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4 Communication Tips to Open Your Mind & Strengthen Your Vocabulary

By Sherri Petro (1181 words)
Posted in Communication Skills on May 20, 2013

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By Sherri Petro, President of VPI Strategies & California Miramar University (CMU) Professor

Blah, blah, blah.  We speak the same language and yet so many times it’s like we are talking in tongues!  How come?  Admittedly, according to any dictionary, we have multiple meanings for the same words.  But what I am alluding to goes deeper than the dictionary -- we assign meaning based upon many different influences.  Why is communication so hard?  Most of the time, our equipment is the same: Two ears and one mouth.  What’s the problem? 


In 1995 at the tender age of 32, the answer hit me.  While in conversation with a Director at my employer, I was confused that Mark and I had differing opinions.  I was trying desperately to understand where he was coming from and why he did not see the answer I clearly saw as the best viable option. I was then knocked over by a cosmic 2’ x 4’.  I had a light bulb moment so intense that he stopped mid-conversation asking if everything was okay.  I blurted out, “Oh, geez, I just realized you don’t think the same way I do!” 


While this might be a duh moment for some readers, I surmise that the crux of many workplace communication problems is what I learned that day. Somehow in this crazy mixed up world with different work experiences, different genders, different generations, different cultures, different families of origin and different world views, we harbor the impression that others think exactly the same way that we do.  And yet, it is clear, we are DIFFERENT.


It boils down to this – I think that you think like me.  Isn’t that ludicrous?  We have not experienced life like each other has, and yet we speak to each other as if we did!  Talk about a recipe for communication failure. 


If you follow this line of thought, what do we do about it? Here are four tips to think through:


4 Communication Tips to Open Your Mind & Strengthen Your Vocabulary


Change Your Mental Model

If you are going to assume, assume something different. It has been said to assume makes a “you know what” out of you and me.  This is not news; however, it can take on a new meaning when we have that “AHA!” moment.  Let’s change our mental model.  If we are going to assume, why not think that everyone is different rather than thinking everyone is the same?  Your job is to increase your communication skills.  If you choose to take it, make a commitment to find out why the people around you think the way they do.


Approach With Genuine Curiosity -- Not Judgment

It is very easy to move into judgment mode. The poem Desiderata, published by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945), warns us of the dangers. “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”  If we really, truly wanted to understand, would anything get in our way? Would we judge rather than approach with genuine curiosity in order to better understand? Your work experience is not any better or worse than mine. They are all learning opportunities.


Appreciate Differing Points of View as Opportunities to Learn

Another funny thought?  We go to kindergarten and are offered different information from that which we know from our informal education at home.  This perspective shift is seen as wonderful.  We have begun to, formally, learn.  Yay, us!  Then as we grow we think we should know it all - as if that were possible. We choose to chastise learning and not appreciate different ways of thought. Whether you are in Marketing, R&D, Finance, Ops, HR or any other organizational department, you have the opportunity to appreciate the perspective of the other areas. Result? You learn.  It can only help you understand the myriad of angles and motivations of each area.


Just Listen

Can you do it?  Have you tried to the best of your ability?  This is not rehearsing, comparing yourself, one-upping, mind-reading, interrupting or any of the other myriad of ways you can derail your listening skills.  Have you simply listened to the intent, word usage, nonverbal cues, emotion and meaning behind the words you hear from your colleagues?  Honoring their thoughts and their word choice offers you a true idea of what is important. Communicating in their language and understanding their perspective enables you to connect when it is time to respond.


Our words are much deeper than what we read in the dictionary. They are the choices we make to try to connect with each other.  As a person in the workplace committed to communicating well with our colleagues and supervisors, we have choices.  We can choose to think those around us think just like us, or we can appreciate the rich tapestry of thought from which we can learn and grow.  The pay-off is just not in appreciating diversity, but building a diverse school of thought that will help us communicate and lead more effectively. Let’s do it. 



{#/pub/images/SherriPetro.jpg}Written by Sherri Petro, President of VPI Strategies & California Miramar University (CMU) Professor Sherri is a professor, accomplished strategist, organizational development professional and executive coach.  She consulted for 13 years in the for-profit, non-profit, and government sectors after a 16 year corporate career.  She teaches the Strategy Capstone as well as Leadership, Change Management and Business Ethics courses in CMU’s MBA program. Her current passion is educating organizations on how to increase organizational sustainability by leveraging the talents and skills of all in multi-generational workplaces. Sherri offers remedies to misunderstandings that result from different belief structures and lack of coherent communication by creating understanding and making connections at the belief level not only at the behavioral level.


Do you have a question for Sherri?  Please visit our Workplace Communication Skills Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Comments (4)

Supervisor Training posted on: May 21, 2013

Nice Blog Sherri!!!!
I'm looking this type of blog for a long time.Content of the blog is so good.And your points is really interesting...

Thanks for Sharing

tope posted on: May 21, 2013

wow this is the best niche blog so far

tope posted on: May 21, 2013

this is the best niche blog, ever very educative.

Peter Watts posted on: May 24, 2013

Fascinating point, to think that no two of us see the world alike. It makes you re-visit the philosophy that there is no such thing as reality!

I've become a recent convert to yoga, and have been fascinated by the practice of simply stilling the mind to cut-out all the verbal chatter that goes flying around in our heads. My discovery has since been that when I'm professionally observing and critiquing presenters, I can bring a higher level of observation to the task by using those same yoga techniques to reduce my own internal chatter levels.

Maybe the same approach would work for more easily understanding others. If we reduce our internal chatter, do we also reduce a little our internal filters?

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