The communication funnel is a concept I regularly discuss with coaching clients, most of whom are senior leaders in constant contact with their direct reports and/or managing virtual teams.
We prioritize immediacy and convenience in our communication, so we start with the fastest and easiest channels at our disposal--text, chat or email. But these channels lack bandwidth, so they're poorly-suited to conveying nuance and complexity.
The obvious solution when a dialogue stalls at one level is to step up to a higher level. Stop texting and send an email. Stop emailing and talk by phone or video. Get off the phone and wait to talk until we're face-to-face.
On occasion this isn't feasible--there's truly an urgent need to complete the dialogue now. But much more often this perceived need is an illusion. Our ability to assess the situation clearly is clouded by anxiety, fear and excitement--emotions that are compounded by organizational cultures that lead us to expect immediate responses. We become emotionally triggered and lose perspective.
(And, of course, this illusory desire for immediacy is driven by trillion-dollar industries that stoke, fulfill and profit from our need for speed.)
The key is managing those emotions that keep us stuck in a stalled, unproductive dialogue. How can we do this? Four suggestions:
1. Turn off unnecessary alarms.
The functions on our phones and other devices that beep, blink and thrust red numbers in our faces are designed to capture our attention and create a sense of urgency. They play a critical role in keeping us stuck. But how often are any of these interruptions truly urgent? Almost never. Turn them off to avoid being unnecessarily triggered and to minimize anxiety, fear and excitement.
2. Reframe the situation.
Concepts such as David Rock's SCARF model and Chris Argyris' Ladder of Inference can help us step back and view our immediate experience from a new perspective. This process of reframing is a well-established psychological technique derived from cognitive behavioral therapy, but it's important to apply it early in a potentially stressful situation, before we're triggered and reactive.
3. Acknowledge our emotions.
Emotions play a critical role in decision-making and rational thought, and they can also easily lead us astray in stressful situations. Acknowledging what we're feeling in the moment can help us manage our emotions by regulating their appropriate expression, rather than trying to suppress them, which almost always fails. This starts with expanding our emotional vocabulary, but it also involves developing working relationships and organizational cultures within which we can express what we're feeling.
4. Build our capacity for mindfulness.
Over time we can increase our ability to manage our emotions and focus our attention in a productive direction, and the key is our capacity for mindfulness--non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of our immediate experience. Meditating for just a few minutes a day has been shown to have a powerful impact, and other reflective practices such as journaling and time in nature can play a role as well. Further, regular physical exercise and good sleep hygiene allow us to be more attuned to our emotions and comprehend them more fully without being governed by them.
Photo by Je.T. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.