With all that technology has afforded us, until we are actually embedded with chips (which, no doubt, may be on the horizon), we are still human, and our human instincts remain intact. When we’re hungry, our stomachs grumble. When we’re thirsty, our mouths get dry. When we’re lonesome, we crave company. Apps might swiftly deliver the food, drink, or perhaps a person of our liking, but they’ve yet to replace the instinct itself.
The same holds true for communication. Texts, emails, and social media have systemically transformed how we communicate, but not the human instincts that cause someone to pay attention to us or ignore us altogether.
Reaching back some 2,300 years and borrowing from Aristotle, I would like to outline these instincts, or what I refer to as the three pillars of exceptional communication: Trust, emotions, and reason. And if we consider the people who we’ve had the ability to most influence, our communication was probably all about them. They perceived us as trustworthy, they experienced more positive emotions than negative ones, and they found our communication came across as reasonable. And in today’s ever-transforming landscape, being certain our communication continues to tap into these instincts, these three pillars of exceptional communication, is as important as ever.
What do you call a relationship with no trust? Over.
So how does our communication allow us to appear trustworthy? Trust is derived from the manner and style in which we present ourselves. If our communication appears trustworthy, it increase the chances that we will be perceived as so.
Keep in mind it’s not how trustworthy we believe we appear, but how trustworthy we appear in someone else’s eyes. In today’s world, trust extends to how quickly we reply to other people and how much we focus on their needs compared to our own. Our actions, as well as our words, build trust, and it’s about them. Trust is the foundation for all truly exceptional communication. And after we have our trust house in order, we can focus on the slippery world of human emotions.
Emotions influence everything, and the most powerful emotions are the ones we generate in other people. We’ve all communicated with people in a manner that has left someone feeling better or worse than before. How we “say” something, the words we use, and the tone will influence what emotions are generated. These emotions determine if and when our messages are received, as well as how people will respond to us.
They can also extend beyond the initial interaction, significantly impacting someone’s wellbeing and how they perceive the world and people around them. And because these emotional experiences can be pinpointed to us, it creates a lasting impact on their future receptivity to what we have to share.
Remember, people feel better when communication focuses more on them and less on us, and when it’s adapted to their preferred medium or style. Once again, it’s all about them. So after they trust us and feel good, we can make sure we appear reasonable, or all that might just disappear.
It’s vitally important that we frame our communication so that it can be digested easily, and reason is what allows us to do just that. Reason grounds and contextualizes our communication so that the other person can derive a meaning that most matches what we desire. But it’s not how reasonable we believe our communication is, but rather how reasonable it is to someone else. Are we providing them sufficient details? Are we making sure they understand us by asking them appropriate questions? We must also consistently ask ourselves, “How might this come across to them?” Again, it’s not about us, rather it’s about them and their perceptions.
Trust, emotions, and reason; unless our communication allows others to perceive us as trustworthy, unless it generates desired emotions, and unless it appears reasonable, our ability to garner attention is limited. Remember, it’s all about other people. By tapping into these instinctual cues, these three pillars of exceptional communication, you ensure that your communication will be paid attention to. And in world where attention spans are in precious short supply, that’s an ancient technology you cannot afford to ignore.
Brian Shapiro is the president of Shapiro Communications and the author of “Exceptionally Human.” He is on the faculty at The University of Pennsylvania’s Organizational Dynamics program. Shapiro is active in the performing arts, including the Philadelphia FringeArts Festival, and is the singer/songwriter for the Paris-based musical trio, Grand Plateau. Originally from Los Angeles, Shapiro, his wife, and their two boys live in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood.