Communication skills you can learn from flying a kite
By Janet Hagerman, RDH, BSDH
The beach was perfect for our kite flying. It had all the required criteria -- great wind gusting in from the ocean, a wide expanse of beach with soft sand, and enough clouds in the blue sky to prevent us being blinded by sunlight too bright for us to take our eyes off our kite for long.
We hadn't flown our kite in years. I wasn't even sure if it was in need of repair or indeed flyable, not even sure if we would remember how to rig it, launch it, and keep it airborne. Having to continually chase a kite, rescue it, untangle its lines, and relaunch is not fun. But flying it is great fun! This is no ordinary kite. It is a trick/stunt kite, one that can be guided, directed, and indeed "steered."
First, we had to have the proverbial "discussion" about the correct way to rig the kite. Failure once. Failure twice. Finally, we rerigged the kite effectively and relaunched it. Up it went the first time! And up and up and up until we found that perfect space, the space where it swooped, soared, and glided along the breezy beach air currents. The trick is to keep the kite moving so it doesn't stall. It does not have to be moving fast, although fast is where the fun begins. Once you get the feel of the kite tugging against the breeze, it can then be manipulated with the opposing strings and handles. It seems pretty straightforward. Pull to the right makes the kite fly to the right. Pull to the left makes the kite fly to the left. Unless you pull too hard, and that is the challenge. What is too much and what is not enough?
The most important skill is reacting at the right moment and with the exact pressure. Sometime this can be a gentle tug, and sometimes it requires a sharp snap. Once airborne, the kite captures wind gusts and can become very powerful. At times my kite pulled against the wind, exerting so much pressure that I had to dig my legs and feet hard into the sand to prevent myself from being lifted into the air. Indeed, professional stunt kite flyers often attach two or three of these kites together, requiring several people to maneuver the tandem thing and keep it all attached to the planet! At other times I eased the tension allowing the kite, and me, to rest briefly while the kite glided more gently. The precise amount of course correction is critical. You cannot overreact and overcompensate as this results in failure and kite crash. Course correction must be relatively reactive to each small tug or mighty yank of the kite. Many times the smallest course correction can result in the most severe and dramatic changes in flight pattern. This is the most fun -- steering the kite to dive abruptly, soar suddenly, and plummet quickly, dancing wildly in the skies.
Flying this kite is a great metaphor for how we use our communication skills. Whether to persuade, sell, coach, or convince, the goal is typically to produce some change in action. Yet we all know that the hard sale, pushing too hard, forcing a point, seldom succeeds. Successful communicators know that course corrections must be relative to the persons and the environment in order to work well. What is too much and what is not enough?
Gauge the environment -- test the wind
As a coach, I need to first know where a team is in their level of coachability and their needs before I can help them. As health-care providers, we need to know the level of coachability and needs of our patients. A person in extreme pain is in a different state of mind than a person in the office for their preventive care visit. Our job, as good communicators, is to gauge that person's level of need so we know how to relate to them.
Rig it right
Just as rigging a kite correctly ensures the ability to fly, setting foundational standards is critical for successful communication. Correct rigging alone does not ensure the kite flying, but it is the necessary first step. Without proper rigging, no amount of steering skills will accomplish success and your kite will never successfully launch. Interestingly, with correct rigging, a kite can often launch itself and simply take off on its own. Likewise, by establishing from the start best standards, systems, and protocols for your business/dental practice, you set yourself up for success that launches quickly. Examples of foundational systems can be (to name just a few):
- Job descriptions
- Technical/clinical protocols
- Focused communication systems
- Meeting agenda templates
Keep moving so you don't stall
Don't give up. Launch and relaunch. Just because something doesn't work the first time doesn't mean it doesn't work. The best communication styles, scripts, messages, and methods get better with practice. Adjust and keep trying.
Small course corrections can produce massive results
Don't overcompensate. My engineer dad worked for years at Cape Kennedy sending rockets to the moon. We always loved to watch the rocket launches and could easily view them from miles away. As my dad explained, a few degrees too far in one or another direction could have the rocket veering off course many thousands of miles in the wrong direction. It had to be constantly monitored and corrected for the minutest variances. While our communication challenges may seem minor compared to a rocket, it is still true that small course corrections, or the lack thereof, can produce massive results. A change of one simple word can make the difference between whether or not a person takes action (i.e., accepts a dental treatment plan). Conversely, one word can also overwhelm a person to confusion and paralyzing nonaction. Small shifts one at a time build to bigger changes, creating ultimately huge shifts in actions and behavior.
Work with what you've got
If the wind is strong, you've got to pull hard. If it suddenly stops, your course correction must be small and subtle in order to recapture that little puff of wind. I once worked with a rough team. The first protocol I helped them to establish was the elimination of the F word at staff meetings! This small -- yet huge -- shift set the standard for an environment of mutual respect and professionalism. (True story -- you can't make this stuff up.) Other practices need the gentlest nudging to enhance their communication skills, perhaps become more effective presenters of treatment plans. They just need to get a bit of wind beneath their wings (a new word, open-ended questions, focused communication) to begin to soar. And soar they all did, from polished professionals to rough-cut diamonds.
Go fly your kite. Rig it right, launch it, keep it airborne with constant course corrections, and have fun dancing wildly in the skies of success!
More by Janet Hagerman, RDH, BSDH:
Janet Hagerman, RDH, BSDH, is an international speaker, author, communications coach, and enthusiastic kite flyer. A graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, her focus on creative communication and leadership empowers health professionals nationwide. To learn more, visit Janet's website at janethagerman.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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