You can go to any book store and find a plethora of books on the “latest and greatest” perspective on to effectively communicate with individuals, teams, and entire organizations. When you sort through all of them you will find five common benchmarks to have a successful conversation.
Know Your Message: How many times have you had a conversation with a manager and later walked away more confused than you were before the meeting? In many cases, the manager knows the problem, but does not develop a game plan to make sure her or she covers the important items. How often do you jump into a crucial conversation without first making a plan presenting you how and where the conversation will go? It is important when you need to share important information that you first make a game plan. Write down what you need to cover. Make a check off sheet if necessary, but ensure all important items are included. This is especially important if the other person in the discussion is good at distraction and redirection when bad news is coming. A game plan helps you focus and ensure at the end of the conversation everything that must be said has been said.
The Right Time: How often do managers interrupt someone in the middle of an important project, or task, to throw a lot of information at the person on another unrelated subject The target person is now distracted, loses track, and nothing gets completed. Many managers say, “Well, it was important, and I needed to tell them the information right then.” Unless it was a life or death situation then it could wait. Many managers say it was incredibly important just so they can check off their in-box saying the relayed the information. Well, that’s not a conversation, it’s a cop out. If it is an important conversation then it should be given the proper weight. Waite and have the conversation at the right time, right place and one-on-one. Both you and the person deserve to have an undistracted conversation. Go to an office and lock the door if necessary to ensure privacy. DO NOT HAVE CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS IN FRONT OF OTHER COWORKERS.
Know How to Talk: Communication is a two way street. Many managers believe effective communication is telling the other person what they are doing wrong. Then they are shocked when the other person says, “Well, let me tell you about your miserable performance as a manger.” Sometimes the manager believes yelling is a better way to get his or her point across. If you believe this is the correct style of management I have three words for you: Hostile Work Environment. Your lawyer will clue you in after the paperwork is served, by your humble public servant, requesting your appearance in court, along with your checkbook. A crucial conversation should be as calm as possible. Make your point in a professional manner and move on to the next one. Being a bully does not win you points, it only makes you look weak and cowardly.
Ensure Understanding: This is where many managers mess up. They do not know how to ensure the other person actually heard the message. Many people feel acquired saying, “Now, what did I say?” The military has brief backs before missions to ensure everyone understands the message before the mission. They do this because somewhere after the first minute people begin to tune out. The pay more attention if they know they are going to be asked to repeat what was said. It is critical that you ask people to summarize, or tell you specifically, the conversation that you had. This way it ensures that the other person did not misinterpret what you said. For example, they will not believe they are getting a pay raise when you are docking their pay. Don’t laugh; it has happened to people before. Entire comedy shows are developed around the concept of one person misinterpreting what another person said. By asking the person to repeat what you said you ensure proper understanding. It is the most critical, and underutilized, skill a manager must master to have effective conversations.
Follow Up: Now that you have had the conversation and ensured proper understanding, it is time to schedule a follow up. Set the date 30, 60, and 90 days out. After 30 days you should see the biggest changes in regards to your conversation. After 60 days, most of the problems should have gone away and changes sticking. After 90 days changes in behavior should now be engrained. Along the way, continue to have shorter conversations tweaking what you discussed in your original crucial conversation.
If you are to be an effective manager you must master the five skills outlined in this blog. The choice is yours and rewards for becoming a master communicator are also yours.