Thursday, July 21, 2011

A "New" Communication Tool

Consider this: you have two colleagues at work - Joe and Tom. Joe is someone you've consistently gotten along with. He is supportive of your efforts, acts positively towards you and has always provided you and accepted from you constructive feedback. Tom on the other hand never seems to value your contributions. He politely laughs off your suggestions and makes seemingly innocent but unhelpful comments about your work.

Now you've just presented a proposal for a new project at a team meeting with both Tom and Joe in attendance. That afternoon Tom, your less gracious colleague, stops by your office to say that your proposal isn't workable in its present form due to expected cost. You're likely to brush that feedback off given its source. But say 5 minutes later Joe, your friendly colleague, stops by and gives you the exact same feedback word for word. You get chills up and down your spine as you begin to believe that the proposal really isn't workable. Why is that same message taken to heart this time around? Again, because of the source.

Over the years in working with mentees "interpersonal communication" is among of the top 3 most popular topics brought up. I am always asked for tips on how to better communicate with "difficult people".

We are all taught that effective communication is the burden of the one communicating. If I am trying to get a message across effectively then I must know my audience, understand their perspective and motivations and package my message accordingly. I can do this "message packaging" in the moment or I can prepare for months (for ex. when asking for a raise).

Either way there is an often overlooked tool that is critical in effective communication especially in interpersonal exchanges - and that tool is respect.

In the situation with Tom and Joe above the message being given to you is the same but Joe got through to you when Tom didn't because you know that Joe, unlike Tom, has always approached you with respect. By consistently showing respect Joe has kept his channel of communication clear and open to you. You are able to receive his message without prejudice. Tom's consistent disrespect over time has shut you down. No matter how polite or accurate Tom's feedback is it simply doesn't matter. This is critical to keep in mind in your relationships with others and its correlation to your effectiveness as an influencer and communicator.

Respect doesn't mean you have to agree with or even like the other person. It does mean always keeping in mind that they have a perspective and hold a truth which is just as valid as your perspective and your truth. By consistently approaching your colleagues and your loved ones with respect no matter how incomprehensible their views you will have a strong built-in advantage over time of having your communication more easily heard. And being heard is a necessary first step to being able to successfully influence an outcome.

The tough thing about this tool is that it needs to be consistent over time. Unlike telling stories, using metaphors, selecting the proper modality, etc. in which to package your message the "respect" tool is one that is about your daily attitude and approach. It is a far more difficult communication tool to master and at the same time perhaps the most powerful one.