How to Communicate in 3D

Oct 15, 2010

Alan Carroll

The goal of the Master Listener is to be able to re-create the other person’s communication in such a way that the sender experiences that the receiver has understood their communication. However this seldom, if ever, happens. Why? Because the master level listening involves the combination of both words and three-dimensional mass. In watching how people listen you can see they are a long way from being a Master Listener.

Often people who claim to be listening do not even re-create the words spoken to them. Why? Because they assume they understand the other person’s communication. Unless you re-create the other person’s communication, the "sender" will never have the experience of being heard. Recreating another person’s communication is a wonderful gift and a true attribute of the Master Listener. In previous columns, I discussed that one main pillar of the Master Listener is active listening. Active listening is saying back to the person (the sender) what they said and verifying with the sender that their re-creation is accurate.

Another pillar is empathic listening in which you not only re-create the words but also any emotion present in the communication. Now, let’s explore clarity and the highest level of re-creation which uses three dimensions.

A goal in communication is being clear on what you are communicating. The definition of clear is easy to perceive, understand or interpret. In listening, there are two main barriers that block clarity. The first is not understanding the words or symbols being used.

For example, I am writing this column using the English protocol, or language. If English is your first language, you most likely believe you are fluent in English. Let me share with you a couple of interesting points. First, there are about 450,000 words in the English language of which a college graduate uses only about 8,000. Second, of those 8,000 you would be hard press to clearly define any of these words. Therefore, one could surmise that your mastery, fluidity and understanding of English is a long way from being developed.

One of the most common words used in the English language is “the”. You use this word many times a day and yet, what is the definition of “the”? Do you know? One dictionary defines it as: denoting one or more people or things already mentioned or assumed to be. Did you know that? I didn’t.

The point I am making is if we don’t even know the definition of “the” then what are the chances the audience will understand the statement: “We move data, voice and video packets through cloud computing over the World Wide Web”. To resolve this clarity issue, my coaching would be to look up the definition of the key words you are going to use in your communication. Don’t make the assumption that you or the audience understands the words or acronyms. By doing this you will be clearer and your speaking will have a greater impact on the listening of the audience.

The second barrier to clarity is lack of three dimensions, or mass. Use of three dimensions is a major differentiator between average and master-level listening. In IT presentations the presenter can use a variety of media tools to explain what is often abstract information to the audience. These media tools include Power Point, white boards and flip charts. Ask yourself the question, “How many dimensions does each of these three tools contain?” They all utilize only two dimensions, height and width. What blocks the listener from clearly understanding the information is lack of the third dimension.

The third dimension is the dimension of depth. Something that has three dimensions exists in the physical universe, occupies space and is made up of matter which can be referred to as mass. Depth allows the listener to actually see into what is being communicated. They can now clearly see if the sender has actually re-created their communication.

So, how do you use mass to re-create another person’s communication? Although for most people it will be a new skill, it is actually easy. For example, any physical object like pens, cups, paper clips, balls, markers, laptops, books, people, etc. can physically represent a word. Take the statement, “ A firewall is a network device that protects your private domain from public domain attacks “.

In this case, you need to create a firewall that divides the private domain from the public domain. You could use a tent card to represent the firewall and place a laptop on either side of the card to represent the public and private domain.

A pen could be the attack and the tent card would block the pen from entering into the private domain. The audience can now see in three dimensions the concept of a firewall.

I remember being in the cafeteria at Cisco Systems in San Jose and watching the engineers use Lego blocks from bowls on the table to explain to each other some networking concept. Once again, this is another example of effectively using mass to communicate.

The benefits of three dimensional re-creation include:

  • Providing clarity.
  • Indicating to the audience that you actually care about them understanding the concept because you are taking the time to encapsulate it using mass. This is very important because, in watching people communicate and present, it turns out that the intention of the communicator for the audience to understand the communication is low. Often people just drop the data in the space without intending the audience understand.
  • Mass holds the attention of the audience and is very entertaining.

Let me assure you that it is not necessary to use three dimensions in every re-creation. Often, active listening will suffice. However, as you master this mass-skill and increase your awareness in the space, you will consciously know when it is appropriate or not appropriate to use three dimensions in your listening.

Alan Carroll, author of The Broadband Connection: The Art of Delivering a Winning IT Presentation and the founder of Alan Carroll & Associates, has been a successful public speaker, sales trainer and corporate consultant since 1983. Clients include: Cisco Systems, Synoptics Communications, Symantec Corporation, Digital Equipment Corporation, Unocal Corporation, Covey Leadership Center, BP Chemical, Peak Technologies, Vantive Corporation, Jet Propulsion Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, HP, Symbol Technologies, etc.

Tags: leadership, communication skills, presenting, Alan Carroll, listening,

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