All animals communicate, and while I’m certain I’m not telling you anything new, there is a substantial difference between the limited though still successful communication capability found among a troop of chimpanzees, or colony of ants, and our own human language. As Homo sapiens (translated from Latin as, “wise human”), we have distinguished ourselves from all other animals on earth. What has made us so special, and why should this matter to you? While reading the book Species recently by Yuval Noah Harari, he describes our fluid language—which we use to communicate primarily with, and about, other humans–as a distinguishing factor, and why we are presently the only extant species from the tribe Hominini after world events beginning 70,000 years ago.
Fast forward to today. Evidence supports communication as a pivotal part of critical situations. Organizations seeking to implement best practices recognize this; the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) being one of them. Effective communication between patients, families and the medical team is viewed as high-quality, patient-centered care, and the VHA goes a step further by providing publicly downloadable resources for clinicians and families to use to improve focused, mutually understood goals of care conversations. The question is: although there is research to back up its importance, and clearly communication was a major distinguishing factor in our evolutionary history, can you honestly say you would have considered communication a learnable skill?
Being a leader in high impact training, ERPi recognizes the role communication plays in the workplace. Recently I attended a training called Crucial Conversations® at ERPi headquarters. Led by an experienced instructor, we went over a model describing characteristics which were consistent across all difficult conversations. After we were introduced to a multistep process for working through the challenges, we made it relevant by applying them to a conversation we were presently struggling with. Some individuals shared these conversations with the group, taking the training to a deeper level, and bringing out both strong emotions as well as humor.
Communication can and should be looked at in the same way we view other skills, which can be taught, practiced, and mastered. I’m lucky to be part of a firm that recognizes this. While most of us do not look forward to having high stakes conversations, with advanced planning we can make the experience less stressful, enjoy shared meaning, and improve our chances of a peaceful resolution—all of which contribute to a high-performance, respectful work culture.
The evidence of our history proves that communication is the essence of our humanity. By taking opportunities to improve our ability to communicate, including–and especially during–challenging conversations, we will strengthen our skill set. Our clients, our coworkers, even our friends and family will benefit from it.