By Anna Acquistapace
Feelings have never been a part of my past educational experience. We are taught to approach education as a purely intellectual endeavor that requires learning the material then proving you know it when exams come around. However, as we grow into adulthood through our school years, our emotional education develops unguided and intuitively. What we learn is that knowing and feeling are two separate realms that exist in two different spheres, public and private.
In our dMBA LiveE course on communication, we learn that effective communication is informed as much by what we know in an intellectual way as by what we feel in an emotional way. There seems to be a myth that communication in business is about asserting solutions to problems and proving these solutions using numbers and calculations. By doing this, you will be able to convince people that you are in control and have the answers. But, what I’ve realized is that the real value of communication is learning, understanding and connecting. While numbers and information can play an important supporting role, building communication paths based on open dialogue, exchange and feelings lead to richer, holistic solutions.
One exercise from this class involved a performance piece called “Teach Us Something in 7 Minutes.” From this experience, I learned several tools for effective communication that I will carry with me.
My partner and I didn’t know each other when we began working on this project together. When we started talking about what topic to teach, we spent a lot of time uncovering each other’s interests. This process of discovery led us to explore several different possibilities from dollar-bill origami to meditation to fractals. As we crossed things off our list for one reason or another, we refined our vision. We wanted to engage our audience, give them a tangible take-away and connect our lesson to larger theme. Finally we found it! We would teach the audience how to make a “seed bomb.”
The next step was developing the performance. Seed bombs are a guerrilla gardening technique that involves mixing flower seeds with clay and soil, making a perfect delivery package for planting in any place in need of growth. So we had a recipe, but we needed to bring it to life. After several practice iterations of our performance, we decided to act out the interaction between a person and an abandoned lot in their neighborhood—people throw their trash there, look the other way because its ugly, take their dogs there to do their business. Telling this humorous story through actions instead of direct explanation engaged the audience; it was a playful form of communication. Acting the story out sparked their imagination and curiosity. We created an open, inclusive and fun space for learning.
Although only seven minutes duration I was convinced I needed a script for the performance or would be unable to remember what it was I was supposed to say. So I drafted one, but my partner encouraged me to let go a little, to be myself. She didn’t want us to be stiffly reciting memorized words. In the end she was right: the space we left open for spontaneous improvisation was where most of the interesting (and funny) moments happened. This gave me a freedom to interact with the material and go beyond the preconceived structure of the performance. This kind of authenticity translated to the audience. And on a personal level, I learned to trust myself.
Empathy is important in any form of communication. In this instance, the seed bombs symbolized the empathy one can have for their neighborhood. When you toss a seed bomb into an abandoned lot, you are actively playing a role in creating change. Like saying “hello” to people when you get to the office, throwing a seed bomb in your neighborhood is a way of showing that you care. These kinds of gestures are what build a community, whether you’re an individual or a business.
Communication has no one-size fits all. As we move through different contexts and environments, it’s important to remember that communication is about connecting with people. Nobody wants to communicate with a bulldozer on a one-way street. Instead, being adaptable means that you first acknowledge, observe and listen to what and who is around you. Then we can get the most out of the dialogue we start.