“In an open, trusting environment people seek clarification and replace assumptions with understanding. Tragically, most workplaces are the converse.”
Erle Wheatley - “Structured Communication Builds Trust”
Some people seem to have an innate ability to connect with others in a spontaneous way and others have to work at it. But we need adequate communication skills to survive in life. Without them, we’re at a disadvantage in many parts of our lives. We learn these skills from our parents, and later from teachers and friends. We usually have gaps in our knowledge about communication.
Communicating clearly sounds like a simple task. If it’s so easy, what holds us back? In successful interactions we understand others and what they’re saying, thinking and feeling. Then we can improve our relationships with each other and ultimately improve overall morale in the workplace.
Forewarned is forearmed. Knowing that workplaces are less than perfect climates, how can we find ways to work together respectfully? Being aware that most of us have gaps in our communication skills and that various personality types communicate differently puts us on warning that we need to educate ourselves in this area. If we approach our work situation with open eyes and some basic ‘tools’ we can communicate effectively with our co-workers. Here’s how: observe, listen (no, really listen) and respond. Yes, you’ve heard it before, but now it comes with a twist: honesty. That’s right, being honest with yourself and others.
Nicholas Boothman writes about four basic business personalities in How to Connect in Business. The types behave differently and require feedback that fits their uniqueness. The dreamers, or idea generators like space and options; the analysts make sure ideas work and need us to pay attention to detail; the persuaders know how to get ideas appreciated and like enthusiastic responses to suggestions; and lastly the controllers ensure that things get done and don’t like to waste time. So it’s no surprise that we need to pay close attention to how others relate to make the wheels turn in the workplace.
Another dimension of communication is our delivery, or expression. Expression is a mixture of speech, body language, intonation and eye contact. Boothman says the most effective way to connect with others is to look them in eye. He recommends that we do an exercise: for one day just notice the eye colour of every person you meet, that’s all. This will increase our rapport with others and our confidence in our own abilities. Another powerful tool for understanding how someone is feeling is to subtly mimic their body language. It’s quite surprising how well we then sense the other person’s feelings.
It takes effort to put aside our own ideas, and more importantly, our judgments. We often appear to be listening when we’re really not. Davis, Paleg and Fanning, authors of The Messages Workbook call this ‘pseudo listening’. We do this for various reasons including preparing our response, wanting to be liked and not knowing how to leave without offending someone.
Respectful communication means saying what you have to say directly to a person, not behind their back, and using tact and understanding. Be certain to state how you feel, not how you think they feel (use the tried and true “I message”). Offering solutions to the problem and readily acknowledging the truth in what they say creates a productive and healthy workplace.
Many people have written about the basics of clear, assertive communication. These involve giving our full attention to the person speaking, listening for the feelings behind the words as well as the content of what’s being said and acknowledging what you’ve heard. We can acknowledge what we’ve heard by paraphrasing (i.e. restating for clarification) and by giving honest feedback.
Complete messages have four parts: observations, opinions, feelings and needs. When receiving messages, practice asking yourself ‘what do I notice?’, ‘what’s my opinion’ etc. Leaving out some of the parts makes the communication only a partial message. This may lead to misunderstandings. Another common pitfall we may fall into by omitting parts of messages is sending covert messages, or messages with negative subtext underlying the spoken words. Try to catch yourself before you send covert messages that imply that the receiver is doing something wrong. An example of this would be ‘you work slower than a one-legged snail’ with the underlying message of ‘you’re too slow at your work’. When we include all the above parts the stated message will be congruent with our underlying feelings and opinions. The message will then align with our non-verbal communication which makes up 70-80% of our interactions (i.e. body language, intonation and eye signals).
The easiest way to communicate successfully is to keep it simple to avoid the common pitfalls. Pamela Ziemann, writing in “Speaking with Your Authentic Voice” has a formula for communicating successfully. She recommends truly listening without formulating your answer; pausing for 2-5 seconds to breathe; repeating the question; then responding honestly. She stresses the importance of not saying too much.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”. Part of trusting ourselves is listening to our intuition, or “the power of knowing things without conscious reasoning” (Webster). We have all experienced positive and negative intuitive or gut feelings. These body-mind messages may come as hunches, thoughts, voices, restlessness or feelings of relief. Trusting rather than stifling them gives us more information to work with. This helps us communicate more clearly and to know when, where and to whom we should speak. It allows us to be more honest with ourselves and others.
Balancing our own needs with the demands of our jobs means communicating respectfully and honestly and creating psychological safety for ourselves in our work environment. When we speak and act from our core values we enrich our own lives and those of everyone we come in contact with. So go ahead, Speak Up!
· Think carefully about what you’re saying and why
· Self disclose only if comfortable
· Repeat questions, giving yourself time to identify your feelings
· Check others’ statements twice to get a truer response
· Follow your intuition
· Ask yourself: How does my workplace fit my values?
· Have some fun at work
Ellen Besso is a North Star Coach, personally trained by Martha Beck, PhD, and a certified counselor. Through her Odyssey of Change program, Ellen coaches midlife women through life challenges. On your personal odyssey you will have an opportunity to: Strengthen the partnership between your body & mind; Release beliefs that limit your growth & Take specific actions that move you towards your ideal life. If you feel unsatisfied in any area of your life and would like to explore life questions in more depth, contact Ellen at: 800 961 1364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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