Recently a cohort to whom I was invited to present a time management workshop discussed a major productivity challenge: a backslide in implementing communication best practices. They shared that coworkers were no longer listening the way they used to. It was like their Zoom meeting practices during COVID of zoning out and pretending to listen were now carrying over to the physical world. The same concerns were shared regarding emails and company messaging. It seemed as if the “drive-by” and “no thinking” posting habits used on social media, where people talk at each other instead of with each other, were carrying over into business communications.
They expressed frustration from the negative effects of communication problems from not implementing communication best practices:
*Misunderstandings or misinterpretations
*Unwillingness to take time to understand or listen closely
*Refusal to consider possibilities, especially those outside of their comfort zone or thinking patterns
*Not understanding the importance of considering both narrow details and the big picture
*Conversation derailments due to tangential replies not related to the original statement or question (because it was misunderstood, misinterpreted, etc.)
*Disagreements or arguments arising from the misunderstanding or misinterpretation
*People who weren’t initially involved get dragged into something that wasn’t their business or they weren’t interested in
*Situational mop-ups needed from the fall-out from any of the above
*Reduced focus from ponderings, subconscious internal conversations, worry or stress from any of the above
*Relationships damaged or altered in a negative way
All of these negative effects cause a loss of time, which affects productivity levels. These negative effects can also lead to strained working relationships or a loss of professional or personal opportunities.
There are a few simple steps you can take to avoid this loss of time.
Here are five communication best practices to implement:
1 Listen with open ears and an open mind.
Even when we think we know a person, we really do have no idea how complex our backgrounds are and how one microscopic piece of our whole being can affect how we say something – and how we interpret what others are saying. Think about just a few of the ways that you’re different from every person you meet: geographic visits or homesteads, upbringing, life experiences, emotional state, health status, field of study, gender, race, ethnicity, an intense focus on a topic, religion, language, culture, a “strikable” nerve, news sources, type of thinker (detailed or big picture), hobbies… You get the picture. This knowledge and background can generate illuminating conversations and/or be used for tremendous constructive feedback, but if we’re not careful, it can also lead us to make snap judgements. Truly listen.
2 Clarify the topic.
As mentioned, we can be speaking in the same language to a best friend or significant other or business colleague we’ve known for years yet interpret what’s being said in a completely different way than the person who made the utterance. That’s why it’s important to ask for clarification and context before making a statement. This is most definitely important if the communication is not verbal and is taking place via email, messaging, text, social media or some other written form, when tone can’t be heard, and facial and body language can’t be viewed. Clarifying the topic, question or statement is an absolutely critical best practice for any and all situations.
People often get into trouble when they react from an emotional standpoint instead of from a logical one. Simply taking one longer breath is a delay tactic to give your brain time to move from the emotional to the logical, to give it time to switch on the filters to use for a response: Empathy? Advice? Constructive feedback?
4 Respond instead of react.
When we react, we are taking action without thinking. We believe we are thinking because this thought or statement popped into our head, and if it’s in our head, we must be thinking. But a gut reaction based on what’s going on inside our head (see the Listen with open ears and mind paragraph), can come out as a correction, scolding, blame, accusation, insult, or some other negatively perceived statement. If this gut reaction is uttered without listening with an open mind, without clarifying the topic or meaning, without breathing to move from emotional to logical, then it’s exactly that: a reaction. Instead, be sure to implement the aforementioned best practices to issue a response, which is far less likely to cause you the lost time and other costly losses.
5 Converse before condemning.
What does a response look like? It’s a conversation. What’s a conversation? It’s questions. It’s dialogue. It’s finding out more about the context, situation and intended meaning. Even when you know from the get-go that what the person has uttered is completely incorrect or immoral or just downright terrible, if you jump to condemnation, they won’t listen, so you’ve wasted your breath and created an even bigger chasm. But when you converse, you can craft questions and constructive feedback that will help them see a better answer, a better way. And they’re more likely to internalize this information because they’ve developed these new thoughts through conversation.
In upcoming posts, we’ll examine a communication string that did not go well, as well as dive a little deeper into sample questions and phrases you can utilize when implementing these communication best practices.
For more recommendations about productive communication, take a peek at The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer.