Communication at the Expansion Stage: Tappers and Listeners

megan-mcneil by

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

– George Bernard Shaw

Tell me about it, George. Communication, the good and the bad, is the thread running through every professional and personal experience. It’s crucial and is perhaps the most important aspect of your personal and professional life, yet so many of us fail at it. What does it mean to be an effective communicator? How can we do better?

These are questions I want to answer, and I suspect OpenView’s readers do too. Effective communication is especially meaningful at the expansion stage, when new ideas and steady growth define so much of what a company does. How do you make sure new ideas aren’t dead in the water? How do you communicate with your investors, clients, coworkers, managers, employees, vendors, stakeholders, etc. to ensure steady growth?

When I was working in marketing at a nonprofit, my manager told me about a 1990 Stanford University study that changed the way I thought about communication issues. Psychology graduate student Elizabeth Newton assigned her subjects to one of two roles: “tapper” or “listener.” Tappers chose a popular song and tapped out their song on a table for the listeners. Listeners had to guess the song.

Out of 120 songs, listeners had a success rate of 2.5%. Out of 120 songs, tappers predicted a listener success rate of 50%. This disparity is known as the “curse of knowledge” – we can all hear the song in our heads and we assume everyone else can too.

This is at the heart of most communication problems. If we can better convey our messages, then we can get others to sing along. If we can become skilled listeners, we might learn new songs. We have to remember that communication requires mutual understanding – otherwise we may as well just be talking to the office wall.

Your communication skills are just one tool in your toolkit, but they could be the most important. You take them with you wherever you go and use them for all of your interactions. They define your relationships and could determine your business success (or failure). With my blog, I will explore communication issues and how they can be approached at the expansion stage.

Basically, I’ll try and tap for you – let me know if you can hear the song.