Updated: Feb 24, 2021
Sure, we want to be clear and effective communicators – in business and at home. I can’t think of a single person who ever intended to be a poor communicator. And not many people seem to recognize that they lack the necessary skills. But we have all run into them – customers, colleagues, bosses, bosses of bosses. What gets in their way?
In the wonderful film, Catch Me If You Can, a mostly true story about the life and crimes of Frank Abignale Jr., we can observe the skills of a master communicator. No, he wasn’t ethical, he deceived lots of people and stole a ton of money, but he was a fabulous communicator. He figured out how to relate to each person he needed to work with.
Frank treated each person as unique. He was a masterful listener. By carefully blending body language with desire to learn, he found out how to let each person know that they mattered. He encouraged them to tell him what was important – to them. Their hopes and fears. He invested time to let them know they were valuable.
He acted the role of the humble person, not an elite. Never arrogant, he listened to understand people’s real needs so that he could communicate clearly and effectively with them while he masqueraded as a pilot, a medical doctor, and a lawyer.
Communicating well is not easy work. It is not a matter of applying the skills you inherited (although Frank’s father was also a con man.) He did his research carefully. He worked very hard to understand very precisely what a successful person in each line of work looked and sounded like.
Understand Confirmation Biases
Frank learned quickly how critical the confirmation biases of people are (see our Thinking Traps, Part 1.) To succeed, he had to know how they would communicate and build the skills to do exactly what they would do in a given situation. Through careful listening and questioning, Frank learned how to quickly feed the confirmation biases of people. By knowing what people deeply believed and what they wanted, he built trust (how ironic.) And isn’t trust the ultimate end we desire from communicating?
Real World Application
Today’s technologies enable amazing speeds and quantities of data transfer. But data is only a piece of the communication skills puzzle. Sure, you can’t communicate without data, but people are looking for much more than factual information. The methodical approach to understanding the whole picture, the individuals or team involved, their needs/desires, and having the skills and patience to ask appropriate questions and deeply listen to the responses. There is a lot involved.
Communication skills require mastery, being OK is not OK. Mastery requires constant work and good quality feedback. How do you know how well you are doing? What exactly are you measuring?
Most of the excellent communicators I’ve known make the effort to get good quality feedback (very different from compliments or criticism.) They also create such strong relationships that they can learn how their EQ is functioning, how their blind spots impact them, and how their behavioral styles affect their communication quality. They seem to understand that achieving their goals depends in many ways on their communication excellence.
They have the courage to learn what’s working and what’s not.