Be on alert…starting with this mindset will help slow down your internal mechanism that tends to trip over misunderstandings at the speed of your emotions.

 Thanks to Alfred Binet, most people have heard of IQ (Intelligence Quotient).  Wayne Payne, and more recently Daniel Goleman, brought us EQ (Emotional Intelligence).  We now have a flood of Q’s, including BQ (Body Intelligence), MQ (Moral Intelligence), and a host of others.

My recent favorite has become CQ—Communication Intelligence.  I certainly didn’t coin the phrase, but have encountered it over the last few years as I’ve been extensively evaluating and studying concepts related to interpersonal communication.  I’ve come to believe that the way we communicate leads to the way we think (not the other way around).  More importantly, this impacts our judgment and the choices we make.

In my studies, I’ve yet to find a definition for CQ that I think encapsulates its true meaning.  That has prompted me to develop my own:

Communication IntelligenceAn individual’s level of proficiency in accurately exchanging thoughts using verbal and nonverbal cues to achieve a mutual understanding.

If you can’t remember my entire definition, simply stash the last two words.  A mutual understanding seems to be difficult enough in life and almost impossible in a time-compressed job interview.

There are many steps you can take to improve your CQ, but three in particular will go a long way.  Before we discuss those, you need to recognize something.  Good communication leads to good judgment.  This holds true because when you have accurate information and a mutual understanding, you are at a minimum making an informed decision.

As I considered how to package this message, I often thought of a funny saying.  Good judgment comes from experience.  Unfortunately, experience comes from a lot of bad judgment.   I always laugh at that expression solely because it’s entertaining.  Of course, it simply isn’t true.   There’s no law that says you have to exercise bad judgment to gain experience.  Furthermore, I have several hundred cases I’ve personally handled that illustrate individuals with experience don’t necessarily exercise good judgment.  This tends to occur for the same reason history repeats itself—because people don’t listen the first time.  In the case of exercising poor judgment, it’s because people don’t listen to themselves.

In my opinion, people that exercise the best judgment and make the smartest decisions are not necessarily the ones with the most experience or good intuition.  They are typically the ones who are the most introspective and actually listen to themselves.  They also rarely have unexpressed or misunderstood expectations—the very same expectations that shape what we see and hear, but more disturbingly what we value.

Realize, of course, that it’s extremely difficult to listen to yourself.  Your head is filled with biases you can’t rid, residual emotions from hours or days earlier, all smashed between a crowd of preoccupations from your work and personal life.  Recognizing I would need something on the order of 20,000 words to help you lobotomize these distractions, I’d like to focus on a short, simple checklist that you can more easily externally manage (and something that would fit in the 785 words I’ve allotted for this posting J).

The first step toward improving your CQ is to start before the interaction!  Put yourself on alert that there will be ambiguity and need for clarification.  Starting with this mindset will help slow down your internal mechanism that tends to trip over misunderstandings at the speed of your emotions.  While awareness upfront is critical, you should supplement it by taking responsibility in advance to prevent yourself from being misunderstood.  Think through how the other party might construe your thoughts.  Even better, read the Storytelling chapter of Interview Intervention!

The second step to improving is maintaining awareness of your expressions while simultaneously practicing curiosity for the other person.  Become inquisitive as to why the person did, said, thought, chose, or whatever the appropriate point is.  Oftentimes, a simple question regarding, “Why is that important to you?” or “Why did you think that was the right choice?” will uncover the mystery.

The third, and my favorite, step in improving your CQ is to perform the “intent check.”  Just because you said it doesn’t mean they understood it.  Just because you heard it doesn’t mean that’s what they meant.  Remember, communication is complete if and only if the message was properly understood.  Otherwise, you technically miscommunicated.  The easiest way to ensure good communication is to repackage what the other party said and confirm, preferably in different words, what the other party meant.

Don’t forget, communication isn’t about the words used.  It’s about the message sent and received.