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5 Tips for Sustainable Communication

CCA LiveE | Wednesday May 18th, 2011 | 0 Comments

The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.

conflict gives you access to what's next in your communication

Conflict isn't easy, but avoiding conflict is harder.

By Shira Kates

As a former English major, now working towards an MBA in Design Strategy at CCA, I’ve discovered that one’s skill in written and verbal communication often mirrors one’s level of success in business. It may in fact, be the one thing that matters most.

Here are 5 ways to keep you rolling effectively on your journey to a greener planet.

1. Release a Grudge

C’mon. You know you’ve got one. Remember that time that one guy said that crazy thing? And you were all, oh no you didn’t? That’s the one to let go. Realize that we have all been guilty of miscommunication and mal-intent at one time or another. Remember how good it feels to be the recipient of forgiveness. And know this: as mammals, we’re predisposed to conflict. We may clash badly for all sorts of reasons.If you doubt it, pick up a copy of A General Theory of Love by Dr. Thomas Lewis.

Could you be vulnerable to triggers that are only aggravated by our deeply held ideologies, personality quirks, blood sugar levels and, of course, lack of sleep? Well, of course you are. So, sleep on it. And then extend an olive branch to that big jerk. It may have been two years ago, but if you haven’t forgotten, neither has your “foe.” What would be possible if that relationship was cleaned up? How would you feel? And what might you accomplish together?

2. Embrace being wrong

Even if, like me, you’re almost never wrong, it’s helpful to realize that you may be pretty attached to being right. And, if so, that attachment may be running your life. How do you know if you have a problem in this area? Ask yourself to recall the last time you apologized, allowed your mind to be changed, and/or the last time you said, “I don’t know.” If you’re having trouble with that one, chances are you’re a know-it-all-smarty-pants and you need to give yourself a shot of humility.

It’s great to be wrong sometimes. Because not only are you letting someone else be right, you’re learning. And in our highest states of learning we feel like kids again. So, you see, being wrong is deeply rejuvenating. And it will only cost you a little pinch of ego. At CCA we had the chance to engage in a powerful exercise around failure, courtesy of Dave Dennison at BATS Improv. Our task was to practice celebrating our failures by shouting “Woo hoo!” whenever we did something wrong.

3. Express yourself fully

Communicating effectively isn’t all about diplomacy and tiptoeing around sensitivities. It’s really about choosing the right tools for expression at the right time. Imagine that everything you’ve learned about effective communication has a slot on a tool belt you wear in your daily life. You choose the right tool for the audience, the timing and the situation at hand. When we are calm and centered, we do this well. When we feel threatened, insecure, or triggered, choice falls away and we may act rashly. The more you manage those situations, the more you can express yourself fully, be respected, and get things done. Only you can express what’s in your heart and mind. And as someone committed to change in the world, you have a responsibility to speak up, sing out, and share your unique expression with the world.

4. Celebrate conflict

The big lesson about conflict is this: The only way out is through. The more you avoid it, the more conflict you create. Think about a time when someone in your life blatantly avoided a charged topic you wanted to discuss. How did you feel? Avoiding difficult conversations is a direct path to resentment and compounded misunderstandings. There are ways to resolve conflict without hurt feelings, tears or escalation. If you shy away from frank discussions and arguments, you may want to do some reading on strategies that work for resolving conflict, respectfully. In our Live Experience class, we used Difficult conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.

Few of us plunge headfirst into battle whenever a disagreement arises. Others seem to thrive on friction. Wherever you stand on the spectrum, try to see conflict as intrinsic to your humanity. Rejoice in the fact that we live in a country where you are protected by the constitution when you express your unique point of view. The fact that we all bring our own perspective, regardless of whether we agree or differ, is something to celebrate.

5. Shun the Naysayer

Or, as Tom Kelley, General Manager of IDEO would say, “Tell the Devil’s Advocate to go to Hell.” Now, that may not sound like a sustainable communication strategy right off the bat, but it’s all about how you deliver it. There’s a time and a place for poking holes in our best-laid plans. And holes can always, always be poked, but miracles happen when we find a way in, rather than a way out. Let the Tentative Tims and Negative Nellys know you will call on them when you’re ready. And then drive that little engine-that-can. Full speed ahead!

Shira Kates, formerly an agency owner and copywriter, is currently halfway to an MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts. Connect with her at skates@cca.edu or on LinkedIn.


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