The workplace is an absolute hive of face to face communication. It goes on all the time, everywhere. But that doesn’t mean it’s effective. You can create effective face to face communication at work by following these steps.
1. Talk With Purpose
Whenever you talk to a colleague or employee about work, have a good reason for doing so. It may be to solve a problem, resolve a difference of opinion, obtain an opinion, give instructions or just gain information. Your talk may be formal or informal. Whatever your purpose, try to achieve something specific.
2. Avoid the Word “Why”
You’ve probably been told about the virtue of using “Why?” You’ve been misinformed. When you ask “why?” you’ll get opinions, explanations or defensiveness. You’ll rarely get useful information. Ask “what?”, “how?”, “when?”, “who?”, “which?”. If your questions don’t generate useful information, you’re wasting your time. If you must ask “Why?” only do so after you’ve asked the “What?”, “How?”, “When?”, “Who?”, “Which?” questions. Once you get answers to these, you’ll probably have a reasonable idea about “Why” anyway.
3. Always Paraphrase
To paraphrase is to repeat in your own words the words of the person you’re speaking with. Many people have trouble saying what they mean simply and unambiguously. The ideas in their minds don’t necessarily translate into cogent sentences. They’ll welcome empathetic paraphrasing to help them clarify their thoughts. Develop the habit of using phrases such as, “Are you saying…?” or “Do you mean…?” or “Let me make sure I’m clear about this …” Be careful not to assume you know what the other person means without checking.
4. Cliches Kill Cogent Communications
One of the worst communications clichés is “My door is always open”. I often wonder about the unspoken next sentences such as “But don’t enter” or “If you do come in only tell me what will please me”. Conversational clichés are rife in business today. Avoid trendy jargon and clichés in face to face communications. They are often misunderstood. And they may suggest that you’re not really interested in listening.
5. Gain Understanding
Seek understanding frequently and constantly. Ask the person you’re talking with to paraphrase what you’re saying too. Take care. Asking “Do you understand?” or “Know what I mean?” almost invariably is answered “Yes”. That’s because the employee either wants to please you or doesn’t want to appear dumb. The listening issue won’t arise if you follow these tips. When they say “Yes” ask them to use their own words to repeat their understanding. You may be surprised …!
6. Reflect Feelings
If the person you’re talking with is angry, upset or emotional, acknowledge the emotions. Never ever say “Calm down!” Incidentally, avoid “I know how you feel” too. Say “It seems that you’re unhappy …” or “I accept that … bothers you” or “You feel that you’ve been unfairly treated.” Until upset employees believe that you acknowledge their feelings as valid and real, they simply won’t calm down. Good face to face communication will be impaired.
7. Value Silence
“When you ask a question, shut up!” Avoid the temptation to fill silences with words. And persist. Keep asking and paraphrasing answers until you get a useful reply.
The basics of sound face to face communications aren’t hard to learn. But in the urgency and cut and thrust of daily business, it’s easy to forget them. It’s not about being “touchy/feelie”. It’s about getting useful, accurate, valuable information. Be focused, patient, persistent and sensitive. As manager, you’ll be the main beneficiary.
What To Do Now
For just one week, do this. Every time an employee tells you something practise your paraphrasing. And every time you tell an employee to do something ask them to repeat what you’ve asked in their own words. I guarantee that you” be surprised …. pleasantly or not is another question. And try to eliminate any question starting with “Why?”