Communication is the interactive sticky stuff which strengthens or weakens the relationships we have with each other. One of the primary difficulties we have when we communicate is that we let our biases creep into our conversations without even recognizing them. Let’s examine this a bit further by clarifying the filters through which we communicate that often lead to a bias.
It’s important to understand that the process within which we relate with others forms the basis of all our communications. The process is quite simple but not necessarily always easy. It has eight elements and taken together they make up the interactive communication process between and among individuals. These elements take place almost at lightning speed. Any one of them could cause us to misunderstand or misinterpret what the other person is saying.
The eight elements are:
1. An individual has something to communicate. It may be a comment, an idea, or a reaction to what someone has said. This person should clearly formulate the thought and send it to another person. The first person becomes the Sender of the communication, the second is the Receiver.
2. Before the Sender says anything the unit of communication is encoded by that person according to his or her unique perception. That perception includes the person's self-concept, feelings, attitudes, and values; and shaped by his or her family background, cultural norms, life experiences, and education.
It is in our perceptions where our biases are hidden. Just think if a person’s life experiences, family influences and dominant culture are closed to accepting another cultural group or has been influenced early on in life to not accept certain individuals, religions, or a group of disadvantaged people then those individuals communicate their closed perceptions through their tone, behavior, and interactions.
3. The message is sent and then received by the Receiver who decodes it relating to his or her unique perceptions. That person's perception may have some similarities to the person who sent the message but in most instances, there will be several differences. That is what makes the perception unique.
Let’s take the example where biased similarities exist. In this case the sender’s and receiver’s biases are reinforced which may result in ‘group think,’ scapegoating, and discrimination. Often these individuals are not even aware that they are communicating a biased perception. They have no reason to believe that they are biased because their life experiences have caused them to believe their perceptions are right.
Now let’s take the example of a person where biased similarities don’t exist, each communicating from their own unique biases. This is often where communication blind spots become prevalent, and conflict emerges. One person’s perception clashes with the other and visa versa.
The extreme of this example shows up within communities where there are cultural differences or where one disenfranchised group clashes with the predominant groupthink.
This plays out when one group attempts to make another segment of the community aware of the ‘biases’ and their impact on them, but the other group wants to preserve their own perceptions of what they consider to be reality or right. Unfortunately, the bias continues and deep divisions within the community result. All we need to do is look at the conflict which is generated in communities where people feel disadvantaged through poverty, racism, sexual orientation, and misogynism.
So, how do we get out of this situation?
The key is to become open to other points of view and to understand the impact of what is being said and more importantly to be honest with ourselves as to our own clouded perceptions. But how do we do this? Step 4 in the communication process shows us how.
4. The best way for the Receiver to understand the Sender’s message is to respond with Feedback summarizing what the Sender said. This is known as the Clarification process. An important element in any interaction with others.
Both the Sender and the Receiver should give clear messages, respect each other with dignity and grace and listen well so that the message can be fully understood. This step is often missed. Rather than clarifying their biases individuals and groups often tend to promote, defend, and otherwise exploit them. They push their biases onto others, expecting them to accept whereas the other cannot because they come from a completely different stance based on their own life experiences.
In this way our hidden biases become apparent resulting in conflict with the other or within our communities. If the divide is deep and hurtful then the necessary work towards resolution and reconciliation becomes a slow and arduous process.
There are other ways in which we let our hidden biases cloud our conversations.
5. A message is sent via certain Paths or Channels. So far this discussion has been about communicating our biases face-to-face, but they could also be sent by means of an email, telephone. video conference call, a YouTube presentation or through social media.
If we have biases, and everyone does, then it does not matter what channel we use to communicate, sooner or later the biases will raise their heads.
E-mails are one of the lowest forms of communication because we cannot see or hear the individual, and feed back is often a long arduous process. If we let our bias seep into our emails, and the recipient is offended in some way, we may or may not know. In any event the email has a cooling effect on our relationship with the recipient.
Telephone is better because we can ask for clarification immediately. Yet we can't see the individual and thus gage the full extent of his or her reaction.
Video conferencing is an improvement because we can see the reaction of others and take corrective action. Although it is still not the same as in-person communication because we can only see a portion of the other person’s body language.
Social Media messaging and YouTube offerings are often used as ‘bull horns’ for one’s point of view and thus another venue for spreading one’s biases.
Even this post is a place for my own hidden and open biased point of view. Some will agree with what is discussed and others will not. Only through responding to this post can we begin to dialogue on the subject. We then can clarify our perceptions and search for understanding and common ground.
6. The message is also communicated in some form of Situation. The Situation relates to the environment or circumstance where the communication takes place, such as a meeting in the office, outside in the parking lot, over the counter with a customer or with a salesperson. Our biases don’t really care where we communicate what matters is how we communicate and whether we are aware of how our biases effect others.
7. When the message is delivered, it may also become distorted. This distortion is called Interference. Interference causes static in the communication process and distorts the message. Many factors cause interference and could include noise within the room, a cellphone ringing, someone emailing or texting. Language barriers or lack of listening skills also cause interference.
Our biased perceptions are often reinforced when we don’t listen and/or when we are impatient due to a language barrier. In such situations we start making judgements about the other based on our hidden biases.
8. For the most part the interaction that is described above takes place in a few seconds. It doesn’t take long for our biases to kick in. Psychologists tell us that we start forming opinions of the other within the first seven seconds or less. And if those opinions are based on hidden biases then we start communicating or thinking about them almost instantaneously. And as the communication progresses in a back and forth manner, and if we are not aware of our biases’ impact and guard against them, then the receiver will either outwardly or inwardly react to them.
In today’s world there is an interesting phenomenon taking place. Rather than recognizing our biases and their impact, we have this growing refrain that we are “politically correct.” Recognizing biases and their impact on others is not being “politically correct.” It is being open to improving our relationships with others, finding peace within our communities and respecting differences and diversity with each other and within our communities.
Underlying this whole discussion is the importance of knowing oneself and not afraid to uncover our hidden biases – it is all about our personal growth and development and how we relate to others. We can choose not to uncover what is not known to us and let our negative selves influence the relationship. Or, we can choose to discover those biases and stereotypes we have about others in order to improve our relationships with them and be a force for good in our places of business, work and communities.
Thank you for reading,
(Up-dated March 17, 2021)
Author: Sherry Knight, President and CEO Dimension Eleven
When you present you may know exactly what it is you want to say and hopefully you have practiced your presentation a number of times. You might think to ask.
Tami is not too tall and quite thin – wispy some might say! Yet when she takes the stage in front of an audience she’s bigger than life. Why you might ask do we see her differently than she really is? It’s not difficult, much of it is how she moves towards her audience and how she presents herself.
Let’s look at this a little closer. Before she ever gets near the stage she has found out the colour of the backdrop. If you are presenting in a school classroom your backdrop may be a green board or a white board. Thus, you would not want to wear green or white or you disappear into the background.
Once I saw a Ted Talk with a very polished presentation from a very knowledgeable woman, or at least from her head. All we could see was her head – the background was black; her suit was black and she had black hair. Do your homework and find out what colour will be behind you.
Then, choose a contrasting colour for your outfit. There is nothing much you can do about your hair but you can about your clothing.
Some people choose a look that becomes part of their brand – think Johnny Cash and his black or Patricia Fripp who always wears hats when she presents. To make it easy on myself I often refer to a colour wheel so I can look for contrasting colours without having to worry about making an error. And, for all those out there who have been colour coded – remember, there are generally tones of every colour for every season.
Have a look at the internet, there are so many colour wheels to look at – choose the one that works best for you to see what colours go best with which colours and which ones contrast.
Tami also strides to the front of the room when she is introduced. She looks like she is excited to see her audience. She moves fast, she shakes the hand of her introducer and then she turns to you, her audience.
She turns forward, she plants her feet shoulder width apart, she looks throughout the room – from one side to the other and begins. Everyone sits and pays attention waiting, waiting, waiting.
Why does she stand with her feet shoulder length apart? Because it gives her more stability – se will not be knocked over by a puff of wind, an unnecessary challenge or something strange happening like a loud noise from the close by kitchen. As well, the audience recognizes this strong person can accept any question or comment from the group. Nothing will phase this presenter.
Perhaps this presenter wants to turn left or right. When this is needed, move the feet in the direction you want to face, not just the body.
To make a point you will at times want to lean into your audience. Standing strong allows you to lean forward enough to bring your face closer to the people immediately in front of you. Your stance is solid so as you lean slightly forward to make your point there is no possibility of you losing your balance.
When you want to show fast movement, you might move across your stage quickly and choose words that suggest speed (hipitty-hop, zoom, accelerated). Or if you want to suggest slowness you might put one foot in front of the other very slowly with language implying slowness (turtle speed, snails’ pace, creep along).
Sometimes you will need to walk up and down steps to get to the stage or to leave the stage and get close to your audience. Once again it is important to keep the balance – thus the need to keep your feet shoulder length apart as you climb or descend.
Do you sit while you deliver? Some do. This is fine – best though if you sit in a higher chair or stool than your audience is. If you are already on a stage above your audience your choice of a seat may be negligible.
If you are a tiny person you might consider sitting in your chair at an angle. You will take up more “space” and as such you will appear to be a bigger presence.
If, however, you are a large person, you might want to sit facing straight forward as you will take up less space. Tall people and those with a large girth may want to be conscious of their impact on some people in their audience.
In presenting we often focus on the topic and the content. This is only a portion of your presentation! Equally as important is the WAY YOU PRESENT. That is why you want to pay such close attention to how you are presenting. The way you present and carry yourself can quickly undo the content which may be strong and help people a great deal. You may remember the words, “It doesn’t matter what you say as much as it matters how you say it.” There is such truth in those few words.
Do you use props – things like glasses, flip charts, slides or displays? Glasses are great props! You can remove them, point them, look intently over them at a critical time. These gestures have impact. Your listeners are focusing on everything you say and do so do it with intent – what is it you want your audience to take away from this?
Many use flip charts – remember to write or print if you are not a great writer – ahead of time you may want to take a ruler and draw light pencil lines on the pages so you can write in a straight line. Write with dark colours such as black and blue and light colours such as reds, yellows and oranges for impact. Remember, red bleeds – be very careful what you have behind the page you are writing on. Always stand to the side of the flip chart when you are writing. Do not stand in front of the chart as people cannot see what you are writing and if you speak, your voice will go into the chart paper rather than out to your audience.
Slides are helpful. They help to reinforce what you are trying to say and sometimes you might put in cartoons or fun sayings or pictures that relate to your topic; yet lighten the situation. One thing to refrain from doing is to put something on your slide that cannot be read by the person sitting the furthest away from the screen. Always ensure you have the screen angled slightly towards the audience – this prevents key stoning – a strange way for the page to look.
Displays are great – for small groups of people. This is the epitomy of a visual – thus people WANT to see it. So, if you have a large group a display is probably not your best bet. Displays have different purposes. Some need to be to scale and thus you will want to address the scale. Others are there for the creative element and you will want to explain the creativity that went into the display.
Regardless of the type of display you choose to show ensure a few things:
Your stance is important, right from the beginning to the end. Pay attention to your body and how it can assist you in building your story.
And, above all, have fun with your presentation.
We often hear and tell others that communication is the glue that keeps us together whether that be among teams, businesses, organizations or couples. Just what is this glue we are talking about?
The process of communications has many dimensions. We learn about techniques for listening, talking, writing and understanding body language but, as important as these are, they don’t get to the shadow behind communications.
A shadow projects our image when a light shines upon it. Sometimes the shadow is distorted and other times it clearly outlines the shape of our body. A shadow follows us around and is often attached to us in some way. And, there are times when we can identify someone just by seeing his or her shadow.
How does all this relate to communication? When people communicate with each other they hear words, see body language, hear tone of voice but often don’t understand the shadow behind the expressions. The shadow is the profile of the person out of which communication is filtered. That shadow reflects the make-up of the person.
When we communicate, we communicate out of the context of who we are. Who we are is continually informed by our culture, family, positive and negative experiences, education, religion, relationships and so on. This is the backdrop or the shadow from which we communicate. In turn those who we communicate with also have their own shadow which continually informs them.
When we think about communication in this context - outside of the technical aspects of listening and speaking, as well as the sensory aspects of hearing, seeing, smelling and touching - we can begin to appreciate some of the difficulties we have when we communicate with others.
At times we express our frustrations, either directly or indirectly such as “I don’t know where you are coming from” or “I just don’t understand your point of view,” or “why don’t you understand.” One of the factors underlying why we don’t understand relates to the shadow. Particularly if that shadow is not similar to our own.
Perhaps our communications with others would improve if we took the time to understand “where the person is coming from” - to try and understand what is going on within the person's communication shadow? This means taking the time to learn and reflect upon the person's shadow and how it impacts the way we communicate with each other. This is the basis for empathetic communication - we begin to walk in the other’s shadow for a while, and in turn share our own shadow with them. At the root, we get to know others as individuals and they get to know us in the same way
Understanding an individual's communication shadow is extremely important given today's diverse workforce. Most businesses are populated with people who come from a variety of cultures. They are often expected to immediately fit into our businesses and organizations without us spending the necessary time to appreciate the milieu from which they gained most of their first experiences.
This unknowing complicates our communication. And, that complication may find its expression in several ways, such as: misunderstanding words, gestures, family practices, and religion, or, not accounting for awful experiences as a result of war, poverty, persecution or discrimination.
So how do we uncover the shadow of our colleagues, employees, bosses, friends and associates? Here are a few hints:
Find opportunities to explore each other's shadow such as when you are with other person:
Our communication shadow is with us daily and is behind every conversation we have with others. Shine a light on yourself so that you can understand it and don’t be afraid to share it with others. It just may be the opening you need to understand and appreciate your co-worker, employee, friend or partner.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC
Listening is so fundamental to our communication process that we can easily take it for granted. Unless one has extremely limited interaction with people the opportunities for listening abound in the workplace. We need to listen up when a customer is front of us or on the telephone, or when someone comes to us with a problem or a solution, or when we are coaching an employee, or when ______ (you fill in the blank). Every time we encounter an individual our listening antenna needs to go up.
There are five levels of listening behaviors with level one being the most comprehensive.
Level One: These are the people who listen to understand all the communication signals of the speaker - the tone, emotions, body language and technical elements and even what is being said behind the words. They are the ones who send off the signal: "I am listening intently so that I can walk a mile in your shoes." They are the "empathetic listeners." They are the ones who hold eye contact and listen deeply.
Level Two: This listening behavior tends to be more "factual and technical". These people have an ear for factual information, sometimes at the expense of "feelings" or "emotions". They are often called the "objective listeners."
Level Three: At level three we have the "selective listeners" or those who listen to confirm their point of view or pick out only what they want to hear. They listen only for the elements of the discussion that they are in agreement with and often miss the whole point of the conversation.
Level Four: Here we have the "pretenders." They give the impression they are listening but are often doing something else. For example we can "hear' these people when we are speaking with them over the telephone and they are busy working away on something else; or when we are making a presentation and they are gazing at us like deer caught in the headlights, or texting, or reading their e-mail - all the while nodding their heads to give the impression that they are listening.
Level Five: You guessed it - they are the "ignorers." They are not listening at all, which when we really think about it may be an "oxymoron."
To listen well we need to develop strong listening habits. Here are the four basic rules for strengthening a good listening habit:
1. Hear what is being said - this means giving undivided attention to the person who is speaking.
2. Understand what we have heard - this means clarifying what is said by asking questions,
3. Interpret our understanding of what was said. -this means the rationalization process of quickly putting into context our understanding of what was said.
4. Recap or paraphrase our understanding of what was said - this means repeating in your own words our understanding of what is said.
Remember all communications are perceived but 70% to 90% are screened out or changed by the person who perceives them. If you want to improve your listening habits consider this learning opportunity "Priority Influencing" at http://www.prioritymanagement.com/ and check out an office near you.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSW. FCMC Updated from the archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.