One skill will make or break your ability to lead–communication. You can have the best ideas in the world but if you can’t connect with your team and others who are instrumental in implementing, your brilliant solutions will never see the light of day.
In this post, I’ve pulled together my top articles for leaders who want to communicate better and get better results. Is that you? And remember, a leader isn’t always the guy or gal at the top. Leaders are found at all levels in any organization. You can lead in ways you might not even know yet. You likely already do.
Enjoy the read. If you have any questions or want to delve deeper with sessions for your team, one-on-one coaching, or some online group training, give me a shout Marion@MarionSpeaks.com Always a delight to help a leader boost communication skills and productivity, build teams and healthy workplace cultures, all while squashing stress.
If you think non-response is the answer, think again
Are you a patient person? Do you wait and wait for responses? Do you try two, three, maybe four times to reach out to someone knowing it will take multiple efforts to connect? When you send a text, do you automatically also send an email because you know that person doesn’t check their text or, if they do, they don’t bother responding in a timely manner, if at all?
Let me begin by saying that there are times when not responding is completely appropriate like when someone is spamming you or giving prank calls, or when you’ve already advised you’re not interested and keep getting badgered. I’m not talking about those times. What I mean is when a colleague, client, boss or employee is reaching out to you, and you don’t reply. Or worse yet, a family member or friend you say you love.
People have different expectations of response times
Alright, I admit it. I can be impatient at times and hold myself and others to high communication standards. Someone who is lazy or incompetent is a huge turn-off for me. Doing things quickly, including responding, is how I roll and appreciate when that courtesy is reciprocated.
When people get back to me quickly, I consider it professional and thoughtful. When I respond, I recognize that they want to make plans and move forward and sometimes they need my input before they can do so. I don’t want to inconvenience others or be the reason something is delayed. (That being said, there are lots of times when I’m very human and drop the ball. I don’t mean to imply I’m the perfect responder, not by a long shot).
So why do others take so long to respond?
Maybe they don’t realize you’re waiting. Perhaps they don’t know the impact of their delay on you and your plans. Some people are in the habit of not responding and they think that’s ok. It’s not.
Here’s a time when I really needed responses I didn’t get
A few years ago, I was stuck in Mexico by myself for 3 days with double ear infections. Although I joked about extending the one-week holiday while my two friends boarded the plane to go home, the truth was I felt overwhelmed. I had to find a hotel, meals, medical care. I spent hours each day in the hotel’s business center rescheduling my flights, connecting with insurance people, updating my husband. All this by myself when I felt lousy and didn’t know when I’d be going home.
Bills piled up and insurance didn’t cover hotel, meals, taxi. My stress was skyrocketing. It was the unknown and so much of it, I found difficult to navigate. I didn’t know when I’d be going home and that was the worst.
Don’t assume someone magically knows you know (they likely don’t)
My solace was reading encouraging Facebook messages and posts from friends and family. It reassured me I really wasn’t alone. Their best wishes helped me immensely, more than they could have realized. In spite of the miles, I felt that they were thinking of me and living the experience by my side. The day the doctor said I could go home, I was over the moon, and these very people shared in my happiness.
When back in Canada, I mentioned to a lifetime friend what had happened and how glad I was to be back home. I was surprised when she said she knew, as she’d been reading my posts on FB.
What? There was no way I could have known that she’d been following the adventure as she never “liked” or commented on anything. I had no way of knowing she knew or cared. I was shocked that this friend who I adore, showed so little active interest and support.
When I asked why she didn’t respond in any way, she said, “Well, you know I read it”. No, actually. No, I don’t know. And why don’t I know? Because you never responded.
Here’s a newsflash: If you’re not responding, you’re still sending a message.
It’s important to know that your lack of response may be communicating something completely unintended, such as:
- You didn’t get the message;
- You don’t care about that person;
- That person isn’t worth your energy in responding;
- You disagree with what is being said;
- You don’t care if you cause that person extra effort to reach out to you in multiple media and multiple times. Their time and energy mean nothing to you;
- You spend your energy on others who are more important than the person leaving the message for you;
- You are more important that they are, so if your non-response inconveniences them, so what. They don’t matter and you don’t care.
If you’re one of those people who don’t check and respond to emails, phone calls, or texts, you may not realize what your lack of response is really saying. If you creep social media yet never or rarely post a like or comment, you may wrongly assume the person posting knows you’re reading it (You’re wrong. They don’t know, how would they?). If you’re in a face-to-face conversation and you don’t offer a comment of any sort, if speaking to you is like pulling teeth, if you forget to tell your face to show an expression, the other person doesn’t know you’re interested and listening because you’re giving them absolutely no sign that you are.
If you are spending zero energy and effort on the other person and nurturing the relationship, you are damaging it.
When you don’t respond, you create work for others. It requires people in your life to send you reminders. To follow up emails with phone calls or texts. To use triple the amount of energy to get your response as they do for others. What makes you think you’re worth triple the effort?
POINT: your lack of response is disconnecting you from others.
If you are typically a non-responder, I invite you to think about the impacts of your actions and to reconsider your response rate. When you do, you’ll find it easier to make meaningful connections with others, both professionally and personally.
Sharpen the axe, not your tongue
Whether we like to believe it or not, when you need a break, when you’re bone tired, when you want desperately to sharpen the axe, sometimes what you sharpen instead is your tongue. We all do. Welcome to the human race.
You lash out when you’re tired. It can ruin your communications, and in turn, destroy your relationships. A costly price to pay for not taking care of yourself.
In trying so hard to give so much to others, by giving to the point of ridiculousness, by depriving yourself and depleting your reserves, you, in the long run, deprive the very people you are trying to serve. Think about the surly sales rep snapping out a curt retort to a client’s reasonable question. Or the colleague who is asked if he’ll attend a meeting and responds with dripping sarcasm when a simple yes or no would suffice. No one deserves to be on the receiving end of that, and you certainly don’t want to put yourself in a position where you feel compelled to dish it out.
This weekend, take a breather.
You deserve it, and so do the people who interact with you. They deserve to have the best you, your “A” game. You alone are responsible for your communications, regardless of the bazillion excuses any one of us could offer on a given day. Being tired is an explanation — not an excuse.
You’re responsible for letting yourself get–or preventing yourself from getting–to the point of exhaustion knowing that it may well put your communications in jeopardy. What’s that noise? Oh yes, I hear it now. It’s the sound of those suffering from the guilt, self-importance, and martyr syndrome shouting, “But Marion, I don’t have time to take care of myself. Besides, it’s selfish for me to do so when so many other people need my time”. Wrong. Double wrong. Make that a triple. It took me a long time to learn this lesson, so let me save you a couple of decades. Here it is …
TIP: take care of yourself and you prepare to take care of others.
Caring for anyone begins by caring for yourself. Put yourself and your needs on the agenda and you equip yourself to help others. Having a reserve of energy, you have more to give to others because when you’re empty, you have nothing to offer. Even a car racing down the highway takes a break to fill up again. You deserve the same.
Being at the bottom of your proverbial tank affects your communications. You have no reserve of energy to spend being patient. Tact and diplomacy fall by the wayside. You snap at the craziest and smallest things and you misinterpret the actions of others. When you continue to give beyond all reason, you feel like a martyr and may even begin to resent others treating you the way YOU have trained them to. Such communications and perceptions put your relationships with colleagues, bosses, employees, and clients at risk.
Remember: You can’t read people’s minds, just their actions.
When you exhaust yourself, you read actions incorrectly, you find insult and disrespect where none is intended, you pick arguments and get your nose easily out of joint. You want to strike back and sometimes, you do.
Instead, move from a place of scarcity to one of abundance. Begin by being generous to yourself. Do something that makes you feel refreshed and whole again because you owe that to yourself AND to those in your life, both professionally and personally. So, avoid getting to the point that you’re spitting out sharp words because you never know when you’ll have to swallow them. Take time to sharpen the axe, and trust me, you’ll feel less tempted to sharpen your tongue.
PS: Want more tips on self-care and how to flip a negative event into a positive outcome? Check out my new book, THE FINKELSTEIN FACTOR: What to do when things go wrong … because you know they will (sigh). I’ll walk you through a series of thought-provoking questions and exercises to flip your mindset and outcomes into positive ones.
Be a “NAYslayer”
A leader recognizes that every organization has some negative people. You know the type. Someone asks their opinion on something and they launch into an avalanche of complaints. You mention the sky is blue, they point out the one cloud. You compliment a colleague on a job well done, and Negative Nelly or Negative Norm is quick to point out what the colleague overlooked. No matter how hard you try, these people refuse to offer a positive response.
How do you handle these naysayers? Be a naySLAYer! It’s tough to be around people who spew negativity. It’s bad for morale and corporate culture and it will breed if left unchecked. You need strength not to fall into the habit of being negative yourself when you’re surrounded by such downers. Here are a few strategies to help you weather that grey cloud colleague you may have in your office.
Surround yourself with positive people.
- One of the best ways to counter negativity is to counterbalance it with positive forces. Your optimism alone may not be enough, so hang out with positive people. These colleagues will buoy you and fill you up when the emotional vampire sucks you dry.
Find the humour.
- Being able to laugh at the situation (not the person) is a wonderful coping mechanism. The shorter the length of time between an incident and when you laugh, the more sophisticated and developed your funny bone. Instead of getting steamed, fed up, or discouraged, picture yourself in a sitcom and how ridiculous the negative person looks and sounds. It’s comical, really. When you think this way, I bet you can anticipate the negative person’s response before you even hear it. Laugh to yourself. It’s a coping mechanism.
Keep your distance.
- Negative people love an audience. Don’t give it to them. Know that your silence and non-response may well be interpreted by the naysayer as tacit approval, serving only to fuel the fire. Instead of sitting there passively, you could tell the naysayer, “Actually, I don’t see it quite the same way …”, and offer your more optimistic, balanced perspective. If this fails to shift them out of their negative funk, shut them down by segueing into another subject.
The best way to become a naySLAYer is to slay, not the person, but the behaviour. Sometimes people don’t realize how negative they sound to you and others. There’s a good chance that what they’re really negative about has precious little to do with whatever topic you’re discussing. Or it could just be such a repeated behaviour that it’s now their habit.
Habits are super tough to break as they require awareness, knowledge of what to do instead, and a real commitment. Make it uncomfortable for them to continue the behavior. Remove the rewards of attention. These will act as incentives and considerations for change. Sadly, naysayers will always exist. And that’s exactly why being a naySLAYer is so important. So raise your sword and chop out that behaviour in your organization.
The first step in managing a difficult situation
Are you stuck and can’t let go? Maybe all you need is some help, a little nudge in the right direction to get you moving on your way.
When a situation is painful, its grip can be steadfast. You may not be able to pry the cold fingers of guilt or regret from your heart. These feelings may leave you tethered to the past, unable to fully enjoy the present. The injury may be so severe that you keep on revisiting it and simply can’t figure out how to break its hold. You want to. You clearly understand the benefits of moving forward–you just don’t know how.
In a recent #coffeechat #connectovercoffee live video, I offer the first step of a trademarked system called, “The Flip It Formula” I’m featuring in a book I’m excited to be drafting called, The Finkelstein Factor (what to do when things go wrong … because you know they will).
This was the topic of a recent FB LIVE video I hosted which you are welcome to watch here on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarionSpeaks/videos/338518643550571/Not on Facebook? Not a problem. You can catch it on YouTube at https://youtu.be/neNtLS-UV5o
This first critical step in flipping a negative to a positive is one that is often overlooked. However, if you don’t do this one thing, I assure you that you will never be able to let go of the pain and fly high. Profound in its simplicity, this is it …
STEP 1: Acknowledge the loss
The more difficult your situation, the more pain that will be associated with it. Write it down. Give words to it, enunciate it. Let yourself express it, get it out, release it and let it loose. Your losses will be individual to you. What you feel as a loss might not feel like that to someone else.
For example, if you lose a job, your losses may include loss of income, loss of confidence, loss of self-esteem. It may include loss of security, purpose, sense of contribution and worth. Whatever you define it as, if you feel it, it’s real. It’s true. Admit it. Get in touch with the loss and the hurt, as that is the only way you’ll truly be able to step over it and move on.
If a loss isn’t acknowledged, it will raise its head again and again.
This dynamic also plays out in your personal life. An example that many people relate to is a couple with one party bringing up painful situations again and again. Now, sometimes, no matter what you do or say, this person will continue doing so. However, there’s a good chance that if you validate what he or she is saying, they may stop. Why? Because they will finally feel like they’ve been heard. They will know that you understand their pain, and in doing so, you will help them release it.
What’s your loss? Name it.
Acknowledge losses for both yourself and other people. If writing an actual list to acknowledge your losses doesn’t work for you, talk it out with a friend, a confidante, a coach or consultant. The deeper you go, the better the odds that you will unearth the real reason why that situation hurt so much. It will bring you understanding and you will now be able to explain your position more readily to others.
Healthy communication begins with healthy self-talk.
Let me be clear here, I’m no psychologist. Neither am I a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. I’m a communication consultant and everything I share with you is from the perspective of helping you to forge healthy, productive relationships and communications with others. This begins with your self-talk and understanding yourself better, including managing difficult situations. If you’re having difficulty letting go of one and moving forward, it may be because you’ve skipped over this necessary step of acknowledging the loss.
When someone is in pain, whether that person is you or someone else, give that pain a voice. Acknowledge the loss. And when you do, celebrate the fact that you’re now one step closer to a letting go.
What are you doing to mess things up?
In any difficult situation you may face, remember this: Be kind to yourself. I hesitated in sharing the following information with you, concerned that you will pass harsh judgment on yourself. Please don’t. That isn’t the intent whatsoever. Rather, you are invited to consider the following thoughts with an open, non-judgmental mind. It’s all about stepping back and objectively looking at your actions and how you relate to others. Are you ready?
Watch my videos
- Here’s my FB LIVE video on this topic: www.facebook.com/MarionSpeaks
- Not on Facebook? No worries. You can see the video on YouTube by clicking here: https://youtu.be/ecSljOFhJtE
Or read more here …
Think about something in your life that didn’t turn out the way you had planned or expected. Perhaps it’s a difficult situation you’re living at this very moment. It might be a workplace communication challenge such as a difficult boss, a client who’s at loggerheads with you, or an employee with a bad attitude. Consider a goal you wanted or want to obtain and haven’t (yet). You’re putting lots of effort into the relationships without avail. The results you’re getting are disappointing at best, discouraging at worst. You feel like a failure or a victim caught up in a terrible storm.
What’s your role?
During these times, you are playing a role. When a conflict arises, your thoughts, actions, and words push you in a certain direction. How you behave helps to mold the outcome you experience. If you don’t like the outcome, take a peek at your role.
Ouch. That hurts, right? To admit that you had a part in the play that unfolded and led to the situation you’re now living is difficult. “But wait, Marion,” you exclaim. “It wasn’t my fault”. And you might be right. Things happen. People treat you unfairly. Accidents befall good people. Circumstances you have no control over affect your life. All that is true. However, how you respond to these uncontrollable factors play a part in creating your final result. Like it or not, you most certainly have a role.
What are you doing or not doing that is contributing to your negative outcome?
Whew, that’s tough. What I’m about to ask you is even moreso. Now, I want you to continue asking yourself what it is that you did or didn’t do that may have contributed to your outcome and–here’s the catch–to do so without assigning guilt or blame. Put your emotions to the side for a moment and don your logical, objective cap. From that perspective, look at your situation and, without pointing fingers at yourself or others, pinpoint your beliefs and behaviours that may have snowballed the response you received.
For example …
Example: Driving with my spouse
It would be a pretty safe bet to guess that I’m not the only spouse who “makes driving suggestions” to my other half. You see, my husband Steve doesn’t need a GPS–he’s got me. The other day we were driving down a four-lane road and, to me, it felt like Steve all of a sudden brakes in the middle of the lane. Admittedly, it wasn’t a jolting or violent stop, just a puzzling one. My response? I looked up from checking my email on my mobile and exclaimed excitedly, “What’s happening? What are you doing?” I couldn’t figure out why he was stopped and thought for sure there was something wrong.
Steve looked at me incredulously and said, “Nothing’s wrong. I’m turning”. Without a signal? Stopping without explanation? What?! Then I realized that my nervousness was over the top. I contributed to the less than ideal outcome by overreacting to a very simple stop. Yes, it would have been ideal if he’d said something and explained, but my reaction was not in proportion to his action.
Remember, the focus of this exercise isn’t to point fingers at myself or someone else: It’s to focus on my role.
I faced up to the fact that maybe, okay, probably, I overreacted and contributed to escalating the discussion. (Don’t worry though. Us exchanging words didn’t last long and I’m pretty sure Steve’s threat to never drive me anywhere again has already been forgotten). My role that fed this negative outcome was borne of several fender benders I’d been in years before. Since then, I’ve been a nervous passenger. That’s my homework. That’s my responsibility to fix that.
Example: Boss keeps you waiting
Here’s another example, a workplace one. Suppose you have a boss who routinely keeps you waiting outside his or her office for meetings. You sit there anxious about all the items on your desk requiring attention and the opportunity cost of you twiddling your thumbs as your boss carries on chatting with another colleague. Once you’ve defined your difficult situation, now you ask the difficult question: What’s your role? At first blush, you may think nothing at all. It’s the boss who’s not behaving properly, not you. Think again.
The purpose of this question isn’t to assign blame to you or any other parties. Instead, ask yourself what are you doing that’s contributing to this frustrating situation? Perhaps the answer is that you’re not using that waiting time productively. Instead of increasing your anxiety about the files awaiting your return, you could bring one with you to work on as you wait.
Maybe you’ve contributed unknowingly to this situation by tolerating it without saying anything. Your role in creating or perpetuating this situation and outcome may be not what you did but rather what you didn’t do.
Example: Medical challenge
Perhaps you have encountered an ailment of some sort. What could your role possibly be in that? Without passing judgment or sentencing yourself to the harsh burden of guilt, objectively step back and ask what you did or didn’t do that may have been a step toward the outcome.
In a sense, what you’re looking at is a missed goal. In this case, the goal is having good health. Your role could have been in missing the warning signs. Maybe you didn’t listen to your body when it was whispering before it had to shout to get your attention. Perhaps you hadn’t learned from a similar previous experience you or someone close to you had lived. Maybe it was a question of lifestyle choices that could have been different resulting in a different outcome.
Take responsibility for your part.
It’s important to identify whatever small thing you might have done, or something that you didn’t do, that contributed to your goal being missed and creating a negative outcome. Why? In doing so, you’re taking responsibility for your piece, and when you do that, you’re taking control.
If your mess-up negatively impacted someone else, apologize. Even if it was unintentional, your actions resulted in inconveniencing another person or worse. Think of it this way: When you step on someone’s toe by mistake, you apologize, right? Even though you didn’t mean to, the end result was that you inflicted pain or discomfort of some sort so an apology commensurate with the degree of hurt is appropriate. That’s what leaders do.
When it comes to communication mess-ups, I’ve seen recurring themes in roles. From my clients and my own personal experience, I’ve learned that it’s useful to:
- Discover how the other person communicates and adjust your style to meet them halfway
- Discover your natural and preferred way to communicate, and dig down to figure out why you respond the way you do
- Take responsibility.
There’s a difference between an explanation and an excuse.
Defining your default response and your role in a situation is an explanation and allows you to assume responsibility. The finesse comes in doing this without guilt or regret.
You can’t change the past, but you can certainly change what isn’t working for you in the future. As painful as it may be, defining your role in creating a bad outcome frees you to explore alternate strategies as you move ahead. It sheds light on the dynamics of your interactions with others and empowers you with insight to change your reactions … and change your outcomes.
PS: What did you find most useful from this article? POST YOUR COMMENTS BELOW. I love hearing from my readers.
Say the tough things
Have you ever found yourself in that awkward situation where you’re disappointed, upset or angry with someone and you don’t know quite how to tell them? This could help …
Decide when to speak up.
One of the toughest things for us to know is when to speak our minds and when to bite our tongues. There really is no hard and fast rule because there are so many variables involved, not the least of which is your own personal comfort level and communication style. That being said, there are some guidelines that may help you decide if the time to speak up is now. You may find that saying the tough things may be your right choice under the following conditions:
- If the person’s actions are negatively affecting your life
- If the person’s right to behave how he/she wishes infringes on your rights
- If you are speaking up on behalf of others who feel, for whatever reason, that they are not in a position to speak up for themselves
- If the behaviour goes beyond reasonable expectation of professional people
- If the questionable behaviour is repeated again and again
- If you know you’ll regret it if you say nothing
Understanding why people are behaving the way they do is a wonderful starting point for communications. Even when you disagree with behaviour, step back and consider the motivation, the reason why someone is behaving as he or she does. It may be a very dysfunctional reason that manifests itself in an ugly behaviour that is not serving the person or those around him or her well — and they may not even realize it.
Example: someone avoids saying anything at all (PS: that approach doesn’t work)
A man used to walk out in the middle of discussions when he wasn’t in agreement, instead of staying and talking it through to a mutual resolution. This approach worked for him because he left when he was frustrated. It didn’t work for the people left behind.
This behaviour was tolerated for decades, until one time this relative offered a comment almost in passing, that shed great light. He said that his father used to beat his mother and he promised himself as a young boy that he would never allow himself to get that angry. Ahhh, understanding. This event explained his behaviour, it did not excuse it. His running away from conflict worked for him but it left the rest of the family members puzzled, frustrated and feeling like they were walking on eggshells afraid to “upset” this man.
Then one day, the inevitable happened … a straw broke the camel’s back. A fairly insignificant event snowballed out of proportion and he and his family refused to talk about it to others. A deep chasm separated family members–people who loved each other.
Perhaps if those family members had said something decades ago explaining how his behaviour looked and felt, perhaps if this man had explained why he was acting as he was, perhaps the family would all still be communicating. With time, positions may soften and hopefully, circumstance will provide an organic reason for the dam of ill feelings to be broken on both sides. In the meantime, it’s a sad life lesson.
When you understand “why” offending action may be occurring, don’t use it as an excuse.
After you understand possible reasons “why” the offending action may be occurring, balance that with this fact:
- the “why” of a behaviour is an explanation, not an excuse.
Why someone behaves a certain way is no excuse for the behaviour. And if that behaviour is negatively impacting you, you have a right to speak up. In fact, one may argue that you have the responsibility to do so. If you never speak up, if no one ever does, how is this person to know how his or her actions may be received as hurtful, ineffective or disrepectful? Maybe they would be well served if someone provided them with this insight. Maybe that someone, is you.
Tips how to say the tough things.
Let’s face it, it’s tough to say the tough things. People don’t want to hear that someone disagrees with something they’ve done or said. Although difficult, saying the tough things is not impossible. Once you know it’s the right thing to do and you’ve decided to take the brave step to share your concerns, here are some tips to keep in mind that will increase the chances of a positive outcome:
- Describe the questionable behaviour. Give real “when you …” examples. Be specific so the person knows exactly the behaviour that stung, that didn’t feel right, and that prompted you to speak up.
- Describe the impact. Explain how it made you feel. Often people don’t realize how their actions impact others. Let them know.
- Acknowledge why the behaviour may be occurring. Enunciate to the person that you acknowledge why they may have behaved the way they did. Often the motivation is justifiable — how the action manifests itself is not. Allow them to save face and demonstrate that you validate their feelings and motivations.
- Begin by validating the other person’s position or difficulty (at least to yourself): See the world from their perspective – everyone behaves the way they do for a reason, so take a walk in their shoes. Acknowledge to whatever degree possible, the reasons why a person may be behaving a certain way, e.g., “I know you may not realize how this is affecting me and you’re just trying a new office procedure to improve cost-effectiveness …” Extending a tip of the hat in acknowledgement goes miles for building relationships. And after all, isn’t that the objective and outcome of great communications?
- Describe the desired behaviour. Saying only what you don’t like isn’t enough. Accompany the description of the “problem” with a solution. You can do that in the form of describing alternative actions that you believe would be more effective.
- Attack the behaviour, not the person. Don’t personalize your comments or make it about the person. Keep it to the actions and behaviours.
- Come from a place of support. Boy, it’s tough to think of the other person’s perspective when you believe that he or she has crossed a boundary. However, putting aside the emotion and focusing on the relationship will always put you on solid ground.
- Give yourself time: When dealing with a volatile, emotional subject, cool your jets before you communicate. Give yourself breathing space to step back and plan how you will best communicate. Sometimes that means a few minutes. Sometimes 24 hours. Sometimes several days. In extreme cases, it means years. Take the time you need while ensuring that you don’t take so much time thinking about it, that you miss the opportunity to speak.
Be aware that when you do speak up, regardless of how respectfully and professionally you express yourself, few people will thank you. In fact, most will resent your statement. With time, if they have the maturity and the capacity, hopefully, they’ll see the grain of truth in what you’re sharing. It’s the handful of a chosen few who are able to hear feedback about their actions and not get defensive. Some will go on the attack and lash out at you, sometimes citing completely unrelated actions you have done. It’s not pretty, so toughen up. Saying the tough things don’t come with a trophy. There are no tangible rewards, just the knowledge that you asserted yourself when most would not. You spoke up for yourself and possibly for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.
Do you have tough things that you want to communicate with someone? If you’re faced with a difficult situation, Identify what approach works best for YOU. Pay attention to what that little voice inside your head is saying. It will tell you if it’s time to speak up and it will guide you how to do it constructively. Use the tips above and saying the tough things will be a little less tough.
Have a thorny subject you don’t know how to broach? Here’s what I do.
I bet you have times in your career when you really want to tell someone something, you just don’t know how. You’ve decided you’re going to speak up now, you know what your goal is in doing so, and what you’re missing is the words to open the subject. Sound familiar?
I’ve worked with clients with all sorts of difficult communication situations, things they want to say and need help doing so. One project manager wanted to alert a client he was being too aggressive. An employee wanted to tell her boss she needed more challenging assignments. A director wanted to advise an employee her position was eliminated. And then there was the person who really wished he knew how to break it to a peer that she had bad breath.
Tough communication situations, right?
Whenever I coach or train on the topic of speaking out, we do a lot of groundwork to get clarity on if saying something is the best option or not. Let’s assume, for a moment, that you’ve gone through this systematic analysis of your situation and decided that, yes, it’s time to speak up. You have one chance to get it right. There are so many things running through your head. You’re worried about the outcome, how you look, what to say. Having a framework you can lean into takes out some of the guesswork and worry. Here are a few things for you to consider listed below.
1) WHERE: The more formal and serious the topic, the more formal and hierarchical the meeting place.
Choosing the right location is critical to your communication’s success. I’m a big advocate of connecting over coffee. Under certain circumstances, this is an appropriate approach. If what you have to say isn’t emotional, contentious or of a privileged nature, then going to a public and neutral coffee place keeps the tone upbeat, casual and informal. The more serious the nature of the discourse, the more formal the location. If you are in a higher position and want to assert your authority, have the meeting in your office. Another option is having the formal meeting in a third-person’s office, for a more neutral location. Conversely,if you want to assume a more conciliatory and friendly atmosphere without standing on ceremony, you can go to your direct report’s office for a chat. Choose the location based on the degree of formality and seriousness of the topic.
2) WHEN:Choose a time that works for them.
Finding the best time to have your difficult conversation predisposes your recipient to be more receptive. Choose a time to speak that works best for them, not you. “So Marion, what magic time is that?”, you ask. The answer really depends on your person’s schedule.
If the person you want to speak with is a morning person, be a morning person too and catch him or her first thing before the day grabs hold and every minute. Alternately, if your person is a work-late type, catch a couple of minutes at the end of the day when most people are gone, fewer distractions interrupt, and the pace has slowed down. If yours is someone who is neither a real morning lark or a night owl, just about anytime could work, as long as a looming deadline isn’t hanging overhead and distractions abound.
“The guiding principle on when to speak to someone is finding a time when distractions aren’t yanking at the chain, pressures are off, time is more relaxed, and this person is most likely to be in ‘receive mode'”.Marion Grobb Finkelstein. www.MarionSpeaks.com
3) HOW: Ask for permission, then keep it brief.
The first thing to do when you want to speak to someone is to ask permission. If yours is likely to be a quick 2-minute conversation, popping by spontaneously and asking, “Hi Betty. I was wondering if you had a couple of minutes to chat? If not now, how about this afternoon?”. If now isn’t a good time, this person will let you know. Then you can respond with an alternate specific time, and make it soon. It could sound like this, “No problem. I see you’re busy now. How about at 10 o’clock? I’ll bring the coffee”.
If it’s a more formal topic requiring more time, set up an actual meeting. You could say, “Hey Joe, I was hoping to update you on Project ABC. Would 2 pm tomorrow afternoon work? About 20 minutes is all I need.” Give a specific time and be sure to let him or her know how much time you need. Don’t make it too long. Keep it as short as possible and be sure that you stick to that allocated time.
If you’re going to run over time, make sure it’s because of the other person asking questions, not you blithering on. If time is approaching what should be the end of the meeting, ask for permission to continue. Say, “Beth, I see it’s almost 3:30. I don’t want to take more time than I said I would, so how about I look into those things we talked about and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” If Beth wants to continue talking, she’ll let you know.
Thorny, touchy subjects are often difficult to approach.
Find the right place, time, and opening comments, and you will be on your way to getting that critical conversation in done. After that, you will sigh relief and be able to focus your energy on moving forward. Using a systematic approach takes the guesswork out of the process and eases your mind. You will be able to focus your energy on having your say, without having to run for cover when you do–and that is what makes you a good communicator.
3 Team Tips to get your team working together (even if you have a difficult person)
Think about your team at work. Now ask yourself if there’s this one person who makes it difficult (there always is one). Communicating is one of the fundamental elements of a great team. But it doesn’t end there.
In his post for the British Psychological Society Research Digest, Alex Fradera references a study conducted by Jeroen Jong of the Open University of the Netherlands and his Tilburg University collaborators. They unearthed some interesting and surprising findings, not least of which is that frequent communication alone isn’t enough. It must be accompanied by highly interdependent tasks and high-quality interactions.
Frequent communication alone isn’t enough.
If your team isn’t working well, research suggests that one or several of the following is missing:
- frequent in-team communication through a variety of communication vehicles
- meaningful communications and high quality social exchanges (showing interest in the team members as people)
- interdependent working.
These three components help glue the team together. These behaviours and conditions foster organic, natural relationships that are borne of common goals and create an environment where differences are seen as attributes and contributions are gratefully acknowledged. They celebrate together and share the responsibility of losses and missed goals.
Don’t play the blame game.
Productive teams don’t spend time and energy assigning blame and pointing fingers. Instead, teammates spend their resources working together.
Take a look at those 3 elements and rate your team on each. If your work team isn’t quite gelling, ask yourself which element is missing from your team. Then get working on strategies to fix that. It will make a difference.
How to create a more productive work environment
Wouldn’t you like a little more “bang” for your effort? You only have 24 hours in the day and the pressures on you are so intense, pulling you in every direction. How on earth could you possibly squeeze one more drop out of your work day?
A client recently asked me what companies could do to create more productive work environments. At first blush, I was tempted to start discussing all the physical surroundings. Then I thought about it a bit more and realized it’s not just the tangible environment that makes a difference–it’s intangible too. It’s the work culture. And that’s where workplace communication comes into play. I’d like to share with you now a few of the points I relayed.
Ways companies can create a productive work environment:
Create a culture where everyone shares ideas.
Often employees won’t share great ideas if they feel they will be ridiculed or teased. The key? Create a work environment and culture that nurtures open communication and exchange of ideas and encourages measured risk-taking. That generates innovation, creativity, and productivity.
Build organic relationships through projects.
Pulling people from various divisions together to work on common goals and projects allows for cross-fertilization and organic relationships to grow. This builds teams and comradeship, and that increases productivity.
Have physical places where employees can meet fact to fact.
As wonderful as technology is, nothing beats face-to-face communication. We, humans, are social creatures. We need interaction to keep us engaged and sharp. So, it’s important to build the physical space in your work environment that facilitates in-person contact and the culture where meeting in person is valued. When you feel valued, like you make a difference, and you know the others counting on you, you’re more productive.
How does your organization rate?
Which of the above does your organization do? Which one do you want to focus on now? Creating a productive work environment requires everyone, but it can all start with you. If you feel you’re not in a position to invoke these changes, share this information and article with your boss because, remember, your very act of sharing ideas is part of creating a productive work environment. Good on you.
4 tips to break bad news
If you’re a manager or supervisor, chances are you sometimes have bad news to relay. Maybe it’s an impending layoff. Perhaps it’s telling an employee his performance is under par. Or it’s a huge organizational change the may affect job security. Whatever the news is, here are some tips that will help you to communicate in the most productive way.
Get the right mindset.
Your motivation behind your communications establishes your tone and content. You might not know all the “how” things will be done, but chances are, you have a good idea as to the “why”.
A number of years ago, as Director Communication for a national organization, powers higher than I decided to parachute an employee into my communications directorate. This was definitely not my decision and this gentleman, although a very nice fellow, would definitely not have been my first choice. It didn’t take long to realize that he wasn’t pulling his weight. His performance was under par and he was coasting on the coattails of other teammates. The final straw was when he removed from his annual appraisal the work goals he wasn’t achieving, thinking I wouldn’t notice. I did. My motivation for asking him into my office and discussing his inferior performance was in fairness to the other employees who were busting a gut to get results. Given this context, it was easy to have that meeting. Fairness to my other employees was my motivation.
Tell them what you know so far.
You might not have all the answers and be waiting to communicate until you do. This is a mistake. During times of uncertainty is when communication becomes even more important. Tell your team about the layoffs, what areas for sure will be affected, and how it might affect individuals. Even though you don’t have all the answers, let them know that you understand the human impact and you’re working on options for your people.
When I first began my marketing career in the Canadian federal government, airports were privatizing to airport authorities. It had a huge impact on many people’s jobs and roles. Staff and management were anxious and wondering how these changes would affect them and their careers.
The Assistant Deputy Minister at the time was an excellent communicator. I still hold him up in my workshops and training sessions as a shining example of what leadership communication looks and sounds like in times of bad news. His secret? He communicated frequently and genuinely. He told us that he didn’t have all the answers and would advise us when he did. And he did. In doing so, he built trust, loyalty, and respect. And he allayed concerns of many. He demonstrated with words and actions that he cared for and took care of his people. That’s what a good leader does. He shows us all how to triumph over difficult situations. How fitting that his name was “Victor”.
Ask for suggestions.
During tough times, the very people affected have a vested interest in finding solutions. Give them the opportunity to share their questions and concerns. Offer several ways for them to communicate with you, as different communication vehicles work for different people. You can choose between email, face-to-face meetings, suggestion boxes (physical or virtual), anonymous input, employee suggestion recognition programs, or facilitated team input meetings, to name just a few. Do whatever it takes to flow those ideas and allow water cooler discussions to be channeled into productive suggestions.
A client of mine was reorganizing her company and asked me to facilitate a session about change. People were afraid of the unknown and how it would affect them. They felt out of control–a common reaction to change thrust upon someone. After we discussed their fears and concerns with the upcoming plans, we focused on finding solutions and what the “good news” was about the changes. In doing so, the participants shifted their perspectives and left in a more positive frame of mind.
Use at least some suggestions.
If you ask for suggestions, be sure to close the communication loop and let your team know how their suggestions are actually being heard and acted upon. That doesn’t mean you implement everything — it’s your decision as a manager what is feasible or not. However, surely there’s something in there of use you can pull out. Few things will eat away at morale than employees feeling that they’re not being heard. If you don’t do this step, next time you ask for suggestions, you likely won’t get any.
A client hired me to coach what she saw as a “problem employee”. When I met with this employee, it became apparent that the “problem” was two-way. She had some great suggestions for the manager that would help her perform better. One suggestion involved changing the form for reporting updates. This change was implemented and frustration on both ends was decreased. The employee felt validated and valued and the manager felt relieved that the employee was back on track. Win-win.
Which of these suggestions have you used? What worked, what didn’t. Post below and share.
When someone offers you help (you really don’t want)
If you were able to join me on the recent Facebook live broadcast, fantastic! In case not, you can watch the video right here:
Here are some interesting tips and perspectives to help guide you through the next time you find yourself in that awkward situation of someone offering help that you really don’t want.
Before you say “no”, check your assumptions.
If you’re tempted to say, “no”, ask yourself why. Why is it that you don’t want that person’s help? There are some really good reasons why help isn’t always feasible, one of the most important ones being a state of emergency. In such times, you don’t have time to show another person what to do and how to do it. Time is critical, lives may depend on it, or perhaps it’s a high-risk project with zero room for error. However, before you discount this offer of help, look at your underlying assumption–are you assuming this person doesn’t know how to perform the task? Maybe he does. Maybe she’s an expert. Before you say no, ask. Otherwise, you may be denying yourself and others the assistance that could make the difference between success and failure.
Are you saying “no” because you don’t want to give up the fun stuff?
You may be hanging on to tasks that others are quite willing to do simply because you enjoy doing them. But is that the best use of your time? There’s an opportunity cost when you do that. When you spend time on items other people could be doing, you’re stealing time and energy from tasks you are uniquely qualified to complete. In fact, in the workplace, you may be holding tight to projects and duties that really are someone else’s and fall beyond your scope of duties. Stick to what you’re paid to do and the items that you can’t delegate.
Are you robbing them of a learning opportunity?
Before you say “no”, ask yourself if you’re robbing someone else from learning what you already know. That other person may be hungry to sink her teeth into that task. It may help him broaden his life skill set or career possibilities. It could help you learn the fine art of letting go. Even though it may take some effort at the beginning, once the learning curve is overcome, your workload is lessened and the helper has newly found responsibility, skill, and confidence. This approach helps build teams and contributes to succession planning.
Thing about why they’re offering to help.
Human beings are social animals. Most of us want to belong, feel competent in carrying out our duties, and contribute to the team. When someone offers to help you, it may be that this person needs to know his contribution is valued and appreciated. She wants to know that her pitching in makes a difference. Let them. This builds teamwork and a sense of mutual support. It contributes to employee engagement and morale. And it lightens your load.
How I learned to accept help.
I learned the lesson many years ago about how important it is to accept someone’s help. While in my early twenties and having just moved from the Niagara region to a federal employee job in Ottawa, I was thrilled to have my own apartment and be stretching my wings. When my 60-something mother visited, I saw it as a vacation for her. In my mind, I was giving her the gift of relaxing while I was at work. She would ask if she could do the dusting or dishes while I was at the office and always, I would respond in the same way: “No Mom. You’re on holidays. Just relax.”
Now, at this side of life, I look back at those days with a different perspective. I prepare family dinners and take great joy in running errands, buying surprises, and dropping off baked goods I know will help my full-time-working niece and her young family. I see her as having very little time and it makes me feel good to know that my efforts are helping simplify her busy life. And then it hits me–this is the feeling my mom wanted. She wanted to help, to know she made a difference. It was her way of contributing and I robbed that from her. Instead of feeling that her time was well-spent, I gave her what I thought was a vacation, when in reality, I had sentenced her to feel useless.
I will never do that again. When someone offers me help, I figure out a way to let them. It helps them, it helps me, and it builds trust. Will you do the same?
Tell them now.
This past weekend, Canada paused for a moment to give thanks. In a couple weeks, our American friends and colleagues will also be celebrating Thanksgiving. When was the last time you stopped and thought about the people in your life and your workplace, recognized their contribution, and actually thanked them?
That lesson of telling them now was driven home to me when my father died.
About a year after his passing, my mom, sisters, and families gathered around his graveside to commemorate his life. We each took a turn recounting a memory about dad and how it impacted us. It was wonderful to hear so many things I didn’t realize and it made me wonder if dad knew them too.
It was that moment I vowed to make sure I tell people in the living years what they mean to me and the impact their actions have.
When I got home, I started mailing my mother weekly missives, one-pagers entitled, “Lessons my mother taught me”. Each one recounted a moment ingrained in my brain and character and learned at my mother’s hand. They spoke of her tremendous kindness and insight, her ability to see past the obvious and to constantly make me feel valued and loved.
I wanted to share how she’d impacted me.
Years later, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and being cared for in the United Mennonite home in Vineland, I visited several times a year from Ottawa. One day I arrived with a gift for mom. It was a binder with the bold words, “Lessons My Mother Taught Me” on the front cover. Inside, in page protector sheets, were the stories I had mailed to mom.
I gave this binder to mom a few months before she passed away and my visits during that time often included reading those stories with mom, she reading one paragraph and me the next. With every challenge comes a gift. The gift of Alzheimer’s was that every story was a new one for her. I have a particular memory of reading one story and mom looking up to me with her striking blue Irish eyes, saying, “I did that?”. Yes, mom. Yes, you did. That and so much more.
The stories included details of not only what she had done, but the impact her actions had on me both at that time and years later. She read them with astonishment that seemingly small gestures could reach so profoundly.
One of the best gifts I ever received.
My mom was 90 years old and had suffered from Alzheimer’s for almost a decade. Although she remembered most of her family members most of the days, the disease slowly robbed her of her precious memories. Chatting and visiting with her was always a joy and made me greatly appreciate the importance of communicating, even when you’re not sure if it will be remembered. Although fleeting, I know with certainty there were moments we connected.
Almost twenty years ago, I had written mom a series of letters with each entitled, “lessons my mother taught me”. In these writings, I shared with her life skills I had learned at her hand when I was a child. Through mom’s many moves to progressively increased care, these letters had been lost. Recently, I decided to recreate them and mail them to her again. For the past few months, every couple of weeks I snail-mailed my mother a one-page note sharing one of my childhood memories of how deeply she had impacted my life. The lessons were principles that have guided me throughout the years, including:
- keep a song in your heart
- never be embarrassed by someone who loves you
- a promise is a promise.
This past September, I drove from Ottawa to the Niagara region to visit my mom, as I had done countless times over the years. When I walked in her room, I handed her a surprise — a binder with a cover that read, “Lessons My Mother Taught Me”. The subtitle noted, “Lessons learned by Marion Grobb Finkelstein / Lessons taught by Rita M. Grobb”. Inside, in plastic page protectors, were the typed stories of each lesson I’d sent her.
For the week of my visit, each day I would read these stories aloud and she listened in awe. One time, much to my surprise and huge delight, she even read along with me and we took turns reading alternate paragraphs. Every time I read these lessons, it was as if she was hearing the stories for the first time. Really, in her mind, she was. My mom was amazed that I remembered these incidents and she marveled at the lasting impression that her everyday actions had on me. “You remembered that?”, she’d ask, as I recounted a seemingly incidental event. She smiled and listened intently as the stories unfolded and she realized her role in them. I felt a compelling need to share these joys with her in the living years. Why wait until she couldn’t understand or (gulp) for a eulogy (my mother taught me that too – to express appreciation at the moment). As I sit here now, on this side of my mother’s life, I am ever grateful that I shared them when I did.
Let them know the positive influence they’ve had on your life and don’t wait until tomorrow because, as I was sadly reminded, tomorrow may never come. It may be a family member, a colleague, your boss, or a client. Now is your time to reach out.
My mother may not have remembered the gift of my binder or the lessons she so ably taught me. She might not have recalled receiving the crisp typed one-page stories I’d mailed to her, or have any recollection of me seated by her side reading them to her. She might not have remembered any of it at all, but I sure do. And that’s the gift she gave me.
Leaders understand the lesson: Small gestures impact profoundly–tell them now, tell them how.
Who has impacted you either in your personal life or workplace? And have you told them?
It’s not too late. Do it now, in the living years with your personal contacts. And if they’ve passed, write them a letter. Keeping compliments to yourself does no one any good. As human beings, we’re all wired to connect, to be social beings — that’s how we survive. So feed those connections, and tell them now.
Whether in the office or personal life, the principle applies.
Do it now in the office with your colleagues and team members. You won’t have them forever either. Say it in a meeting, write it in an appraisal, nominate them for an award. Let them know you notice, acknowledge, and appreciate how they have positively impacted on you and others.
I find great solace in knowing that I shared these memories and stories with mom, that I was able to see her great delight in knowing she made a terrific impact on my life, that she had left her indelible mark, that she would live on. And she does, every day with the lessons my mother taught me.
Saying the tough things
PS: please feel free to share with your colleagues, boss, and clients. Everyone needs communication tips at some point.
Marion Grobb Finkelstein
WORKPLACE COMMUNICATION CONSULTANT
“Marion Grobb Finkelstein, Workplace Communication Consultant, travels across Canada to help business people and organizations communicate in the workplace to get better, faster, easier results. She can help you too. Marion@MarionSpeaks.com 289-969-7691 www.MarionSpeaks.com OPT-IN to Marion’s Workplace Communication Tips enews at www.marionspeaks.com