Common Ground

“If I had to pick a first rule of communication—the one practice above all others that opens the door to connection with others—it would be to look for common ground.  That rule applies whether you’re resolving conflict with your spouse, teaching a child, negotiating a deal, selling a product, writing a book, leading a meeting, or communicating to an audience.” – John C. Maxwell

It is your responsibility to find common ground with your audience. 

They will be more willing to listen to you when you’ve found something in common with them.  

Many people see communication as delivering massive amounts of information to others.  When we are training facilitators we often hear from participants, “But we need to get a ton of information out in a short period of time.”  It is not really possible to get that much information to stick with an audience.  Of more importance, if you fail to connect with them you won’t be able to get any of it across.  The more you can find common ground with your audience the more likely it is that your message will be heard. 

Those who connect well seek to understand their audience before speaking.  

My wife and I were performing at a corporate Christmas party in Winkler, Manitoba several years ago.  The audience appeared to be very reserved except for the group at one of the tables.  That table was laughing at the jokes, clapping where appropriate, and generally having a great time.  I had definitely connected with them.  The other tables would occasionally applaud but I knew I was not connecting with them no matter what I tried.

We were speaking to the event organizer after the show.  It was only then that we found out that the people at the other tables did not speak English.  They only spoke Low German.  Now, that is information I should have discovered ahead of time. I had failed to do the work necessary to make sure that I could connect.  After performing in ten countries on five continents, I am used to working with audiences that do not speak English.  I would have changed my show if we had known about the language barrier.  I could have connected in different ways.

A few years ago we asked our grandsons if they would like to attend a dinner theatre with us.  It was a Star Wars based show and we thought they would love it, but they said, “No thank you.”

“But it is about Star Wars. I am sure you would enjoy it.”  Still the answer was no.  So, I then tried to explain what happened at a dinner theatre. “First you get soup and it is served by the actors from the show.  Then they do part of the play, take a break and serve you the meal.”

The older one’s eyes lit up and he said, “Oh, it is like on SpongeBob SquarePants season 7, episode 12. The Play’s the Thing” where Mr. Krabs has a Dinner Theatre at the Krusty Krab.  That sounds like fun. Okay I’d like to go”

I had been trying to connect based on the Star Wars theme but I discovered that our common ground was Sponge Bob.  

Good connectors will do the necessary work to find where they have common ground with their audience.  This is even more important when you are trying to connect with an audience of one.