To Communicate Better, Give Up Some Control

by Quentin Schultze

I receive humbling notes from former mentees thanking me for something I said to them. Sometimes I don’t recall saying exactly such things. They sound like something I might have said, but not precisely what I think I would have shared.

When we listen we often emphasize particular points in our own minds. We tend to note and elaborate on those thoughts that seem to best address our own situations. In this sense, human communication is somewhat idiosyncratic. Thirty people who attend the same meeting will pick up on points that are most important to each of them.

While this can lead to misunderstanding, it can also enhance our communication. Others can use our words to expand and improve upon what we have to say.

Note: This essay is excerpted from my book Communicate Like a True Leader: 30 Days of Life-Changing Wisdom, available from Amazon.

Recognizing this dynamic, I assume that others might be ready to receive more than what I strictly intend to say. In fact, what I have to say might stimulate in listeners significantly more understanding than what I think I have to offer.

In short, human communication is dialogue, not merely monologue. Even if the listener doesn’t say anything, I can assume that he is probably in dialogue with himself—thinking, reflecting, questioning and the like. He might even be getting more out of his own inner dialogue than I thought I was capable of sharing.

Robert Greenleaf, the founder of Servant Leadership, refers to the role of “spirit” in relationships. I believe that when we aim humbly to serve others through communication, we discover an expansive, creative reality that can enhance our communication. In this sense, to lead from within us is also to be led from outside of or beyond us. Where this communication-enhancing creativity comes from is a mystery. So “spirit” seems to be an appropriate term.

With such creativity comes a great irony: sometimes the more stringently we try to control our communication, the less communication we will experience. This is counterintuitive. We need to reserve space for the unexpected—both in our speaking and our listening.

Of course such unpredictable communication isn’t an excuse for sloppiness. As I suggested earlier, we are called to use the gift of communication to serve others excellently as well as compassionately. Yet if we work too hard at it we might miss out on the unexpected benefits, even beyond our apparent abilities. We have to give up some control to be open to greater creative possibilities. Controlling people are not the most effective—let alone the most joyful—communicators. They tend to squelch the creative spirit.

Reflection
Can you recall a time when communication transcended your expectations—when people received more from your intended message than what you imagined was possible? If not, are you truly open to communication beyond your own means of control?

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