One of the most frequently requested services I provide is coaching and training support in an effort to conduct more improved communication and conducting more effective conversations at work. While everyone seems to appreciate the importance and usefulness of the ability to effectively communicate, this critical ability it is often referred to in an almost disparaging manner as ‘soft skills’ (My preference is to describe these abilities as ‘non-technical’ skills’).
Most people are overly focused on getting work done and the interpersonal skills required to work well with other people well gets second (or third or fourth) billing. However, if you are looking to have more effective conversations, you can!
Here are some specific things that you can do:
- If you have something specific to say, start with it rather than starting out with a general topic and trying to move to your specific point. You risk never getting to the specific and real reason you wanted to talk.
- You are not helping anyone by starting out with upbeat and positive comments if you are planning to follow them up with negative comments. Difficult negative things are best said right away. Often, the very act of saying them will reduce their threatening quality and the anxiety in the situation. It is much more important to end on a positive note than to begin on one.
- Try not to allow the other person to run away from your point. It is important to use concrete examples of the point you want to get across. When you use examples, make every effort to tie them back to the main point and explain the connection as you see it. If actual examples of’ the point you are trying to make occur during the conference – make every effort to point that out when they happen.
- If you reach an impasse and want to break it or change the direction of the conversation, try sharing your own feelings as you are experiencing them, right on the spot, in the conversation. Try telling the other person how the discussion is making you feel.
- Ask questions because you genuinely want information that you don’t have. Don’t asking questions for the purpose of confirming things that you already believe. Don’t “test” people.
- Work to communicate clearly and directly. Don’t allow people to assume what you mean – explain to them the thought processes you went through to get to the statement you are making. Conversely, don’t make assumptions about what is being said to you; ask for explanations, connections, examples, or clarifications.
- Try to stay with the other person. Listen and concentrate on what is being said while it is being said, rather than thinking ahead to what you will say in response. Try to concentrate on them rather than on you.
- Try not to say ”yes” or “ok” as a way to terminate discussion on a point when what you really mean is “no” or “I don’t want to talk about that now.”
- Try to be succinct with points you need to make: frequently a point is lost in overkill with language.
- When delivering a necessary but difficult, negative, or hard message, work to avoid softening or diluting the content. Instead, try softening or gentling your mode of presentation. The idea is that while the content must be paid attention to, you will be with the person to help. The topic may be a difficult one but you can work through it together.
- Try not to jump too quickly to solutions to a problem from your point of view. Make sure through the discussion that you and the other person have correctly identified, most importantly, agreed upon the definition of the problem. Answers or solutions that are genuine and lasting will more likely arise from the person, or you and the person, rather than from you separately. While you may be able to identify the condition that isn’t working, what is causing it and how to correct it depends on good information and involvement from the person it concerns (namely THEM!).
- Eliciting information from others and listening skills are important. How the person has received and understood your input (and vice versa) is crucial to the concept of ownership. Ask open ended questions that allow for a deeper level of understanding (rather than questions than can be answered by either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer).
- In order to realistically deal with an area of weakness or a skill in need of development, a person may need to see some strength that they possess which would help them compensate in the area of concern. You can help by pointing out strengths you observe and how they might be employed to an advantage. Again the person needs to discuss these points with you sufficiently so that they begin to appreciate the qualities and see the possibilities for crossover themselves. Take the needed time to have a substantive discussion of their strengths.
- People tend to see a performance evaluation or assessment conversation as an event rather than part of the communication process. Don’t fall into that trap.
- Defensiveness on your part does not frequently help the process even though it is a natural reaction. In order to reduce the feeling of defensiveness in response (which is the only way you will be able to avoid acting on it) try the following: inhale deeply, ask for more information from the other person about the topic, listen to what they say, (if you can) separate yourself from the problem, and keep extending yourself in order to determine what is at issue. Try not to make assumptions, take on or lay blame and try to resolve the issue too quickly.
Ty one of these actions and make it a focus of your communications behavior until you can do it without a lot of preparation and forethought. Then add another behavior. There are a lot of ‘moving parts’ to improving the skills involved in effective communication having productive conversations.
When you work on improving critical interpersonal skills that get daily use, you will see your effectiveness improve on a daily basis as well.