Conscious Communication: bringing communication
up from "auto-pilot" and reactive, to thoughtful, responsive, and above
in the background while you file, exercise, ride to work, etc.
Quick Communication Tip
You asked for it! People have been asking more and more when I'm
returning to the speaking circuit. As many of you know, I've been
somewhat absent from this for a while, while being heavily involved in
research and development on new work. The time has come, and I'll
be introducing a number of seminars and workshops over the next few
weeks, in several different venues around the Bay Area, so stay tuned
Simplification for Non-Dummies
To Just Reduce May Prove Obtuse
As our lives get increasingly busier and more complicated,
simplification has become more important. We feel the anxiety of time
pressures and accomplishment pressures, and constantly look for ways to
reduce our workloads. Ironically, there’s an element of this drive to
simplify that actually makes things worse. The problem is called
diminishing returns, and we find ourselves chasing those more and more.
Simplification itself isn’t a problem, but how we strive for this
simplification, and how we achieve it can derail our true goals. First
of all, we rarely have a specific plan with guidelines and criteria for
what, how, and where we’re going to simplify. It’s usually in reaction
to a sense of overload, so we simplify in a reactive way. When we do
things in reaction, we’re not thinking them through, and our decisions
are usually not very good. We’re trying to stop something we think/feel
has gone too far. We just act, and either put ourselves in deeper water,
or put ourselves in a position we’ll have to dig ourselves out of later.
I’m not arguing against all simplification; indeed there are effective
ways to approach it. Unfortunately, the most common method, is one of
the least effective in the long run. It’s called reductionism.
Reductionism tries to simplify by removing what’s perceived as
inessential. The problem is that perception can be quite inaccurate, and
garbage-in gives you garbage-out. Furthermore, it’s rare to go back and
look for what was removed, to add it back in to the equation, and then
start over. That flies in the face of speeding things up; the goal of
simplifying in the first place.
To simplify a recipe, we can’t just leave out a bunch of ingredients,
but we may be able to simplify the processes by combining steps. We’re
reducing the workload, but not the core ingredients. In conveying ideas,
simplification often uses this reductionist style, and we lose key
points that may have been extremely relevant. Thus we end up with less
than accurate information and not so great results.
When Descartes applied reductionism to scientific thought in 1637, he
was coming from a very mechanistic viewpoint. To describe a tree by its
internal mechanisms (dissecting the leaves and bark) misses out on the
tree’s relationship to its ecosystem, (context) and certainly its
aesthetic majesty. Reductionism loses that same level of juice in our
communication and relationships.
Baby Birds and
Another common method of reducing our workload is pre-digestion. By
having someone else go through the information first, digest it, and
then pass on what they think or feel is important, you get less to go
through, but it will get changed in flavor, color, and content. This
works great for feeding baby birds, but isolated Richard Nixon from what
was going on around him, as it endangers anyone in a decision-making
role. It goes back to the garbage in, garbage out rule. In an
environment where people feel they can only give you “good news,” or
tell you what you want to hear, you’re in big trouble.
Pre-digestion can work, as long as we’re sure that whoever receives the
information first is giving accurate and unbiased accounts. For example,
we’re left trusting the media on a regular basis to tell us what’s going
on, and you see how inaccurate, incomplete, and oversimplified those
stories are. (Elections aren’t merely competitions, where the only story
is who’s winning.) We might want more background information to make an
intelligent decision. Incomplete, inaccurate, or biased information is a
pitfall of using predigested information for simplification.
The objective of distillation is to separate the substance (relevant
information) from the solvent it’s floating in (the sea of information).
Once again, we’re at the mercy of what’s perceived as substance.
However, this is where we can implement a plan for how we’re going to
simplify without losing important aspects of our interactions and
In a very general way, everything in the Universe is connected and
relevant. That won’t help us simplify. We need to establish what area
we’re concentrating on, and how wide a net we’re willing to cast for
this particular situation. How deep can we afford to go? Where are we
going to simplify and where are we going to expand? When we address a
situation with a simplification plan in effect, we get Optimized Results
A simplified system using reductionism classified a client of mine as a
“driver,” at his office. The label didn’t say anything other than how
people perceived his behavior, and it put him in a box for people to
avoid. We chose instead to look at why he felt the need to “drive,”
which is an example of distilling down to fundamentals.
Someone’s behavior at work is only relevant when it’s hurting their
performance or the team, and giving it a label didn’t help anything. We
need to ask some questions. What makes them act this way? Can they see
getting the job done another way? Would they like to try? When we
distill down to the fundamentals of how person A can best do job B, we
simplify without reducing the problem to non-useful labels.
Furthermore, when we looked at why he was behaving as a “driver,” we
uncovered more relevant issues of trust and anxiety, that once addressed
and solved, transformed his behavior entirely and permanently.
Wouldn’t shifting an ongoing or chronic series of problems with a single
solution be a positive and powerful way to simplify? This is where
Re-Engineering really helps coaching. You won’t waste time clipping
dandelions when we can take out a single root. Simplification only works
when it maintains substance.
Quick Communication Tip
Meta-Model the Situation
Meta-Modeling is described in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and
used by successful negotiators as long as we’ve been bargaining over sea
shells. To simplify how to implement it without reduction, let’s start
with a simple premise. Meta-Modeling shifts your perspective like going
up in a balloon, getting a more complete picture. In communication, it’s
very much like factoring; finding common denominators in people.
When we’re very young, we’re very centered on “I, Me, and Mine,” and
issues revolve around that worldview. As our consciousness evolves, we
start to take on the worldview of “We and Us.” As you move further up in
the hierarchy of criteria, it becomes more about us and less about me as
This is the high road in negotiation (and what isn’t negotiation?) What
is best for us will always be more reasonable than what is best for me.
Shift your perspective up to where you see a larger, more inclusive
picture, and present that. When you’re both on the same side of the net,
there’s no adversarial communication.
Want to learn more about how your communication can hold you back or
catapult you forward? Come visit the
or better yet,
contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.
- the podcast series
KG Stiles: "Conversations that Enlighten and Heal"
Ian Blei on Kind Ambition and the
Personal Life Media -
"Coaching the Life Coach:"
Communication Excellence (full interview)
for Evolutionary Radio w/ J. McClain
2nd Edition now available
visit the Blog.
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