Last week, we shared three keys to effective communication in the workplace. The first three keys included focusing and being clear, listening to understand, not to respond, and valuing and respect different perspectives Now, we’re back with four more ways that people can do a better job collaborating with their managers, colleagues, and reports through sharpening their communication skills.
The fourth key for effective communication is ensuring that you identify the communication preferences of your audience. Based on Human Patterns®, people attend to four general types of information: Who, Why, How, and What. Who speaks to the expectations of work—what will they need to do to accomplish a task and how their performance will help others execute their own tasks are the main concerns of some people.
Why speaks to the need for others to know how the work and associated tasks relate to the goals and mission of the organization. Some people are most interested in the decisions or purpose behind the communication. How addresses the relevant processes and procedures necessary to accomplish the work, as well as elements like budget.
With regard to What, the major drivers are succinct, action-oriented directives and the timelines associated with them. People who respond most to the What want to know time-frames above all else.
Failure to understand these different types of communication preferences among your peers will cause them to tune you out. Use your knowledge of each person’s preferences to tailor your message accordingly. You must see past your own personal information preferences or biases in order to correctly ascertain the communication needs of your colleagues. Quickly recognize when you fail to get someone the information out of his preferred order, re-set, and go about communicating in the right way.
Next, adapt to non-verbal and behavioral clues. If you’re not paying non-verbal communication its due, you’re missing out on 95% of all human communication! Non-verbal communication can include eye movement, tone of voice, posture, facial expressions, and gestures.
Keys to understanding non-verbal and behavior clues include asking questions if you notice incongruent behaviors. If you’re confused by non-verbal signals, ask questions. Also, feel free to repeat to the person your interpretation of their response, and then ask for clarification if you’ve made and incorrect perception.
Also, make sure to consider these gestures or clues collectively. Sometimes a single gesture or movement can actually betray what your colleague is really thinking. Thus, if you place too much credence in a particular element of their body language, you risk drawing incorrect conclusions.
Avoid rushed interpretations and certainly accusations. No one likes to be labeled a liar, and analyzing body language is an imperfect science. Incorrect accusations based on erroneous observations can be embarrassing, damaging, and take a long time to overcome. Verify your interpretation with gentle questioning such as “I get the feeling you’re uncomfortable with this course of action. Would you like to add something to the discussion?”
Gentle questioning should draw out the real message the other person is trying to convey, without risking their alienation based on your own perceptions. Remember that we all send mixed messages from time to time for a wide array of reasons. Don’t presume you know all the answers!
The sixth key for effective communication is to understand when to address or avoid sensitivities and hot button issues in others. Follow the old adage, think before you speak. Don’t rush into your own words with people. Based on the context and importance of the message, you need to prepare yourself to either address the person’s sensitivity or avoid it completely. Different situations call for different measures of communication.
There are six common sensitivities or hot buttons identified by Human Patterns® that most people have –others taking advantage of them, experiencing humiliation and embarrassment, ground rules changing arbitrarily, being unskilled or uninformed, finding themselves in risky situations, and boredom or redundancy. You have a strategy at your disposal to address each of these sensitivities.
For those who fear others taking advantage of them, be exceptionally forthright and direct. Never gloss over relevant information, or they will assume you are hiding key knowledge from them. For those who fear humiliation or embarrassment, start by accentuating their positive traits, and position any negatives—always in private settings!—as ways to provide constructive feedback or to fix performance problems so that those positive perceptions persist.
Some people perceive any change as the rules of the game changing mid-game—for them, you must keep change in small doses, and make them aware of changes ahead of time, if possible, so that they can properly integrate the impact of the change into their rules mentality. They need predictability and consistency, so give it to them.
Others hate being perceived, by themselves or others, as not up to a task. For those who feel that they may be in over their heads, start with them by praising what they do well, and place any constructive feedback or insufficient performance in a learning and development context. Place their need for honing certain skills and expertise in their work as an opportunity for them to achieve more wide-ranging mastery.
Finally, for people who tend to become bored or feel their position is redundant, acknowledge ways they can bring innovation, variety and something new to the workplace. Know this preference with them, but also guide them in the ways the company requires consistency and efficiency to effectively achieve the goals of the team.
The final key to effective communication and certainly of great importance is to always be open, honest, and accountable. Don’t be judgmental or argumentative, and keep an open mind to the feelings and ideas shared by others.
Be up-front with others, and let them know your position—never make them second-guess your own wants and needs. Always be open and honest—never stretch the truth, even if it feels right. Sending mixed signals only creates complicated, dysfunctional relationships later. So even when you are having misgivings of your own, make sure that what you eventually communicate is an idea to which you are solidly committed to yourself.
In conclusion, welcome and respect the courage of others to be honest with you. And with this welcoming mentality, also be responsible and accountable when you fail to communicate properly. Often, when you feel like others aren’t hearing you, the problem lies with your own communication. Knowing you’re not perfect today helps you to become a better communicator tomorrow.