Lessons from the Ants – Part 2
I Hear you Talking, but is Anybody Listening?
by Sharon Flemings

In the last article, I introduced a series about what I learned from battling the ants in my house this summer. It seems there were a number of lessons I gleaned from those long, early mornings of battle, and one of the most interesting observations (and important lessons) came as a result of watching how the ants interacted with one another while performing their tasks.

Have you ever noticed that when two ants meet from opposite directions, they pause for a moment – seemingly to share information of some kind, before going on their merry way? I thought it was interesting that each and every time two ants met, this occurred. Certainly, I thought, they were sharing important information about the tasks at hand, and perhaps even making modifications to the detailed plans previously discussed. I fully expected to see some sort of behavior modification at some point – a change in direction, change in intensity, or some other indication that important communications had occurred.

After continuing my observation for some time, however, I realized that there were no changes in the ants’ behavior – even over several days. They still followed the same trail every day. How could this be? Weren’t the ants communicating, and sharing information vital to accomplishment of their mission (getting into my kitchen)? It appeared that this was not the case, and the ants must have been simply exchanging pleasantries. What an incredible model of most organizations these days.

In today’s competitive and fast-paced environment, it is critical that open, honest and timely communications occur on a regular basis. Whether you are on a project team communicating with your stakeholders or performing routine daily tasks, clear, consistent communication is critical to the organizations’ success. Yet, time and time again our efforts at communicating fall short of hitting the mark in sharing information that could make our efforts more effective and efficient. We’re no better than the ants!

In these days of technological marvels, we take for granted the fact that we have multiple means of communication. We are wired at the hip, have 7/24 access to news, information, and each other. We have cell phones with multi-function capabilities, satellite phones, and wireless email. Yet, time and time again, I hear people express frustration at the lack of communication. Why is this?

The answer lies in the fact that we are so busy “communicating” (talking), that we’re not taking the time to listen. Yes, listening is a critical step in conducting good communications. I have heard it said that the 80/20 rule applies here. We should strive for using our voices only 20% of the time, and listening to others the other 80%. Imagine what that would look like in your organization. (Idea sharing, innovation, efficiency – need I go on?)

I really like the concept Dr. Stephen Lundin presented in his book Fish! “Be present” he says. This seemed to be a very simple, yet powerful way to enhance communications between people - taking the time to be very intent on what the other person is saying, and not distracted by the other thousand things that are going on.

I decided to try this shortly after I read that book, and discovered that a conscious act of “being present” for someone was a rather remarkable experience. Not only did I find that I was very interested in what the other person was saying, as a side benefit I found myself more in tune with the opportunities present in my surroundings. For example, I met a really interesting gentleman from Los Angeles county that resulted in an opportunity to work together on a project proposal. Had I not been “present” during our introductions, I would not have realized all we had in common, and this opportunity would never have been known. I was amazed when I realized how much I have missed when I haven’t been “present” for others.

Make your communication count!

Another challenge to effective communication is that some people (particularly in the upper echelons of management) struggle with the amount of communication/information that should be shared with the staff. Unfortunately, this can be a result of the manager feeling like they are giving up power, or would somehow make them more vulnerable. This often leads to less effective efforts on the part of the team, as vital information is not shared.

I cannot stress this enough - share important information. Don’t be afraid to tell others the information they need to be successful. After all, aren’t you all on the same team, trying to accomplish the same purposes? (Actually, shared team accomplishment of a significant goal is very empowering.)

Don’t be an ant!

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