Tips for Professional Communication
A great many of us had the opportunity to attend the recent communication workshop, “The Essentials of Communicating with Diplomacy and Professionalism,” presented by Skillpath. The question is, though, how many of us are now regularly applying what we learned? In this article, for those who attended the workshop, I hope to refresh your memories on some of the key points presented, and for those who were unable to attend the workshop, I hope to give you the highlights of what we learned. Good communication is a tough assignment, but certainly one worth our best efforts.
Overcoming Obstacles to Good Communication
We learned that the most common obstacles to good communication, when we are under pressure, are not being able to control our emotions, prejudices, fears, and body language. The solution to controlling all of these is mainly to be aware of them and then to do the following five things:
- Remain objective (hint: pause and take a long, deep breath before you talk)
- Ask questions
- Concentrate on common ground
- Create common ground (if necessary)
Being assertive when needed
One tool that we were given to help us be assertive when something needs to be expressed (especially unpleasant things) is to use the formula IRA.
I = I need
R = the reason
A = the appreciation
For example using this formula might look as simple as this, “I need you to be in the office promptly at 8:00 when our first customers arrive. Thank you.”
When we are communicating in writing (especially if it is a sensitive situation), it will help if the communication is clear, concise, correct, and kind. This also applies to email messages.
If you are giving instructions, the principle key is to have a clear understanding of the end result. The expectations need to be clearly explained; having them in writing is even better. The person you are giving instructions to also needs to know how much authority he or she has in getting the project completed as well as what he or she is accountable for (benchmarks along the way, deadlines, etc.).
Here is another nice little formula that we learned that comes in especially handy when you have to say no to someone. It is USA.
U = understand
S = the situation
A = an alternative
Your statement might be something like this: “I understand X (X=your paraphrasing of what they are asking you to do). Here is the situation (explain the policy, etc.). Here is what I can do instead…. You should then repeat this (in different forms) as many times as necessary.
This formula can be used with those above you as well as with those below you. If you are using the formula with those below you, offering an alternative is optional; however, if you are using it with someone above you, an alternative should always be offered.
Delivering Bad News
When you must deliver bad news, it is best to deliver it in person if possible. You should show empathy (expressions such as “I regret that…”), deliver the bad news, and then listen to the other person. Listening can be difficult because there are many things that get in the way of being a good listener, such as environmental distractions (other people, telephones, email, or lack of interest), emotions, accents, and your own good ideas (i.e., planning what you are going to say next).
We were given 6 keys for effective listening:
- Tune in
- Ask for an overview statement
- Take notes
- Notice the speaker’s delivery style, but don’t take it too seriously
- Repeat the message back—in your own words
- Take a moment to consider before responding
Dealing with the Rambler
So what do you do if you have limited time and the person coming to talk to you is a rambler? It was suggested that you:
- Make an agreement up front (example, “I can only give you 5 minutes right now”)
- Give the person advanced warning that the time is almost up (examples: close your book, stand up, hold up your hand)
- Focus the topic
- Interrupt when the limits are up
Responding to Criticism
Another formula that we were given might be useful to all of us when we need to address legitimate criticism of us. The formula is AAA:
Address the mistake (example: “You’re right….”)
Accept responsibility (example: “It won’t happen again.”)
In the workshop, we did an exercise that helped us learn our own behavioral style. I have found that it helps to not only know my own style, but also to know the style of the people that I communicate with on a regular basis. There are many different tools on the market for assessing this, but the one that was used by Skillpath referenced Dr. Tony Alessandra (www.alessandra.com). Based on this tool, there are four types:
- like personal relationships, want to know what others think, and are team players
- like being involved, have high energy, and are enthusiastic
- like organization, getting things right, and problem solving
- like control, are competitive, efficient, and decisive
Relators and Socializers usually have an “open” behavior, which means they are more people oriented and show their feelings freely. Thinkers and Directors usually have a “guarded” behavior, meaning that they are more independent, private, and aloof.
This is the nutshell version of behavioral styles. We were cautioned not to stereotype or generalize. Within limits, people tend to adapt to the roles that are required of them, regardless of their type. Still, I think it helps us relate and communicate better if we are aware of each others preferred styles.
There was one last, but important thing that I gained from this workshop. We were told that the most important motivator for most employees is appreciation. Here is a formula to help us remember to let people know that they are appreciated: the ART of appreciation.
A = appreciate
R = reason
T = thank you
Here is a simple example. “I really appreciate the fact that you stayed late to finish this project. Thank you so much.”
According to Dawn Lehman, the trainer for the workshop session that I attended, 85% of our success is based upon our ability to communicate well; only 15% is based upon our technical skills. That should motivate all of us to strive harder to increase our communication skills.
If you'd like to print a postable copy of these formulas, click the following link.