Last week, we examined five communication best practices to implement. This week, we’ll take a look at what happens when even just one of those communication best practices isn’t implemented. In other words, these are communication problems and pitfalls to avoid.
Listen, then clarify.
Here are a screenshot and inquiring question I posted on Instagram:
If you read last week’s recommendation about listening with an open mind, you realize that a person’s background can affect how they interpret this, and, therefore, what their reaction might be:
“I love that song!”
“What is ERCOT?”
“Who cares about Ukraine?”
“Amazing that the wealthiest country in the world can spend on one cause but be totally deficient with another.”
“We should do anything and everything for Ukraine!”
“Definitely some leadership and project management lessons to be learned from both of those situations.”
“What?! How are these related?”
“California has been dealing with rolling blackouts for years, so get over it!”
Like we examined last week, that’s why it’s so important to listen with an open mind, then clarify the topic. This will help ensure that whatever question or statement you make is on topic.
Breathe. Respond instead of react.
Here was the first reaction posted:
This person decided to skip steps 1-3 and jump to the opposite of step 4. But I’m a big believer in learning opportunities. Plus, I know this person is highly intelligent. Additionally, he was on the list of speakers and consultants (National Speakers Association colleagues I’ve met through the years) that I shared with a cohort I’d spoken to the previous month, so I thought I’d drop him a hint to get his mind to open beyond his laser focus.
This cohort is absolutely incredible. I was invited to sit in on the two discussions that were scheduled before my time management discussion. The first session was a “yes and” exercise during which the cohort was presented with various seemingly unrelated challenges and asked to come up with no-holds barred possible solutions. Think Six Degrees of Separation (aka the Kevin Bacon game.) The basic rule: Don’t say, “That can’t be done.” Instead, say, “Yes and…” and throw in another idea.
One of the topics was about how the U.S. is an incredibly wealthy country, yet resources might be lacking in various regions. How can local municipalities, counties and states retain autonomy but work with each other and the federal government on better planning, funding allocations and resources at home while still helping those in need around the world? What leadership lessons can be learned – end-game planning, benchmarks, success measurements, resource management, etc.? It was mind-blowing, the possibilities that were thought of on the spot because everyone was given permission to not worry about barriers and no’s, to set aside the intense study or focus they’d recently applied at work, to drop the sensitivity to particular topics, and just be open to anything and everything possible without judgement. It was an exercise in not allowing constructs to limit ideas because this will lead to sub-par ideas for possible solutions. This transitioned into the second session, which was a seminar on how departments within companies often work in silos, to their detriment. After having just experienced thinking with open minds, the participants were able to quickly create solution proposals, then hammer out the details and action steps for the chosen solutions.
Conversation before condemnation.
My posted question went back to this experience. But how could you know that without asking for clarity? Hence, my hint, to open the door to a conversation and let his skills shine:
Unfortunately, this was the next reaction:
Steps 1-4 were skipped and the opposite of step 5 was enacted. It quickly became apparent that there would be no conversation. In retrospect, I should’ve tried again to converse and ask a question instead of giving a hint, but the lecture and then accusation dampened any kind of spirit I had, so I decided to post a statement to end the thread:
I received a few messages from people in the cohort who were following this thread. They were disappointed with his initial reaction, but not totally surprised. They chalked it up to people not thinking like their normal selves, a behavior that occurs on social media. Like I mentioned last week, social media has evolved into “drive-by-talk-at-you” instead of conversation, so I shouldn’t expect to get intellectual here. That was wishful thinking on my part. However, they were extremely concerned by his second posted reaction, jumping to a lecture and accusation.
Then, after my attempt to just end this by agreeing with him, another post arrived on the thread. This person decided to copy/paste his lecture and reply to a different person who had commented, to make sure the other poster didn’t miss the lecture and accusation. He felt the need to make sure his lecture and accusation were read by all, even though it was addressing something that wasn’t being said.
I haven’t decided if I’m going to share this post on that Instagram thread. I might just leave it be with my last post of letting him know I’d be using this situation as a case study in future workshops (there’s a lot more to unpack than what I’ve shared here). But on the other hand, the teacher in me wants him to learn, at his own pace, on his own timeline, the helpful strategy of asking for clarification before lecturing and condemning – even when using drive-by social media. His copy/paste add-on cost him an interview for a 2024 presentation slot with the cohort, and I wouldn’t want the lack of asking questions to cost him anything else in any other part of his life. The version of him I interacted with several years ago was always well-mannered, and I wish him nothing but the best. But, ironically, even though this post is all about communication, I don’t really want to continue that thread because it’s not a good use of time, and going down that path isn’t productive.
What happened here is a common communication problem in the workplace. A lack of clarification can cause a great deal of time loss. Hopefully after reading through this, you understand the importance of clarification before making a comment, whether the communication occurs at a meeting, through an email or even if it’s “just” on social media.
In a future post, I’ll share some sample questions to ask in order to clarify the topic.
For more recommendations about productive communication, take a look at The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer