I am a dancer. But not just any type of dancer—I am a ballroom and Latin dancer. I am trained in dances such the waltz, tango, foxtrot, rumba, cha cha, and salsa. And in the four different styles and sixteen or so dances that I have some level of mastery of, one of the things that connects all of these different dances together is that I never dance them alone.
Ballroom and Latin dancing is not done solo; it is done with a partner. Two people move together to paint a single picture. Two people are responsible for telling a story, for conveying an emotion, for moving as if they were one.
In order to do this, one person leads the dance and the other follows. This system is seemingly simple: the leader leads, the follower follows. But how does the leader lead the follower? And how does the follower know to how follow the leader? It is not merely a matter of knowing the steps. Dancers are communicating with each other throughout their dance.
It is a matter of push and pull. The leader guides the follower in the dance by giving small physical signals as to what comes next. If the leader pushes or pulls the follower in a certain way, the follower responds in a certain way. As the follower responds, the leader continues to the next movement, the next signal, based on the follower’s movement. This continuous push and pull creates a dance.
Push and pull is not without purpose. For every signal that the leader gives, the goal is to get the follower to move in the way the leader desires to continue the dance, to tell the audience a story. There is a clear intention, a clear goal with every push and pull. It is not about just doing that leading action; it is about achieving a desired result.
The same is true of communication. Communication is not done without purpose. It is not about saying what you want to say, or what you feel comfortable saying. Communication is always done with a clear intention: to achieve a specific result. Effective communication has a goal, one that helps a leader or organization meet a larger organizational goal.
But it is not enough to communicate once and leave it at that. Communication is always two-way. Like a dance, communication it is about push and pull, about acting and reacting with those stakeholders an organization or leader is communicating with. Just as a leader and a follower in a dance give each other signals to continue the dance, the leader communicates, the audience responds, and the leader responds to the audience’s response. It is only through the giving and receiving of these signals, the action and reaction, the push and pull, that a leader can achieve his or her goal.
Without this two-way communication, without a clear intention, it is only too easy for an organization or leader to not only miss the mark of achieving that goal, but to also cause self-inflicted harm.
And so the key principle of effective communication to remember is: Communicate with intention in order to achieve your goals.
This blog is part of a series “Lessons in Communication from a Dancer,” which uses principles and skills of dance as a way to better understand the key principles of effective communication.