"I should have put the open creamer in front of the new one," Bob noted.
"Oh, did I open a new one when there was one already open?" I asked. Yes, I had, and that actually was the main point of Bob's comment. I appreciated the reminder to check for open cartons before opening a new one. I welcomed Bob's words as indirectly graceful.
But indirectly graceful communication can sound the same as sarcasm and manipulation. What makes the difference?
I believe two things.
I responded with appreciation. But what if I had sensed an undercurrent? I might have responded with,
Either way, his words provided an opportunity to flip the conversation forward toward continuously improving our life together.
Al lives pretty far from the Waldo Canyon burn area, so it was a surprise to him to discover that whenever he talks to his Colorado Springs clients, all conversations lead to the fire.
It's true. I sought out the conversations wherever I went for about two weeks after we were allowed to return home. Then I didn't need to talk about it anymore, but I did still welcome conversations initiated by others.
People say a lot more with their word choice than most people hear. But Ike's ear was tuned in. When Cindy said, "My son is engaged," he asked how far off the wedding is. The date hadn't been set yet. That didn't surprise Ike. He said, "When it's far off, mothers will refer to an engagement. When it's close in they say, "My son is getting married."
I missed that nuance, but it seemed obvious once ike pointed it out.
Whenever I delegate I wonder - how specific should I be? I want to offer enough guidance to get people on the right track, but not so much that I limit their thinking. People need some input to spark creativity, but too much stifles it. I like to see what people come up with on their own, but if I don't give them anything to go on, they often don't know how to start.
My assistant Angela and I faced this dilemma when we wanted to give people an idea of what to wear to an event she's helping me plan. She told me about a couple who sent out pictures of "maybe not" and "maybe so" clothing choices.
We found some "maybe not" photos, but I was a bit concerned that by posting pics of "maybe so's," we'd limit individual creativity. So instead we posted a picture that represents the event theme.
Here's the picture. It gives the idea of the theme with plenty of room for interpretation, which is what we wanted. We can't wait to see what people decide to wear!
Some ministers will perform weddings with little or no input from the engaged couple. Not Evan. He asks the couple to consider what they want to accomplish in their ceremony, and what ideas they have about how to achieve that. It's a bit of a trick, he confesses, that gets the couple to take ownership of the event. He never says - I want you to take ownership here. He just sets it up so couples do.
Some leaders will lead their company meetings. Not Paul, at Fastcap. Every employee leads the meeting in turn. It's a bit of a trick, to get employees to take ownership of the meetings. He never says - you need to take ownership of this meeting. He just gives them the experience of leading, and they do.
My massage therapist will put aroma oils on her hands and ask me to take a deep breath to absorb the scent. I believe it's a trick, to get me to bring my attention into the room, into my senses, and on what she's doing. She never says - be here now. She just asks me to smell a lovely fragrance and it draws me in.
Last week I asked my assistant to help me with something I was stuck with. She got as stuck with it as I did. I didn't mean it as a trick, but it turned out to be one. When I later had a breakthrough, she was far more able to appreciate the significance for having struggled with it herself. And since then, her input on other things has taken on a new level of depth. I never suggested attempting the project would deepen her understanding. I just asked her to try, she did and it did.
I invited my husband to eat dinner with me. He had been eating at odd times and usually in front of the television. It was a bit of a trick. Interacting nightly over food deepened our relationship. I never asked him to relate at a deeper level with me. I just invited him to share food, and the deepening happened.
It's not manipulation. There's nothing devious about it. While we might not announce the reasons for our actions, we feel no need to hide them either. It's just that some communication challenges are best handled by your trickster.
This week, I led the dance with my dance group. That was a bit of a trick. Experiencing the dance from the side of the facilitator helped me appreciate what the main organizers do. I absolutely intend to arrive on time in the future. The organizers never asked me to arrive on time. The trickster showed me what a difference it makes when you're leading something.
This time, the trick was on me.
Who do you know that could use a visit from the trickster?
I screamed out loud as I watched the Broncos score the winning touchdown in playoff overtime Sunday. I'm not that much of a football fan, but it was such a surprising play - and game - that I was happily engaged. Tim Tebow surprised a lot of people - they thought he was a one-trick pony. And he had been!
He initially threw his opponents off-guard by his ability to run the ball, but "everyone knew" he couldn't pass. So all they had to do was guard close in. That left them open for the throws, but since Tebow couldn't pass, it didn't matter.
Except suddenly it did. When Tebow went from being a one-trick pony to having more options, he became significantly harder to beat. Suddenly the opposition had to focus their defensive efforts over the entire playing field.
The SpeakStrong Method knows the limits of being a one-trick pony. Effective communication skill is often about dissolving defenses. When you have more than one approach to slip past resistance toward the heart of the issue, it becomes more difficult to manipulate, block and defend. If a direct approach creates blocks, instead of pushing harder, often backing off and trying some surprise moves can break the communication habit pattern that is causing so much trouble.
For example, two managers who lock horns in meetings might find their common ground and form an alliance sharing a ride to a conference. I recently heard one manager say he didn't have much use for another manager until they did just that and found their goals converged. If pushing forward in a discussion of a contentious issue creates animosity, it might be time to try a new communication approach and talk about the conversation itself, and how you talk with each other.
One important distinction between football and The SpeakStrong Method of communication is that in communication, we don't dissolve defenses to win over someone. We do it to create clarity and a foundation for effective collaboration. That distinction makes communication a bigger game than football. The Steelers were right to fortify their defenses with every play. In conversation, while there are times when we do need to "play defensively," more often we get more done with collaborative communication skill.
Who knows how Tebow will show up in the next round of playoffs. One thing we haven't seen from Tebow yet that makes for excellence is consistency. Tebow erraticness has made for exciting games, but not predictable ones. But what Sunday's performance clearly demonstrated is, while you can overcome resistance with a single approach for a while, real skill requires being more than a one-trick pony. That is true for communication skill as well.
Rhonda posted an interesting article about her speed-dating experience. In ten "dates," not one man asked her about herself. She has since married a wonderful man, but he triggered her ire when she called home each day while travelling to have him tell her about his day, but never inquire about hers. On day five, Rhonda asked, "Don't you even want to hear about my day?" He noticed his omission, apologized, inquired about her day, and has been more attentive ever since. A success story? Yes... and...
In my way of thinking, if ten men and her wonderful hubby all talk about themselves and don't think to inquire about her, it might be a trait, not a flaw. If the same men were speed-networking with each other instead of speed-dating with the ladies, chances are the conversation would be balanced even if neither party invited the other to talk about themselves. To get irritated and point out the omission paints it as a flaw, and can set up a dynamic where the men in your life ask you about your day, not because they care, but because they don't want to tick you off. Personally, I'd rather have a man who rarely asks, than one who asks because he's afraid of angering me.
Everything we do courts some kind of relationship dynamic. Getting irritated and confronting someone for not behaving the way we think they should courts rebellion or compliance. Is that what you want? CONTINUED
My colleague and coauthor Wendy Mack had no intention of playing seated volleyball in her fine clothes at the Olympic Training Center, where she spoke recently. But when asked to, she was willing to sit on the court with the rest of the spectators. And she was willing to sit in a circle when asked. And she was willing to toss the ball around the circle. Before she knew it, she and everyone there was crawling around the floor like crabs having a blast playing "wounded Warrier Volleyball."
The instructer won the full cooperation of everyone there by inviting them to take small steps. And they were glad they did.
Sometimes skillful communication is more about setting conditions where people will do what you want than it is about diecting them.
Wendy tells this story in addition to two practical articles about change communication in her latest newsletter. It's really well done, so check it out.
It's common wisdom that you don't use email for touchy conversations, isn't it?
I've been rethinking that one. Every situation is different, but more recently I've decided if I have something to tell an associate that might be difficult to hear, email is actually a good way to communicate - IF - I make it clear I plan to follow-up verbally and invite them to call if they prefer.
Too often people use email to hit-and-run. They chose it to avoid dealing with someone's reaction and to have the last word.
But I think email explanations with an invitation to talk about a situation actually allows the other person the time to collect themselves and respond gracefully and thoughtfully. It can give them the chance to consider alternatives and even uncover possible flaws in my logic.
I've used it this way recently, and it worked the way I intended. Both times the recipient thanked me for my thoughtful email and was ready to have an open conversation about the situation I raised. Both times they actually agreed and were glad to have the opportunity to respond by saying basically the same thing from their perspective.
So don't rule out email for INITIATING touchy conversations. But don't hide behind it either.
I'm listening to a line in the song "It's a Wonderful World" and this line stands out for me.
I used to be too literal to hear the real meaning of those words. I missed a lot. And I've opened up to:
in the same way.
Page 1 of 2
I blog daily when I have a lot to say. When I don't have much to say, I stay silent. Kind of how it outta be, don't you think? Lots of great communication tips.
Subscribe in a reader
Want the blog posts delivered to your email? Enter your email address.FeedBurner will take care of the rest.
Delivered by FeedBurner
Speak STRONG, Inc. 4265 Outpost Road, Cascade, CO, 80809 Tel: (719) 684-2633
Collaborative communication skills for today's busy workplace