Imagine a love struck youth sending love notes through locker vents or nowadays text messages. Now imagine a high powered corporate attorney defending her client’s intentions in the court of law. There is one common denominator between these two scenarios which is often overlooked — communication. Communication can be loosely defined as conveying an idea to another person. That is someone is attempting to convey an idea to another person. A preacher speaking from a pulpit to 20,000 of his congregants shares this commonality with a teacher using sign language to her class of 7 hearing impaired 1st-grade students. Both are conveying ideas and thoughts. If we have learned anything in this age of hyper-connectivity it is that there is almost always someone listening or watching.
If someone is listening anyway why not be truly heard? Here are 4 strategies that are going to change the way you communicate. With these tools, you’ll be sure to have the ear of everyone you need to listen to you. Theses are the seemingly natural manners of communication that leaders use. But even inherently knowledge can trained.
The “If It Were Me” Standard?
I think to myself; “Is this message packaged in a way I would I be able to accept it almost unconditionally?” Just saying something is not good enough. Unless you are talking about the weather, you are likely trying to persuade someone. Leaders recognize that every conversation is an opportunity for persuasion and that will require the three packaging items below:
- Builds trust or credibility- Why should she listen to me? Does this person trust me to be right?
- Creates buy-in- Don’t stop at relating to someone, bring them into a narrative of sorts, in which you elicit agreements and the desire to participate.
- Be actionable- Don’t get people hyped up to go to sleep. Whether it is advice, a call to action or anything else, be explicit in what you want others to know or do.
On that note: Be Explicit- You’re not 007 or Guru Shikinam; there is no good reason to shroud your conversations in mystery; even if you are being proverbial.
Salt should not feel like the empty platitudes of a sycophant. If the listeners feel this way your salt just became upsetting and sarcastic
The “Keep the meat; trash the Bone & sprinkle with Salt” — Standard.
I hope I am not pushing the boundaries of good taste with a name that long. The meat of a conversation is the point, the bone is the often unnecessary hard part to swallow and salt provides a savor that will not only make the meat taste better, but preserves it in the person’s mind.
So the meat would be the key and critical information that must be conveyed, the bone would be any criticisms that are:
- Emotionally laced
- Distracting from the point
Bone-type criticisms are bad. People are not stupid. If you tell someone that they have told you something untrue on more than one occasion, they understand that you are in fact calling them a liar. So you must be careful how you present these bone-type criticisms that are emotionally laced. Instead of calling someone a liar in a roundabout way and causing them to lose all respect for you. Help them to see how their actions may seem misleading or deceptive from a different person’s viewpoint. If you have created buy-in, with agreeable statements then that person will realize that they have been doing just that and you can move on to suggesting a plan of action to remedy the situation.
The salt will make what you have to say more appetizing and acceptable. Perhaps a compliment or allegory or example of what the person is doing well that can help them accomplish the task you are requesting them to do. Salt should not feel like the empty platitudes of a sycophant. If the listeners feel this way your salt just became upsetting and sarcastic, which is not the mind space you want the listeners in when you are speaking to them.
Delivering particularly bad news requires further filtering. For information that could solicit difficult reactions try the methods below. Great leaders don’t over-complicate information which is already difficult to deal with.
The Sandwich or Open-Faced Sandwich Standard
The Sandwich Standard is something I’ve been using for years. Use this is when you have to deliver negative messages or difficult criticisms to someone. Sandwich the criticism between two praises. Everyone does something well and when someone is told about something they are doing not so well, they often forget or dismiss their own redeeming qualities. You could help to stop that and also you could help them not go into a depressive or self-destructive cycle by bringing those great things they are doing to light.
“Tom, I’m really happy to see you stepping into your manager role more by training the new hires. That said, I would like to see you give them a little more breathing room. Let them learn a few things on their own. That’ll help them retain the knowledge better. Remember when you first started and you picked up things so quickly? That’s not just because you’re quick on the uptake, it’s because you had adequate opportunities to discover information and weren’t spoon fed. Does that make sense?”
The Open-Faced Sandwich Standard
The Open-Faced Sandwich Standard is used to deliver very traumatic or negative news. There is no introductory praise followed by bad news and then concluded with praise or good news. There is only the bad news followed, by a consoling comment or statement of concern.
I’ve seen it used to deliver very bad news like a death or something of that nature, but it was done very well and the person giving the news had already built a great level of rapport with the people they were speaking to.
The reason there is no good news preceding the bad news is obvious. Anything said, prior to such traumatic news would not only be moot, but offensive and demeaning
A doctor would say, “I’m sorry your grandmother has passed. It happened tonight while she was asleep and she seemed completely at peace.”
If they had that type of rapport and that information was even warranted. Sometimes doctors can only say, “I’m sorry” as a consoling comment since they are emergency doctors or on staff surgeons who did not have time to build rapport with the now grieving families.
The reason there is no good news preceding the bad news is obvious. Anything said, prior to such traumatic news would not only be moot, but offensive and demeaning. This is the typical approach taken by Human Resources staff that must perform involuntary terminations.
A Bit RE: Listening
Miscommunication has more to do with the speaker than the listener. Don’t blame the listener for a lack of understanding when you didn’t properly communicate the requirements or elicit a proper understanding from the listener. Leaders understand that listening is a vital skill.
As a listener please know that you should listen using your head — not your heart. Certainly be empathetic, but not emotional if possible. For communicators, it is rather easy to look too deeply into words and listen emotionally to others. That will only cause you undue hurt and stress as a listener. Being an effective, impartial, and somewhat unemotional listener will aid your communication because your messages will not be sidetracked by reactive emotions or hijacked by feelings.
This is why arguments happen. Not just because someone is escalating, it is because the listener chose to react to that emotion in-kind and to not focus on making their point as clear and digestible as possible. Don’t let your message, the ideas you are trying to communicate, be hijacked by any emotion you have not approved of.
Now that you understand the aforementioned standards you will appreciate how others communicate. Don’t worry these standards will become more natural for you with use. With continued use, the standards will become more like walkways than walls for any communication. Once this happens not only will your speaking evolve, your listening will as well.
Thanks for reading this article. What are some helpful techniques you’ve used with success in the past? What is the worst case of poor communication you’ve ever experienced from a leader?
Hi, I’m Sean; I’m passionate about CX and Products. Over the last decade, I’ve been privileged to lead product organizations at some of the most impactful companies in the world. Mainly in the healthcare space and most recently focused on an internal platform managing work for hundreds of clinicians and care for millions of patients. SeanLAdams.com is my little corner of the internet; stop by anytime.