Tips for Cofounder Success // Part II: Learn To Communicate.

In our first post, we encouraged cofounders to get to know themselves in a deep and authentic way, so as to know exactly what it is they hope to communicate with others. Once you’ve taken the time to go deep, you’re ready actually get your message across, and receive others’ messages as well, hopefully without becoming too activated in the process (more on that later). So, tip #2 brings us to that crucial next step:

Tip #2: Learn To Communicate.

Remember those Kindergarten basics? Think before you speak. Remove all distractions. Look someone in the eye when they are speaking to you. Use a gentle tone of voice. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Express empathy and validation. Yeah, we all know these things. But do we practice them in everyday life? Especially with those closest to us? Often, the answer is no. And all too often, it’s small mistakes in this area that can lead to much larger miscommunications, conflict, and resentment — and the end of your company/relationship.

Communication skills are just that: skills. Skills are meant to be learned, practiced, rehearsed. They are mechanical at first but become fluid and second-nature over time. Think learning to ride a bike, drive a car, even reading and writing. Each of these skills began as completely unknown to your body and mind, and you had to exert active effort in order to become fluent in them over time. By now, you are a pro (hopefully) at them, without even having to invest much mental effort at all. The same goes for communication.

The only problem is, most people don’t realize this. Many assume that they already are great communicators, that people tend to listen to them or care about what they are saying, that they tend to get what they want…especially in the business world, which is made up of go-getters, sellers, passionate people who love describing their ideas to the world. They don’t even realize that in fact, they are missing the basic elements of true communication, that other people don’t actually feel heard by them, that they are not actually convincing anyone of anything meaningful, and that they are in fact living on a completely different planet from those they are trying to connect with. This is one of the main pitfalls in any relationship, whether it be a marriage, a friendship, or a business partnership. And it’s one that is easily fixed, with a bit of focused education and practice. This is a huge part of what cofounder counseling is all about, and something worth investing time, money, and effort into before you run into difficulties later on. It’s easy to communicate when everything is going well and everyone is motivated, happy, and excited. It’s much harder when the money is running out, the users are complaining, the tech is failing, and you haven’t slept in weeks.

While it generally takes at least a few sessions with a qualified therapist to teach and help hone these skills, here are the steps in a nutshell:

  1. Remove all distractions (screens, phone ringer, quiet space).
  2. Face one another and maintain eye contact.
  3. Take turns as “speaker” (whose only job is to say one concise idea at a time) and “listener” (whose only job is to actively listen, mirror back, and validate what was heard).
  4. Listener: Repeat back what you heard in your own words periodically, and ask questions to clarify.
  5. Check to make sure you have it right before moving on (“Do I have that right?”).
  6. AFTER the speaker acknowledges they feel understood, VALIDATE what they said (“this makes sense to me because XYZ….”; “I would feel the same way because XYZ…”).
  7. Now switch roles and start again with the next bit of communication.

Sounds simple enough. But trust me, it takes work to get it right. Once you do, however, this type of communication style can change your life. Seriously, it’s that powerful. Try it.

Next time: Fighting Fair