Holistic Communication

Communication is the transfer of messages from one person to another person. Holism refers to treating the whole of a system not just its constituent parts. Therefore holistic communication is applying systems thinking to inter-personal communication. Since communication is so critical to team working, which is the foundation of Software Engineering businesses, we consider communication techniques in some detail.

Using psychology and linguistic based communication techniques and change practices we improve decision making, intra- and inter-team communication, conflict prevention (and resolution) and Business Change.

In thinking about holistic communication we’ve studied psychology, linguistics, behavioral science, ethics, neuro-linguistic programming, magic (think card tricks rather than spells), mentalism, hypnosis, cognitive science and business change however, as with the principles of Holistic Software Development, we attempt to suppress the academic and emphasize the practical elements.

Why is this important?

Communication is the transfer of a message from a sender via a channel to one or more receivers. The meaning of any communication is the result generated in the mind of the receivers – not the intended message.

Communication and collaboration are critical to our success as individuals, teams, businesses and societies and yet often the result of communication is not what the sender originally intended. Improving our communication skills can literally improve our lives and everyone else’s lives. Because it’s so very important it deserves our attention.

“The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates

When we communicate we’re trying to move a representation of something from our minds to someone else’s mind. There’s a lot of ways we can do this including words, pictures, actions and non-verbal communication. Thinking about each of these carefully and how to use them together as a holistic communication approach enables us to ensure that the received message really does match our intention making us better communicators.

Holistic communication is the kung fu of business change.

Ethics and morality

Being effective at getting a message from our heads to other people’s heads involves changing other people’s representation of an idea. Being really good at it is sometimes called being inspiring, convincing, compelling, persuasive, seductive, hypnotic or even manipulative. Some of these words have positive connotations and others negative. Being mindful of these differences is an example of using holistic communication.

Carefully crafting a message provides the ability to put a representation of a concept in someone’s head changing their perception of reality. Sometimes that message doesn’t superficially look like the intended result making it potentially deceptive or deceitful – another two negative words which is why we also cover ethics and morality.

Ethics and morality are related but different. Ethics define system wide standards of behavior whereas morals are a more personal distinction between right or wrong. Therefore in terms of Holistic Software Development we need to consider professional ethics and our personal morality.

In terms of professional ethics we think that in the coaching/process improvement/business change consultancy space that the Hippocratic oath taken in the medical profession isn’t far off. Basically the personal morality of our consultants is along the lines of “do no harm”, the whole point of consultants is to help people.

So the focus of the application of the various concepts, structures and techniques we use is not how to deceive people into doing what we want but how to understand and structure our communication to get the best results and to learn how to avoid unintended negative consequences. We believe there’s a moral imperative to learn how to communicate properly, not for the purposes of gross manipulation but to increase the impact of our messages in a positive way and to help people.

But what are the best results?

We said above that holistic communication is about understanding and structuring our communication to achieve the best results, which begs the question “best for whom”? This is why professional ethics and personal morality are important. In business change there can sometimes be a conflict between the needs of the business, the needs of the change project, the needs of the change agents and the needs of the individuals. Balancing all of these with an emphasis on “do no harm” is what we consider the “best results”. Ultimately the ethical context in which we work in helps us make these decisions and it’s different in every case.

Holistic Communication Techniques

Much of the content in this section is hosted on one of our contributors blogs:

  • Creating Change
    • Why do people change their behaviors?
    • The difference between complicated and complex
    • Autonomy vs. Empowerment
    • Resonating social patterns with project processes
  • The rights and wrongs of communication channels
  • Professional mindfulness, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution
  • Get your point across using positive statements
  • Making Decisions
    • A model for making group decisions
    • How to reach agreement in a group – autocracy vs. democracy
    • Decision making case studies
  • Metaphors
    • Direct, Indirect and complex metaphors
    • Metaphor Restrictions
    • Serious Gaming for education with complex layered metaphors
  • Rapport, Congruency and Hypnosis

This blog series is designed to be read quite quickly with a lot of indirect metaphorical messaging and implied meaning so rather than consider each point analytically you will get more out of it by letting it sink into your subconscious as you internalize the various techniques. The last thing you want in a conversation is to spend 5 minutes analyzing each sentence instead of speaking!

The practical bit

Don’t believe in all this stuff? How about a little thought experiment? Clear your mind, relax, image a big blank whiteboard, sit back and try not to think of purple penguins.

Impossible isn’t it? We constructed a couple of words that ensured that you represented a purple penguin in your head. Probably on a whiteboard in a meeting room you’re familiar with. To negate a concept you first have to represent it. This is a trivial example, but an important concept.