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Hear what isn’t being said


Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO, says with 600 staff across 12 time zones, the company has to make an effort to keep communication as real as possible. That’s because he believes Peter Drucker’s explanation that a large part of communication is non-verbal: you pick up so much of what someone is trying to say from their facial expression, their hand gestures.

As Drucker puts it:

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”

Science says communicating with another person involves assuming they have some knowledge of what you are saying in order for the exchange to work, anticipating what they are about to say and formulating your response before they have even finished speaking. That’s complex, before you have even got past the small talk.

Without being able to hear someone’s tone of voice or intonation, email can be like selective hearing – and a telephone call like talking to someone who has their back turned.

Getting it right can have varying degrees of importance. After all, communication covers everything from the first hello of the day to the interview you think your career hinges on.

Whatever the message and potential outcomes, considering your audience is an early port of call. If you are making an announcement to your family – a new job, for example – you’ll consider how they might feel, what their reaction might be and it might be significantly easier than telling your friendly colleagues, who will be sad to see you go.

Naturally, you’ll choose your method to suit the occasion. Many of your closest family wouldn’t like to receive important news in a group email, for example, or on a tatty note left on the fridge. And you wouldn’t normally hand in your notice by text. Appropriateness is subconscious to a degree.

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