Last time we looked at the first two of four effective strategies for effective communication. We defined effective strategy as an engaged, useful exchange of information. ‘Engaged’ is where two or more people are actively participating in the conversation through any means. ‘Useful’ is decided by the communicators, not by any observers.
We then went on to look at the first two of four key strategies. Here are the four.
- With Presence
Now, let’s cover the last two strategies in detail along with some closing thoughts on methods and further application.
Engage With Presence
For more effective communication, here are two words of advice: ‘Be There.’ It is possible to be compassionate and logical and still miss the point. What is the meaning behind the meaning? What is the big picture? This is not trying to be deeply philosophical but about stand-out communication.
It is possible to care about the conversation and even have logical questions to ask and still have a wandering mind. It can be hard depending on what else is happening but effective communication demands … engagement! Engagement at its core is about being 100% in the discussion. Anything less needs work.
It can be harder to stay focused when the conversation is more important to the other person than to me so here is the pivotal question: Is this relationship important enough that I must genuinely engage even on a topic that is not as interesting to me as another? Think deeply about this from a values standpoint. Trust is never as good as when you need something from someone … later.
Engaging with presence includes the following.
- Think ‘bigger’ than the conversation. What would a fly-on-the-wall view say about the exchange?
- What are the hidden or implied meanings? What is unsaid but plain to a good observer?
- Why are the other conversation participants discussing as they are and what do they need from me? How can I serve them?
- How important is the relationship? If it’s important enough, banish all other brain-meanderings and focus on the topic at hand. If not, politely disengage for more pressing business.
One of the obstacles to effective communication is consistency. Most of us instinctively know how to communicate well in a one-time conversation but doing this day after day in good times and in bad is more difficult. What about the day you don’t feel so good? What about when you feel over-pressed with deadlines?
The intent of this section on engaging systematically is not to pretend any of us is perfect. Hopefully, the next several thoughts will encourage you to become even more effective in communication in a more consistent way.
Most of us already have the right intent; it’s just a matter of putting more effort in. We want to understand when we talk. We hope to have professional and personal relationships built on trust. (When I was a CFO several years ago, I would tell my staff that our most important commodity was credibility. That is another word for trust. This need is true regardless of the enterprise.)
The difficulty is life – whether at work or home – is not academic. It can be busy, chaotic, fluid, hard, confusing … and the list goes on. In short, there are many distractions to effective communication. (For example, a parent can understand how difficult it is to have an uninterrupted conversation with a spouse.)
The good news is it doesn’t take a lot of change to make a big difference in the consistency department. Engaging systematically requires a certain amount of discipline or – as the name implies – a system.
Here are few simple steps to application and you can think of more.
- Send yourself a blind copy of an e-mail needing follow-up. Use a flagging system in Outlook or other software to revisit e-mails and follow-up. It is amazing how something as simple as, “Just checking in,” builds trust.
- Have a way to write things down for follow-up. Always carry a small notebook or smart phone for notes.
- Look at your list of key contacts and decide on an ideal schedule to visit in person or via video-teleconference (it’s free so no excuses). Schedule the visits. Keep the schedule at all costs!
- Send someone a physical ‘Thank You’ card for an important contribution to a problem. This old method is new again.
Methods of Delivery
Before closing, let me focus a moment on methods of communication delivery. While the four strategies above are the foundation of great communication, the method of communication will definitely impact the effectiveness as well. Please factor this in when engaging compassionately, logically, with presence, and systematically.
There are certain types of communication that do just fine with e-mail (routine notes from a staff meeting for instance). There are others that will fail miserably (performance review – don’t laugh, it happens). A letter may work better for a resignation because it gives the sender a chance to refine thoughts and say everything just so. On the other hand, a letter is a lousy way to teach a new employee (don’t laugh, this gets done too).
There are certain places that work better for different types of in-person conversations. A public hallway might work fine for routine exchanges or planning. It’s a terrible place for talking about sensitive people issues. The corporate washroom might or might not be an OK place depending on its acoustics, ventilation ducts (someone hears in another room), and, most of all, the topic of conversation.
Here are questions to wrap up this article.
- Engage compassionately: If I care, will I hold the conversation in this place and with this method?
- Engage logically: How can I make our solution stronger?
- Engage with presence: What is the whole message and what can I learn from the larger environment?
- Engage systematically: How consistently am I applying the first three keys?
Effective communication is not only essential, it is critical for a group of any size to work well. Further, the business imperatives should be obvious that effective communication will help an organization learn, grow and thrive.
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