How to communicate empathetically with your team in 2021: Kamal Sarma

Communication breakdown can come with enormous costs, especially when 80 per cent of workplace stress comes from internal team issues. Kamal Sarma examines how you can ensure you’re having winning conversations, making others feel heard and improving productivity as a result.

Just because humans know how to communicate doesn’t mean they know how to connect, resilience and human connection expert Kamal Sarma explained.

Speaking as part of Accelerate 2020, Kamal Sarma, the Chief Executive Officer at Rezilium, says the leadership development group has spent many years researching the art and science behind human connection.

Part of that research included spending time with palliative care nurses, FBI negotiators and neuroscientists, and what they discovered is that humans are generally not taught to communicate or connect.

“Even though we know how to talk, we sometimes don’t know how to connect,” Kamal says.

“That is a big distinction. We are not taught how to speak. We pick it up from our environment. So depending on where you grew up, that really determines how you connect with people.”

Despite humans desperately seeking connection, most people find relationships, both personal and professional, challenging.

Kamal says further Rezilium research shows that 80 per cent of work-related stress comes from internal team issues.

“Most people love their jobs, but they can’t stand the people they work with,” he says.

“You can get a 30 to 40 per cent uplift in team productivity if you just resolve team issues.

“At the end of the day, we want to get results. We want to make sure we get high results.

“What drives results are relationships. What drives relationships is connection.

“What drives connection is conversations, but we sometimes struggle to have these conversations at the right time, with the right impact.”

Here, Kamal explains how to have those win-win conversations.

Three reasons communication can break down

You don’t have the conversation

You hope the issue will resolve itself or disappear, but it just gets bigger.

You don’t have the right conversation

You talk a lot but don’t tackle the issue at hand.

You have the right conversation, but it doesn’t have the desired impact

You talk and discuss the issues, but nothing is resolved.

Domination is still the main form of communication

Even though we can put a man on the moon and we can launch a Tesla into space, we still struggle to communicate as a species. We’ve got to ask ourselves why.

The main reason is that equality is a new concept on this planet. Domination is still the main mode of communication.

War is, unfortunately, still the primary metaphor for business. The ‘I win, you lose’ mentality is still the underlying approach to business.

If you think of some of the workplace language used you’ll come up with:

• Deadlines

• In the trenches

• Blood, sweat and tears

All of this domination and fear causes a lot of stress. The cost of dominant language, at best, is disengagement. At worst, it’s bullying.

Create the shift

Simply changing the language you use can create a big difference. We work with companies like Google and Facebook, and they no longer call their office a headquarters, it’s a campus.

If you invest in communication and connection, you can go from average performance to high performance. People desperately like to feel connected to one another.

We are hardwired for connection, but the language we use sometimes destroys that.

Emotion versus logic

When you’re looking to create connections with people, it’s important to understand how decisions are made. That’s where the brain’s limbic system comes in.

The limbic system is your emotional centre, and every time you make a decision, your limbic system is the first to light up. You decide if you like someone or not in the first 30 seconds of meeting them.

That decision then gets ratified in your logical brain or your prefrontal cortex.

So it’s really important to make those first 30 seconds count. Also, because decisions are emotional first and logical second, never try and give logic to someone who wants emotion.

It doesn’t matter if it’s with your partner, someone in your family or at work, if someone is emotional, the worst thing you can do is give them logic. The logical part of their brain is not functioning at that time.

Intention versus interpretation

Miscommunication happens when intention is not equal to interpretation.

This is what we mean when we talk about the difference between the message sent and the message received.

Someone might say to you, “I want to give you some feedback”. But, you hear, “I’m going to tell you what’s wrong with you”.

So, what we need to be able to do is take ownership, not of the message sent, but of the message received.

Too often, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out the right words to say, but very rarely do we ask how that message was heard or interpreted.

Some principles to help avoid miscommunication on this issue include:

• If a conversation is getting intense, wait three seconds before you speak.

• Communicate clearly and articulate your thoughts in 30 seconds. If you can’t get to the point in that timeframe, people will lose interest.

• Keep videos to three minutes. Research from Google shows that, with most videos, if you hold viewers’ attention past the 30-second mark, you won’t make it past three minutes.

• For a meeting, 30 minutes is the most effective. We have short attention spans.

Don’t just listen, make people feel heard

In making connections and in win-win conversations, your job is not just to listen, but to make others feel heard.

Listening is what you do. Making another person feel heard is their emotional response. Ask yourself, “what is the emotional response of the other person?”

It’s important to remember that everyone has rules, or ways in which they feel heard, but that can change from person to person. 

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Deputy Editor at Elite Agent.