Communication is one of the things that I believe everyone should get training in. We need to communicate effectively to be successful in our relationships, in our jobs, and pretty much every aspect of our lives. I am not talking about eloquence, I am talking about clearly communicating what you intend to communicate with another person who hears and understands the message you were sending. This may sound fairly simple, but it can so often go wrong. Here are some tips for communicating well with the people around you.
- Take responsibility for what is yours. When you are frustrated, it is very easy to blame the other person for your feelings. “You are making me so mad!” This is such a common struggle because it truly feels that the other person is causing your emotions. Okay – that sounds too much like the therapist-me popping her head out, so let me put this in a way that can be more specific to the teams with whom you work. When you put the blame on someone else and communicate your blame with anger, you will not get the issue resolved. “You @** #$$%! You don’t know your job and are trying to f#%& – up the project!” That does not solve the problem. My suggestion is to identify what happened, what the consequence is, and how to move forward. “You missed a deadline and I cannot do my work until yours is done. I’m concerned because if we don’t move quickly, we will have our schedule slip and the budget will be impacted. I need you to prioritize this task now, so we can get back on track. Next time, if you are having trouble meeting a deadline, please let me know prior to the deadline, so we can problem-solve.” Please note the title of this section – this does not mean that the other person will do what they need to do, that they will respond respectfully, or even that they won’t screw up again. This is only talking about how you can communicate and take responsibility for your portion of the interaction. When you take responsibility for what is yours, the likelihood of success goes up exponentially.
- Understand what could impact the message. When we talk with someone, there are filters between what you mean to say and what the person hears. These filters may go unnoticed, but can take your intended message and change it to a different message entirely. The first filter is how you are feeling. If you are perky, your message will take on a more positive tone. If you are tired or frustrated, it will sound a bit more strained or even sarcastic. The second filter is the context of your relationship and how both of you perceive it. If the relationship is strong and both of you feel positively about it, even something expressed in a rough, unplanned way could be perceived as helpful. Now, if you have a tense relationship, carefully worded, helpful comments can be seen as threatening. A third filter is the mood/mental space of the receiver of the message. If the other person is overwhelmed, frustrated, and focused elsewhere, the message you send can be 5 million miles from what is received. Understanding what could impact the message can help you to plan to carefully navigate through the filters and then identify where miscommunications could have happened.
- Figure out how specific and how vague to be. There are times when getting into the nitty-gritty is really important. If you need to make sure a specific detail is understood and properly managed, be very clear and stay in the level of that specific detail. Don’t spend too much time in the big picture or pull in irrelevant details that may obscure your message. On the flip side, when you are talking about processes or patterns of behavior, it is important to talk about it at that level and not get too caught up in the tiny details or single circumstances. There is a balance between having enough detail to understand what is being talked about and having too much detail that could confuse what the real message is.
- Check back and clarify when needed. No matter how clear our message feels to us, there are going to be times when it doesn’t hit. It is important to check for understanding from the other person. In cases where something is especially important or complicated, it may even help to have the other person repeat back what they heard or to reiterate any actions steps that were developed. Try not to finish the conversation unless you are sure you understand each other and agree to what the next steps are. During this process, you have the opportunity to clarify or restate what was misunderstood or just plain missed. Another critical piece is to keep this process as collaborative and positive as possible. It does not help to assume that the person is purposely misunderstanding you and is trying to sabotage your work. Instead, work from the assumption that the person in front of you is trying to understand, shares the overarching goals, and wants to work together with you to make sure everything goes well. (Please note that this assumption is not always true, but certainly helps facilitate the process described here.)
- Identify the right time to address conflict. When we are angry or irritated, part of our brain is turned off. In simple terms, when we get mad or scared, our fight or flight response kicks in. That turns off the higher functions of our brain and focuses our brains on survival. A good example of fight or flight is touching a hot stove. If you consciously thought about moving your hand, you would be burned (“Ouch that is hot, I should move my hand”). In truth, your instinctual brain moves your hand before you even register that it is hot. When our logical brains are turned off (like that split second when we are getting burned and moving our hand without thinking), we are unable to reason and communicate effectively. We may not even be able to hear what the other person is saying. So, plan for a time when both parties are calm and able to really focus on and understand the conflict at hand.
- Know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ‘em. Even if you do everything right, there are going to be times when the conversation goes horribly wrong. Sometimes, these conversations can be steered back onto the path. Other times, continuing will only lead further into blaming, misunderstanding, and ineffectiveness. If you get to this point (and you usually know when the conversation has stopped being productive), it is best to call a time out and plan to return to the subject at another time (if you must). Staying involved in an unproductive, angry conversation does not get anywhere and often makes things worse.
How we communicate is so important to how we do business. When our communication is weak, so is our progress toward our goals.
Find your path… to effective communication!
If you would like support in communicating within your team, please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org; 424-241-3205