The success of almost everything we do involves another person or persons. Whilst there is always a considerable amount of our success that we’re responsible for, somewhere along the line it almost always involves the input, interaction or response of another. This means that our success will always come down to how effectively we communicate, whether we can get our points and needs across, and whether we can field a healthy interaction that acknowledges the needs and differences of others.
One of the great differentiators in how people communicate is whether they are outwardly or inwardly focused when they do so, and the results can be surprisingly different.
Often, when we think we’re communicating well, effectively and even expansively, we’re still left with a little niggle when the desired results don’t seem as free-flowing or don’t feel as good as we expected them to. Sometimes we’re still left feeling less than secure about the support we receive, or that what we communicated wasn’t received exactly as we’d planned it.
One of the greatest barriers to effective communication is the direction of our focus, and when we’ve been put in a position of defence in the past, if we’re uncertain of the ground we currently stand on or anticipate less than favourable results, our focus can be inward instead of outward. This is a natural human response and is often subconscious.
When we are feeling anything less than completely secure and easygoing, our subconscious mind is looking out for our protection. This means that we often unwittingly communicate with a slight reservation, or perhaps a somewhat dictatorial manner to eliminate argument – even if we do so with a smile on our face and receive smiles in response. We may even set up a dynamic between ourselves and others where it feels like the space is open for us to speak into, but we present our “freely offered” ideas whilst nodding our heads or giving some other signal to those we’re speaking to that they need to agree with what we’re proposing.
So how do we tell the difference? How do we know if we’re getting it right?
Well, if we’re getting it right, then the relationship between us and our stakeholders will feel warm and open, and as much as we give out, they’ll give back of their own accord. This won’t be something we have to convince ourselves of. We won’t have any reservations about how and what we communicate and we won’t feel anxiety about the response we receive. We won’t have to “tell” people how it will be or what they need to do so that we circumvent any anticipated pushback, and we’ll be open to communication coming in the opposite direction without wondering whether we’ll have to defend ourselves if we leave space for someone to talk to us. We’ll look forward to feedback, even when it’s critical, because it will allow us to improve and we’ll be used to fielding it effectively. The agreement and affirmation received from whomever we’re speaking with will FEEL warm, as opposed to just looking receptive, but leaving us feeling a little unsure.
When our communications are inwardly focused, they are more about what’s good for us than what’s good for others involved – even if that distinction is subconscious. Our benefit, our schedule, our needs, what makes us feel safe, and what makes us feel good or invites others to show us how appreciated we are. We allow others opportunities to demonstrate their loyalty and thanks by telling them how to do so, and what we desire. We set schedules and issue orders under the name of organisation, without inviting the input of those who must adhere to them. We set traditions that require others to give back without making it voluntary, being a tradition and all.
Outwardly focused communication is a whole other ball game with a whole other set of results. It is free-flowing with the good of others in mind, and the proof is in the pudding when those we aim at feel that focus and return it.
When we are outwardly focused, we ask ourselves questions like: How easy is it to do business with us? How can we make it a more rewarding experience? How easy is it for stakeholders to express an opinion? How can we schedule our needs to incorporate as many of our stakeholders as possible so that the most benefit? How much of what we do is for PR, and how much of it is to really ensure a full experience that enhances the lives of all involved? Have we considered the perspective and opinions of representatives from all sides of the equations we’re dealing with? Do we communicate in a way that keeps everyone up to date and invites feedback? What channels do we have active for feedback and how well are they used? Are they free-flowing and useful and if not, what may be prohibiting that flow? Are we open to criticism and how do we respond and follow up on it? When was the last time we acted on the feedback or opinion of one of our stakeholders? Do we have a warm two-way relationship with our stakeholders or are we convincing ourselves that we do?
If you’ve ever had to act from a position of defence or uncertainty (and most of us have), and especially if you’ve had to hold that position for a period of time, then it’s well worth investigating whether the way you go about things is to create your own security and ease rather than to invite relationship and involvement from those you may have had to “manage” in the past.
This isn’t a comfortable thing to examine, and it’s often easier to reassure yourself that you and your team have it taped, rather than to consider that your routine, schedule, planning, traditions, lines of communication and manner of communication may need some re-tuning.
The reward for becoming more outwardly focused is almost instantaneous though, because courage is rewarded with support, and the vulnerability of one is rewarded with the vulnerability of others. If you’d like to operate from a position of better security, of healthy relationships and of staunch support, focus outward on the needs of others rather than dictating your needs first and waiting for others to comply. Dip your toe in the water and ASK others whether what you’re doing works for them.
by Christen Killick
November 7th, 2022