Our workday lives and workplaces are daily exercises in challenging conversations. From feedback and coaching discussions to interchanges with coworkers who can say, “Yes” or “No” to your requests for resources, process changes, budgetary allocations or fresh ideas, there’s no end to the critical communication situations we encounter at work. While there are many tools, techniques, and approaches to use to gain support or get your way, I find that just a few common-sense, authentic communication tactics improve your success and strengthen your credibility as well.
5 Communication Tactics that Show You Care:
1. Listen So Hard, It Makes You Sweat
Tom Peters offers in his outstanding book, The Excellence Dividend, “If you’re not exhausted after a conversation, you weren’t listening hard enough.” Tom is right. Nothing is more important than pushing everything out of your mind at the moment and focusing on the person speaking to you. By doing this, you stand a chance of understanding and ultimately building an empathy bridge with the person. Additionally, listening carefully to someone is a sincere form of showing respect. There is no better tool for defusing tension and gaining support than showing someone you genuinely respect them.
When you engage, deliberately stop thinking about what you are going to say or forming your argument in your mind. And while difficult to do, it’s important to shut down your filters and pre-established biases. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the person or think he’s a jerk because of how he treated you in that team meeting, lock down the voice in your head and concentrate, and you’ll learn a great deal you can use to gain cooperation.
2. Ask Questions that Show You Care
Questions are a powerful leadership and communication tool; however, they can work against you if the other party feels they’re on trial with your inquisitor’s style. Deliver questions with a genuine desire to understand someone’s situation as well as their ideas, fears, and hopes. It’s amazing how showing someone you care about their point-of-view will increase your credibility and gain their cooperation.
3. When the Response Suggests Stress or Fear, Label and Ask
Try, “I have the sense this idea is stressful for you. What’s going on?” or, “I can tell this is something that makes you uncomfortable. How can I help you?”
I encourage people to experiment with labeling and asking approaches and adapt the technique to their specific situation. You might learn that your label was wrong, but you’ll also learn something that will help you move the dialog to the next step.
4. “No” is a Great Response for You to Hear
Early in my career, I worked for a global firm where it was important to understand that “No” was an invitation to continue the discussions. The culture lived by the “3 no’s on the way to yes” philosophy. I learned with some practice to navigate the process and appreciate the early rejection as a sign of progress instead of a barrier. In my new, favorite book on negotiation, Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss, there’s even a chapter on this concept, titled, “Beware Yes, Master No.”
Your job when facing a “no” or a series of “no’s” is to dig deeper and strive to understand the individual’s situation and why a “No” answer makes sense to them at that moment. I once used this approach in a series of discussions with a senior leader in another unit inside this global giant to gain his approval for unprecedented product sharing.
5. Remember, We Make Decisions on Emotions, Not Logic
Your impeccably developed business case crafted with air-tight logic and backed by practically irrefutable facts doesn’t stand a chance if it strikes a negative emotional chord with the individual who holds power to approve or reject it.
I learned this lesson the hard way as an over-eager product manager convinced I had my hands on the pulse of a new market, only to have my business case shot down by a top manager. I learned later this manager had pursued a venture in that very segment earlier in his career, only to have it blow up and cost his firm a great deal of money and him a great deal of embarrassment. Without understanding and working to navigate that emotional reality, my great business case was doomed.
Remember, logic and data don’t sway, emotions carry the day. (OK, I know my future as a poet is not bright! Just focus on the point.)
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Every person you encounter wants to feel like the most important person in the conversation. Life and work are a little easier if you genuinely let them know how interested you are in their thoughts, hopes, concerns, and aspirations. Listen hard, engage with genuine curiosity and pile on the respect and a desire to make their situation better and you’ll be amazed how easily doors to progress open for you at work.