If You Want to Communicate Brilliantly, You Must Master the Golden Triangle of Communications

Because the three communication skills that generate win-win solutions, and build trust and respect, are:

* LISTENING to the answers generated by,

* ASKING many questions, and

* SUMMARISING periodically, as a means of feedback.

Do you want to be a brilliant communicator? Do you want to influence others easily? Is it part of your self improvement programme? If so, learn to listen, ask and summarise.

Let’s look a bit more closely at each of them.

Listening is the single most important and effective of the communication skills. If you want to be a great conversationalist or you want to be great at establishing rapport, and building relationships with others, or you want to be in control, and influence people, learn to listen. This is not the same as hearing though. It is defined as: making a deliberate effort to understand the significance of what is heard

This means that when you register a sound (hear it) you do some work inside your minds and body – you put in some effort (you listen to it). For example, you interpret the sound to determine, does it matter? You question what the meanings of the sound might be. You associate the sound with other experiences in your internal mental and emotional databases. You ask if the sound needs a response and, if so, what? You think about the implications of the sound for you and others and, internally, you ask many questions about it. In this way, you are making a deliberate effort to understand the significance of what you heard – you are listening. To listen is hard work, as it requires high levels of mental energy and concentration.

In any communication between people there are two things going on at the same time (at least). On one level, there is the content of the communication – what are they communicating about? On another level, there is the process and the relationship – how and why are they communicating? This may include, for example: are they communicating in ways that are building trust or suspicion? Are they creating mutual respect or disdain? Are they enjoying the experience? Will their relationship be stronger or weaker as a result of this communication? Listening can be geared to either one or both of these levels. There is also another language that needs “listening” to – body language – with skillful observation and interpretation.

Asking means questioning, of course, and there are different types of questions and they achieve different things. Listed below are seven really useful types of question:

1. specific, precise, closed questions – very useful for getting accurate, factual information (provided the person answering tells the truth). This type of question will usually get you the facts but that may be all you get. If you want to get things flowing a bit more, you will need to use open-ended questions.

2. open-ended questions – very useful for getting the other person to talk and share opinions.

Great when you are not sure what you’re looking for or when you want to build relationships and establish rapport or when you want to be in the receiver mode.

3. if you combine 2. and 1. above, in that order, you will create funnel questions. Funnel questions work like a funnel in the sense that they start very wide (open-ended questions); you listen to the answers and select something to ask a question about in more detail (your questions are getting narrower); you listen to the answers you get now and ask even more focused questions to funnel in (i.e. specific, precise, closed questions).

4. comparative questions – ask a person to think about a situation, think about a different situation and compare them. Comparative questions are very good for revealing what matters to someone and what they value

5. summarising questions – great for checking out that the messages that are being communicated are being understood as they were intended. They also help you to stay in control and to ensure that you, and others, don’t drift off all over the place (unless you want to, of course).

6. short questions – intended to keep you, the receiver, receiving, and the other person talking, as well as making progress on whatever the communication is about. Short questions are most typically the six words: “what?; who?; when?; how?; where?; and why?”. The most probing of these questions is, “why?”. Depending on the situation, handle this question with consideration for the other person as it may come across as aggressive or cause the other person to feel inadequate.

7. the seventh type of question is the absence of a spoken question – it is a pause or silence.

In some situations, especially if your communication with another person has reached a sensitive point, the approach that will get the best response is to shut up, maintain supportive eye contact and body language, and wait. Most people don’t like the silence that ensues and the other person may well speak out revealing more information. There is, of course, a judgement to be made here as pauses or silences that go on too long may be embarrassing and weaken rapport. The judgement is, how long is too long?

Summarising means accurately repeating back the message that has been transmitted. It is time and effort very well spent because it will:

* ensure understanding

* demonstrate that active listening is taking place

* build relationships (e.g. trust, respect, mutual support)

* confirm or clarify key points

* explore any perceived contradictions

* explore any new information

* reinforce openness and honesty

* confirm common ground

* create opportunities to correct any errors in the communication process.

Summarising is really valuable but is too often rarely seen in communications. It is a great test of listening, of course. If you can’t summarise accurately what has been said, you probably were not listening in the first place (which is pretty insulting to the others, isn’t it?).

In summary, it is the golden triangle of communication skills – listening, asking and summarising – that is the key to achieving great solutions and building trust and respect with others.

Communications Security Versus Effective Coordination of First Responders in the ‘Golden Hour’

Inter organisation emergency response coordination in the event of a major incident is a complex issue. There are numerous organic challenges to overcome and these significant challenges can be further exacerbated by the ability of those ‘first responders’ to communicate effectively across a highly charged, complex and often confusing incident area. There are solutions available, such as the Incident Commanders Radio Interface (ICRI) available through Domain Communications which can help to overcome the technical challenge of inter organisation communications, it is simple to use, quickly deployable and readily available.

Whilst ongoing and recently rejuvenated coordination efforts of liaison, joint exercises and improved understanding of organisational practices and priorities are undoubtedly paying dividends, including overcoming those challenges presented through entrenched cultural, procedural and methodical differences, there is also a financial cost to delivering that coordination in a real situation.

Common procurement is a noble aspiration, but the special requirements of emergency agencies mean that in truth, they are often using very different communication equipment where interoperability/compatibility is not straightforward. Often communications units operate in different frequency bands and are not physically able to communicate with one another. Over and above this there is often encryption to ensure the protection of sensitive and classified information, and these encryption systems too are often different.

Recently the British armed services were employed to help deliver elements of security for the 2012 London Olympic Games; it will come as no surprise that those existing challenges of culture, procedure and methods of communications are very well entrenched in the military and have the potential therefore to increase by a level of magnitude the complexity of interoperability in the event of a major incident at the 2012 games or other key events. It is further complicated by the fact the military may use their existing communications equipment which is often encrypted and also varies from service to service. There are also some procedural differences within the armed services, although there are undoubtedly large areas of commonality.

The bottom line is that specifically and necessarily there are those users within and without the first responder community who routinely use encrypted communications as part of the UK national security arrangements. In the event of a major incident, these agencies and organisations, supported by the military, need the ability to communicate and coordinate to ensure the most effective, safe and timely responses and ultimately save lives; this ability is hampered by the employment of numerous encrypted communications systems, but is this level of encryption really necessary in the aftermath of a major incident? It is probably that the immediate priorities for preservation of life, national infrastructure, integrity and resilience will also score very highly in any commanders risk assessment.

Solutions such as ICRI exist which can deliver the required intercommunication very easily and at a relatively low cost. So the final obstacle would appear to be the approval or authorisation of those encrypted services to move quickly into the use of an unencrypted audio bridge in the event of a major incident. That this is not something to be undertaken lightly, after all these encryption systems are employed for good reason and at significant additional expense; it is definitely this critical point which really needs a level of investigation and consideration.

The protection or encryption of voice communications is usually employed to protect sensitive information which could be exploited by unfriendly forces to aid criminal, subversive or terrorist activity, or it could be to protect formally classified data or information protected by legislation. In any case, there will have been assessments made of the reasons for protecting the information and the level of protection required. The question is whether on balance, the short-term requirement to coordinate in a national emergency outweighs those original requirements sufficiently to communicate in clear during an ongoing incident. It is vitally important to note that this short period of ‘in-clear’ communications does not increase the threat to the ‘breaking’ of any encryption system, and the only threat to actual information would be during the period that the system was connected to the communications bridge. In any event, encryption can still be maintained when needed by simple switching at the hub which will likely be located within a secure Gold or Silver command where the final decision on the trade between communication security versus coordination of first responders will be made.

It is important to recognise that we are presented with a multi-level security challenge; a challenge that will, and does, exist and needs a pragmatic, realistic, affordable and scalable solution. There are multi-level security systems available, but these are often complex, carry a high training burden aimed at the specialist and are very expensive.

ICRI can link encrypted networks, as well as ‘link-in’ unencrypted networks (such as a mobile phone). The decision to integrate is based on a risk assessment that is local to the incident commander (Gold/Silver). Above all, without synchronised command and control of all first responder assets, confusion, added risk and even displaced defences allowing an unchallenged potential secondary or tertiary incident could occur.

London 2012 was a great success thanks to the overt and covert work of the security services and other national assets, nevertheless those decision makers and influencers in the emergency service power houses may wish to consider this option to help first responders deliver coordination of vitally important and complimentary emergency services to future major events throughout the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.