the SMART Principle and the Principle of Collaboration.
SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Agreed to, Realistic, and Time-bound. In effect it means reaching clear agreements on next steps after the interaction. Usually if you can answer the question WHO does WHAT by WHEN, your agreement is a SMART one. Conflicts and miscommunication are very likely to happen if your agreements aren’t SMART. Agreeing on SMART next steps will make everyone feel good about knowing what to expect and will keep everyone aligned in the same direction.
If you look at the Latin roots of this word, we see co-labor-ation = the state of co-laboring; that is, working together to achieve a common goal. It is the concept of win-win, working with one another rather than for another. The principle of collaboration is also about using a language of equality and refraining from talking from a superior to subordinate position, or from a subordinate to a superior position. You will recall that talking from a superior position links back to the principle of expertitis, while speaking from an inferior position is equally as ineffective.
Rania Kort is an Independent Management Consultant and Business Advisor with more than 20 years’ experience helping Fortune 100 companies successfully implement strategic initiatives. Rania has managed large-scale programs and programs, established and run PMO's and implemented process improvement in many different industries. She ran and grew an IT Management Practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers for more than seven years managing over 300 consultants. Currently, she serves as an independent consultant focusing on achieving results through collaboration and a team leadership approach that ensures alignment, accountability and trust to develop high-performance teams.