Workplace communication is complex! Do you know how to master it?
As a leadership coach, I talk to my clients about communication almost daily. As a leader, you set the tone in the room, along with the code of conduct for your team. Knowing how to read the room, manage conflict, and give effective feedback is essential to building a company culture where people feel valued, safe, and happy. This requires tools, techniques, and an understanding of your own communication style. Here are some of the tools I use the most:
Lead Difficult Conversations
Remember, as a CEO, you’re responsible for the overall communication style that is prominent and tolerated at your company. There are steps you can take to ensure that you’re handling the conversation appropriately and steering it in the right direction. Your job is to be the source of stillness and reason in the room.
Check-in with yourself! Harness the energy inside yourself and recognize if you’re upset or worried about something else that might upset this specific conversation. Can you easily change perspectives during the conversation?
Check on your timing and environment. Know whether they’re open to the communication method you’re using: in-person, email, phone, etc. You also want to make sure it is taking place during the right time and in the right setting before diving into it.
Consent! Make sure you have consent to have a conversation, give feedback, and receive feedback. You want to work in the right conditions, and having consent is important.
Here are some helpful phrases to start the conversation:
Are you open to talking about this right now?
Are you available for a conversation about…?
Are you up for a chat about…?
If no: When is a good time that would work for you?
If still a no: Leave it alone. You cannot make anyone grow against their will. I do NOT recommend starting a conversation by asking if you can give them some “feedback.” It puts people on the defensive.
Communication Styles that Cannot Resolve Conflicts
Any conflict can have a resolution. However, when you are met with criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, it will be very difficult to find common ground. These communications styles are also known as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Dr. John Gottman, a relationship expert.
- Criticism – verbally attacking someone’s personality or character.
- Contempt – attacking a sense of self with the intention to insult and psychologically abuse the person.
- Defensiveness – playing the victim to ward off the perceived attack and reversing the blame to someone else.
- Stonewalling – withdrawing as a way to avoid conflict in an effort to convey disapproval, distance, and separation.
These communication styles cause more harm than good, and they are not an effective way to communicate – both inside and outside of the workplace. Whenever you find yourself engaging in them, or are across from someone who is engaging in them, step away to regroup. This might require you to get in touch with your own triggers. Don’t be afraid of what you find.
When you are on the receiving end of these communication styles, you may have hit someone’s trigger and they will need some time to deescalate, or there is a more systemic problem at work that will need to be addressed. These four styles are poisonous to any workplace dynamic. Find a way to eliminate them.
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Here are some tools that can help you do this in case the conversation is difficult, tense, or sensitive:
- Ground yourself
- Take control of the situation
- Stay calm, clear, and effective – know your end game
- Listen intently and focus on the employee’s emotions
- Utilize your problem-solving skills to resolve any conflict effectively
What if you become triggered or upset during a conversation?
- Check in with yourself
- Pause before speaking to maintain clarity and poise
- Walk away if necessary
- Keep yourself under control during this time, remain level-headed, and know that your feelings are validated (so are those of the other person)
Releasing these negative feelings on your own time is healthy, but unraveling and unleashing them on someone else is not.
They are just feelings, not facts. Don’t allow your feelings to derail a conversation or injure your workplace relationships. Having your feelings under control during a tense conversation is the only way to resolve conflicts and come to a mutual understanding with your colleagues and employees.
Listening generously is one of the best ways to create more meaningful communication. Listen completely, with empathy and understanding. Listen for what the person really wants and needs.
What opportunities are generated from this conversation? What steps should you take next after carefully listening to the other person?
Use this information while listening to the individual to help resolve the problem that you and the other person are facing. Several techniques are available to have a strong conversation. These will be discussed below in practical strategies for technical communication.
There are also many powerful communication tools that you can use to boost your team’s morale, while also making you a stronger leader overall.
Practical Strategies for Workplace Communication
There are a number of practical strategies for communication that should be considered. By harnessing the power of both listening and non-violent communication practices, you’re building your team up for success. You’re giving them the power they need to excel in the company and elevating your team.
Start with Powerful Questions That Reframe Your Game
Start off on the right foot by showing that you’re an effective leader. Asking strong questions is the best way to show that you’re capable and keep your business running efficiently. Good questions show that you were listening intently while revealing your stance on important subjects. When asked well, high-quality questions are the most efficient way to resolve issues in your business and keep your employees and colleagues moving forward with what needs to be done.
Some strong questions include, but are not limited to:
Problem-focused: What is the problem?
Solution-focused: What would you like to do about this? What can I do about this?
Problem-focused: Why did you do that?
Solution-focused: What made you decide this was the right step?
Problem-focused: Why is this an issue for you?
Solution-focused: What do you suggest we do differently?
Problem-focused: Why didn’t you do this?
Solution-focused: What additional information can I provide to complete this task?
Problem-focused: Who is to blame? Where did you find this?
Solution-focused: How can I help?
Then try this:
- Validate the other person’s feelings while maintaining a positive solution-focused mindset.
- Ensure that everyone is effectively communicating while leaving you in complete control of the situation.
- Listening to what they say and then validating (not just agreeing with) their feelings and empathizing with them is the most effective form of communication in the business world—and in everyday life in most situations.
- Make an effort to relate. Relating with the individual is another useful way to build trust and understanding.
Tip: Use stories explaining similar situations that you’ve been through to relate and show that their current feelings are valid, and you’ll create a bond with the person at the same time. Maintain a solution-focused dialogue with the other person, and spend most of the time addressing their feelings and the current situation.