Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

Some of you got it. Some didn’t. I’m referring to my last column. I challenged communicators to do a better job of relationship building through effective communication. I noted how many conversations encompass a zero-sum gain perspective, thus limiting true dialogue and creating “winners” and “losers”. I also emphasized the need to seek to understand others before trying to get them to understand you.

I was impressed by the depth and breadth of feedback this column generated. Not only did a lot of you reach out, your comments were very thoughtful and heartfelt.

What caused so much feedback in this case? The response that I’ve received falls into two main categories: those that were thrilled that I had the “guts” to point out the problem with zero-sum game perspectives and those that wanted to know if I was referring to politics, the media, the left, the right, or simply “others”.

For the record, I wasn’t targeting anyone other than those who wish to be the best communicators that they can possibly be. I stand by my conviction that communication that is focused on binary choices, disregarding the world of choices that are often available, is a losing prospect. Afterall, binary choices are for computers, not humans.

Throughout my career, I’ve engaged with thousands of different people, all with different perspectives and knowledge. I’ve conducted countless focus groups, and facilitated hundreds of meetings. I’ve never seen people more afraid to communicate, both professionally and in their private lives, than I’m seeing today. This impacts the workplace both in terms of productivity as well impacting our ability to communicate effectively with external audiences.

So, what do we do? How do we tackle the divisiveness created by this communication tactic? The first thing to do is to make sure that you aren’t engaged in this type of thinking. Additionally, truly working to understand other perspectives, even if we don’t agree with them, will go miles in terms of creating and maintaining effective relationships.

Many are familiar with the notion of “psychological safety”. This area of research has flourished over the past few years. What is psychological safety? It was originally identified by Amy C. Edmondson, the author of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. It’s a concept that fosters a climate of respect, trust, and openness in which people can raise concerns, suggestions and opinions without fear of reprisal. When this doesn’t exist, there are only two outcomes: participants are continually validated by those that agree with them and those that have other opinions or perspectives are afraid to offer their thoughts because they will be ostracized. Edmondson notes, “Where learning or collaboration is required for success, fear is not an effective motivator.”

Look for such messaging so that you recognize it when it happens. Ask more questions. Why does someone believe what they believe? Are you missing something? Focus on what you have in common, rather than focusing on differences.

Marketing is susceptible to this type of messaging but engagement and research, done appropriately, will help serious communicators truly think through the context they are working within. Echo chambers, pre-determined agendas, negative reinforcement – they are all biases that may appear in your marketing efforts. Consumer behavior, however, is more complex. We are all complex.

So, “Respect your fellow human being, treat them fairly, disagree with them honestly, enjoy their friendship, explore your thoughts about one another candidly, work together for a common goal and help one another achieve it. No destructive lies. No ridiculous fears. No debilitating anger,” Bill Bradley, Basketball Hall of Famer.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. She may be reached at 303-651-6612; scornay@comm-concepts.com; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; Twitter @CommConceptsPR; or LinkedIn.

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