5 Ways to Help Employees Communicate

Virtual communication has changed the way employees communicate, presenting major advantages and some new challenges. Today’s mobile workforce have an amazing array of technologies available at their fingertips to connect themselves with other workers, customers, competitors, and resources available across the world. On the flip side, many things get lost in communication when it’s not face-to-face.

Every day, hundreds of emails, voicemails, meetings, and text messages bury employees in an information avalanche. But the sharing of information is not communicating. To quote George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Leaders must build strong communication habits that will help organizations and employees thrive in the era of virtual communications.

As many people struggle to build rapport in person, it can become extremely challenging in a virtual scenario where you may not see your teammates, customers, or sellers frequently. Without face-to-face chats in the hallway or break room, building trust gets difficult. In order to build rapport through virtual channels:

1.   Be proactive. Initiate informal check-in calls with colleagues or employees on a routinely basis to keep yourself and everyone else in the loop.

2.  Engage informally. Allow colleagues to become more comfortable with you by engaging informally by phone, chat, email, or Skype.

3.  Advertise accessibility. Make sure that people who work from different locations know when you’re available and how best to access you.

4.  Know the gatekeepers and problem-solvers. Develop a friendly rapport with the people who can keep you in the know and offer help when you need it.

5.  Know your audience. Pay attention to people’s communication styles. If you’re working with someone whose style you don’t understand or find unproductive, ask for what you need. Knowing and respecting how others like to communicate can help build trust and rapport relatively quickly.

Once you’ve established this set of habits for virtual interaction, productivity will jump as your team’s communication becomes more effective and connected, each receiving the information and solidarity necessary to succeed at the starting gate. Clearer communication also means stronger relationships with colleagues—more teamwork, less friction, and a strong sense of mission. Say goodbye to the disconnected chaos of your online workspace, and welcome the efficiencies of well-crafted virtual communications.

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Improve Interpersonal Communication Skills by Tuning Out the Noise

As we conclude this three-part series on spring-cleaning our communications habits, I want to focus on improving interpersonal communication skills by examining differing communication styles. We will take a look at two style divides that can result in lost perspective, frustration, and conflict.

During the past 20 years, I have observed a lot of interpersonal conflict at work. Much of it is completely unintentional and unnecessary. Interpersonal conflict, when poorly managed, leads to unproductive, toxic environments. The saddest thing about workplace conflict is that it often is rooted in style differences—differences that are inherently good and, when recognized, can turn into complementary team skills that improve overall productivity and quality of work, not to mention enjoyment and fulfillment.

Let’s look first at the divide over energy preference: introversion versus extraversion. If you ever have taken a personality test (MBTI, DiSC, etc.) you probably identified a preference for one or the other. Simply put, those who prefer introversion draw their energy from reflection—they enjoy quiet time to sort out their thoughts. They tend to prefer longer, deeper conversations with fewer people. They prefer to think through their words before speaking them.

On the other hand, people who prefer extraversion gather their energy from external surroundings and feedback. They push their own energy out as a means of getting more. They often process externally (thinking-out–loud). They prefer high-energy environments and lively conversation, and they are quite comfortable in dynamic conversations. Extraverts generally feel comfortable shooting from the hip and speaking extemporaneously.

Neither preference is better than the other, and both provide great value—so what’s the big deal? Comfort really. Introverts and extraverts can make each other really uncomfortable. Below are some common assessments that create division: 

  • Introverts reacting to Extraverts:
    • They never shut up.
    • They interrupt.
    • They are phony.
    • They are shallow.
    • They can’t be trusted.

 

  • Extraverts reacting to Introverts:
    • They never talk.
    • They are so slow.
    • They keep secrets.
    • They are critical.
    • They can’t be trusted.

 

Another frequent divide that affects interpersonal communication skills is the one over judging and perceiving. These Myers-Briggs terms simplistically refer to preferences for how we interact with the world. Those with a judging preference like to bring closure to things, while those with the perceiving preference like keeping things open. “Judgers” like to get things done. They have a natural awareness and focus on time, tasks, progress, and so forth. They are driven toward completion, and they feel a great deal of stress relief at crossing tasks off their list.

Alternately, perceivers like a little more flexibility and spontaneity. They prefer to keep options open, always looking for a better, more complete, and more perfect choice. They tend to be less focused on time constraints and are more naturally open to investigate new ideas, gather information, and work through multiple scenarios to determine the best option. At times they may have to be pushed to make a decision.

After looking at these brief descriptions, it is easy to see how differing styles can result in conflict. Both styles accomplish work; however, they go about it very differently. That might be fine if we didn’t all have to work together—this is where the rub comes in. It isn’t uncommon for judgers to come to a status meeting with their to-do lists checked off while perceivers come with ideas for a completely new solution. It creates frustration on both sides of the table:

Judgers reacting to Perceivers:

  • They are always late.
  • They never finish anything.
  • They hold up the entire process.
  • They can’t be trusted.

 

Perceivers reacting to Judgers:

  • They are rigid.
  • They never listen to anything.
  • They make rash decisions.
  • They can’t be trusted.


 

It’s all about trust

If you find yourself in a place of interpersonal conflict and your assessments line up on either side of these lists, you may be experiencing style-based conflict. If you are frustrated, so is the other person. For every negative assessment you have against him, he has a reciprocal criticism for you. Through the lens of your own styles, you learn not to trust the other, and conflict emerges.

If this is resonating with you, great! Once you’re aware of a style-based conflict, you can master it. You can tune out the noise that your own style creates by valuing the contributions of the other person and working to improve your interpersonal communication skills. For example, if you are an extravert and you have been critical of a co-worker who is slow to share in meetings or takes a long time to get her thoughts out, reframe your negative assessment into a positive one: “Jane likes to choose her words carefully, and if I really pay attention I bet what she says will be valuable.” Or, go even further and let someone know in advance for what questions you would like input. Both of these small actions minimize the potential for conflict. Simply reframing your negative thoughts changes how you react and creates new possibilities for the relationship.

For more information on communication styles and resolving workplace conflict, visit http://www.exceleratecomm.com.

Improve Communication Skills With a Positive “No”

Last week I started a series on de-cluttering your communications habits to create more effective results. In this post I will share tips to improve your communication skills by learning to decline more powerfully and positively. For a lot of people, saying “no” is really hard. For others, saying “no” gracefully seems next to impossible—yet both situations have disastrous implications.

“No” is a leadership word. To be effective in any type of leadership role, we must master the art of the decline. More importantly, the ability to decline with grace has the multi-pronged benefit of reducing your to-do list while preserving relationships and building trust with one other.

So why is it so hard? From an early age experience taught us that “yes” made people happier while “no” might very well land us in our room without dessert. At work, we often are asked to do things in a rhetorical manner … as if no isn’t an option. And when we do say “no” we may experience what we perceive as negative consequences. So how can we say “no” in a way that yields truly positive results?

Start by understanding that every time you say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else. “Yes, I will stay late and finish the report,” often means, “No, I cannot get home in time to make a healthy meal, so I will have to serve pizza.” Taking the time to think through what your “yes” and “no” really mean will help you to prioritize what is important and to learn when it is optimal to say “no.” It’s not in anyone’s best interest for you to sacrifice your health and home life for work.

Clarifying the request often is a great way to create a win-win situation wherein you can say “no” to the actual request and help the requestor meet his needs at the same time. For example, your boss might ask you to stay late to meet a deadline the following day. Discovering the details can help you to plan your decline. I encourage my clients to think about the end game and consider what you can say “yes” to. Tell the requestor what you can do instead of what you can’t do: “I can have the report to you by 10 a.m. tomorrow; however, I cannot stay past 5:30 tonight.”

Negotiating priorities is another strategy for improving communication when you deliver a decline. When we clarify the implications of a request and engage in dialogue about priorities, the requestor often will modify the request or change the circumstances. This is especially true in the area of managing workloads. For example: “I would like to be able to help with your request. Would you prefer I set aside the other work I have? It may push out other deadlines; however, it would free me up to work on this new project.”

Of course we all have known people who just don’t seem to accept “no,” or we have been in situations where a flat out “no” was the only appropriate response. It is important to handle your decline with respect, clarity, firmness, and friendliness. Mae West makes one of the truest statements about improving communication skills, and it is never more important to remember than when we are saying “no.” “It isn’t what you do, but how you do it. It isn’t what you say, but how you say it, and how you look when you do it and say it.” If you have to say “no,” chose your words, tone of voice, and facial expression carefully. Declining a request to work late could go as follows: “I am not available to work late this evening. I know that report is important, so what can I do to help between now and 5 o’clock?”

There are a multitude of techniques for creating powerful and positive declines. Underlying all of them is clarity around what you value and how you demonstrate respect for the requestor. For more information on what to say and how to say it, visit http://www.exceleratecomm.com/tools-resources/#say. Join us next week to learn how individual style can get in the way of clear communication, and how to improve communication skills by tuning out the noise on three common style-related challenges.