MetacommunicationPeople often feel – mistakenly – that business success revolves around communications skills.

I do not agree. I feel that success actually revolves around your metacommunication skills.

Psychologists define metacommunication as the sum of your verbal and non-verbal communication. For example, if you say “Glad to see you” to someone and roll your eyes at the same time, they will not feel that you are actually glad to see them. A broader definition would be that metacommunication involves how people perceive you, not just your words.

Here is one way to look at metacommunication. Every time we communicate with someone, no matter what the subject matter is, we place a brick in a pile. These piles are marked with labels such as “I am prickly and defensive” or “I am kind” or “I try to please people” or “I don’t care.” Whether your actual message is correct or not, a brick is always placed somewhere.

Managing your metacommunication involves purposefully choosing where you want to leave your bricks, every time you open your mouth. I honestly feel this is one area where most people – even those who claim to communicate well – don’t pay enough attention. Here are some examples:

Communication: “Hi there, sales prospect! I haven’t heard from you yet this week and am calling again to check in.”
Metacommunication: “I am desperate to make a sale and feel people won’t buy unless I push them.”

Communication: “Listen up, employee – you didn’t do this correctly!”
Metacommunication: “I am a control freak and a negaholic who does not trust people who work for me.”

Communication: “Sorry, customer, we don’t accept returns by mail. You will have to come back to the store in person.”
Metacommunication: “We hate our customers.”

If you were to challenge any of these people about what they said, they would all stubbornly insist that they were right. That they were just checking back, really did need to correct something, or felt their policy was important.

Unfortunately, they each lose sight of their overall body of work: that they are acting like pests, constantly talking to employees in a tone of voice that would curdle milk, or erecting a concrete wall of soulless policies.

So here is the real secret of metacommunication: we (and our businesses) do not get judged on what we say – we get judged on whatever bricks are piled up behind us. Choose them carefully.