Our communication skills are like riding a bike. We think we know how to do it because we learned “it” once. We know the mechanics of mounting the bike, pedaling, steering, breaking, and balance. But just because we know the mechanics does not mean we can do it well let alone teach another.
My husband and I discovered this recently when we gave our young kids their first bike lesson. We were just as excited as the kids. We imagined all the doors that would open once the kids learned to ride a bike. We pictured ourselves sitting on the porch watching the kids whiz by shouting,” Mom! Dad! Watch this!” We imagined taking long family bike rides to and through the park. All we needed to do was teach them and then “oh the places we’d go”.
The problem was we didn’t realize that teaching our kids how to ride a bike would be so DIFFICULT.
You would think since we knew how to ride a bike, we could teach our kids the fundamentals of riding a bike, right? WRONG!
When I tell people I train and coach on effective interpersonal communication skills, they begin to imagine, like my husband and I did, all the wonderful doors that will open to them or their organization with improved communication skills. They imagine a work team that functions with respect. They imagine how productive they could be. They go on imagining.
What they don’t imagine is the planning and strategy it takes to get there.
Here are two communication lessons learned from our bike riding lesson.
1. Don’t assume just because you do it, you do it well!
Harold D. Stolovich and Erica J. Keeps wrote a hugely popular book in the training and development world called Telling Ain’t Training. The book, as implied by the title, exposes myths and assumptions that keep you from getting results. Assumptions like just because you tell someone how to do something, doesn’t mean you have trained them in how to do it.
Likewise, telling people to work on their people skills or communicate better does not mean they know what you mean or that they have the skill to do it. As leaders, culture creators, coaches, etc. we have to make sure our meaning is clear and the appropriate resources are available.
2. Don’t miss the opportunity to create community!
My husband and I soon discovered that we needed to speak the same language when we taught our kids how to ride. When I said “be steady” and he said “keep your balance” our kids didn’t know we mean the same thing because the language the same. My husband and I had to come together to create a common language. In doing so, we bonded in an unexpected way.
Likewise, people think communication skills are common sense. There are 2 problems with that line of thinking. First, it leaves what is “common” open to individual interpretation. Second, it removes a major opportunity to develop community. By starting from zero, and collectively building stellar communication practices, you create a deeper sense of team; you create buy-in; and you provide the internal motivation needed to stick with it.
Once you acknowledge your assumptions and use the opportunity to build a more vested community, then you can fully imagine all the places you will go!
Have you set out to teach something seemingly easy, only to discover it is harder than you thought? You can leave your comment below.