In most healthy workplaces, communication issues arise. That communication problem may even prompt “crucial conversations” — when emotions are running high and hot and where the stakes are high.
Sometimes, there’s no conflict, a lack of communication; that’s a problem, too. People aren’t being honest or raising issues that need to be aired.
It’s why Harvard Business Review lists communication as one of the top skills needed for leaders.
How important is communication?
Let’s start with something that should be obvious, but with some stats to back up why communication is important.
Towers Watson provided a study indicating companies that have highly effective communication practices have 47% higher total returns to shareholders compared with firms that are least effective at communicating.
Communication problems cause big organizational issues
It’s no wonder; communication issues, according to Business Performance, cause problems beyond shareholder returns (or that contribute to lower shareholder returns):
- Higher turnover
- More absenteeism
- Poor customer service
- Ineffective change management
- Failed projects
- More injuries
- Bigger compliance issues (and fines associated)
How to fix communication challenges
Whether you’re a communicator who believes in Crucial Conversations or Fierce Conversations, you have some tactics available to take the fright out of these communications. Practice them at work or at home.
1. Take a break to understand what you’re feeling and why
If you have strong emotions and you always know exactly how you’re feeling, kudos to you. You are an emotional intelligence master. For the rest of us, we need to take a minute to understand how we what we’re feeling and why.
Instead of trying to communicate – write an email, call, or meet face-to-face – when mad, wait. How long you can wait depends on the urgency of the response. If you can afford to take almost a day, do it. You’ll have your thoughts collected and be ready to communication more objectively.
2. Don’t make assumptions; listen and ask questions
Active listening is one of the best communication skills to have. It really stems from understanding others, rather than seeking to be understood. To actively listen, you’ll need to seek clarity and ask questions.
“Let me see if I understand. You’re concerned about the budget?”
3. Practice open communication
Traits of open communication
Need to know whether your workplace practices open communication? You’ll probably have an inkling whether your workplace is practicing open communication. If you don’t know, here are a few key questions to ask:
- Are key metrics and our progress available on the intranet?
- Do you know what’s happening at the company and how you can contribute?
- Are you in regular contact with your manager?
- Are employees encouraged to ask questions and provide honest feedback to other employees, including executives?
- Do executives listen to employees?
It starts with trust and working toward common goals. If you feel there’s a lack of that, it may be time to start with those common purposes.
“I think we both want this organization to be successful. I’m concerned about the impact to employees. It sounds like you’re concerned about the impact to the bottom line. That worries me, too, but not as much as employees – here’s why.”
4. Get to the heart of the matter
We’re not robots. Sometimes disagreements are based on feelings. If it does, it’s time to address those emotions. It takes some vulnerability, but usually, it helps the other person understand what you’re feeling and why.
“When you brought up how much money we could save by offshoring some of my team, I was shocked. I was also afraid for employees. I’ve worked here for many years and I know them personally. Now that I’ve had time to digest it, I’m ready to discuss offshoring in more detail so we can make the right decision for the organization and for our people.”
If the person you’re having the disagreement with has strong emotions about the issue, too, listen first. You may be able to get to the heart of the conflict if they feel needed, understood, etc.
5. Assume positive intent and practice empathy
People don’t typically say or do things just to make you angry. By assuming someone has the best intentions, meaning well, you can quickly forgive whatever trespass was made. Most likely, a misunderstanding is at the crux of the issue.
This is especially true when reading emails. It’s hard to understand tone in an email.
6. Say, “I’m sorry”
Elton John’s right – sorry seems to be the hardest word. Here are a few ideas, of how to say you’re sorry. Also, you’ll have to mean it:
I’m sorry my actions made you feel that way. I didn’t mean to hurt you.
I’m sorry, I made a mistake.
I’m sorry, what can I do to make the situation better now?
7. Jump to a different communication method
Sometimes it’s merely about the communication method itself. If you get what you think is an angry email, either pick up the phone or try to see the person – even using Skype – to discuss what’s needed.
8. Use a mentor or mediator
There are times when every trick in the communications book has failed. Those, indeed, are sad days. But it may mean you’re too close to the issue or the person or people you’re dealing with are too close. Sometimes bouncing ideas off a mentor or bringing in a mediator may help.
If going to a mentor, choose one who’ll give you tough love if that’s what you need. You need the best information and ideas possible, including someone willing to tell you how you’re contributing to the conflict.
If asking a mediator to help, make sure it’s truly a neutral party. Facilitators and HR Business Partners often make great mediators as that’s what they do daily. There’s a temptation to get the mediator on your side, but do your best to avoid it. By having someone truly impartial, you’ll get the best results.
Good communication starts with you
If you’re in communications, chances are good you knew all these things. Chances are also good you’d love to print this out for someone you work with – maybe on a poster, very possibly a billboard.
Because you’re a communicator by nature, it’s important you model good communication and positive behavior as much as humanly possible.
After all, there’s only one person you have control over: yourself.Companywide, your employees need an intranet to share ideas and collaborate. Get a demo of an intranet that has artificial intelligence (AI), integrates with Microsoft Teams, can embed social media across pages, and is easy to maintain.