On this episode of Communicate I/O Erica shares the most common mistake leaders make when communicating with their staff. This mistake contributes to the average $12,506 lost per person per year to chaotic and confusing communication. Using the Communicate I/O method, she gives concrete examples of how you can fix this mistake and communicate with clarity and confidence. Eric introduces the thought model and gives you easy yet powerful leadership tools that will shift the way you communicate.
This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart on the Communicate I/O podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!
feelings, communicate, inputs, brain, leader, people, message, communication, desired outcomes, positional authority, outcomes, negativity bias, intangible, reasons, amplified, safe, nervous systems, mistake
Erica Mills Barnhart
Hello, hello, welcome back to Communicate I/O, the new name for the formerly known Marketing for Good podcast, where we are all about teaching leaders how to communicate with clarity and confidence so you can get the desired outcomes you want. With Communicate I/O, we’re focused on which inputs, the I’s, the words, the language, the emojis, the exclamation points, whatever the case is going to be, right? What are the inputs that can produce a desired outcome? Outcomes come in all shapes and sizes. You know that right? Maybe that’s sales targets, or fundraising goals, or developing a new product or service or creating cultures where people feel included and inspired? Outcomes can be both tangible and intangible. So, one of the important things about Communicate I/O, which was a bit of a mind shift for some, is you want to start with the outcomes. And again, both tangible and intangible, yes, yes, I am foreshadowing here to the rest of this episode and the mistake. Okay, you’re going start there. And then you’re going to reverse engineer into those inputs. And I say, this is a mind shift, because you are so busy, as a leader as a human, that oftentimes we just sit down, we’re like, “okay, I’m getting it out”. You know, we’re in the habit of thinking about the output. Yeah. But not necessarily consistently, the outcome, to the extent that it behooves us, especially as leaders, that is part of your job, when you hold positional authority, or you have that title, yes. With communication, there are always two things going on, there’s what is being sent or said, the message, but then there’s how the message is received. Your goal is to get as much alignment between those two things as possible. This means intentionally asking, how will the person, or people, on the other end of my communication best receive my message? Now, you’ve likely heard of asking this question, what do I want someone to know or feel? And what do you want someone to know, feel and do generally, not in that order? And maybe you’re somebody who is consistent about this practice of first figuring that out, you’ve really been starting with the desired outcome of your communication, if so, hats off to you. That’s pretty rare, and partially, again, by a function of how many things you need to get through in a day, right? So, here’s the mistake, okay, and it’s a biggie, which is we prioritize what we want people to know and do. And we don’t spend sufficient time figuring out how they need to feel for their brains, their heads and their hearts, to be open to receiving your message about the knowing and the doing. In our society, we are very focused on productivity, about getting those results by getting them as fast as possible. All those things. And feelings are intangible. I mean, sure, they take up physicality at times, but we kind of demote them, which for reasons that we will cover in a minute, it’s not strategic. It’s really not strategic. Now, before we go any further, I want you to hearken back to the last communication or recent communication you sent or set and you know, maybe it was an email or a Slack or Teams message, maybe update at a team meeting. Think of something sort of daily that you do every day, like not high stakes. And the reason I say that is because if you’re going to give a big presentation, you generally will put in the effort like you’ll bring that intentionality, at least twice you want people feeling, so there is this nuance of there’s a difference between how we want people to feel, we can’t control how anybody feels. We can only control our own feelings, but what you want folks to feel is different than how do I need people to feel in order to receive my message and at a minimum, to the odds that the message is received, we need them to feel safe and secure, and calm, and a bunch of things that give them what we’re coming off of do not come easily. So we’re going to get into that now, with your example, What process did you go through to get from, “I need to communicate X thing to Y person or people” to crossing it off your to do list, like I said, oftentimes, and again, this is just an efficiency play, we go from it do the thing to writing and saying the thing, boom, crossed this off, high five, and moving on to the next thing, which is all well and good, except it’s possible that there are some very unintended consequences that create a ripple effect that leads to chaos, confusion, loss, labor, and that’s expensive. Chaos is costly. Chaos is costly. So here’s the mistake just to state very clearly: leaders skip over or don’t put on equal footing with what you want someone to know and do, you don’t put the feelings that need to be there on equal footing. Okay, this is a critical mistake. Now, you know, it’s an addressable mistake. So that’s great. I just want it like if any of you, you tend to be fairly intellectual as listeners, right, you’re super smart, you’re logical. And you’re like, oh, my gosh, she’s going to talk about aliens. I am going to talk about feelings. And we’re going to talk about when we’re going to talk about feelings. And you can be like feelings are a waste of time, let’s not get squishy and woowoo, and no, thank you. I get it. I totally get it. I’ve been there before. But when you actually look at the data with your mind, you know, with your brain, it really makes the case for shifting and prioritizing this idea of what does someone need to feel in order to receive the message? Okay, because here’s a fun, not so fun fact, organizations are losing on average $12,506. Let me say that again, $12,506 per person, per year, because of poor chaotic, confusing communication. Okay, this is addressable. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. But importantly, and for the purposes of this episode, I think a big piece of this is that is the inadvertent negative consequences of not taking the time to do this. What do people need to feel now, by making this shift? You go from possibly confusion and chaos, to communicating with clarity and confidence and compassion. This saves you money while making your people feel better? Right? It boosts your bottom line, so that’s a win win, I think seems that way. So, Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel”. Right. And we know this intuitively. We’ve all had experiences, right? I’m sure we can think about any number of experiences in our past, and we can’t remember the specifics of it. But we surely remember how we felt. Right? So, there’s definitely something to this. Our feelings are powerful, right? And so neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio puts it this way, we are thinking machines who feel sorry, backtrack, we are not thinking machines who feel rather, we are feeling machines who think, he’s a neuroscientist. Why would he say that? Why wouldn’t he be on board with we were thinking machines do like on occasionally feel? No, he’s not. And here’s the deal. We are actually blissfully unaware of most of what is happening to us and around us. It’s possible. The human body, unbeknownst to us, most of the time is sending 11 million bits of information per second to the brain for processing. This is like information we get through our senses. Okay? That’s a lot of info that is going into the brain, yet the conscious mind seems to only be able to process about 50 bits, five oh, versus 11 million. A lot of information is just lost, you know, it’s lost and then there are emotional reactions, that those occur automatically and unconsciously. So a lot of this is getting absorbed. There’s a million bits in our subconscious, but we’re not consciously aware of that there’s a stimulus and our nervous systems are like, I know what to do. I’m here for you. They kick into high gear, they’re sending out messages, chemicals are released, all sorts of things are happening. Yeah, sometimes after we’re like, Oh, I feel in a feel. And because we’re human, we think that there’s you know, there isn’t a space between the stimulus and this reaction. You know, Viktor Frankl famously spoke to like, you can’t, if you become aware of this, you can honor that space and really go from reaction to response. But most of us are like a feel on the feel. Especially, especially, we notice these feels in Western culture, when they’re like, what we have deemed bad feelings, you know, anger, sadness, you know, mad whatnot, then we try to do this really cute thing, which is we try to stuffed them away as if they’re not happening, which of course, we can’t do, it doesn’t work. What we resist persists as the saying goes. And so we’re kind of a hot mess with all of this. But here’s some good news. Some good news, with some caveats. Our thoughts are mega powerful, some would say all powerful. I’m not like willing to go there. But for a variety of reasons that we’ll go into future episodes. But they are so powerful, right, like, once you notice a feeling, if you can get a little distance from it, right? Like notice that space between, you didn’t get a handle on it, you can regulate your reaction, your response, your thoughts, your feelings, you can create an entirely different pattern. Okay, a neural muscular pattern. This is called thought work or the thought model. And we’re going to talk a lot about it in future episodes, because it is super dope and helpful and powerful. It has changed a lot of things in my life for the better. And for many, many, many other people. And I want that for you. If you’re not already familiar with it. I’m sure many of you are. It is a powerful leadership tool and a powerful life tool for that matter. For this episode, here’s what I want to point out. And this is sort of the buzzkill transition from like, it’s so flippin cool, that when you get you know, on top of your thoughts, you can change how you feel. And you can also reverse engineer by the way, you can say, How do I want to feel? What thoughts do I need to have in order to feel that way? So again, it’s very cool. It’s very powerful. For this episode, the power gets tougher, the more stressed we are, and we’re coming off COVID, we’re all stressed in that way. And then if you’re a leader, and you’re communicating with your staff, employees, you know, your team, your messages are amplified, and they create more stress because you hold power, okay? Our brains are just, they’re, like, so sweet. They’re just constantly trying to keep us safe. And as a result, they do all sorts of really kind of odd things. They’re always on high alert. So, we’re feeling this like low key sense of danger. And you add to that power dynamics that is heightened, okay? And what we want, what we need, if we want our messages to land is for people to feel calm, for them to feel safe. And what that does is it opens up the prefrontal cortex, that executive function, and allows the message to land and for them to like, know the thing, and then do the thing, have a conversation, whatever. And, and it’s efficient, actually, it’s quite efficient. When you’re feeling in danger that’s not available. The prefrontal cortex is like, I’m out. I’m passing the baton to you, reptilian part of the brain. And the reptilian part of the brain only has four options fight, flight, freeze or fawn. I hadn’t heard of fawn before, it means play dead. I think it totally if there hadn’t been fight flight and freeze the F’s, I think would have been called playing possum, which is basically what it is. But those options are not great. You do not like if that’s how somebody feels they are not receiving your message, right? They’re internally focused. They are just trying to survive. They’re trying to survive. You’ve experienced this, I’ve experienced this. We’ve all experienced this, right? Because we’re human. We are not our most evolved selves in these moments. Okay. Again, this has always been the case. But we are coming off an unprecedented pandemic. I know, we’re all tired of saying that and we’re all tired of hearing it. And yet it’s true. So, what has been left is our nervous systems are they’re just fried. And our default now is to be on high alert. I mean, like, going to the grocery store used to be a perfectly safe activit, I wasn’t like, oh, no, I have to go grocery shopping. I mean, I don’t love grocery shopping. By the way. It’s not my favorite activity. But I didn’t feel like fear about it. Now, I mean, literally, you go in and you pick up a kumquat and then you put the kumquat down because you don’t really want the kumquat and then, you know you’re like oh my god, I just touched the kumquat do I use hand sanitizer now? Oh my god, I’m probably going to die, like our brains move very quickly. Oh, there. We’re coming out. We’re feeling safer, right? Like that was a bit from like 11 months ago or whatever, a year ago. And those neural pathways are now there. Right? So we’re just elevated in that way. So as a leader, as a leader who is trying to communicate, you need to get messages across. It’s about community. It’s about a host of sorts of beautiful things, right? And producing together and individually desired outcomes. So, communication is awesome. I mean, I’m biased, of course, but you have an uphill battle. Especially as a leader, again, your voice is amplified that angst and fear is amplified when people are on the receiving end of your communications, if they are subordinate to you. We have the COVID. And then we have the great resignation. Even if people are leaving, for great reasons, dream jobs, I’m going to start my own business, I don’t know, I’ve always loved candles. Now I’m going to go be a candle maker, whatever the thing is, for the folks who are still there in the organization, even if they know that consciously, they are still left with this reptilian part of their brain that it’s like, Hmm, right. Well, now we’re not safe because our tribe has disappeared. Yeah. I’m just layering it layering it. Okay, so people’s brains aren’t calm. You can’t assume that as our starting place, we actually have to assume that what we need people to feel is not entirely calm to high bar, but calm enough, safe enough. Right, safe enough to receive the message. Okay. Let me give you an example. Because I do actually, I do actually do the things that I talked about on the podcast. Now, I don’t do it with every single missive that I send, to be clear, I don’t pause every single time think, how do I need that person to feel? You know, especially me for whatever was not my personal life, right? Like I jot off text all the time. But when it matters, and in particular, in particular, prioritize when you know, you hold positional authority, and or when you know, you’re dealing with a team that’s deflated, right? For whatever the reasons, then then this like, starting with what are the desired outcomes, what do the inputs need to be and are those desired outcomes, really been about an intangible with it, which is the feelings. So, I am a professor at the University of Washington, Go Dawgs. So, I teach a course called Capstone. This is a two-quarter course. So, it’s, it’s lots of credits. And all second year students getting their Master’s in Public Administration have to complete this to graduate. And they do a portfolio for clients. So, this isn’t like a hypothetical exercise. It’s, you know, it’s applied. So, the stakes are high. I am their professor. I hold positional authority, right? I have power in the situation. So, when I communicate with them, I’m really mindful of this. Because what do I know? I know, that their brains are going to want to protect them. Right? They’re going to be in high alert, because I have power. And that’s just the deal. So that’s always on my mind. So, when I’m going to communicate, and I do this pretty consistently, because of that power dynamic, when I communicate with students, if any of my students are listening, and this is true, I don’t always nail it. No, I have gotten wrong very, very many times. But I do generally start with like, okay, baseline, especially the graduate students, they are very stressed. Yes. They have gone through their graduate experience through COVID. Right. So again, to these layers, these layers and these layers, so I start with, okay, what do I need? At a minimum? I needed a minimum for them to feel calm, safe. Yeah. So, then what are the inputs that can get me there so that they can hear whatever the message is, you know, so recently, I changed something that was on the syllabus. And it was it sort of a big deal thing-ish. They were supposed to give final presentations in a couple of weeks. But they had given the students, student groups and working groups had given presentations a couple weeks ago, they were really good. They were in great shape, right? And then I’ve seen the work that they’re doing. And I was just like, you know what, their time is so precious, they’re going to be in the homestretch in a couple weeks. Why not liberate that time? You know, let them use it for something else. So, I needed them to feel calm and safe. Yes, I wanted them to feel relieved. But again, you know, we can’t control how anyone else is going to feel about anything. But that was a hope that I had, right. And so, I factored all that in into my inputs into how I wrote what ended up being an email to announce the update. Now. If I had done that, if it was just like a status update. I could have just said final presentations are canceled. Right. They’ve, you know, in theory, I’ve communicated with them. But I would have been unconvinced that that message would have been received without possible negative consequences of them wondering why. Why in our brains you know, it’s called negativity bias. This is to protect us, aren’t our brains so sweet? It’s to protect us. But if I don’t share Why like the rationale behind it, they might not in this case, the students, might not feel safe enough to like hear it. And then they’re spending their time wondering why this has happened. Why is there is this change, it’s so late in the game, when really the reason was, and so this is what I started with your presentations were so good. You’re in great shape, I don’t think it’s the best use of your time. Therefore, we’re going to cancel those final presentations. Okay? That just this is a small nuance, and then how I close things are very attentive to how you open and how I close, trying to be consistent. So if you’re somebody, your leader has consistent way of opening like, hey, or Howdy, or Hello, or whatever it is, being consistent matters in these moments. And I always close with the same offer, which is like I’m here to serve and support you, you know, holler if I can be of service. Now, do I know for certain that 100% of students were like, Oh, my God, yay, you know huge sigh of relief? I don’t. I do know from some that they were like, yippee skippy. You know, thank you for that decision, it’s one less thing of a very long to do list for them. I don’t know, that was 100%. But I do know that I did what I put the inputs in, in a way that I fill up the odds as much as possible to get that desired outcome of at a minimum, them feeling safe and secure. And hopefully relieved, you know, I really did want that for them, they work so hard, I would like to create a little bit of spaciousness, but that’s, and that’s sort of like extra credit. Oftentimes, it’s like, how do we want people to feel. So that’s my example. Recent example. And again, you know, notice, it’s not like a high stakes example. It’s sort of a mundane example. And if I was an attentive over the course of a course, you know, a quarter a year, those little things really do add up, there is a law around the litany of little things, and they add up for better or for worse, so it’s worth being attentive, especially again, when you know that you hold positional authority when your voice is going to be amplified. And, or when you have a team that’s for whatever reason, just in a place where that negativity bias is going to be fierce. It only takes an extra kind of minute, and you are savvy communicators, right? We can, we can always all improve, I certainly am always learning. But you will naturally this is what I found with working on coaching. Leadership is like once you start there, you really naturally know how to adjust your inputs. And we can talk more about that right and, and sort of straightened, strengthen that habit in your writing or in your speaking. It’s a skill builder. But just by just by pausing and thinking what do I need them to feel in order to be open to what I want them to know? And do so a little bit of resequencing. Right, you avoid this mistake. And again, trust yourself, you know how to do this. And you will do you will readjust those inputs quite naturally. Okay, so do you still have your example in mind? I hope so, that was a lot. It’s just like, take a breath. There’s a lot left, but brains and stuff and feelings, which is sort of funny, because some of you will be like, Oh, it wasn’t really feelings, but the brain stuff was cool. And they’re all related, right? It’s actually it’s all the same thing. I hope you notice that. So, with your example of how you apply this reordering this idea of the needing them to feel in order to do what you want them to. That was terribly phrased. But hopefully by now you know what I’m talking about? Because I’ve said it about a gazillion times in this episode, yes. How do they need to feel? Start there, like and if you already did that, I just want to say super big high five to you. If you didn’t, and this isn’t a habit for you. This isn’t about good or bad. It’s not about you being like, oh, I’ve blown it. This is about curiosity. It’s about learning. It’s about growing. It’s about expanding. It’s about modeling something for your team. That’s huge. Just modeling it for your team. Okay, so learning evolving. It’s about communicating as a leader by learning and using a plan with Communicate I/O. Thank you for listening. Thank you for leading. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, and I hope you have a fabulously terrific day.