Five Levels of Communication and why to walk and talk

Five Levels of Communication and why to walk and talk

Five Levels of Communication and why to walk and talk

Do ever feel like your conversations are sliding across the surface?  Whether in your own business, or with others, or even at home is the a lot of ‘small talk’ and and difficulty in discussing important issues?

You are not alone. 

Going up a level 

People have recognised this problem for years, and it was usefully codified into five levels by John Powell in his 1960s book ‘Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?’.  In this he argued that real progress in relationships only really happens in levels 4 and 5, and that reaching these levels depends on both parties being open to each other.  These principles are now used everywhere from team building to marriage guidance and were introduced to me by a top-flight business coach.

Level 1: Cliché. “What’s the weather like?” “Did you see the match?” These are safe statements almost without meaning.  They may be useful in getting a conversation started, but they do not add much to a conversation.

Level 2: Facts. What job do you do, or who your customers are.  There is some information flow here, so some value, but this is still not a highly developed communication.

Level 3: Opinions. Which products you like or maybe which politics you side with. Now you have enough in the conversation to have a proper argument, but even so, you don’t fully understand the other person.

Level 4: Feelings. This level is reached when you convey your inner emotions, for example your hopes or fears about a situation. It’s a level that isn’t often reached in a business discussion, but when achieved, it can be very powerful.

Level 5: Peak communication. This is where you are completely ‘in tune’ with the other person. You know what they are thinking and feeling without them having to express it, and act accordingly. It’s probably more likely to happen with a life partner than a business colleague.

Taking a walk

How then can you communicate at higher levels?  You need to be open and honest abut what you think and feel on a topic.  This requires time and space for trust to develop.  It almost never happens when more than two people are present.  But a simple tactic I learned some years ago proves beneficial: go for a walk.

Walking works as a great conversational lubricant – by providing a shared activity it creates a natural bond, and as you are side-by-side not face-to-face it is a low tension state, so it is easier to express your opinions and feelings.  Both of these enable trust to develop more quickly between a pair of walkers.

Then you are much less likely to be interrupted.  That’s partly because you are engaged in another activity – walking and talking makes it hard to check your phone or for your mind to drift; and partly because of where you are – a colleague is unlikely to barge in on a woodland footpath.

I was introduced to these concepts as part of an intensive teambuilding session over a few days for the marketing heads at Vodafone, and it transformed the level of trust between us.  As a result, it multiplied our effectiveness in working together and our team performance.  I’ve tried to apply the lessons to my own relationships and conversations since.

When I discovered Natural Netwalking, I recognised that this was applying the same principles to networking. Instead of the cliché and basic fact conversations that pervade many networking sessions, networking while walking gave an opportunity for more relaxed, but more fulfilling conversations.  I haven’t been disappointed.

Article by Robin Tucker Managing Director Red Kite Management Consulting and walk leader for Didcot Milton Park.

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