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The Most Underutilized Tool for Effective Communication

The Most Underutilized Tool for Effective Communication

So much of my management coaching practice is about providing people with better tools for the common problems they continue to struggle with. At times, these “new” tools are actually things we learned way back when we were in school. We had tuned out our teachers while we were learning them, thinking, When will I ever use this stuff? Well, lo and behold, you became a manager, and that when is now.

For instance, there is a certain tool I have found to be extremely effective in clearing up all sorts of communication glitches in organizations, and it works almost instantly. It’s something most of us learned about way back in our primary school English classes, but we forgot about it that long ago too, because our English teachers were pretty much the only people who talked about it. Once I remembered it, I discovered it to be one of the most powerful communication tools we could use in our company so that expectations would be clear. That tool, harking back to English 101, is vocabulary.

According to AskOxford.com,

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“the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words.”

With so many words to choose from, if you speak English, chances are that vocabulary is something you need pretty badly at work. When you use certain words in your organization, you leave them open to interpretation when you are not specific about defining them. On the other hand, creating concise vocabulary within an organization will shape the language you specifically choose to employ when you communicate with each other.

In the work world, think of vocabulary as your misconception killer. My experience has been that people don’t find vocabulary conversations at work insulting or condescending. On the contrary, they become very grateful that we didn’t assume so much and made our intent so clearly known. Even when people define words correctly, they can misinterpret the context in which they are used, or find that they are just too broad and not succinct enough. In these cases, vocabulary becomes a tool for narrowing down the variables; it can save heaps of time because intention is so immediately clear.

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Let’s look at a few examples of common work related words that are often used interchangeably in many organizations, and I’ll explain how we use them very specifically in my company to create our own language of intention with them.

    Objective and Goal

For us, our objectives are the strategic objectives which are company wide, shared by every single person in the organization. Goals relate to people individually, and what they wish to learn and achieve to grow within the organization on a personal basis.

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    Systems and Processes

With these two words, process is the word of choice when the way things work involve the performance of people. This is easy to remember, in that we keep the 3 p’s of people, performance, and process together. On the other hand, systems refer to things like paper trails, electronic and IT systems, and those largely automated structures we have in place; they are universally “systemic” and not driven by individual choice. Once the setting part is done, the people involvement is minimal.

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    Management and Leadership

Both such robust, intricate, and complex verbs! We find it useful to use ‘classic Webster’ on this one: “Manage; to bring about or succeed in accomplishing; contrive. Lead; to go before or with to show the way, conduct or escort.” Generally management is about our operational strategies, and leadership our visionary ones.

Which concepts would you love to have better defined in your company? How can specific vocabulary help cut through confusion and ambiguity for you?

Related articles:
Ho‘omau and your Language of Intention
What’s the difference between Mission and Vision?

Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business and the Talking Story blog. She is also the founder and head coach of Say Leadership Coaching, a company dedicated to bringing nobility to the working arts of management and leadership.

Rosa’s Previous Thursday Column was: ROV Coaching: Gain Return on your Values.

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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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