How does it strike you when there is difficulty and someone says, “Oh, it’s just a communication problem…”?
Where did that word “just” come from? Is the working assumption that communications is effortless, straightforward, and accurate over 90% of the time?
My experience says otherwise. I’ve found there is a very common behavior that poisons communications especially in times of change – emotionality.
BUT WAIT! Aren’t emotions healthy? If so, what is the difference between emotionality and honest expression of feelings?
Sorting out the difference and being a leader requires wisdom and a working knowledge of both character and personality – along with the interplay between the two. This is the pond in which we will swim here.
Can We Talk?
Alfred Korzybski, the founder of general semantics, found that as stress increases, the desire for valid information increases in terms of both amount and frequency. However, unless one has a strong, positive character the desire to actively communicate goes down. People retreat inward. This isn’t to say they shut up. Rather, there is an ever-increasing absorption with the question, “What is going to happen to me!?” Minds start racing and projections of the most horrible kind can take over.
While there might be a great deal of talking, there actually can be a dramatic drop in communications. Others become objects seen as helping or hurting us in getting to a stable position.
Understanding what contributes to communications or its breakdown helps a leader decide how to plan and execute the next move. This is where character and personality come into play.
Character vs Personality
Character is the inward set of rules by which one operates. In game theory it refers to one’s rationale for making decisions. This is a bit oversimplified, but will work for now. “Character” is a rather neutral term. A hardened criminal has a character just as the judge who sends him to prison does. In this blog, “character” refers to rules grounded in professionalism, empathy, and compassion.
Personality comprises the way we choose to gather information and interact with our environment.
To contrast: two people can have similar character traits, e.g., the desire to serve mankind, but have very different personalities for expressing it. One could become a therapist while the other becomes a contractor who builds libraries.
Let’s use this context to examine emotionality.
Emotions vs Emotionality
Emotions are quite valuable. They reflect the variance between our expectations and the current state of affairs. Frequently, these expectations are driven by our personalities. For example, if a municipality with limited funds must choose between a mental health facility and building a library, the therapist and contractor could violently disagree as to how best to spend the money. They risk falling into emotionality.
Here is where character comes into play. Leaders look at their feelings and ask, “Are they appropriate for the principles at play?” Essentially, the principles come first regardless of the consequences and emotions are expected to shift accordingly. (Important tip: Reads easy, does hard.)
With emotionality, decisions are made based on feelings and seeking to either get relief from or indulge them. Think of a two-year-old trying to get the upper hand by throwing a tantrum.
Where this leaves us is: an honest expression of emotions with a statement of underlying principles (agenda) supports communication with others, while emotionality has the potential to tear community apart.
Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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