A Failure to Communicate

In a Forbes blog called “Having a ’versation,” you can read about the vital importance of the “co-” in communication, i.e., having both parties in an exchange—whether in conversation, correspondence, or yes, presentations—participate and contribute equally to achieve a win-win outcome.

The subject found further expression in a recent edition of New Yorker Magazine’s Sketchpad feature with a cartoon called “Rebellion of the Speech Bubble!” Using only empty speech bubbles, cartoonist Liana Finck cleverly illustrates the famous line from the film Cool Hand Luke: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Finck demonstrates eight types of failure in verbal communication without words. But because we’re in the business of communication, let me take Finck’s images one step further and add words to call out the eight failures. At the end, you’ll find four positive techniques to communicate effectively way: a win-win.

  1. Two people, each with an empty speech bubble over their heads, but both of the bubble tails emanate from only one person’s bubble. Failure: one person talking at (rather than with) a person and dominating the conversation.
  1. Two people, each with an empty speech bubble shaped like amorphous jig saw puzzle pieces that fit at only one point. Failure: a conversation with limited engagement or one person dominating.
  1. Two people whose empty speech bubbles merge into a spiral whirlpool. Failure: a conversation that gets lost in the weeds.
  1. Two people with one empty speech bubble with two tails, one longer than the other. Failure: two people speaking about a subject of primary interest to only one of them.
  1. Two people with two amoeba-shaped speech bubbles with only one tiny point of contact. Failure: a conversation that is all over the map and rarely coincides.
  1. Two people, each with an empty speech bubble with the tails crossing over each other. Failure: Two people speaking past each other; or worse, more an argument than a conversation.
  1. One person has small speech bubble embedded in a dark cloud with no tail; the other person has no speech bubble. Failure: Radio silence; no communication whatsoever.
  1. One person, one speech bubble. Failure: No one is listening.

Avoid these eight traps. Instead, listen, and fill your speech bubbles with these four positive techniques:

  • Acknowledge the other person’s point of view: This technique closes the gap between two different points of view without affecting or compromising either. Build a bridge by saying, “I see what you mean…”
  • Share opinions in context: State your own opinion or even disagree but do it in relation to the other point of view by saying, “The way I see your position…”
  • Exchange mutual viewpoints: Find common ground and state it by saying, “I agree that…”
  • Ask open-ended questions: To add depth and perspective, draw out further detail by asking, “How do you feel about…?”

Make it a two-way street. Put the “co-” back into communication.