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Building Bridges, a model for facilitating communication

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Communication is at the heart of everything we do and especially at the heart of the coaching relationship. With this paper the authors review BUILDING BRIDGES, a model of communication based on two axes, the facilitator of the communication and the person(s) communicating. Starting with a review of the theory and focusing on the notion of noise or barriers to communication, the authors explore then elements of knowledge on the subject of communication, before presenting their model, BUILDING BRIDGES, applying it to the facilitation of communication in a context of a coaching relationship.

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Building Bridges, a model for facilitating communication

  1. 1. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model for facilitating communication EMCC Annual Conference 1-3 March 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland Page 1 of 12 – 2016 Florence Dambricourt, Self-leadership Specialist - Trevor Horne, Mediation and Coaching Building Bridges, a model for facilitating communication Author: Florence Dambricourt (Mindset Strategist, Author) and Trevor Horne (Mediator, Coach and Author) Abstract: Communication is at the heart of everything we do and especially at the heart of the coaching relationship. With this paper the authors review BUIDLING BRIDGES, a model of communication based on two axes, the facilitator of the communication and the person(s) communicating. Starting with a review of the theory and focusing on the notion of noise or barriers to communication, the authors explore then elements of knowledge on the subject of communication, before presenting their model, BUILDING BRIDGES, applying it to the facilitation of communication in a context of a coaching relationship. Introduction Communication is at the heart of everything we do. We could even go as far as saying communication is the essence of life and an indispensable social interaction. All life uses communication one way or another from the animal to the Kingdoms. In the human kingdom, behind the word communication, we often find the word message. This word message – identical in French and in English- find its origin in the latin word mittere which initially meant to send and then later on to establish. Another French word –mettre (in English, to put)- would also have its origin in this latin word mittere. Interestingly, from a linguistic perspective, both words focus on the action of delivering, and therefore the position of the person creating the message. Nowadays, communication has a wider spectrum, for instance communication is very closely linked to marketing. From a paradigm where communication was primarily about what was being said and sent we are moving to one where communication is rather about what is being understood. With this shift many challenges appear. In the context of facilitating communication, what tools and mechanisms can be used to ensure this acknowledgement of What is being understood correctly mirrors what is in the person(s) mind? What do we know about communication which can assist us in keeping a certain neutrality when acknowledging “What is being understood”? How to make this communication more than an exchange of information and rather a true and meaningful
  2. 2. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model for facilitating communication EMCC Annual Conference 1-3 March 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland Page 2 of 12 – 2016 Florence Dambricourt, Self-leadership Specialist - Trevor Horne, Mediation and Coaching conversation? One approach is to understand the role of noise, also called barriers of communication, its/their origin, and therefore the mechanisms to decrease its impact. This is what the authors will explore with this paper, organised in three sections. First, they explore the basis of communication using a mathematical model to assist the identification of noise or barriers of communication. Then, in the second section, the authors review some interesting tools on the subject of communication, before moving onto the presentation of a model, BUILDING BRIDGES, to facilitate communication. They conclude with an application of this model to the context of coaching relationship. A theory of communication When thinking about the theory of communication, a widely use starting point nowadays would be the following figure based on the work from the mathematician Claude E. Shannon1 . This graph presents communication from a mechanical perspective, giving us a foundation for discussions and a set of assumptions. For communication to happen, you need a sender and a receiver. On one side, the sender has a message which s/he will encode and then sends via a specific channel. On the other side, the receiver gets the message then decodes it. In between, noise is present and impacts communication, either at the sending or the reception. To complete the model, a feedback or response path is identified between sender and receiver. When applying this model to TV (or internet video) communication, the notion of noise is quite straight forward; you may have the technical noise (e.g. the image appears pixelated, or blurry); you may have background or situational noise (e.g. your neighbours are having a party, there are roadworks in the street); you may have context or environmental noise (e.g. the person is sick with fever, with lower capability of attention); you may have people 1 Shannon C. (2016), Wikipedia, A mathematical theory of communication
  3. 3. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model for facilitating communication EMCC Annual Conference 1-3 March 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland Page 3 of 12 – 2016 Florence Dambricourt, Self-leadership Specialist - Trevor Horne, Mediation and Coaching internal noise (e.g. the person is vision impaired). It’s clear that all four types of noise will impact on the quality of either the transmission or the reception of the message. Noises are in fact referred to as barriers to communication. The notion of feedback or response path is also an interesting notion. It is actually a must. Without it, there is no possible confirmation that the message has arrived. From a simple technical perspective, it could be a simple signal allowing confirmation message has been delivered (e.g. within the WhasApp platform, when a message has been delivered to the recipient, two tick marks appear) and then confirmation that the message has been opened (e.g. still within the WhatsApp platform, the previous symbol changed colour). Confirmation that the message has been correctly understood by the viewer as intended is another story. If we come back to the above figure, source and sender are often merged into one single element. However, in 1948, while presenting his theory of communication, Shannon went as far as differentiating the source of the message and its actual transmitter. This emphasizes the encoding part of the message. In the context of facilitating communication between people, such mathematical model gives us incredible flexibility in assisting the splitting of the elements of communications into as many items as needed to identify the possibility of noise. Let’s focus for a moment on the creation of the message. The source would be the elements building up in the sender’s mind, at this stage within their unconscious. These elements will then be brought to consciousness and converted into words, pictures, sounds, movements, etc. This conversion is a first encoding using both cognitive and non-cognitive processes. We can already talk about a conscious and an unconscious encoding. It is most likely that this first action will happen in several steps, sometimes clearly decided (e.g. I take a pen and a paper, I take a camera, I take a canvas, I think about a phone conversation), sometimes automatic (e.g. I feel cold, I stand smaller, I smile, etc.). The message now built will be transmitted, and this step can be done across multiple channels, voice, paper, text, email, pictures, in person, virtually, etc. This is another encoding mechanism, which often decreases the richness of the message content in numbers of dimensions used to transmit it; for instance a virtual hug is usually coded with only two dimensions, visual (e.g. emoticons), and cognitive (e.g. the words used), while an actual hug contains in general five dimensions (for most people), aligned with our five senses. The message has been sent, let's move to the receiver's position. From the message received the decoding operation is starting; we can actually see that as another form of coding where the receiver is going to rebuild the message, nearly recreate its content. If we go back to our virtual hug, the person may take a moment to remember how the sender looks, what was the last perfume they wore, etc. Here again, this rebuilding is using both cognitive and non-cognitive processes. Keeping with our virtual hug example, in the case the receiver is scared of the sender, there may be an automatic fight-flight mechanism and the receiver starts to look around to check if they are still safe; in the other case, the receiver really likes the person, a warm reaction could automatically be produced. How to summarize this in terms of noise? How to include these steps of encoding and decoding as possible noise? We previously talked about four types of noise: technical noise, background or situational noise, context or environmental noise and internal noise. Are these four categories enough in the context of our discussion? Let’s refine them to decide:
  4. 4. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model for facilitating communication EMCC Annual Conference 1-3 March 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland Page 4 of 12 – 2016 Florence Dambricourt, Self-leadership Specialist - Trevor Horne, Mediation and Coaching o Technical or mechanical noise refers to noise associated with the actual channel of communication (e.g. I am using my phone from within a tunnel; I am in a low range area). It can impact both sides and can be completely different on either side. o Situational noise refers to the actual situation in which the communication is happening (e.g. there are roadworks in the street; we are in a public place; I am speaking turning my back to the person, etc.). It can also impact both sides identically (e.g. noise in the streets) yet still create different results at the individual level. o Environmental noise is a vast category, and within it we associate anything linked to a person's social environment (e.g. cultural habits, educational habits, life history habits, etc.). This noise will be closely related to the psychological aspect of communication. It impacts both sides and can be completely different on either side, even if both sides have the same culture, or same background. o Internal noise, that is everything happening in the person’s head, either sender or receiver (e.g. the state of mind of the person). This noise is also closely related to the psychological aspect of communication. It impacts both sides and can be completely different on either side. Note that by psychological aspect of communication we look at communication not only as being a flow of information, but also a flow of thoughts, emotions, feeling and intentions. We will now have the following graph. It’s interesting to add to this how communication can be approached from a systemic perspective; you could nearly see communication as a living organism, interaction between sender and receiver creating a dynamic. However this is not a must. In the case of marketing communication, which can also be explained using the mathematical model, the receiver can decide or not to react to it (or interact with it). If a decision is taken to interact, we could say the system is activated; if a decision is taken not to interact, the systems remains inactivated… at least consciously-cognitively. One would argue that success in communication does actually mean that the system is activated, and an interaction is created between sender and receiver. For the purpose of our discussion, we will go one step further quoting Gregory Bateson, “The meaning of your communication is the response you get”.
  5. 5. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model for facilitating communication EMCC Annual Conference 1-3 March 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland Page 5 of 12 – 2016 Florence Dambricourt, Self-leadership Specialist - Trevor Horne, Mediation and Coaching The next step of course is to understand how these different types of noise could or will manifest themselves. By identifying elements to recognize them, we will then be able to address or use them. Note that those types of noise can be passive or dynamic, and in some cases it could be a voluntary choice to create noise, indeed one can artificially creates noise. Interesting tools or studies on the subject of communication Communication is at the heart of everything we do and with it comes a fascination for this area of knowledge. This means a fascinating dynamic at the moment, with an incredible number of research studies looking at many aspects of communication, which generates development of many tools and data on this subject. It would be an impossible task -and fortunately a never completed one- to list every single existing study or tool of interest. The following is to be seen as a foundation, and we know many more elements of interest will join this list in the future. Let’s start with the field of NLP. We can find there another model of communication, as displayed in the following figure2 , which focuses on presenting how one processes a received message. It starts by assuming a message is an event, either internal or external. This assumption mirror neurosciences approach where every message or information received will be understood as an event or signal. This event is composed of a few million bits of information, which our unconscious mind receives through our five senses—visual, auditory, kinaesthetic (or feelings), olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste). By unconscious mind here, we mean that part of our mind where all non-cognitive processes happen, like breathing, for instance. Research shows that of all the information received, we are only consciously aware of about 0.1% only3 . Actually, depending on the source quoted, it actually varies from 0.07% to 0.1%. Processing this 0.1% is our way of making sense of our experiences. In order to cope with 2 Adapted from James, Drs T. & A. NLP Master Practitioner Course Content. 3 Dispenza, J. What the bleep do we know
  6. 6. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model for facilitating communication EMCC Annual Conference 1-3 March 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland Page 6 of 12 – 2016 Florence Dambricourt, Self-leadership Specialist - Trevor Horne, Mediation and Coaching this major clean-up operation we spontaneously use filtering processes, most of those happening automatically. Once all that filtering is done, we are left with what is called an internal representation of the event, a mental picture of our experiences. NLP assumes that this mental picture, or internal representation, combined with our current physiology and our state (or emotions) at a specific moment, triggers our behaviour at a specific time. That notion of internal representation is very interesting. While science previously thought our brains were rather working like a computer, the researcher Jeff Hawkins debates our brain is rather a storehouse of images, these images being actual internal representations4 . It’s also interesting to note the time needed to process this subset of information. It is about half a second5 . On average we are consciously aware of information, half a second later than the moment information has actually reached us. As nicely stated by Dr. David Eagleman, what we consider our present reality is actually an already past illusion. Neuroscientists have been exploring vision a lot, how we actually perceive vision, and behind it how our brain processes visual information. One fascinating conclusion is the fact that we do not see what is in front of us, we actually see what we believe we should be seeing. Our brain does that based on mapping and cross-referencing our previous experiences. It is actually extremely clever, and working with predictions, mapping, and assumptions we create a vision of our reality. Without this mechanism we would have to recreate that vision from scratch on a daily basis, and it would be an impossible task time wise. We can easily assume that a process used for creating a vision, could be used for creating the meaning of a message. At times, rather than actually hearing a message, we may identify key words, match them against existing mapping and cross-references, and from there create a reality out of it, also called an interpretation. For people familiar with the field of NLP, this supports the theories behind the Meta-Model, Milton-Model and Metaprograms. The Meta-Model, based on the expertise of the family psychologist Virginia Satir, describes filters used by our brain, or mind, when processing information. The Milton-Model, based on the expertise of the psychologist-hypnotherapist Milton Erickson, focuses on mechanisms used when using extremely vague language while metaprograms were developed by the psychiatrist Carl Jung. Many messages are formulated using words; either words we hear or words we read. A study published by John A. Bargh, Mark Chen, and Lara Burros (available online at the Yale University site6 ) shows that if you give a test to students where they read many words linked to old age, they will walk more slowly when leaving the testing room than the other students. These words can be as simple as old, grey, lonely, bingo, or wrinkle. Just by reading words associated with age, students had begun to walk more slowly, just as elderly people would.7 In the full study, we can also find cases where students were given rude words to work with. Compliant with the other tests, students showed a more impolite attitude than the control group when concluding their test session. We can see here how some words do activate internal expectations; we are back to our mapping and cross-referenced knowledge base. Interpretation of a message is actually a decision. How often do we hear someone say, ‘I had that gut feeling, so I went for it’? Gerard Hodgkinson, of the University of Leeds in the UK, 4 Hawkins, J. On how brain science will change computing 5 Eagleman, D. Incognito 6 www.yale.edu/acmelab/articles/bargh_chen_burrows_1996.pdf 7 Hamilton, D. R. Destiny vs Free Will. p. 22.
  7. 7. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model for facilitating communication EMCC Annual Conference 1-3 March 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland Page 7 of 12 – 2016 Florence Dambricourt, Self-leadership Specialist - Trevor Horne, Mediation and Coaching has published many texts on the unconscious mind and the decision-making process. He once worked with a Formula One racing driver. On that particular day, our driver, winning the race and going for the last lap, suddenly stopped his car as he was coming to the last stretch before home. At the time he stopped he had no conscious understanding why he took that decision. Somehow he knew he had to stop this race, and this ‘gut feeling’ saved him from a fatal accident. Later on, while being questioned, he mentioned something about spectators’ facial expressions; they were not cheering as they should have been. His unconscious mind picked that up while his conscious mind followed the order to stop the car.8 Gerard Hodgkinson wrote: ‘Humans clearly need both conscious and non-conscious thought processes, but it’s likely that neither is intrinsically “better” than the other. We can consider that we actually act consciously when we have gathered enough unconscious understanding of something.’ Gerard Hodgkinson described this as our ‘non-conscious forms of cognition’; he will argue that people take decision based on the internal representation they will make of the outcome of the choice at the time of making that choice. Nowadays you will actually hear scientists or psychologists talk about several brains, and here we are not only referring to the existing three-brain model (or triune brain9 ), with the reptilian brain, the limbic system, and the neocortex; we are talking about the notion of gut brain and heart brain. The gut–brain axis is the biochemical signalling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. The heart brain would be defined as the neural communication pathways between the heart and the brain10 . The heart's intrinsic nervous system consists of ganglia, which contain local circuit neurons of several types, and sensory neurites, which are distributed throughout the heart. We know that when “listening from the heart”, we are better active listeners. This also means that an event actually contains more data than the ones coded with our five senses; our five senses allow bringing the information to our consciousness. We cannot talk about communication, especially face-to-face communication, without talking about body language. Even during a phone conversation, one can perceive a body language effect. From the work of Paul Ekman, from the D-smile11 studies to his FACS and micro- expressions analyses, to research data presented by Amy Cuddy12 with her famous TED talks, we have many cases documented where a chosen movement or body gesture impacts the quality of our message, by actually modifying our state of mind. More precisely, the movement produces chemical reactions, usually releasing specific hormones, influencing reactions. For instance, an artificially created D-smile releases dopamine, endorphin and serotonin, all neurotransmitters associated with feeling good; while an artificially created sad face releases cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. Of course there is more to body language; there is also what it can tell us about a person’s reaction. For instance the receiver of your message slowly crosses their arms in front of their chest, complaining of a cold feeling. This could simply be their sympathetic nervous system activating and their state of 8 Hodgkinson, G. P., Langan-Fox, J., & Sadler-Smith, E. Intuition: A fundamental bridging construct in the behavioural sciences. British Journal of Psychology, 99, 1-27. online extract - www.psyarticles.com/intellect/gut-instinct.htm 9 MacLean, P., The triune brain evolution 10 The intimate connection between the brain and the heart was enunciated by Claude Bernard, a French scientist, over 150 years ago. This notion is being studied in depth, e.g. with the work of the Heartmath institute, https://www.heartmath.org/our-heart-brain/. 11 Ekman, P., Frank, M.G., Physiology effects of the smile. 12 Cuddy, A. TED Talk: Your body language shapes who you are.
  8. 8. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model for facilitating communication EMCC Annual Conference 1-3 March 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland Page 8 of 12 – 2016 Florence Dambricourt, Self-leadership Specialist - Trevor Horne, Mediation and Coaching mind moving to a flight-or-fight response. Could there still be more to body language? In his book It’s the thought that counts, David Hamilton reports on social mood research: ‘Publishing in the Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour in 1981, Howard Friedman and Ronald Riggio found that when a person in a good mood (as determined by a score on a questionnaire) sat facing a person with a lower score for two minutes, the good mood was transmitted.13 We could argue this as an automatic reaction within a context of a system. How far will the person accept the influence will of course remain an opened question? A sense of overwhelm? How to keep everything in mind? How to include everything? How to follow everything coming out at the moment? Right, this is close to impossible, but, more importantly, not fundamental. It is rather about having an open tool box where you can add new tools on a regular basis, and knowing when and how to pick something up from that tool box. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model to facilitate communication We have already given you this fantastic quote from Gregory Bateson, “The meaning of your communication is the response you get". When looking at our systemic view of communication, this quote applies directly to the sender of the message. Let’s add another very interesting quote, this time from Charles Swindoll, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” This time the quote defines what is happening at the receiver within our system, and we will be tempted to rewrite it as… “Communication is 10% what is being said to you and 90% about how you react to it”. This dual sender-receiver approach has actually driven the creation of our model, and we see BUILDING BRIDGES as a two- sided structure: 13 Hamilton, D. It’s the thought that counts. p. 50.
  9. 9. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model for facilitating communication EMCC Annual Conference 1-3 March 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland Page 9 of 12 – 2016 Florence Dambricourt, Self-leadership Specialist - Trevor Horne, Mediation and Coaching - BUILDING: for the sender, the foundations. BRIDGES: for receiver(s) to follow and move with. - BUILDING: for the sender, the ‘how’, the process used in communication, and the tools. BRIDGES: for receiver(s), the ‘what’, the content and using the tools to facilitate understanding. - BUILDING: for the sender, their behaviour, their awareness of their own built-in noise. BRIDGES: for receiver(s), understanding their model of the world, their own built-in noise. Within this two-sided structure, each side provides elements to focus on in order to develop awareness of mechanisms, such as automatic pattern of reactions, which could create elements of noise within our previously described categories, situational noise, environmental noise, and internal noise. We can talk about built-in noises which are noises specific to an individual. Let’s start with BUILDING, the first side. We look here at communication from the perspective of the sender of the message; by default that sender should have a clear intention (according to Bateson), a point that is highly important when looking at the model from the perspective of the coach, also referred to as the agent of change: B Believe in you and in others. U Use & utilise what you know with flexibility to adapt. I Intuit & integrate, trusting your sensory acuity and gut feeling. L Lead & listen, when you send the message, know that you hold the space for communication. D Develop rapport and empathy, respect and trust for communication. I Interpret and translate language and its patterns and recover information. N Notice, see, and observe everything as an extra channel for communicating. G Gesture, match and mirror, integrate others’ model of the world. For instance, when applying this to a coaching context and process, INTUIT AND INTEGRATE, is really about trusting sensory acuity and gut feeling, which equates to developing awareness, especially awareness of that 99% of information we know our unconscious has access to, but our conscious mind filtered it out. It’s going to be about reintegrating information coming from our five senses, going back to the facts rather than the automatic interpretation; by doing so we remove possible noise created by the automatic filtering. If we look at GESTURE, this starts with match and mirror, a way of integrating others’ models of the world; in fact you borrow from people’s body language to jump into their reality. But we now have the other side of the coin; we can smooth out gestures, using body language archetypes to introduce positive emotions. We can maintain a stronger sense of our confidence by using subtle power poses, balanced with inviting gestures toward
  10. 10. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model for facilitating communication EMCC Annual Conference 1-3 March 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland Page 10 of 12 – 2016 Florence Dambricourt, Self-leadership Specialist - Trevor Horne, Mediation and Coaching communication. Roughly 93% of our message comes from non-verbal information14 , such as body language and tonality, and we can become aware or our body language to remove the noise it could create. Let’s now look at BRIDGES the second side of the structure. We now approach communication from the perspective of the receiver of the message; what should or could we know about our receiver to assist us in building a message which could be received with a minimum of interpretation: B Beliefs: what beliefs do people hold about the past, present, future, life, work, etc.? R Reality: what do we know of their reality, their model of the world? I Interests: what could be the interest for the receiver in engaging with the message? D Difficulties: what are the difficulties or obstacles to the present communication, progress? G Goals: what are the outcomes? Are they well-stated? Where do they apply? E Ecology: how are the results of the communication, progress fitting in the big picture? S Strategies: what strategies to develop for achieving and maintaining communication and progress? For instance, when applying this to the coaching context and process, BELIEFS, is looking at mechanism of reactions of the coachee, such as effect, are they thinking at effect i.e., the world is against them? Are they so discouraged they won’t even listen? Are they eager to move to the next chapter of their stories? Are they taking everything personally? If we now look at INTERESTS, we explore here to identify the real gain, the desired gain behind the coaching conversation. The last one, STRATEGIES & SUPPORT, where we look at developing strategies and support to allow an ever easier process in communication at the receiver; we assist them to develop their own awareness of their possible built-in noises. BUILDING BRIDGES, a simple, two-sides structure, where BUILDING, for the senders, their awareness of their own built-in noise as well as the noise they could create; and BRIDGES, for the receivers, their paths, their stories, and steps in the past and future which created their own built-in noise and challenges in taking a message just as a message. 14 Mehrabian, A., 1970
  11. 11. BUILDING BRIDGES, a model for facilitating communication EMCC Annual Conference 1-3 March 2017 Edinburgh, Scotland Page 11 of 12 – 2016 Florence Dambricourt, Self-leadership Specialist - Trevor Horne, Mediation and Coaching Conclusion Whatever way to look at it, we cannot not communicate. We could even say that our reality, or model of the world, is a communication between us and our environment, where the environment is the sender (and it would be fascinating to explore this idea with our mathematical model). Communicating is much more than sending a message or saying something. Communicating is about being understood. For that we need to communicate from the perspective of the people receiving our communication, and this with a clear intention. Our BUILDING BRIDGES model is about connecting people together, it is also about being an agent of change in assisting people to communicate better. And it starts by clearing communication from as much noise as possible, some external noise, and some built-in noise within each one of us. Developing awareness and knowing who we are as a sender of message (or a facilitator of communication) is the first step in clearing our communication of our own built-in noise. From there it’s easier to reintegrate into communication its original meaning from the latin Communis, that is to put things in common or literally to make common (in French, mettre en commun).
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