Communication Skills

A Ranting Hub for Improving Communication Skills

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How to Disagree – Effectively

Do you know how to disagree – effectively – with your colleagues, bosses, and coworkers? If so, you have an unusual skill and you practice professional courage that few people in organizations exhibit. Yet, the most effective teams and organizations regularly disagree about ideas, goals, strategies, and implementation steps.

People inside of organizations are afraid to provoke conflict and they don’t want to get into an argument or disagreement that they can’t manage. They fear public humiliation, damaging their professional brand in the eyes of the organization, being proven wrong, and rejection by their colleagues. This means that people who run organizations or departments, teams, or work groups mostly fail to get the best out of the people they hire and employ.

You need to create a culture that honors differences of opinion and varying points of view. People who feel rewarded and recognized for healthy disagreement are likely to disagree again.

This environment must also provide safety for the employee who disagrees which means managers and meeting leaders need to know how to mediate conflict. And, employees need to know how to participate effectively in disagreements.

How, asks Margaret Heffernan, author and former CEO of five businesses, in her TED Talk, “do we get good at conflict?” She says that becoming good at conflict allows people to be creative and to solve the problems. She asks, how do you begin to have conversations more easily and more often in organizations and make healthy disagreement a norm.

In the example she used, a manager became more afraid of the damage that the silence on the management team was causing. He became more afraid of the silence than he was of disagreement. He determined to get better at disagreement, and he changed his approach. With commitment and practice you can change the dynamics on your team.
5 Tips About How to Develop a Culture That Encourages Disagreement

I have written about how to create a work culture and environment in which disagreement and conflict will become a healthy norm. They include steps such as:

Set clear expectations that conflict and disagreement is expected, respected, publicly recognized, and rewarded.
If you are the leader of a team or department, examine whether you might be inadvertently discouraging disagreement by your words or actions. If they are incongruent with your expectations, you are stifling disagreement.
Ask your team to add respectful disagreement to the group’s norms.
Make sure that executive compensation and other employee bonuses and profit sharing are tied to the success of the company as a whole and not to individual departments.
Hire employees who appear to have skills in healthy disagreement and conflict resolution. You want people who can solve problems and problems are rarely solved without disagreement.

How to Disagree with a Colleague

While employees disagree in a variety of ways and settings, most frequently disagreement occurs during a meeting – of two or many. You can also disagree by email, IM, phone, Skype, and more in this electronic age. But, disagreements are better in person as is most communication.

The professionalism of your approach to disagreement is

Say When You Disagree to Promote Better Decisions

. A colleague who feels listened to, respected, and acknowledged is the outcome of a positive disagreement. When you disagree starting with acknowledging the strengths of your colleague’s position, you start out on solid ground.

Start out, also, with the points that you and your colleague agree about and build your case for the differences on your areas of agreement. No matter your job or department, when you disagree with a coworker, you need to step away from your vested interests to understand his. The chances are that he feels as passionately about his approach as you do about yours.

When you think about how to disagree, recognize that you will still work with this coworker every day. Compromise might be the answer. So might acknowledging that there are certain points that you will never agree on, so you may need to agree to disagree. Ask, even if they are important points, are they worth sabotaging an overall solution? I think normally – not. A point comes when the organization needs to move forward – even with an imperfect solution.

Once you agree on a solution, approach, or action, the key to organizational success is that team or meeting members need to move past their need to disagree and support the final decision. This means whole-hearted commitment to making the effort succeed. Anything else sabotages the success of your organization.

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10 Simple Secrets of Great Communicators You Can Improve Your Workplace Communication Skills

Secrets of Great Communicators

Updated June 28, 2016.

Would you like to become a great communicator? Powerful reasons exist for why you will want to enhance your ability to communicate effectively.

You will create more opportunities to accomplish your work mission. You will build better and more rewarding relationships with your coworkers and manager. You will accomplish more goals with less energy and reduce the opportunity for misunderstandings and cross-purposes.

Great communicators are viewed as successful individuals by coworkers. They become go-to people in an organization because people equate efficacy with effective communication. Great communicators contribute more in their organizations and receive more opportunities for promotion and recognition in their careers. Are you motivated to learn the secrets of great communicators? Here are ten of them.
Build the relationship first – always

When a great communicator approaches a coworker, he takes the time to say, “good morning” and “how’s your day going?” “Did you have a great weekend?” The effect of the relationship-building forays is incalculable.

He sends the message, each time he communicates, that he cares about the receiver of the message. He demonstrates that, no matter how busy or overextended he is, he has time to care about you.

When I worked at General Motors, I was reminded of this secret – loudly. One morning, I answered an internal phone call, “Susan Heathfield, how can I help you?” My caller’s response was a silent pause and then he said, “Hi Susan, how’s your day going? Has it been a good week since we met on Monday?” Something about the way he deliberately slowed our entry into the business discussion got my attention.

Practicing this behavior was difficult for me at first because my tendency was to jump right into the business discussion, but I’ve never regretted that I took the time to remind myself. My internal call greeting became, “Hi, this is Susan.”

Build the relationship first for successful communication. For even more successful communication, continue to build the relationship in all interactions in any setting over time. Goodwill has an accumulative effect.
Know What You’re Talking About

Obtain the knowledge, insight, and forward thinking ability necessary to earn the respect of your colleagues for your industry or subject area expertise. Your coworkers won’t listen if they don’t believe that you bring expertise to the table. Your successful coworkers spend time with you because they respect your knowledge and the value that you bring to the conversation.

They won’t respect or listen to, let alone be influenced by, individuals who do not know what they are talking about. So, when you think about secrets of great communicators, subject matter expertise may head the list.
Listen More Than You Speak

I received feedback recently that a manager held a performance development planning meeting with an employee and talked 55 minutes of the hour. This is an egregious example of a manager dominating a discussion, but it serves as a reminder.

Great communicators listen more than they speak. When they speak, they are frequently asking questions to draw out the knowledge and opinions of their coworkers.

When you allow yourself to listen, you often hear what is not being said. You can read between the spoken lines to understand the whole context of the other person’s thinking and needs.

This does not mean that they never speak, but it places the emphasis on using the knowledge of the team. It affirms for the team members that their opinions matter and they are valued. It marks you as a great communicator who cares about what others think.
Focus on Understanding What the Other Person Is Saying

When a colleague is speaking, don’t spend the time preparing your response in your mind. Instead, ask questions for clarification and to make certain that you thoroughly understand what the other person is communicating. Focus your mind on listening and understanding.

If you find yourself (and that little voice in your head) arguing, prepping your response, or refuting what your colleague is saying, you are not focused on thoroughly understanding her communication. You have stopped listening and have refocused the discussion on your needs.
Use a Feedback Loop

Say, “here is what I heard you say” and repeat the gist of the content of the message that you received from the other person’s communication. Don’t ascribe meaning to your coworker’s communication. You are using a feedback loop to check your understanding and to make sure you shared meaning.

When you check your understanding, you avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding. You circumvent hard feelings and protracted explanations about what your coworker meant.
Listen to the Nonverbal Communication the Other Person Exhibits

Nonverbal communication is a powerful voice in any interaction. The voice tonality, body language, and facial expressions speak more loudly than the verbal communication (sending) or the actual words in many communication exchanges. Your coworker’s posture, how he holds the whiteboard marker, and his distance from you as he speaks are all powerful messengers.

This is why you find that great communicators seek in-person interaction. They know the amount of information that they lose when they communicate via email, phone, IM, or texting. The youngest generation at work may not recognize the importance of talking with coworkers in person.

They are enculturated to use electronic methods and this must change. For facts, these methods work. If you want information that is richer and deeper, and for discussion and exchange, you seek out your coworkers. Great communicators listen with their eyes.
Watch for Patterns, Inconsistencies, and Consistencies

In any communication, the opportunity for misunderstanding is ever present. A key indicator that your coworker is not stating her true feelings or that she is going along with the group, rather than agreeing with the decision, is a combination of factors that you can observe.

You want to watch for patterns (is this how your coworker typically reacts) and inconsistencies (is this consistent with what you expect from this person).

You also want to watch for matching words, message, tone of voice, and body language. If any of these verbal and nonverbal communication factors are inconsistent or sending different messages, communication failure is imminent.

Coworkers tend to listen to the nonverbal communication over the verbal. If you are coaching an employee who sends inconsistent messages, this is a powerful factor in the misunderstanding that can happen with coworkers. It’s simple, preventable, and often overlooked as a key factor.
If Something that Another Employee Is Doing or Saying Bothers You, It’s Your Issue

You are the person who is bothered by the action or communication of your coworker. His actions or communication may have triggered your reaction, but the response belongs to you. You will never effectively communicate if you are pointing your finger and trying to make it your coworker’s issue. He was just trying to communicate.

You need to take responsibility for owning your own emotional reactions. Use “I” messages to demonstrate that you know that you are responsible for the reaction. For example: “You really messed up that customer interaction” is much less effective and honest than, “I was upset watching you interact with that customer for these reasons…”

You-ing a coworker is rarely effective communication. You will most likely receive a defensive response which makes the communication fail. Delivering an honest I message instead is powerful.
Wait to Give Critical or Controversial Feedback

If you are going to say anything critical or controversial, or if you’re angry or emotional, wait 24 hours before you say it, send it, or post it to see if you still feel that way. Pausing before communicating is an under-appreciated skill of great communicators. You don’t need to communicate what you think or feel immediately. In fact, your communication will be more powerful and thoughtful if you allow the circumstances to marinate for a period of time.

In this era of immediate and constant communication, thoughtful communication goes by the wayside. Instantaneous reaction is promoted and reinforced. It is often ineffective and demeaning. Great communicators collect their thoughts and develop significant “I messages.”
Open Your Mind to New Ideas

New ideas live or die in their first communication to a person who has power in an organization. Using the other communication skills presented here, you can make a new idea flourish or fail in an instant.

Rather than immediately rejecting a new idea, approach, or way of thinking, pause and consider the possibilities. Consider what might work in your organization rather than what will fail. Think about the possibility rather than the impossibilities.

Don’t be guilty of the lethal sins of rejecting, putting down, or diminishing an idea before it has been articulated and explored. Great communicators listen for opportunities and pursue them.
All Communication Will Go Better if Your Coworker Trusts You

It is not enough to be a good listener and to draw out the other person’s opinions. They will not level with you or share their real thoughts if they don’t trust you.

You gain trust in your everyday interactions with people when you tell the truth – even when it’s difficult. When you consistently exhibit integrity and trustworthiness in your daily interpersonal conversations and actions, you build your ability to be a great communicator.

The coworkers with whom you interact will open up to you. They will be more likely to problem solve with you without concern for losing, and they won’t fear looking bad, stupid, or uninformed if they trust you. Do you see the power of communicating when you have the other party’s trust? It’s amazing.

If you work to enhance your own communication by practicing these skills and taking these actions, you can become a great communicator. Becoming a great communicator will enhance your career, make your days at work rewarding and fulfilling, and reinforce positive relationships with coworkers who love to work with you. Can it get any better than that?