Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Listening Protocol

This is a fairly simple protocol to follow when listening: smile, sit up, listen, ask questions, nod when spoken to and track with your eyes. For most of us this is something that can be accomplished. Look at the elements and think about some of the things that each might accomplish.

A smile doesn’t seem like much, but it shows recognition of another’s existence and it usually won’t be interpreted as a negative. It may suggest to your mind that understanding this person might be useful making it easier to actually pay attention to what is happening.

Sit Up
This again can be a signal to the other person that you are ready to listen. At the same time it is a signal to yourself that you are about to listen. It also has wide spread implications of body posture. If you are lounging in the sun and you want to demonstrate that you are about to listen, changing your body posture will be a clear signal to all of your refocusing. When an officer enters the presence of soldiers they snap to attention and are thereby ready for any and all orders that might be given.

Ask Questions
OK, so in the military there isn’t a lot of question asking. But, the very fact that they are in the military suggests that the next communication may be extremely important and they might have to act on it immediately. In regular everyday social situations the topics are very likely going to be varied. To be certain that you are “on the same page” as the person doing the communicating, it only makes sense to ask questions about terms and context not currently and clearly understood. Asking questions also reassures the communicator that you are listening, and that you feel understanding is importance.

Nod When Being Spoken To

If you nod you can reassure the communicator that you are indeed listening, seeking to understand and if appropriate, act. A nod is a nonverbal statement being made by you that “we are engaged” in a conversation and with the addition of “ask questions” give the communicator every reason to believe that there can be a meeting of minds or at least further discussion. There is a very wide range of nonverbal communications we can use to participate while listening.

Track With Your Eyes
If, as the listener, you can use nonverbal communication in response to what is being communicated, then it only makes sense that the communicator is “saying” much more than the words your ears can hear. If you aren’t watching the speaker, you miss out on much of what is being said. That’s why so many Moms have insisted that we “look at me when I’m talking to you.” If our eyes are wandering about, then there is an excellent chance that our minds are as well.

If we were to attempt to incorporate this SSLANT protocol into our lives right now and follow it for a couple of weeks we would be astounded at the impact is has on our lives. If you’re already employed there is a very good chance that you wont’ be cut in the next round of layoffs. If there are no layoffs, you may be the one that gets the promotion/raise. That can’t be all bad. In your social/home life you will find that there are fewer “misunderstandings” and maybe even more surprising, more agreements.

Listening is very hard work. Give this a try and see if it improves you life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Listening Better

The KIPP Academy teaches their students a process that would be wise for everyone to follow: SSLANT. The letters stand for: smile, sit up, listen, ask questions, nod when being spoken to and track with your eyes. If you think about it, what this lesson is teaching is the art of listening. If you follow SSLANT as much as possible you will be headed in the direction of skilled listening.

It really makes no difference who originates the communication, since everyone involved in the communication should be following the same six (6) concepts at all times in order to show proper respect and to properly understand the communication. Members of an audience, where possible and reasonable, can follow the rules and in conversations with your children, significant other, boss and/or fellow employees as well.

Paul Luvera writes in an online column, Plaintiff Trial Lawyer Tips: KIPP students “. . . are taught a protocol called SSLANT. It stands for: smile, sit up, listen, ask questions, nod when being spoken to and track with your eyes. I thought of jury selection where SSLANT would be a very good rule for trial lawyers who do a generally bad job by interrupting, not listening and looking like they are angry.”

Outliers: The Story of Success, a book written by Malcolm Gladwell makes reference to many ideas in his book that sets your mind off in new and stimulating directions. Gladwell points out that the students at the KIPP Academy were chosen to attend by randomn. Put another way, this concept will very likely work for any one of us. We all should give it a try.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thoughtfully Say What You Mean

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell defined mitigated speech as “any attempt to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said.” (page 194) It turns out that this is a very important idea. It affects us everyday and it can make a very big difference in our attempts to succeed.

In Outliers, Gladwell talks about commercial air accidents and traces the cause of many of them to mitigated speech. For example, it appears that rank, position and culture may play a serious role flying commercials airliners. It appears that when the Captain of the aircraft is not actually flying the plane but a secondary pilot is, there is a reduced chance of an accident. It is not experience as a pilot, but rather the willingness to speak out about situations which might contribute to a crash. The Captain is comfortable in giving an order, whereas the subordinate is nervous about speaking out. The pilot that is second in command may not want to over step his position and tends to mitigate his speech.

Political correctness may also fall into this category. Instead of saying what the situation appears to be the speaker may “downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said.” In another very important area, interpersonal relationships, the same thing might happen.

Without clarity on the issues at hand, we are going to have a difficult time solving problems which will get in the way of our reaching our goals. Mitigated speech in a marriage, for example, might have a spouse making quiet suggestions in the background of everyday life. The person the suggestions were aimed at might not perceive them as being applicable or important. Later under stressful circumstances the spouse counting on mitigated speech to correct the situation may simply abandon anything approaching sugarcoating and both parties my find themselves in a full blown “war” of words. "You never listen to me. I've been trying to tell you for months. You just don't care."

Damage done to the interpersonal relationship will never be forgotten and it may cause the whole relationship to eventually collapse. Harmful confrontations might be avoided if we were to spend more time learning/practicing saying clearly and in a nonjudgmental way things that need to be said, rather than leaning on mitigated speech to solve the problem.

Things that may contribute to the dangerous use of mitigated speech may include: culture, position, sexual orientation, personal insecurity and a general lack of sustained open communication.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Can They Know?

When you want something you ask for it. If the other person is willing you receive what you asked for. That seems simple enough. But, when we begin to look at what is happening all around us we realize that there is something very wrong with our communications.

On the personal level there seems to be a growing problem: it comes out something like this.

"You knew what I meant. You just didn't want to do it."

Since everything you know is inside your brain, and everything they know is inside their brain, how could you possibly "know" unless they told you? Herein lies the problem: none of us are taking the time to do the things that are necessary to understand each other. Some of these things are:
1) listen
2) check to see if what you heard is what they think they said
3) think about your position
4) choose your words and actions with care
5) deliver those words with as much care as possible to assure proper interpretation.

So much for the idea that clear and concise communication is simple. But, there are things that we can do that will improve our chances. Listen with care. Avoid doing and thinking about other things while the other person is attempting to communicate with you. That may mean that you have to find a place that is quiet with fewer distractions. One example, turn off your cell phone and put it out of sight.

Analyze what you think you have just heard. Consider it. Then put the content into your own words and ask something like this: "Would I be correct in assuming that you. . ." If they confirm that you seem to understand what they said begin to construct your response. That is not a normal human characteristic. Instead we usually think, "I know what you're going to say and I feel. . ." If you are lucky you are sometimes correct about the idea you think you're about to hear. If you are normal, you're wrong.

Once you have a handle on what they think they said and you have formed a response, choose your words and actions with care. Deliver those words with great care and watch for the response from the other person. If the reaction isn't what you expected, examine what they might have done with what you said and make immediate repairs.

I know what you're thinking and I might be right: this whole thing is very time consuming. Correct. Effective communication takes time. The idea that we can do it all in life is just plain wrong. We can only some it effectively. Slow down, listen, consider and then respond.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Communication Skills Elements

When speakers/communicators are being considered there are at least two skills that are of concern: writing and speaking. Although those aren't the only methods to communicate they are two of the most common. Those have to do with our abilities to encode messages into some form for transmission. If we are thinking of audiences in traditional terms then there are two additional skills that involve decoding. We decode by reading and listening. These ideas are clearly discussed by David Berlo in his book, The Process of Communication.

Before successful communication takes place we experience thought or reasoning. This step is necessary for both the writer/speaker and the reader/listener. These elements deserve our thought and attention if we hope to be able to communicate what we intend to and be understood by any audience.

It makes sense then, that we constantly improve our writing and speaking abilities and that we spend considerable time and focus on the reasoning we use and expect the listener to be able to follow. If this were an easy process, then nearly everyone would be successful communicators.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Keep This In Mind

If we mean by the term communication the perfect reproduction of a thought in our mind in another mind, then communication is impossible.

Why? Some simple but important reasons. We are all different, have had different experiences, lived in different places and that makes the elements of messages, such as words and gestures, different from other minds. The differences make it impossible to say anything and have that idea perfectly reflected in another mind.

Communication is tough and deserves our full and continuous attention.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Source Fidelity Challenges

When you are attempting to communicate you are faced with a number of challenges, which you can minimize. According to David Berlo there are at least four (4) considerations.

The following describes factors that are within the source of the communication which can be used to increase the fidelity of the communication and are discussed in The Process of Communicaiton:
"1) communication skills,
2) attitudes,
3) knowldege base and
4) position within a social-cultural system."

Communication skills--the more we know about and have at our disposal various skills the more likely that we will be successful in communicating. That includes a wide range of things such as the correct use of language: vocabulary and structure, control over the channel(s) being used to communicate, and familiarity with the audience.

Most of those skills teachers have tried to help us improve over the years. They have to this point had an impact, but have not necessarily achieved perfection. That is something we will have to work on as long as we are alive. That may come as bad news to any of us who have been looking forward to being finished with our education. The only thing that will finish our education will be death. First professional teachers attempt to teach us then we are expected to take over the task ourselves.

Attitudes--long before we could make any judgments about the usefulness of the concepts we were being taught, out brains were acquiring data which we had no reason to mistrust. Some of it was wrong and some just plain wrong headed. Now when we become aware of the basic body of knowledge and the possibility that it may have some flaws our task becomes the retraining of our brains and that will also take the rest of our lives.

Attitudes affect everything we do or say. They aid us in deciding who to talk to and who not to talk to as well as what should be said and what might be better left unsaid. Attitudes like our first instruction in language is likely to be at variance with our current beliefs and require our attention and alteration to fit what we currently believe. That is not likely to be easy.

Knowledge base--the things we learn, the contexts of our learning and the use to which we have put that learning all work together to build a professional knowledge base. The social and spiritual knowledge base will come through experience as well. Keep in mind that the careful choice of friends and associates will aid you greatly in forming successful and meaningful knowledge bases.

Formal education, classes taught in schools, can be very helpful. But, informal education is also very useful and should be planned out just as carefully over the course of a well planned life.

Position within a social-cultural system--this has an inordinate control over the breadth and types of experiences that will be readily available to you. If you appear to be a "safe" person to include within a particular social-cultural system you will be allowed to participate and learn. If on the other hand, you are not allowed to actively participate you will have to find a way around the barriers you have discovered. For example, women in the business world have found it difficult to be allowed to enter the spaces where critical education takes place which might allow them to rise with the business world.

First thing to notice is that you can increase your control over your communications and that it will most definitely affect your control over your own environment. It is not simply "be nice, and everything will be provided to you."

Friday, April 03, 2009


Aristotle said that there are three (3) ingredients in communication:
1) speaker,
2) speech and
3) listener.

Correct or not, these are useful concepts. First, look at the speaker. The following questions should help us understand what we do and then help us to use them in our attempts at communication.

1) Who are you? We should have a constantly improving idea of who we are and what we can do. That self-concept will never be fully accurate, but like our lives is a work in progress. The answer to that question emerges the widest possible range of influences. The answer includes such things as where, when and how we were born. It also looks at our cumulative lives and everything that happened to us along the way . . . our experiences. This awareness is extremely important to our futures. One of the best possible reasons for choosing our friends carefully and then maintaining those friends, because it is through them that we gain wisdom about who we are.

They won't know who we are unless someone tells them. That impacts anything and everything you say and do. In a speech for example, you must answer the question almost never asked out loud: "Why should I listen to what you have to say?" Find a way to give the folk listening the answer to that question.

2) Who do they think you are? You can add to their knowledge base by telling them directly and indirectly who you are. The kinds of experiences have you had, when and where. How you know what you know and how you learned it. In a small community many of the folk you are talking to will have "a fairly good idea" of who you are because of previous knowledge and experiences with you and folk who know you.

Now, take a look at the audience.

3) Who are they? The more you know about those to whom you are speaking the more likely you can influence what and how they think. Extremely important in this situation is information needed by the listener which they can use to allow themselves to listen and learn without being embarrassed later. After trusting themselves to listen and they have learned things they value from you, they can use the knowledge with others who will recognize the value and importance of what they have learned through listening. In other words, the listener not caught being gullible by folk they talk to because the information they have learned appears to be accurate and useful. In short, the speaker appears to them to be a trustworthy, intelligent person with specific knowledge than can be safely used. Aristotle referred this experience as ethos, or what you appear to others to be.

4) Who do they think they are? Be aware that individuals believe themselves to be bright and capable and have enough self-respect to distinguish useful from non-useful information. They "live in a free country" and have every right to think about what happened last night or what they are going to be doing later. They believe they have a right to use what you say to appear to be brighter and better informed than they really are. They believe that they are important. Treat them with respect.

Now look at the speech. A speech is information couched in terms that are easily understood and recalled by the listener. It represents the best of what you have experienced, know and recently learned about the topic. The topic is often determined by those who have requested that you address them. That is useful. Under these circumstance there is every indication that your ethos, who you appear to be, is already positive. If you speak to them using language that they are familiar with and understand, then they can listen and recall later what you have said. Your task is to make the topic easy to recall, therefore use.

Clearly then, you must know who you are addressing. Demographic data, such as age, sex, socio-economic status, etc. are useful. If you can add information which overlaps a bulk of the audience because of common knowledge and experiences, you will have bridged much of the gap.

Jumbled information isn't easy to understand or retain. Put your information into a package that seems to belong in that form. This will be a great aid to those listening and later when they are attempting to recall. In other words, organize the information in a form which fits the audience.

The listener--those who have come to hear what you have to say. Make it easy for them to feel like they are part of an enlarged conversation. Use the tone, words and phrases that a conversation would use. Watch the individuals while you are talking to them. From the look on their faces can they hear and understand you. If you are not looking at them they can't give you that information. They don't really care if you make a mistake. Fix it and move on. Don't make a federal case out of it, that certainly isn't what they want.

The more ways they can experience what you are saying the more easily it is understood and retained. Use audio-visual aids whenever possible.

If all of us were to review these ideas before we begin the process of speech preparation we would be nervous, but not dangerously fearful. Our audience would be at ease and open to ideas that they can use. Ideas and actions that are important would receive proper consideration.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

All Day, Every Day

One of the things that is extremely important to our existence is our ability to persuade folk around us that we are:
1) worth having as friends and associates,
2) worth hiring and retaining,
3) able to setup and defend processes that will protect us, our families, communities indeed the planet itself.

The ability to do that is wrapped up in three ideas handed to us from Aristotle and they are the effective use of the following:
1) logos, or logical appeal,
2) ethos, or ethical appeal, and
3) pathos, or emotional appeal.

Making careful use of these three elements will make us a force to reckon with. The first, logos, implies that we will take the time inform ourselves in a world where we are tempted to think that job belongs to someone else. We are not to simply reinforce what we already believe, but search for elements we may disagree with from folk we don't even like that might solve real problems. This is simply not a "natural act" in our culture today.

Having informed ourselves we need to apply rigorously apply reason. We must think about the data we now have and how we can use that data to solve problems. Again this in not a "natural act." It will pit us against the masses at times, but if the data says this is the way, move ahead using every bit of reasoning power you have.

The second, ethos, implies that you have lived your life is such as way as to create trust in what you do and say. Your greatest power will come from ethos. Folk who are not willing to reason carefully on a regular basis will trust your abilities and may even change their attitudes, belief or behavior. One of the biggest challenges any of us face is the scarcity of data on the ethos of our leaders. What are they really like. We learn more about what they want us to know than what we need to know. They tend not to live next door, so it is difficult to see "what they are really like."

The third, pathos, implies that you understand the importance of what you are advocating and can share that with us, because you have taken the time to think about us. You know how we feel about our homes and children and the plans we have for the future and you can tie the ideas you have to those futures.

Now you are in a power position. Taking care to be honest and ethical you can enhance my future and the future of all the folk I love. . .and of course your future will be tied in as well.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

This Or That

When we communicate there are two main reasons we attempt it: to inform or to persuade.

When we communicate to inform we are attempting to teach. The primary concern under these circumstances is to make clear and easy to recall those things that will be necessary for the listener to understand. We all are teachers and we are called on to explain things on a regular basis. There are several questions that would be useful to ask yourself before you begin.
1) What do they need to know?
2) What do they already know? Be careful here or you may be offensive.
3) How will they best be able to follow and remember necessary information?

These questions are useful no matter how large or small the audience is. It helps if the person(s) seeking the information think/believe that you know. The more certain they are that you do know the more likely that they will focus their attention on what you are saying/doing.

When we communicate to persuade we are attempting to alter their position, change their mind, modify their behavior and so on. Here we must put together information, some of which they probably already know and then organize it so that certain conclusions seem to flow naturally from the information. You will still be a teacher, but now you care about the outcome and you want them to change. The same questions listed above apply now as well. This time you will describe the outcome you value and if time permits describe outcomes that are not as desirable no matter how tempting.

The more they believe that you know what you're talking about and the easier it is for them to change the more likely they will focus on and recall what you have said--and the more likely they will change in the direction you had hoped for. Again, the more they perceive you as being informed and clear thinking the more likely they will focus on and accept and spend less time questioning what you say. If they see the change as being useful, fulfilling, desirable, dependable and reasonable they may make a two changes: change in behavior (vote for you) and change in mind (believe that you have given them a truth to live by.)

We use both forms of communication every day. We want those around us to know more about us and we want some of the them to accept us as friends and cohorts.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Problem

"The things I want to do, think about and talk about are just not the things that others want to hear." That's not an unusual complaint.

The problem is, how can I talk about my interests without being boring to others? Ask yourself some questions:
1) Why am I interested?
2) How did I become interested?
3) How might this topic impact the person(s) I'm addressing?
4) What are the interests the person(s) I'm addressing?

First, why do you find certain things interesting and others not so interesting. There must be elements in your choice of ideas and activities that have led you to spend time and energy in that area. What are those elements?

Second, how did I become interested in these ideas and activities when many of the people I know haven't demonstrated any particular interest? These elements may very well suggest a path others will recognize and understand. People who may know or care very little for your particular interest may be able to understand why somebody would be interested.

Third, what impact can you think of that might impact those you are addressing that is directly related to interest in your topic? Much, if not all of us are impacted by changes that we don't know about or wouldn't even approve of if we knew about them. We are still impacted and anything that affects us is likely to hold our attention.

What are the interests of the people you are addressing? They are and probably should be centered on their lives. After all, if they don't take care of themselves, who will? Enlightened self interest has a positive ring to it. Certainly more positive than selfish. But, that is a very good place to begin. You should find a wealth of possible ties when you view the enlightened self interest as it relates to your own interests.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What We Overlook

There are some simple facts of life which we tend to overlook. First, we have a tendency to think of ourselves as being ordinary. But, if you will take a moment you will discover that people you know have a tendency to ask you questions about things. If you examine the questions you will begin to get an idea of what they think are your areas of expertise. On the other hand, you might be thinking that there are lots of people who know more than you do about those topics. For now, we should focus on what we know and what those around us think we know to get an idea of who we are. We are their experts.

Second, when we are asked questions because they think we know, two things are going to happen. Let's say they ask us, "How do I change the depth of field when taking pictures with my camera?" We know we're their "experts" in this area. The second thing that we do when we answer their question is "practice" communication. That rehearsal is valuable because it increases the likelihood that in the future you can effectively explain the process. The more often you are asked and the more often you successfully answer the question the more rehearsals you have had and if asked to explain it to a large group there will be very little problem.

We tend to think of ourselves as something less than an expert and we arrive at that conclusion without proper evaluation. And we tend to think that we haven't rehearsed our communication and therefore are not properly prepared. Rethink these situations because you are very likely the expert your audience thinks you are and you have practiced and rehearsed your communication because you have talked about the subject repeatedly. Now, just stand up and do what you know you can do.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


It seems that some of the most common things in our lives are simply taken for granted. Some of them like pure water, clean air, safe food, good health seem to be just there for us to take advantage of. But, if and when they are in short supply we begin to notice them. First with concern and ultimately with something that approaches panic.

One of the those common things is human communication. We assume that things are just fine and we continue to do what worked for us last week until, something really goes wrong. Then we want to know what happened. Much of the time faulty communications happened and now we're in a pickle. Some things about communication problems can be avoided or minimized by paying careful attention.

For example: "Who are they?" "Who do I think they are?" "Who do they think they are?" "Who am I?" "Who do they think that I am?" "What did they say?" "What did they mean?"

Those are questions that can be answered in an ever improving fashion and the use of those questions will make a huge difference in your ability to reach your goals. In fact, the more we think about, study, plan and deliver our communications the more likely we'll be able to:
1) live with the person of our choice,
2) live in the community of our choice,
3) work at the job of our choice,
4) work at the level of our choice, and
5) work at the pay of our choice.

Making effective communication even more difficult is that fact that we are always communicating. We often don't know what we are "saying" or to whom we are "saying" it. That's because you and I too often decide from a great distance that some folk just don't seem to be the kind of person we are interested in know. They had no idea that they said anything to you at all.

Communication is tough and deserves careful thought and preparation.