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Communication 101

Communication 101

A commenter on my blog sent me this little morsel:

A project manager was running a piece of work with a geographically dispersed team. The team leader was tasked with communicating some bad news to the team members in another city, so he phoned them all and had a conversation with them.

A couple of weeks later, during a tele-conference with the whole team, this piece of bad news was raised. There were gasps of surprise and protest from the remote team. Apparently, this bad news was news to them!

The PM asked the team leader why he hadn’t communicated the news in advance. He insisted that he had and cited all the phone calls. So the PM asked each team member in turn whether they had received the information. One by one, the said they hadn’t, frequently being interrupted by the team leader, who insisted over and over that he had delivered the information.

While the team members were speaking in turn over the speaker, the team leader scribbled “I DID communicate it!” on a sheet of A4 paper and held it up for his peers and his manager to see.

You say you did communicate it. Our survey says… “Eh, ehhhhhhhhh!” (Family Fortunes reference, in case no one gets it).

Phone

    While this is a situation than many of us can immediately identify with, I found it very interesting. This example; of poor to non-existent communication on the part of the project manager, who thought he was doing a bang-up job; neatly illustrates the number one problem I have observed with human communication. Why does person-to-person communication fail all the time? Because one of those people has assumed that communication has taken place – when in fact it hasn’t.

    If you want the right action to take place when you communicate something important to another person, three C’s have to happen:

    • Comprehend – the person has to understand you.
    • Concur – the person has to agree with you. [This can be over-ruled to some extent in hierarchical environments, but it’s generally better if there’s buy-in.]
    • Care – what you are trying to communicate has to matter to the person.

    So simple. A gerbil could do this. Why does it go wrong? How does it go wrong?

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    “I absolutely understand what you are saying and I totally agree with you (and the unspoken kicker) but I just don’t give a damn about that particular problem.” Result – no action.

    “I absolutely understand the problem and I care p-a-s-s-i-o-n-a-t-e-l-y about it, so I’m going to take action on it right now (unspoken) but I don’t agree with you.” Result – wrong action.

    “I’m making that problem my number one priority and I totally agree with your ideas; I’m all over it!” Result – wrong action, because you didn’t make yourself clear and the person thought they understood what you were saying … but they didn’t.

    In a recent American Management Association survey, 90% of senior managers rated themselves as “effective” or “highly effective” communicators. And the score awarded to those senior managers from their subordinates? 30%. Hmmm – I think I can see a problem here.

    The majority of the human species are … well, average. At almost everything. In order for clear, effective, actionable communication to take place, a number of simple elements need to be in place:

    • Empathy – the parties need to understand each other’s disposition. If I can read you, I’ll know when to talk, when to shut up, when to ask questions and when to leave you alone.
    • Listening – extending out past empathy. When I listen – really listen – to you, I can rapidly assess your level of intelligence, confidence, knowledge of the topic, and viewpoint. I can ‘hear between the lines’ and know when to ask a question to get you to open up further. Good listening, in short, will ramp up the level of of communication between us.
    • Advocating – when I do open my mouth, what comes out of it? This is the element that most people associate with effective communication – the gift of the gab, the silver tongued devil – and if I am deficient in this capacity, it is unlikely that I am going to gain a reputation as a great communicator.

    Not exactly rocket science now is it? And yet you can probably only think of a handful of really top-notch communicators in your circle of acquaintance. Why? Because in order to be considered exceptional, you need to be genuinely exceptional in all three of those areas, plus you have to be sufficiently self-aware and sufficiently confident in yourself to apply those skills in your day-to-day dealings.

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    Thoughts and comments from gerbil-lovers everywhere will be welcomed and appreciated.

    Rowan Manahan is The Insultant. He blogs at Fortify Your Oasis. Apart from roaring (occasionally) helpful advice at his clients, he has written the best-seller Where’s My Oasis?. He also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines and runs Fortify Services – an Irish-based careers consultancy.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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