Nina Spencer

It Only Takes One to Improve Office Communications

I recently attended a dinner party where I observed a situation common to workplace communications. Most of us were meeting for the first time so our host worked hard to provocatively bring us together in conversation but he often responded to others' comments with, "that's the wrong thing to say...the right thing is....", and, "you should have...".

Conflicts erupted, and by evening's end one irate guest accused our host of having a hidden agenda. "You've grossly misunderstood me", he said. Each polarized around their own position, blamed the other for their hurt feelings, and the evening was over! Both thought they were right but neither ended up happy.

How many times have we witnessed similar conflicts at work? Two people clash, each convinced they're right, and neither accepts responsibility for the resulting strife. It would only take one to choose more considered words and positive voice tone to reduce conflict, but neither backs down. Unfortunately, many bright, accomplished individuals never consider how "blaming" language leaves a trail of hurt feelings that reduce harmony and productivity. Negative communication amongst managers reduces their ability to lead and inspire.

People need practice learning new patterns of communications that are positive and assertive (not aggressive) in getting their point across. People need to embrace mind sets that assume 100% responsibility for the outcome of their interactions if they sincerely desire to improve their communication outcomes. Training will significantly impact skill understanding, development and transference. Emphasis these critical areas in your training sessions:

  • Positive Word Choice. Placing emphasis on what you do want gains better response than placing it on what you don't want. People often say, "don't forget..." A more effective choice of words could be, "Remember to...". Similarly, they say, "I like your idea but...". What follows negates the praise. Employees need to find ways of speaking that acknowledge others' work and value while still getting their point across (³I like your idea and... I have a few other suggestions"). It's remarkable how such simple changes can powerfully impact a workplace.
  • Empathic Response. It's basic customer service training to acknowledge and affirm the feelings of angry customers. Employees can apply this principle with workplace colleagues. Reiterate the perceived feelings component of the other's emotional expression first, and address the actual facts, second. Additionally, back to positive word choice, by saying, "I've not made myself clear", instead of, "you've misunderstood me", the communicator takes 100% responsibility for the results of their communication rather than placing blame (which often leads to defensiveness and further communication breakdown). People won't necessarily realize why they prefer this communication style, but they will realize that it's easier resolving conflict and working with this kind of communicator.
  • Voice Tone. Tone communicates a message that is even more powerful than the chosen words. Most people don't think of practicing how they sound, as well as what they say.

Whether dealing with colleagues or external customers, organizations can strongly influence their employees' mind set by encouraging personal responsibility and personal leadership for embracing "It only takes one" thinking.

It takes ongoing coaching and reinforcement and, in the end, it will inspire employees to continuously and consciously reflect on how their attitude and communication style impacts their happiness and workplace.