How to Tear Down the Communication Barrier Between Us
Ever feel like nobody understands you?
You’re not alone. Most of us don’t really understand each other as well as we could.
We’re too busy thinking about ourselves.
Our most natural obsession
Dale Carnegie wrote this in Chapter 1 of his book How to Win Friends and Influence People.
“People are not interested in you. They are not interested in me. They are interested in themselves — morning, noon and after dinner.”
This book was published in 1936. Given that it has sold 30 million copies and remains popular today, you can trust that human relations is still hard for many of us.
I’m not going to write 270 pages to explore this. I will ask for 5 minutes of your time. First, I’ll show how this communication barrier shows up in our lives and gets us stuck. Then I’ll share an effective way to set aside this natural tendency so you can make powerful connections with people.
Are you with me?
Let’s jump in.
Crazy people killing themselves
That’s what people say around the water cooler after the news reports a cult group’s mass suicide.
We balk because to us, it doesn’t make sense. Why would sensible people kill themselves? Why would they follow a charismatic nutcase to their deaths?
I can remember three in my own lifetime.
Jonestown. Jim Jones leads over 900 people to commit suicide after convincing them the government is out to get them. Killing themselves ensures they go straight to Paradise.
Heaven’s Gate. Marshall Applewhite believes his group will be escorted to another planet by aliens. How do they get on board the ship? By killing themselves. 39 people die, including Applewhite.
Branch Davidians. This group, led by David Koresh, believed that an apocalypse was coming. When they gathered at the compound during the FBI siege, they were waiting for Armageddon. Almost 100 people died, including 4 FBI agents.
If you’re willing to die for something, that’s the deepest commitment you can ever make.
What would you die for?
Discover that, and you’ve uncovered your moral code. You can also call this your worldview. It’s always there, visible or not, guiding every decision you make.
You have one, and so does everyone else.
Why did they do it?
We all want the same thing.
We might do different things to get it. And the object of that thing can be as different as you and I are. However you wrap it, the package is the same.
What do we all want?
Hope is the assurance that everything is going to be alright. It’s the way the world looks when things are the way you think they ought to be. When hope is absent, we feel restless and start looking for something to fill the void.
Honestly, hope is the reason we do everything.
Those cult members killed themselves because they hoped a better world was on the other side. Because of that hope, suicide didn’t seem evil or unusual. It was a rite of passage.
To those outside the cult, this makes no sense at all. If we can just dismiss these people as crazy, we can see this as rare and unusual.
What remains is the road that leads people to join a cult or do something heroic.
Selling what they don’t want
During the Great Recession of the late 2000s, I tried my hand at life insurance sales.
It’s easy, they said. You show the client a professional presentation, answer their questions, and pull out the digital forms.
You could sell term life, but you weren’t rewarded as well for it. Universal Life was what the company wanted people to buy, so if you wanted to succeed, you sold that.
I learned that most of the people I visited didn’t want it. They all had their reasons. And most of the time, life insurance presentations aren’t on people’s to-do lists.
We promised a bright financial future.
We offered a one-stop-shop for people’s finances.
What would have made us different and prosperous would be to find out what people wanted first and then sell that.
But we didn’t.
Now that company no longer exists.
When you help people get what they want, they’ll buy. They’re far more interested in that than anything you’re interested in.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” — Dale Carnegie
How to tear down the wall between us all
We’re all selfish.
We’re wired to survive. To do that, we need food, shelter, and other forms of security. These things are so important we will fight anyone who tries to take them away.
This truth applies to you when you’re talking to anybody. It also applies to whoever you’re talking to. We all have agendas and every conversation either brings us closer together or pushes us apart.
Now let’s look at how we can take the bricks out of that wall.
Learn how to really listen
When Steve Brown counseled married couples, he would test their listening skills with an interesting exercise.
He would have one spouse talk to the other. While one was talking, the other wasn’t allowed to speak. When the one speaking finished, the listener would tell the speaker what they heard.
The challenge was to repeat it without adding an opinion.
Often it took several tries to get an unbiased report.
Our worldview is so ingrained we don’t even see it blocking our ability to listen without judging.
Am I saying you should never use judgment? No. I am saying you can’t start with it. Think of how a doctor diagnoses your problem. He learns all he can about what’s going on. He looks for patterns. He tries to connect the dots. He knows that choices have consequences, so he wants to know what choices you’ve made to lead you where you are.
Once he knows that, he can design a plan to get you where you want to be.
Understanding someone is empathy. You’re uncovering their worldview so you can understand why they do what they do. You don’t have to agree to understand, but you do have to set aside your worldview to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
That’s what makes great actors so believable.
When you understand someone else’s worldview, you know where their mind lives. If you want to persuade them, you have to come to where you live by taking the path they would take to get there.
It’s simple, but it’s not easy.
If you’ll do the work, you — and those you connect with — will be better for it.
Now go tear down that wall.