Effective Communication: One on One

There is so much packed into John Maxwell’s book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect that I’ve had a challenging time figuring out how to approach the next few weeks’ blog posts. I think the best way to do this is to look at three different ways we connect with people: 1) Connecting One-on-One; 2) Connecting in a Group; 3) Connecting with an Audience. I’ll spend a week on each of these topics and try to pull out the best of Maxwell’s principles and practices for each. Today we will focus on connecting with people one-on-one.

Connecting is never about me. It’s about the person with whom I’m communicating. If you want to connect with others, you have to get over yourself. You have to change the focus from inward to outward, off yourself and onto others. All it takes are the will to change your focus, the determination to follow through, and the acquisition of a handful of skills.
— John Maxwell

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have been helping with the Leadership Development Process at Simmons over the last 14 months. My task been focused on Simmons’ Values - transforming them from being words on a poster, to action and behaviors that drive our decision making, attitudes and relationships. What has drawn me to the topic of connecting with others is one of our core values, Put People First. The very thought that my company values its people certainly makes me feel good, but it causes me to transition my focus onto those that I work alongside, customers I serve, and people who are impacted by the decisions I make every day. How I live out this value of Put People First is directly influenced by how well I am connecting with others.

So when it comes to connecting with people one-on-one, on a scale of 0 (I am terrible at it) to 10 (I could write this book), where would you rate yourself? Here’s a better way to find out - go ask the five people that you communicate with the most...there’s your answer!

You can connect with others if you’re willing to get off your own agenda, to think about others, and to try to understand who they are and what they want. If you really want to help people, connecting becomes more natural and less mechanical. It goes from being something you merely do to become part of who you really are.
— John Maxwell

UCLA psychology professor emeritus, Albert Mehrabian discovered that face-to-face communication can be broken down into three components: words, tone of voice, and body language. In situations where feelings and attitudes are being communicated:

  • What we say accounts for only 7 percent of what is believed.
  • The way we say it accounts for 38 percent.
  • What others see accounts for 55 percent.

More than 90 percent of the impression we often convey has nothing to do with what we actually say. So if you believe communication is all about words, you’re totally missing the boat, and you will always have a hard time connecting with others.

Connecting One-on-One

Maxwell believes that connecting with people one-on-one is more important than being able to connect with people in an audience or group. This kind of goes against the grain of common thinking, but when you truly think about it, 80-90 percent of connecting occurs on the one-to-one basis, and usually with the people that are closest and most important to you. 

To connect well one-on-one, you need to: 

  • Have interest in the person. 
  • Place value on that person.
  • Put his or her interests ahead of your own.
  • Express gratitude to and for that person.

Connecting is All About Others

Tips to increase your influence one-on-one:

  • Talk more about the other person and less about yourself. Prepare two or three questions you can ask someone before a meeting or social gathering.
  • Bring something of value, such as a helpful quote, story, book, or CD, to give to someone when you get together.
  • At the close of the conversation, ask if there is anything you can do to help them and then follow through. Acts of servanthood have a resounding impact that live longer than words.

Connecting Goes Beyond Words

People often overlook the importance of the nonverbal aspects of communication when trying to connect with another person. They don’t go the extra mile to connect beyond words.

You can improve in this area if you:

  • Connect visually by giving the other person your complete attention. The eyes are the window of the soul; see the other person’s heart and show your heart.
  • Connect intellectually by asking questions, listening carefully, and also paying attention to what is not being said.
  • Connect emotionally through touch (being careful to honor boundaries and remain appropriate with members of the opposite sex).
If your face is going to “talk” for you anyways, you might as well have it communicate something positive.
— John Maxwell

Connecting Always Requires Energy

Many people get lazy when it comes to connecting one-on-one. They take for granted that people will listen to them. But that’s doing a disservice to others, especially the people who are closest to you, such as your friends and family. Avoid that pitfall. The next time you try to connect with someone one-on-one, gear up for it mentally and emotionally, just as you would for an audience. If you bring intentional energy to the conversation, you make it much easier for people to connect with you.

Tips to increase the energy one-on-one:

  • Write on a piece of paper the significant things that happen to you during the day.
  • For important things, tell no one else before sharing it with this specific person.
  • Take time each day to go over your lists with each other, which requires intentionality and energy.

Connectors Connect on Common Ground

Building a bridge on common ground is easier one-on-one than with many people because you can get immediate and continuous feedback from the other person. To find common ground, ask questions with an eye for common interests and experiences. When you find common ground, tell stories, share emotions, and offer lessons learned from those experiences. And if possible, do something together that you both enjoy.

Connectors Inspire People

What qualities help people to connect with you? Here is what they want to see:

  • A heart to serve - People need to know that you want to serve them.
  • A person of good values - Show your values by words and actions.
  • A helping hand - Add value to others and always try to lift them up.
  • A caring spirit - People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  • A believing attitude - People migrate to those who believe in them.

In my role as a Chaplain at Simmons, I want everything I do and say to be a reflection of how I am living my own life. I want my best teaching tool to be my attitudes and actions, not my ability to write a good blog or teach a leadership session. I want to live authentically live it out. So here are two things I have been working on since starting to read this book.

First, I have implemented a 10 Foot Rule. If I am walking through an office, plant, Walmart or park and another person comes within 10 feet, I acknowledge their presence with a smile and oftentimes a simple "hello". It doesn't seem like much, but it has certainly helped me to be more aware of the people around me and honestly, how oftentimes I would walk past people and how that made them feel. I have seen people's countenance completely change, even in people I don't have a clue who they are, by simply smiling as I walk past and greeting them. It adds value and it communicates so much. It has opened the door to some dynamic connections with people that I would have just walked by, simply by acknowledging that they were in the room. Try it out!

The second thing that I have realized as I thought about the non-verbal barriers in my desire to connect with people was that I often sat behind my desk when people came to talk with me. I didn't think anything about it until I was on the other end of the desk a few weeks ago. That desk might as well have been the Grand Canyon and there was a struggle to connect. So three weeks ago, I turned my desk so that it opens up to my office chairs, so that when people come to visit and connect, there is nothing in between us. I cannot tell you the dynamic impact that this has had on my ability to connect with people. It seems so simple, and yet aren't some of the greatest things in life just that - simple. If you can't move your desk, the next time someone comes into your office and its an opportunity to connect, get up and go sit in the chair next to them. You will open up the doors of communication wide open and the chances of truly connecting with them increases exponentially.

This blog is jam-packed with some incredible principles and practices that will help you to better connect with people one-on-one. I would hate for you to read this and then just move on today. Go back through and write down 2-3 ideas that jump off the page to you. In your communication today and the rest of this week, be intentional about implementing these as you seek to improve your ability to genuinely connect with people at work and at home.

No matter who you are or with whom you are trying to communicate, you can improve your ability by smiling at people and being expressive. Even if you work in a tough environment or a staid corporate culture, you don’t have to maintain a grim visage all the time. I figured this out early in life. When I was in the third grade, I remember looking at myself in the mirror one morning and thinking, I am not a handsome guy. What am I going to to with a face like this? Then I smiled. And I thought, That helps.
— John Maxwell