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Are YOU a selfish communicator? (Probably yes.)

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author's program note. Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston know "it takes two, babee, it takes two, me and you." Their hit song on the subject -- "It Takes Two "-- was released in 1965. Sadly lots of others, maybe including YOU, don't get it. That's why this article is so very necessary. You can find this tune in any search engine. Go now. Play it loud and proud. Then dig into this article with its relentless message, "it takes two."

More technology, less communicating.

Do you spend your days chasing people who should be doing their bit to communicate with you, but aren't?

My average day consists of endless follow-up e-mails and phone calls to people who want something from me but are too lazy and arrogant to follow up themselves. I swear, there must be a published communications pecking order some where; the more times you force a person to follow up with you the higher you rise (and the more annoying you become).

The most incredible aspect of the problem is this: the more ways we humans have to communicate with each other,the less real communication goes on. Hence this "in your face" list of things you need to do at once to become part of the solution... and leave your useless "communication" habits behind:

1) When someone contacts you, take the call whenever possible.

A great many communication problems would be solved if you answered the person attempting to reach you at once and dealt with the matter at hand promptly, efficiently, thoroughly.

2) What to do if you don't connect with the person you are trying to reach.

Trying to reach someone but getting nowhere? Assume the person in question is a communications prima donna. Assume, that is, the worst and take it upon yourself to do what the missing person won't do: try again! Remember this, bad communicators are expert at evading, "forgetting", excusing, procrastinating. If the person you are trying to reach is that way, nothing you can say will ever change their modus operandi; what you see is what you get. But you can use strategies which will smoke 'em out and get a response.

Try calling 6 times in a row. That'll get their attention.

If that fails and you're dealing with a business, leave two messages; then call the CEO's office and leave a detailed complaint. Remember, desperate times demand desperate measures. Don't hesitate to be exigent. Remember, the bad habits of someone who should know better constitute excellent reasons for what you must do to get assistance.

3) If you cannot take all your calls and respond to all your email, etc as they come in, then designate a time sacrosanct to responding to everything then.

Put this time on your answering machine, so people trying to get to you know; invite them, too, to return at that time for assistance.

Be clear about what you will do and when you will do it. Then honor your word; that alone will differentiate you from the selfish communicators who abound.

4) Stop being so arrogant.

There are two great reasons why people become selfish communicators. The first (and lessor reason) is that these people quite simply don't know what to do or that their behavior is affronting. This problem, of course, is the more easily dealt with.

The alternative is far more difficult: that the selfish communicator is so arrogant that he feels justified in ignoring you, frustrating you, insulting you, because he is so important, so desirable, so necessary to you and your life you'll take anything he chooses to dish out:

"Yes, Your Majesty. No, Your Majesty. Tell us how low to go, Your Majesty. Give us a kick if it please, Your Majesty. Give us a kick if you will, Your Majesty. Oh, that was good, Your Majesty."

So sings Mrs. Anna Leonowens, the "I" in Roger and Hammerstein's 1956 film "The King and I" to the king of Siam, her spoiled employer. Such people are, of course, insufferable, acutely irritating, intolerable, but (when you need them) cannot be caste off as unendurable. Thus, you must find a way... or make one (mulling over the appropriate revenge to be delivered later.)

5) Respond to EVERY email and phone message before you end your work day.

Imagine you are dazed, bleeding, in shackles. Your captor looks you in the eye and says, "You can escape this thrall if and only if you will contact all the folks who have tried to reach you today but have so far been unsuccessful." What would you do, stay chained... or get on the computer and phone and steadily move towards your freedom?

You'd get on with the job, wouldn't you? Well, then, approach all your messages the same way. Until such time as you take care of each and every one appropriately and professionally, these messages own you... take note and get on with the job of freeing yourself!

6) Be conscious of your habits.

For years, I have been informally studying all communicators. I want to know the answers to questions like these: Are they aware of their particular communications habits? Are they untrained? Or just oblivious to the right ways to communicate for maximum effect? Do they care that they inconvenience the very people they should be most careful of and considerate to?

Better communications skills can only commence as you gradually scrutinize your own habits. The sad truth is, you may be one of the communicators who approaches your work with your mind on anything other the business at hand. Your attitude can best be summed up as "dolce far niente", "delicious idleness." You do what is easiest and most convenient for you, without ever considering the inconvenience to the other party. Your own sweet idleness is far more important than the irritation, frustration, yes, rage you manage to engender. You are a communicator out of "Mad" magazine, your motto "What me worry?"

7) And now a point of such significance that your failure to grasp it could easily result in bruised relationships, arguments, umbrage, and even (and justifiably) worse.

Do not sit in front of a person and obsessively read your phone messages, then hold up a single finger by which you mean "I'm sorry. I've got to take this call," then blow your auditor off.

I am awaiting with eagerness the first murder trial on this matter, where an otherwise calm and even-tempered individual facing that raised finger, gets up and shoves that phone where the sun don't shine, only to face a jury of his peers. And they, knowing the feeling, having experienced the insolence.... let the angry auditor off without even a warning; what's more they cheer him to the echo.... so flagrant the crime, so insulting the matter of sitting patiently while the clueless, arrogant communicator imposes... and aggravates.

This situation happened to me the other day in a restaurant where I was with an insufferable communicator whom I have warned and warned again about his infuriating habits. Still the finger went up and the plea for "just a minute." This time I didn't hesitate or demur. I got up, emptied first the water glass and then the salad bowl on the miscreant and walked out without a word. The culprit's been calling and calling... but I'm involved in a new project; finding out how long it is till Hell freezes over. I won't take his call until then.

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