For me, successful communication is a very central issue. Without it, human life and cooperation is not imaginable. Whenever a team strives towards more knowledge, whenever new ideas are born and something new is developed, whenever you want consensus, the ability to communicate is of the highest importance for the people who work in a team.
“Leadership, “ (the use of the term is already inflated anyway and I start getting fed up with it), too, can only work if communication is intact. Participation in a shared enterprise can only be lived if communication works. And so on … Except – it is nowhere near as easy as it sounds when it comes to communication.
In my model, I distinguish between two basic kinds of communication. They are totally different.
The first kind is the easy chat as we know it in Smalltalk. That is typically the communication you have, for instance, on cocktail parties. It has quite some value, because once in a while you can havevery good ideas during such an exchange. Sometimes, you luck out and discover shared interests that you can make good use of.
Smalltalk is the art of exchanging ideas with people you know and people you do not know in an informal way. For instance if you celebrate something. However, smalltalk is usually not goal-oriented. All you do is listen to others and tell them what you think. And if you open up, you usually create trust.
Whenever you are into business, smalltalk is not goal-oriented enough. But goal-oriented communication is quite difficult.
? You will notice this even if you communicate with yourself. If there are two of you, it does not get any easier. And the more participants you have, the harder it is to get a consensus and enlightenment.
Even the ancient Greeks had the same problem. That is why they came up with dialectics. It is a communication technique that, for instance, the Jesuits made use of until the end of the last millennium – often talking ancient Greek or Latin, just to overcome language barriers. And because they wanted to practice the classical languages.
Communication is not easy. It starts with listening und the ability to focus on the other party. This sounds easy, but that is not at all what it is.
Business developed its own communication culture, so did philosophy. There were lists of participants and agenda that had to be worked on professionally. This was in order to make the efficiency of communication more goal-oriented and to improve it. I learned the classical and modern formats and I love them:
- Dialectics of the ancient Greeks, including dialogues, debates, ars construendi vexilla with its sub-categories such as the creation of syllogisms.
- The honest discourse (Habermas)
I think it makes sense to use such formats in goal-oriented communication. However, these formats have a disadvantage: all the participants must either know them or learn them. That takes time and energy. If you have neither, you will need a competent moderator. And they are few and far between.
The internet brought us a new era. The appearance of Web 2.0 is the latest date you can set as the start of a change: passive participants have become active participants. Self-responsibility and self-organization get priority over a passive lemming existence. And consequently, totally new communication formats developed at the end of the last millennium.
Here are a few examples:
You can read a lot about these and several other communication formats on the internet. Lean coffee is very easy and works quite well for small teams. The three others are more to be recommended for bigger teams.
The fishbowl is a particularly hilarious format. I think the Wikipedia description is not ideal. Basically, there is an inner and an outer circle. The outer circle is for those who listen, the inner circle are the currently active debaters. Inside, you always have to have a vacant chair. Listeners are allowed to move to the inner circle at all times. Then, one of those sitting in the inner circle has to vacate his seat and sit in the outer circle. Also, everyone in the inner circle can leave it whenever he or she so desires. My personal favourite is the rule-based version. And as soon as the inner circle is empty, you have come to an end. Naturally, this will not always work. Consequently, you set a timebox.
Just to repeat it: whenever someone from the outer circle moves towards the inner circle and wants to take a seat, one of the current discussants has to vacate his seat. I always find it remarkable how well this works, even if there comes a time when they start lamenting in the inner circle.
The fishbowl is especially to be recommended if an expert system gives a short overview and you want to make the listeners part of the discussion. There is no need to carry microphones and the items of discussion are self-organized.
(Translated by EG)