My observation is that we are getting worse and worse in communications in the business world.  We do not talk WITH each other…we seem to talk ALONGSIDE each other.

Here is what I mean.  Try this the next time you are in a group of people talking.  Observe the conversation rather than participate in it.  Count how often people actually follow a discussion as opposed to start new ones…generally about themselves.  For example, one person will say something like “I have decided that I am going to move to France for a year.”  Following the conversation would mean responding with something like “Really, where are you thinking of living?”  Or, “That’s such a great idea, France is a beautiful country.  Why are you going to do that?”  In other words, building on what the other person has said and developing the subject…striving for greater content and understanding.

My observation has been that there is an increasing tendency for people to talk alongside each other…to reply with a statement about themselves rather than follow the conversation.  In this example, talking alongside would mean responding with a statement like, “I have travelled to France a thousand times” or, “I lived in Italy for six months”…statements that do not build on the subject that the individual has raised, but rather turn the conversation toward themselves.

The problem is that this is not communicating.  Responses like that do not help to progress the discussion.  People are not listening and trying to truly understand what the other person is saying.  It reflects a craving for attention.  It reflects a focus on oneself.  Most importantly, it results in a low level of understanding about what is being said and what the implications might be.

In a business setting  it can also be a means for people to push their own agenda, or direct the flow of the conversation in that direction.  Be aware of this.  It can be a very specific and conscious tactic to control the discussion and the progress of the team.

As a leader you need to be aware of your group dynamics…who is dominating the conversation…who is pushing the conversation in their desired direction…who is being left out or overpowered.  Your facilitation skills need to be very sharp.  Picking up on issues like these and bringing people back to the subject under discussion will not only keep the team focused on the issue at hand and making progress toward it, but it will help ensure that personal agendas are kept under control.