Monday, October 22, 2012

Effective Communication is...

How effective are our communication skills?
Failed Communication is when… what others “get” is not what we “intended.”
What can we do to improve our communication?  What are the considerations to measure successful communication?  What are the results of good communication? Or poor communication?  What are some indicators of effective communication?
After seeing a photo of this same tree on a teachers bulletin board in our building (thanks AH), I began to wonder how easy is it to follow the growth path of the cypress tree?
Does the tree grow up, or down or across or? 
The scrambled nature of this tree reminds us of the way our communication sometimes reaches those around us.
Our district has established a set of 7 “C” terms for us to rally behind this year.  This is the last “C” term discussed in this blog but the one that permeates and facilitates the success of all the other terms.  Like a catalyst or enzyme that aids another reaction, good communication is key to reaching common goals and achieving the other six traits.   Let’s consider:
The Message (Content)
As educators, we are considered professional communicators.  Our predominate task or job description is to convey a body of knowledge into the minds of our wards and then verify, measure and assess the level of success.  Data transmission is only a portion of this continuum.  A delivery of facts and knowledge, without a relationship evolves into a dry and shallow presentation with little motive to retain and truly change the hearers internal perspective.  On the other hand, a connection with the presenter and topic seems to make the ideas and message more memorable.  This begins the key to effective communication.  A relationship is necessary between the audience and the presenter to actually provide the conduit of listening and hearing.  Communication is the tool we apply to deliver our Content.
The Tone (Culture)
"It’s not what you say but how you say it.” This adage addresses the culture of the environment, whether it is positive, neutral or negative.  A negative setting where criticism is delivered with equal amounts of positive encouragement will be perceived as critical by the hearers.  PBIS research claims we need to administer at least four positive comments to every negative or critical comment continuously if we want our negative comment to fall on receptive ears.  If we give exclusive negative comments, our audience will think there is no way to obtain or earn approval. The stifling affect of this method paralyzes many talented students and handcuffs them to prevent and avoid the possibility of the negative response. If the positive comments and negative suggestions are delivered intermingled with a 4:1 ratio of good and bad together, a hearer may realize their actions do not determine the success of the relationship and there is a relationship, regardless of the behavior.  The insecure perfectionist may learn to make an attempt, take a risk and fail, and then try again.  Proportioned communication becomes the method of improving a Culture to encourage risk, persistence, resiliency and trying again, even after failure and missed marks. 
The Method (Collaborative Teaching)
As adults, we fail in our communication when we assume what we say is perceived literally, exactly and how we intended.  Failed communication is when our intent is not achieved.  What method is best?  There is no perfect and best way to communicate every time.  We must vary our approach, vary the style, mode and even technique often enough to reach every member of our audience.  Technology allows us to add a few other methods, like fb, twitter, IM, txt msg and email, as well as telephone, cell phone and even blogs.  Using all these, as much as possible allows us to permeate deeper into our potential audience to connect.  Consistently repeating and sharing the same message across all mediums tends to assure others of our true and authentic intent.  Collaborative Teaching is truly achieved when as professional educators, we communicate together appropriately for each member of our audience, regardless of their understanding but according to their ability.  Adults and students each receive what serves their needs best.
The Timing (Collective Decisions)
As leaders, we spend a fair portion laying out the plan with our team.  We discuss the issues, talk about what really matters and work to articulate the real problem and steer to an accurate and effective solution.  To share the problem before everyone is able to admit or recognize there is a concern prevents enough people from supporting the need for a solution.  Examining data together is effective at helping define the issue and letting the team understand the depth and breadth of the problem.  Pre-mature solutions offered up without complete understanding often evolve into ineffective or inaccurate measures becoming temporary directives that last as long as the leader. Collective Decisions based on data and agreed on together after thorough communication often times outlast the leader and become part of the culture because the everyone took part.
The Audience (Critical Thinking)
“They don’t care how much you know, till they know how much you care.”  This adage applies to our craft in more ways than one.  Our efforts must consider the audience, their interests, their passions and their strengths. Only after preparing our message to impact the team can our influence reach into their lives.  Here is where two way communication between the guide and the participants is necessary. If participants can share without fear of repercussion, their authentic identity may come through and if they are truly accepted, the likelihood of educational risks improves dramatically.  On the other hand, a leader that does not listen to the group or individuals in the group but blindly considers his singular position as perfect is destined to repeat the same mistakes, again and again.  True Critical Thinking occurs after we listen to the other possible points of view, consider them plausible and base our behavior on authentic self-reflection or communication regardless of the source of these alternatives.
The Intent (Creative Thinking)
Consider the term “Professional Educator.”  Current perceptions or application of this term imply the professional is educating others, but what if it means the professional is educating themselves?  They earn their living by educating others as well as themselves? What if it means their craft is improving anyone?  What if it means they adapt to the culture around them?  Consider any other trade, skill, ability or craft.  Teams are working to improve their skills.  Mechanics are keeping up with the technology in their industry.  New understanding, knowledge and experience forces every other trade to adapt and keep up with their customers wants and needs.  Does this sound like an educational platform?  How can we expect to be the only profession that allows us to remain static in method, presentation and even documentation?  Is it ok to teach the same way we taught 12 years ago? We do not change for the sake of change but after communicating about the current plight, collaborating together and introspection,  we may need to adjust. Creative Thinking about our intent and purpose is foundational.
Communication is the social lubricant that moves a group to their next level.  The effectiveness is challenging to measure objectively but folks know when it is good and know when it is broken. 

How effective is our communication?  Very!


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