Communicating Effectively with Others
Recognizing How a Position-Based Perspective Limits Communication
The topic of communication, diversity, and perspective may initially seem like basic common sense. However, exploring how you and others look at things through our own lenses based on personal experiences shapes how we interact with others. In this article, the author shares his views on what limits communication and what it takes to effectively communicate with others.
The topic of communication, diversity, and perspective may initially seem like basic common sense.¬† However, exploring how you and others look at things through our own lenses based on personal experiences shapes how we interact with others.¬† For example, how many sides are there to a coin?¬† There are three. ¬†These are the top, the bottom, and the side.¬† Similarly, on any issue, there are three sides.¬† These are my side, your side, and the truth.¬† Often when we are position-based, we find it hard to really discover the truth.¬† This article introduces some of the concepts from two books[i]: The Servant Manager: 203 tips from the best places to work in America and Peaceful Resolutions (coming this fall) where issues related to diversity and communication are explored.
We know we can learn and retain information best, not from an article or a talking head, but by listening, having someone demonstrate, trying it ourselves, and then teaching someone else.¬† There is nothing like having to teach a subject that really brings home learning the material. ¬†A common acronym for these four steps is EDGE.¬† This stands for educate, demonstrate, guide, and enable.¬† To help bring this home I would like to propose a virtual exercise with you as presented in the next paragraph.
Consider an exercise offered by Dr. Susan Dellinger regarding Communication Styles[ii].¬† In this team-building communication exercise, each person is asked to identify themselves with a specific shape and then go to a place in the room with others that have selected that same shape. ¬†The shapes presented are a circle, square, rectangle, triangle, and squiggly line.¬† Then information is provided regarding each shape and participants are allowed to either stay where they are or join another group with a different shape.¬† Each group is asked to respond to a couple of questions about why their shape is better and what they want to tell the other shapes.¬† You can use your imagination here, but I am sure you can see this is a lighthearted and fun exercise.
What is the point?¬† We all have different ways in which we communicate with one another.¬† We need to understand our own communication style and we need to seek to understand those of others and adapt to work more effectively with one another.¬† For example, we do need some people that have lots of ideas and bring passion and a vision to the work place.¬† But if we surround ourselves with only these people, nothing will ever be completed because all they do is generate ideas.¬† On the other hand, you may be or you may work with employees that are: a) very good at what they do, and/or b) want to do what they do and do not want to do other things.¬† This is great for production when the task is clear and we need folks to knuckle down and help do the research, develop the facts, and write reports.¬† But when things change, this group might find it harder to adapt to the changes.¬† Clearly, we need strong employees that are great producers, but we also need other types.¬† For example, we need creative types, people that bring others together, people that keep us on task, etc.
Communication is an art and we are continually learning from when we are first born throughout our entire life.¬† Communication with someone we like and enjoy being with who also likes being with us is free flowing and interactive.¬† As we explore communication with those different from ourselves, we need to consider: respect for one another, developing a relation with one another, fostering trust, and truly wanting to listen if we want to enhance our relationship.¬† We need to listen intentionally.¬† We need to ask questions demonstrating we are listening.¬† Think of someone you know who is a good listener and why you like that person.¬† Could you improve your listening skills too?
By listening actively (reflecting what others are saying by asking good questions rather than jumping to solutions), it is possible to gain additional understanding and to begin to work towards building a better relationship.¬† This is a process.¬† The key is wanting to listen.¬† Men and women have different approaches to this process.¬† We need to be conscious of this too. ¬†The book Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus by John Gray brings this home. ¬†According to Gray, men tend to provide solutions as a matter of fact and not listen as well.¬† When men do listen more, women tend to appreciate it. ¬†This is a lesson bought home to me in my prior position.
I first managed a group of business valuers and engineers, most were men.¬† I then became a controller and managed a group that was nearly all women.¬† After two weeks in the new group, I knew something was wrong, but I did not know what.¬† I asked one of the female employees if she could help me figure this out.¬† She suggested I needed to listen more.¬† I was a manager always ready with a solution to help or find help relative to the question presented to me.¬† She informed me that was not what was needed most of the time.¬† I did not realize this.¬† We had a group meeting and I asked the team to help me.¬† They suggested we develop a code when any employees wanted to simply have me listen.¬† The code word was ‚Äúblue‚ÄĚ.¬† If an employee came to my office and said ‚Äúblue‚ÄĚ, I stopped what I was doing, I sat and faced the employee, I reflected back what was being said, and I asked questions.¬† This was truly active listening.¬† Nine times out of ten, the employee figured it out on their own and felt much better about themselves and the issue.¬† This worked.
I came home and told my wife.¬† She told me I could also listen more at home.¬† This was an ‚Äúaha‚ÄĚ moment for me.¬† That was over 20 years ago.¬† I have taken that lesson and put in my management tool bag and in my negotiation-mediation tool bag too.¬† You can also.¬† I do not have to have the code word ‚Äúblue‚ÄĚ at home.¬† I now know after 30 years of marriage that what I need to do is listen.¬† It has worked for me.¬† Sometimes guys can be pretty thick.¬† They may need some help like I did.¬† If you need someone to listen, you may need to ask the other party to simply listen. ¬†I have found listing is one of the real keys to communication.
Given generational differences, we need to make efforts to work with and interact with those of generations different from ourselves.¬† This will broaden your horizons.¬† Generational differences are apparent in what influenced us, our core values, our attributes, educational experiences, dealing with money, work ethic, focus, technology, view of the workplace, and other areas.¬† What does this mean? ¬†This means we have to be conscious of this in communication, diversity, and perspective of how we interact with one another.
Sometimes we need to deal with difficult people.¬† When this is the case, we need to explore why.¬† Might I be contributing to the problem?¬† What are the causes? ¬†Do I need to listen more to get behind this issue.¬† Do I need to ask more questions and be more empathetic?¬† Maybe it is well beyond me and the person needs help from someone else with more expertise.¬† By listening, it may be possible to gain additional understanding.¬† In the worst-case scenario, it may be best to avoid this person and minimize contact, or at work, it may be necessary to elevate the issue in management.¬† If elevating the issue at work, make sure you have tried these steps and come to your manager with a solution so you can work with your manager to address the concern.¬† Do not demonize the other person.¬† Rather, keep a perspective of being there to help. ¬†If you do this, it is much easier on yourself.¬† Avoid the two stinky twins of BO (Blaming Others) and BS (Blaming Self).¬† Instead, focus on the issue and be there to help.
Trust is critical in developing understanding and it is important to seek first to understand rather than to be understood.¬† We need to keep our promises and be kind to one another.¬† Simple pleasantries are needed to help foster communication and trust.¬† We need to clarify expectations, be loyal to those not present (i.e. do not gossip) and apologize when we make mistakes.
These concepts are presented, and more fully explored in a video of mine that contains practical commentary, to help viewers explore how one can communicate more effectively with others and how to consider your multiple perspectives in this diverse world.¬† Whether this is new to you or you are an expert communicator, you are sure to learn some ideas to help you become a better communicator in our increasingly diverse world.¬† This and other tax topic and leadership videos are available at www.mikegeg.com
[i] Michael Gregory worked for the IRS for 28 years as a specialist through executive level.¬† Twice he was nominated by his employees and received the honor of IRS civil servant of the year in his career; both as a front line manager and a territory manager.¬† In 2011, he founded Michael Gregory Consulting, LLC.¬† His web page is www.mikegreg.com offering his videos and books. ¬†He can be also be reached at (651) 633-5311 Michael Gregory Consulting ¬© 2015
[ii] Appendix C in The Servant Manager: 203 tips from the best places to work in America
Michael Gregory worked for the IRS for 28 years as a specialist through executive level. Twice he was nominated by his employees and received the honor of IRS civil servant of the year in his career; both as a front line manager and a territory manager. In 2011, he founded Michael Gregory Consulting, LLC. His web page is www.mikegreg.com offering his videos and books. He can be also be reached at (651) 633-5311 Michael Gregory Consulting ¬© 2015
Appendix C in The Servant Manager: 203 tips from the best places to work in America