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Everyone Communicates: Few Connect

A major role of all Extension employees is to make connections with the citizens of North Carolina. Of course this requires communication; but there is much more to developing a trusting, loyal relationship than just talking with folks. John Maxwell provides excellent guidance on how to truly connect with others in his book, “Everyone Communicates: Few Connect.”  Dr. Rhonda Sutton introduces a two-part review, below, (1) Connecting Principles and (2) Connecting Practices. Please note that the quotes referenced are directly from the book.

Part One:  Connecting Principles
John Maxwell states that “people cannot succeed in life without communicating effectively.”  How do we do this? There are a few principles to follow:

First, connect by focusing on the other person and avoid making yourself the center of the conversation. When a person walks into the Extension office or is meeting with you out in the field, find out their name, listen to what they want, and work to understand their perspective – show that you care, that you are willing to help, and that you can be trusted. Second, communication goes way beyond words. More than 90% of the impression we often convey has nothing to do with what we actually say. There are four levels to think about when working to connect beyond the message:  visually, intellectually, emotionally and verbally. Visually, you have 7 seconds to make the right first impression. Are you confident when you communicate with growers? Do you feel comfortable talking with adults about their gardens? Are you sincere when you work with 4h-ers on their skill development? Do you smile when the locals comes into the office (for the 5th time that month?)  Are you personable, approachable and clear in the delivery of your educational information? Are you passionate about your subject matter, and do you understand it? People will hear your words, but more importantly, they will feel your attitude.
The third principle of connecting with others is that connecting always requires energy. This means that you take the initiative, prepare – when you can – ahead of time keeping in mind your audience, showing passion and compassion, and being grateful for the interactions you have with others (even those difficult people!). Keep these ideas of energy in mind as you work with your constituents – whether they are volunteers, youth, county commissioners, farmers, or others. Having a passion for what you do and compassion for those you serve will be shown through the ways in which you talk, support and guide others. Keep in mind, too, that connecting also requires some stamina (just think of how many people with whom you interact on a weekly basis!). Be sure that you take time to recharge and engage in self-care so that being with others does not deplete all of your energy; this principle is especially important for those who work so much with the public. Connecting is more skill than natural talent, and this is the fourth principle Maxwell shares in his book. It takes time to develop good communication skills which include listening, building relationships, using appropriate humor, helping people learn through your insights and accomplishments, being confident, being authentic, and being willing to focus on others. Become aware of how you communicate – do you look others in the eye? Do you exhibit confidence when you discuss your subject matter? Do you feel comfortable being lighthearted in some situations or admitting times when you are not sure of the answer? Working in Extension requires people skills, so do what you can to become more aware of the communication skills you have. Continue to build on those skills and work to develop new ones, too.

Part Two:  Connecting Practices
John Maxwell furthers his instruction on how to connect by providing “Connecting Practices.”  These practices are listed below along with some brief ideas for how to build on them with your own communication style.

1. Connect on Common Ground:  we all experience things in different ways, but in order to connect, we need to find what we have in common. Pay attention to others and, through listening to them, find ways to understand and connect with them. For this practice, Maxwell suggests that you “know the reasons you and your listener want to communicate, and build a bridge between those reasons” (p. 147).

2. Keep It Simple:  basically, communicate clearly. Making things simple and conveying information in a clear manner is a skill, but it is definitely a skill others appreciate. When people understand what you say, they more easily connect with you, trust you and engage with you. Maxwell states that, “in the end, people are not persuaded by what we say, but by what they understand” (p. 165).

3. Create an Experience Everyone Enjoys:  This means avoid being the type of communicator you don’t like. Instead, be natural but show energy, enthusiasm, and some humor. Link what you say to the needs of others; do what you can to relate to your listeners and meet them on their terms. Maxwell offers a number of ways to create an engaging experience when communicating with others, and a main point regarding this practice is to “work to create the right experience for your communication setting” (Maxwell, p. 196).

4. Inspire People:  Maxwell has an “Inspiration Equation” that works like this: What They Know + What They See + What They Feel = Inspiration. “They” refers to your listeners. The first part of this formula refers to people knowing that you (the communicator) understand them and are focused on them. The second part of the formula refers to people needing to see your conviction, credibility and character. The third part of this formula focuses on people feeling your passion for both your subject and for them. Maxwell notes that “the true test of inspiration is action…[t]hat is what makes a difference” (p. 225).

This is a brief overview of the insights John Maxwell shares in his book, “Everyone Communicates: Few Connect.”  I encourage you to read the entire book to learn the strategies for successfully connecting to the people and populations you serve through your work in Extension. Keep in mind that connecting is more skill than talent, and this book can definitely help you learn the skills to communicate effectively with the North Carolina citizens you serve.