3 Steps of Effective Communication

March 2, 2017

I often do an exercise at the start of my training sessions that highlight the similarities and differences between four of the most common personality types. There are many assessments available on the market that do something similar, but knowing you are different from someone else does not necessarily help you to better communicate with them. Without specific guidance on how this information should be used, people may begin to use their assessment results as a license to behave in a certain way – almost as if they “can’t help it”. If we aren’t careful, it may begin to color how others see us as well.

We’ve all heard (and been guilty of saying), “She’s emotional,” or “He’s bull-headed,” or “She’s always so black and white” or “He’s got his head in the clouds”. Oftentimes, we generalize people because of their communication style, so learning to communicate more effectively not only improves your relationships with others, but it also improves your overall reputation among your colleagues and loved ones. 

  1. Effective communication starts with awareness. You must know your own tendencies, both strengths and weaknesses, so that you can focus your energy on improving the more detrimental components of your ‘natural’ style. As I often say to my clients, “You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know there is a problem”. So, using a basic personality assessment can be a good first step in creating that awareness. Once there is clarity around a person’s style, you can begin to talk about how that style is perceived by those who do not see the world in the same way. This exercise is not meant to label “right vs. wrong” or “good vs. bad”. It is simply meant to provide people with information about where some of the speed bumps or landmines may be located when talking with others – a roadmap of sorts.
  2. Based on this information, people can choose to put effort and energy into seeking an alternate route and avoiding hurtful words/behaviors, rather than using that same amount of energy to clear up a misunderstanding or mend a damaged relationship on the backend. As you can see, people make a choice about where they will place their efforts. So, the second step to effective communication is creating a value proposition for adjusting your natural style.  In other words, identifying the ‘what’s in it for me’.
  3. The final step in this process is creating an environment/culture in which good communication can occur. We spend a lot of time talking about this at the Supervisor & Manager Training Course held three times a year through the Michigan Chamber. This is the hardest step and it’s where people typically stumble and fall. The scars people carry from conversations gone wrong can heavily influence their willingness to engage in difficult conversations in the future. As a result, we resort to ineffective strategies like:
    • Ignoring the issue and hoping it goes away,
    • Telling others about the issue, but not discussing it with the person directly,
    • Hiding behind how busy we are,
    • Asking someone else to intervene on our behalf, and
    • Sending an email rather than having a conversation.

This is when teams begin to break down and customer service begins to suffer. To combat these tendencies, people must be trained to manage perceived motives, regulate tone and body language, develop shared goals/purpose and effectively diffuse anger and/or defensiveness. If this is something you are currently struggling with, join us for an upcoming Supervisor & Manager Training Course to learn more about how to improve communication on your team. 

Contributed by Jodi Schafer, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Human Resource Management Services, LLC.