In some ways, communication between people is much like communication between computers. First a mode of connection must be initiated; wires or radio waves in the case of computers; spoken, written or gestured words for people. Second there must be an established protocol. Internet Protocol (IP), for example, is the principal communications protocol used when computers connect to the internet.
IP works for people too—in this case it means Interpersonal Protocol. The key to communicating successfully with all types of people is to speak their language or (to maintain the metaphor), “match their protocol.”
There are three key elements to matching someone’s Interpersonal Protocol.
- Clarify Expectations
- Consider Filters
- Seek Common Ground
We each have an internal model of good communication. If others follow that model, we like their communication style and we consider them good communicators. Unfortunately, there are as many models as there are people. The best way to make sure we’re not conflicting with someone else’s model of good communication is to clarify expectations.
In starting a new business relationship, for example, ask questions like, “Do you prefer I stay in touch by email or by phone?” and “What types of discussions would you rather deal with face to face?” Find out what people expect from you, and let them know what you expect in return. Communicate based on awareness rather than assumption.
Everything we see and hear enters our mind through a series of filters based on our personal experience, socialization and education. These filters operate below the level of conscious thought to generalize, delete, and distort the input of our senses. This is true for everyone around us as well. As a result, a group of people will listen to or read the same words, live through the same experience, yet each draw a different meaning and come to different conclusions.
While this allows poetry and music to be wonderfully personal and open to interpretation, it doesn’t make communication any easier. To ensure your own Interpersonal Protocol is as universal as possible, strive to recognize and overcome the mental filters that are shaping the way you interpret incoming information and be aware that others are applying their own filters to interpret what they hear from you.
Seek Common Ground
Empathy is an often underrated ability. Recently I was reminded of the movie Powder. In one scene a young man with heightened perceptual ability grabs the wrist of a hunter and touches the deer the hunter has just shot. In that moment, the hunter feels what the deer is feeling—and he is horrified. Seeking common ground and establishing commonality can be done the easy way, by identifying shared interests and things you have in common; or the not-so-easy way, by striving to think the way another person thinks and feel the way another person feels. Whichever approach you choose, finding common ground immediately enhances mutual understanding and strengthens communication.
The next time you find yourself facing a communications challenge, step back think about whether your Interpersonal Protocol might be due for an upgrade. It may be all you need to create a common language and connect.
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