Let’s face it. Communication skills is a training area that is always in high demand and it’s been accepted for a very long time that such skills need to be trained using some kind of face-to-face method. The trouble is, the demand for shorter workshops and lower training investment is increasing. So, this is the question I started with – how can we cover such a seemingly complex area in an ever-diminishing amount of time and still deliver excellent training for our clients/people?

My response to this dilemma has been to look at communication not from a situational, but rather a structural perspective. By situational I mean the dozens of work-related subjects where communication is considered pivotal to success, for example:

  • Negotiation
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Selling
  • Influencing

This is just the tip of the iceberg but I’m sure you get the idea. I’ve trained all these subjects for years and while, as I say, the situation is different each time, the nature of the communication required is not. In almost every workshop I’ve ever run on these subjects, there’s a section on effective questioning, listening, body language etc. And here’s the thing I noticed – these sections largely say the same exact thing!

This got me thinking. What if a training provider or team reversed the entire way they trained communication by removing all these specific situations (at least initially) and replaced them with an exploration of the basic building blocks of all human communication? In other words, what if they took a structural approach?

Loads of trial, error, reflection and research later, much of it done in the training room with real participants, I have uncovered such a system, which is in fact based on just three words:


Each is a trigger word – a word you ‘put in your head’. Just this one simple trigger seems to release a significant amount of communication best-practice without much extra effort or thought. As such, workshop learners can improve their general communication skills in quite literally minutes, rather than days or weeks. I’ve seen this happen repeatedly.

Each word represents one of the 3 essential human ‘communication dynamics’:

  • You can talk and I’ll listen (LEARN)
  • I’ll talk and you can listen (TEACH)
  • Let’s have a 2-way conversation (EXPLORE)

Here’s how the system works. Put the word LEARN in your head at any time you think asking questions and listening might be an effective strategy. What seems to happen is that, with that key word in your head, good listening and questioning becomes almost effortless. I think it’s because the word LEARN encourages the best type of listening, which is fuelled by genuine curiosity and interest.

It’s the same with the word TEACH. It seems to work better than words like explain or suggest. Teaching elicits a calmer, more considered and easy-to-study style of communication.

EXPLORE seems to trigger instant non-judgemental consultation, transparency and problem-solving; the very essence of what so much communication skills training is about!

I invite you to try it out for the rest of today or your next day at work. In any communication moment, (a) pick the communication dynamic you think is required, (b) put its trigger work word in your head, and (c) see how this impacts the effectiveness of your communication.

I find I can train groups of any size (or coach individuals) in LEARN-TEACH-EXPLORE in around 90-120 minutes. The session is practical and outcome focused. Groups leave with the 3 words in their head, a simple set of course notes, and proof that they are already able to use the system. How is this possible? It’s because the system is predicated on the assumption that we already have the skills required to communicate effectively. We just need to trigger them. In effect, there’s hardly anything to learn!

From there, learners can start to improve across all communication situations. For example, the course suggests that from now on, whenever you find yourself being ambushed by somebody at work, put the word LEARN in your head and ask a question. This one suggestion, in effect, covers dozens of situations where ambushes occur – e.g. negotiations, angry people, selling, team meetings, coaching sessions.

This is not to say that LEARN-TEACH-EXPLORE can’t be adapted to suit specific situations. It can. Currently I have 26 such examples. The thing is, because groups already have the generic system under their belt, I find it takes very little extra time to adapt the system to suit any particular context. For example, if I train a group for 90 minutes in the general system, then take a break, I find I can introduce and train them in, say, handling difficult customers in around 60 minutes, including skills practices, discussions etc.

Better yet, this sort of situational training / skills consolidation can be done back at the point of work by the learner themselves, without any extra formal training at all.

To sum up. If you don’t have time to train your people in dozens of different areas of work communication (and who does these days), go the other way and radically enhance their communication in all areas. Go structural. Use LEARN-TEACH-EXPLORE and discover what only a short, inexpensive, punchy little workshop can deliver.

Just three words could change communication in your workplace forever!

What if just three words could improve everything you’ll ever need to say?

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