Thursday, April 24, 2014

Creating a Productive Communication Environment

Defensiveness is not productive. May seem obvious once it is said like that, but making something explicit isn’t such a bad thing – especially if something is not obvious to the person you are speaking to. Defensiveness is the normal and correct action when someone is feeling attacked.

Notice I didn’t say being attacked – I said FEELING attacked.

I have found many times that, in my distant past, I was capable of feeling attacked when, in reality, I was not. I have certainly had people tell me (again in the past) that they felt I was attacking them when I wasn’t. When I felt attacked, I would demonstrate all sorts of clever behaviors to distance myself from the perceived danger – but whatever behavior I chose, the lack of safety I felt would KILL my willingness to continue honestly and openly continuing with the discussion. My goal was to get out alive.

So – communication stops being productive when either party feels a lack of trust or safety in the environment.

There are other elements of a productive communication environment than the risk of attack, of course. What if the other person isn’t attacking us at all – but we don’t believe that they care about what we’re saying? Or that they do care, but they aren’t open to try anything other than their current idea? That doesn’t feel very productive, and we may act out when we sense this happening (acting out unspoken feelings is the whole basis of the study of body language, by the way – we all do it). Sometimes we act out verbally, too, and if the other person feels attacked by this, things spiral the wrong way.

A productive communication environment is one in which:
·         It is safe to tell the truth
·         We intend to arrive at the conclusion that satisfies our most important objectives
·         We intend to arrive at the conclusion that is not objectionable to any stakeholder

One of the ways we can make the communication environment productive is be explicit about these things and mean them. To ENSURE that everyone in the conversation knows EXPLICITLY (by saying it) that it is safe to tell the truth hear – we need to be free to share exactly what we think. I know how scary that sounds (and I know why you picture the conversation immediately turning into a fight) when you think of saying it, but sometimes it’s best to make it obvious, and this is one of those times.

Once you and the people you are speaking with believe the three bullets I wrote above, then you (not they) need to know how to facilitate that conversation. I say “you” because it only takes ONE competent communicator in the room to handle most any situation, and I have picked YOU to be the competent communicator.

Next time, we’ll talk about the THREE things you need to know to perform your new role.

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

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