Nightmares in Workplace Communications

Can I have a few do-overs, please?

Most of us have a few communication moments in our careers that we would like to either do-over or erase from our brains’ memories. Here are a few of mine:

All of my early career “feedback” discussions were more like me practicing counseling without a license. They went on for hours and ended up nowhere. Or worse.

The board meeting where the chairman loudly proclaimed to our management team, “You don’t trust each other enough to make the hard calls.” I argued vociferously. That was stupid. He was right.

The meeting early in my career (first-time manager) where the VP announced the strategy shift and I knew to my core it was wrong, but I choose not to speak up. It killed that business within a few years.

The time I “re-introduced” two senior managers to each other when I perceived they hadn’t been talking. It seemed so right at the time. They started talking with each other right after they unloaded on me.

When I attempted to explain the new strategy to my team and was shocked, they didn’t all buy-in right away. My thought: It’s so obvious. Reality: it wasn’t apparent to them at all.

The overseas negotiation activity where I misperceived their approach as overly aggressive and I failed to take into account the cultural differences in handling these situations.

While it’s known that our brains have the remarkable capacity to block out or tame the lousy memories and enhance the good ones, all of those above and a few others from challenging situations earlier in my career, still rent a fair amount of space.

Chances are, you have a few of these as well.

Communication Help from a Mentor

I’m forever grateful for the senior executive who saw something in me other than my ability to muck-up tough conversations, and took the time to teach me how to really communicate at work.

He started by teaching me to listen and observe before opening my mouth.

He taught me to use empathy to help break down resistance.

He practically shoved me into the mode of seeing situations through the eyes of those I was striving to persuade.

He taught me the importance in the workplace of not arguing endlessly over positions and instead focusing my efforts on uncovering interests.

And, he taught me the power of passion and engagement when presenting to groups.

Those were and are great lessons. But there was a lot more to learn.

The Liberating Power of Confidently Tackling Challenging Conversations

Once you get a taste of how liberating it is not to dread challenging communication situations, you want more.

I took the early career lessons from my mentor and invested considerable time, money, and practice in learning more and growing my communication skills.

I learned to design feedback and feed-forward discussions that promote high-performance.

I uncovered approaches to stopping the swirl of group discussions

Almost by accident, I learned the power of strategic message design for high-stakes communication situations.

And, vowing not to repeat that mistake I saw earlier in my career, I learned to grow comfortable talking about the workplace’s significant issues (especially around strategy) with all of my colleagues. 

My Favorite Communication Resources: 

I tripped across Dr. Mark Goulston a few years ago, along with his fabulous books, Just Listen, and Talking to Crazy. Dr. Goulston’s research and psychology backed approaches are game-changers. As my clients know, I recommend his books regularly.

Chris Voss has written the best book on negotiation I’ve encountered in a long time: Never Split the Difference. Every communicator should be well steeped in understanding how to negotiate. While I practice a slightly different form of this for internal “ask” situations, Chris’s content is fantastic.

I appreciate Kim Scott’s Radical Candor a great deal. It’s a variant of Ram Charan’s “robust dialog,” and I’m a fan!

Edward De Bono’s Six Thanking Hats offers a frame for the best group facilitation approach I’ve ever encountered. You don’t have to use the funny colored hats, but the logic of guiding people through parallel thinking steps is fantastic.

Phil M. Jones’ book, Exactly What to Say, is a quick read filled with wisdom on gaining support from others. There’s a sales bent to the examples, but most of life and work is about selling, so that’s fine. 

This is the Part Where I Share My Solution

OK, you knew there was going to be a pitch here somewhere. It’s a soft pitch.

First, no matter where you go or what you do, take time, and invest in developing your communication skills.

Second, I’ve developed (along with a great team) a fabulous set of programs to help you strengthen your communication skills.

Two Opportunities Right Now to Jump-Start Strengthening Your Communication Skills

We’re offering our in-depth Crushing It with Challenging Conversations online program at a one-time $97.  Check out the program and what it entails. (We’ve had several hundred firms and professionals through this course and have some great testimonials.)

For those who prefer their professional development live-online, we’re opening our next cohort for our popular Crushing It with Challenging Conversations-Live-Online Workshop program. The program kicks off on 7/15, and registration is $300. This includes four live-online sessions plus a one-on-one coaching session. The sessions are highly interactive, and we ply you with approaches and supporting materials you can use in the workplace immediately! 

(If you are interested in group pricing for either program, drop me a note.)

The Bottom-Line for Now:

That same mentor mentioned above offered me a great piece of guidance. “Art, you’ll go as far as you can communicate.” I love that and believe it to my core. My follow-on is: “Everything important in your career happens in challenging conversations.” There are few better investments in your professional life than investing time and effort in developing and tuning your communication skills.

Art's Signature