Join Britt Andreatta for an in-depth discussion in this video Effective communication, part of Having Difficult Conversations (2013).
Before we get into difficult conversations, I want to give you some simple but powerful strategies for improving your communication in general. I recommend using these every day, during your regular interactions. If you use them consistently, they should cut down the situations that could build up to difficult conversations. First, use as many levels of communication as you can. Humans pick up a lot of meaning from the non verbal cues that we see and hear when we interact. This is why you should be careful using email and text to convey important information. That loss of non verbal information can have the other person hear a whole different meaning than what you intended. The important thing here is that they all line up. For example, if you're praising your team's efforts, don't be shaking your head.
Or if you want to connect with some one on a personal level, don't meet in a noisy place. Second, clearly share your intent for the communication. If you state your goal, you'll increase the chances the receiver will hear it as you mean it. You might say something like, the reason I am calling you is to apologize for how the meeting went. Or, the purpose for this email is to confirm that you're coordinating the trade show. Third, avoid over generalizing things. It's fairly common that when we care about something we state it more strongly.
But using phrases like you always or you never, are going to create defensiveness in the other person. Also avoid exaggerating, which is a form of generalizing. This is when ten minutes late becomes 20, or two missed meetings becomes three. Overstating things give the other person a place to counter you with examples, and then you're in an argument and not focused on the goal you want to achieve. Fourth, speak for yourself. Use something called I statements. I statements are when you speak in the first person, to talk about your experiences and your feelings.
The goal is to convey the impact the other person's behavior has on you. For example, instead of saying, it annoys everyone when you're late to meetings. Say something like, when you're late to meetings I feel frustrated because I have to rework the agenda on the fly. This will also help prevent you from speaking on behalf of others, which can make someone feel ganged up on. Now, let's switch to the receiver's perspective. There's also some good strategies to use when you're the receiver in the communication. First, be an active listener. Focus on what the other person is saying and show that you're listening. Use non-verbal signals, such as nodding your head to show agreement, or leaning forward to show interest.
Most importantly, avoid the temptation to start building your counter argument in your head. The goal of active listening is to be sure you're really hearing what the other person is trying to convey. Second, ask questions. When you're the receiver, you're goal is to make sure you're hearing the message accurately. If something's not clear, ask a question that will provide clarity. Third, confirm what you understand. One of my favorite techniques is called paraphrasing, and you share back to the person what you think they said. This does not mean that you agree. You're just making sure that you got the message correctly. For example, you might say, so, what I'm hearing you say is my lateness causes extra work for you and that's frustrating.
Finally, show your perspective. Once the other person feels heard, you can now share what you think and feel. Hopefully, the other person who is now the receiver uses the same techniques of active listening and so on. Be as clear as possible. Identify where you are in agreement and where you disagree. If the situation is complex, take each piece separately. In the dialogue, you'll go back and forth using the strategies for senders and receivers. During the conversation, you'll both increase your clarity and understanding.
Over time, as you have more and more successful communications, you'll also build trust. Using these strategies for everyday communication will greatly enhance your effectiveness as well as your relationships. But difficult conversations are still going to happen, and these strategies are not sufficient to get you through difficult conversation. Difficult conversations are unique, because the stakes are higher and our emotions are stronger. So, let's turn our attention to how to successfully have difficult conversations.
Along the way, learn the secrets of turning difficult conversations into successful interactions that enhance communication and rapport. Improve both your professional and personal relationships, finding your way back from conflict through mutually successful outcomes.
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- Understand why conversations go badly
- Define the influence of power structures and patterns in a difficult conversation
- Identify observable behaviors and use them to focus on facts and on how behaviors affect the business
- Control the direction of a conversation
- Build a blueprint from which to structure a conversation
- Identify and prepare for resistance during a difficult conversation
- Identify the conversational choices available to you when others resist your efforts