Saturday, April 12, 2014

Not tools so much as an environment...

I spent a big percentage of the last few years teaching others what I have learned about making communication at work productive. I was asked a while ago by one of my clients “What are the tools used and the responsibilities of each person engaged in a productive conversation?”

It seems that this is the way we like to imagine these conversations being held – each of us having an equal part in the conversation and the outcome. I believe that particular expectation is an obstacle to productive communication, and that by changing that expectation of “equal participation” one can begin to make things productive.

Most of us recognize that there will naturally be differences between people in our work place. That is, in almost any pairing of two people one person is a better listener, or more articulate, or more withdrawn, or more distracted…… the list of differences is quite long.

When we walk away from a conversation thinking that the other party doesn’t listen, doesn’t speak up, is scary to talk to …. THAT is when we recognize the differences and have bad feelings. The bad feelings are because our needs weren’t met – we NEEDED them to be effective and they weren’t which leaves us unsatisfied with the conversation. Further, it seems that this THEIR fault and is not fixable unless they change.

But it IS – we just have to change the “equal participation” expectation. And understanding that makes it easier to describe the use of the “tools”.

There is a kind of “ideal” environment for conducting conversations. That environment is not very necessary when we are discussing the “easy” things – non-controversial, obvious, simple, low-impact topics – and vital when we are discussing the hard things – poor performance or failures, bad news, high-impact things. In other words, maintaining the environment to conduct difficult conversations becomes most important at the very same time that the topics demand the most focus. If we don’t appreciate maintaining the right environment, or if we don’t know how, it is easy to think that TOPIC or the PEOPLE involved are what made the conversation implode. But usually, it is that we didn’t maintain a good environment.

 Communication tools and techniques are used to promote the optimum environment. Next week, we’ll talk about what that environment looks like exactly, and then discuss the tools used to create it.

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