Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Barriers to Finding Common Ground


In the book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”, John Maxwell has five chapters devoted to principles of connecting, and five chapters devoted to practices of connecting.   I have spent five weeks on the first five chapters covering those principles, and today I start on the second part of the book, with the practices. The first practice of connecting is in the sixth chapter, and it is “Connectors Connect on Common Ground”.

In the last post, I discussed the fact that finding common ground is often the basis for international diplomacy, so the principle works on the largest stage there is.   It also works on the stage you are going to be standing on to give your speech, and this post discusses the barriers often encountered in trying to find common ground with your audience.

1.  Assumption–“I Already Know What Others Feel and Want”

It’s unwise to make assumptions about people based on their background, profession, race, gender, age, nationality, politics, faith, or other factors.    People’s idiosyncrasies often contradict one’s assumptions, because these are based on generalizations.    A person is neither an average nor any other kind of statistic!

Stop the judging and start paying attention to what people say, how they think, and above all, what they do.   Then you may find common ground with someone who has a different … background, profession, race, gender, etc.

2.  Arrogance–“I Don’t Need to Know What Others Feel, or Want”

It’s one thing to assume that you know what others feel or want.   It’s even worse not to CARE what others feel or want.   This kind of person thinks of themselves as being not just different in degree, but in kind from others.   Losing empathy for others is the first step towards being a complete sociopath, for whom people are mere commodities or objects.     Slavery was a horrible institution because treating people like things takes you down that path.   The first step on that path is arrogance, so don’t take it.

3.  Indifference–“I Don’t Care to Know What Others Feel, or Want”

The people have no desire to know others are a puzzle to me.    I am filled with such xenophilia, love of that which is different from myself, that people who show no desire to learn or experience the outside world are a challenge for me to understand.    It is a form of selfishness because it says that the present horizon of my experience is all that I want to experience.   It implies that you have already grown enough and in a way are already perfect.    If you focus on yourself and your own comfort you will not be able to put yourself in the shoes of others to glean what they want and need.

The development psychologist Jean Piaget said that children typically move through various stages of development.   From two to seven years old, they are in Pre-Operations Stage where they are egocentric.    One test of this is to show a child a ball that is painted yellow on one side and blue on the other.    The tester shows both sides to the child, points the blue side towards the child, and asks “which side do you see?”, and the child answers “blue”.   Then the tester shows the yellow side towards the child, and asks “which side do I see”?   If the child has passed out of this stage, it will answer correctly, “blue.”   If it is still in the Pre-Operations Stage they will answer “yellow.”   Because they are egocentric, they are incapable of taking the perspective of another person than themselves.   The sad thing is that,  those adults who exhibit the indifference mentioned in the previous paragraph are, in a way, emotionally equivalent to those 2-7 year olds.

4.  Control–“I Don’t Want Others to Know What I Know, Feel, or Want”

In order to make a connection, you not only have to understand others, but you have to open enough for them to be able to understand you.    When I was working at Mitsubishi Motors, there used to be a saying prevalent among the American employees.    “The Japanese give information to the American employees on a  need-to-know basis:   meaning if you are an American, you don’t need to know.”    I didn’t agree with this saying, because I was fluent in Japanese and English and could understand what they were saying without any difficulty and my ability to understand Japanese meant that there was no barrier I perceived in getting information.

However, it bothered me that some people felt that:   that must mean that that perception exists, whether or not it is based on actual reality or not.    That got me started on contemplating how a global project should be run, when there are different languages spoken by the various participants, and the necessity for a global communications plan to reduce the risk of miscommunication.

If you are a leader, don’t isolate yourself, and don’t keep your employees in the dark.   Inform people, make them a part of what’s going on, and include them in the decision-making process whenever possible.

Now that you’ve learned what not to do in order to find common ground, the next post will discuss what you should do in order to cultivate a common ground mindset.

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