This New Year, consider making a resolution to practice 12 months of healthy communication. Most people navigate through important moments of communication on automatic pilot, reacting from emotion rather than intention. But we can transform our relationships by getting off autopilot and being proactive with positive communication.
As communication researchers and partners in work and marriage for over 40 years, we’ve experienced both the joy and challenge of personal and business communication and have found some simple steps to resolve conflict and build trust in relationships:
*Listen when your impulse is to argue.
*Edit accusations that might make someone feel put down, and instead describe your feelings.
*If you have a grievance, pinpoint details and specific examples.
*Acknowledge your role in any problem.
*Reach explicit, collaborative solutions that specify what each person will do differently in the future.
Confronting issues is never an easy matter, but avoidance can be hazardous not just to our relationships but also to our own health.
Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy, communicative 2015!
We want to hear. Do you have a New Year’s resolution that could lead to stronger communication? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Image Credit: Joan M. Mas https://www.flickr.com/photos/dailypic/
Whenever we ask people to share stories about stressful family encounters at the holidays, we are amazed at the outpouring of fraught memories. But reliving the conflicts of holidays past won’t help us deal with the present. This season, try something new. When Uncle Joe or Aunt Blanche blurts out an unwelcome opinion, resist the temptation to engage in point/counterpoint. This quickly devolves into a situation where everyone feels the only way to “win” is to get louder and LOUDER!
Instead, ask for more information about your relative’s point of view—and actually listen to that information. (Do this even if the point of view they are sharing is a direct criticism of you.) Only true listening can provide you the information you need to have influence. And it is only when your “opponent” feels heard that they will even begin to consider another point of view.
*avoid conversation killers like “You always…” and “You never…”;
*tell the other person you understand how they came to feel the way they do;
*own your part of the situation and acknowledge how you may be contributing to it.
Be realistic: You are not going to achieve perfect harmony with everyone at the dinner table. But with a little resolve you can certainly improve your batting average. Happy holidays!
We want to hear: How did this advice work for you this holiday season? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Image Credit: Michael Porter https://www.flickr.com/photos/libraryman
Can you work well on teams, solve problems, and communicate well with people inside and outside your organization? If so, you possess the top three skills employers are seeking in today’s job market.
We were delighted to see the “big three” when The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a non-profit group that links college career placement offices with employers, surveyed hiring managers from large companies like Chevron, IBM, and Seagate Technology about what skills they will prioritize when recruiting from the class of 2015 (http://bit.ly/topjobskills). But we were certainly not surprised! We have devoted our entire research and consulting careers to developing programs that teach these very skills because we believe they are key to organizational performance and culture.
So grads—and all job-seekers—take note: Employers emphasize universal skills that are applicable across all disciplines and industries. No matter what you studied in school, no matter what your field, it is crucial to demonstrate to employers that you can collaborate creatively and communicate effectively. Stress accomplishments that show these abilities on your resume, in your cover letters, and during your interviews. These initial points of contact are opportunities to show prospective employers just how well you communicate.
We want to hear! If you are hiring, how do you screen applicants for these skills? If you are job-seeking, how are you demonstrating these skills? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
A massive Gallup employee engagement survey found that there is no more important job satisfaction predictor than whether an employee has recently had a conversation about how they’re doing on the job. Yet a large percentage of employees at all levels crave more feedback from their managers than they receive. This is what Anna Carroll, author of The Feedback Imperative, found when she interviewed 2100 individuals in the workplace. (http://bit.ly/morefeedback)
Feedback is information, and all of us--especially Millennials--are used to processing massive amounts of it daily. So why are employees kept in the dark about their own performance? Carroll says many reasons are emotional: Fear, avoidance, and fight-or-flight stress on the part of managers prevent them from delivering feedback--sometimes outsourcing the process completely and promoting “an anonymous feedback culture.”
One excuse managers give is that feedback will cause unhappiness and lead to turnover. But exactly the opposite is true. We believe the dissatisfaction caused by lack of feedback dissipates when managers are properly trained in the art of giving feedback, including our Raising Delicate Issues model.
We want to hear. Are you getting enough feedback from your manager? How would you improve the feedback process in your organization? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum
Image Credit: Het Nieuwe Instituut https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenewinstitute/
Are you getting enough acknowledgment for your hard work and commitment? If not, it could be because you are reluctant to take credit. A study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests the “Imposter Syndrome” might be at play. That’s when high-achieving people don't feel they deserve the success that they have earned and so they divert the credit onto others.
Sure it’s great to be a team player, but a little self-promotion can also be important. A recent article by Cornell psychology professor Peggy Drexler (http://bit.ly/brag3) suggests three ways to highlight your accomplishments: 1) acknowledge your achievements internally; 2) inform your boss directly of exactly what you did even while acknowledging your team; 3) enlist a “co-bragger” to call out your successes while you do the same in return.
We have long pointed out the many benefits of acknowledging co-workers, but failing to acknowledge yourself is needless self-handicapping. Owning your success need not undermine your team, and it isn’t boastful if it’s true.
We want to hear: Are you ever reluctant to point out your own accomplishments—and, if so, why? Have you seen others being successful at self-promotion while still being team players? What might you do to promote yourself going forward? Join the conversation and click "comments" below.
Image Credit: Dan Meineck
About 70% of changes in all organizations fail, says research from McKinsey and Company (http://bit.ly/1woQGIJ). Rick Maurer, author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance, cites one of the key reasons: Many organizational cultures function with two opposing sets of rules.
The “official” rules—often appearing on company websites and employee handbooks—are the ones where the organization claims to value innovation, teamwork, inclusiveness, and open communication. The “unofficial” rules—often learned the hard way by those who follow the first set and find themselves in the proverbial doghouse—are change-blockers. They reward conformity, competitiveness, even secrecy. (http://bit.ly/1BS1ijE)
We have, unfortunately, witnessed this too many times. Successful change is enabled by a climate of engagement and dialogue in which new ideas and creative collaboration are encouraged—and not just espoused. Leaders who genuinely want to facilitate change in a world where change is critical to survival must courageously assess whether counter-productive rules exist, and do all in their power to align their organization’s aspirational goals with its real ones.
We want to hear. Can you give us an example of any unwritten rules you have run up against, and how those rules had an impact on organizational change? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
When we find ourselves in conflict with a co-worker we tend to attribute it to personality differences. Even if we don’t know the other person very well, we may jump to conclusions based on limited exposure, perhaps stereotyping them as a “micromanager”, or “competitive.” But although it’s cognitively efficient to categorize, labeling is toxic in conflict resolution.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, organizational consultant Ben Dattner points out that management and corporate culture may inadvertently create conflict between individuals. For instance, roles and levels of authority may not be well defined, or individuals’ interests may be truly opposed because they have been given incentives to compete rather than collaborate.
To assess whether a conflict is situational, start by asking yourself, “What conflicts might be experienced by any two people in the roles we have?” Then ask your colleague the same question. You may find common ground and can jointly approach those in leadership to reconsider the dynamics that are generating the conflict.
Please share your experience. Have you ever found yourself in conflict with a colleague because of a situational circumstance? What did you do about it? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Are anti-bullying policies stopping workplace bullying? Not according to a survey recently conducted by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, co-authors of the books Crucial Conversations and Influencer. Ninety-six percent of respondents said they had experienced workplace bullying, and indicated that most of the alleged bullies had been in their positions for over a year (89%), or over five years (54%). Only 6% said their companies’ anti-bullying policies prevented bullying.
The sad truth is that many who feel bullied don’t do anything about it. They try to avoid the problem, but the unintended consequence of avoidance is perpetuation. “Silence is not golden. Silence is permission,” says Maxfield.
We agree: What we permit, we promote. So it’s important to know your workplace policies and document incidents of bullying (e.g. browbeating, intimidation, sabotaging). Perhaps most effective of all—if you do not feel at risk doing so—is addressing (in private) the person you believe is abusing power. If you choose to do this, try our models for raising issues and responding to criticism. Then ask what you can do to improve communication going forward so that the pattern doesn’t repeat.
We want to hear: Are you aware of workplace bullying and, if so, do you and those around you tend to confront or avoid the problem? If you have addressed the situation, what has been the outcome? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
In what Politico calls “The knock down drag-out fight that led to a VA deal,” Congress, on the verge of its August recess, finally approved a bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. The deal emerged after leaders of a conference committee—Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.)—publicly battled it out over differences on how to pay for the bill.
But the “grenades” that were hurled turned out to be largely cathartic. Two days after the worst of the slug-fest, Sanders informed lawmakers a deal was at hand after a final call with Miller during which the two went over a checklist of priorities and agreed on details.
We've been working with Congress for the past ten years and while we don't recommend the bare knuckles rhetoric that produced the VA funding bill, it's hard to argue with success. Of course, it didn't hurt that the failure of Congress to pass this bill before leaving for summer recess would have resulted in a firestorm from veterans and their many supporters. Neither did it hurt that congress is at a 12% approval rating while veterans are at 74%. Still, anything beats silence and stonewalling: No problem that required consensus ever got solved by avoidance!
We want to hear: Can you recall a time when mixing it up with an adversary proved a necessary prelude to resolving a contentious issue? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Negative conversations nag at us—for chemical reasons. The cortisol (stress hormone) they produce can stay in our system for over 26 hours, keep us on edge, and color the way we react to further communication. Positive conversations produce the feel-good hormone oxytocin, but this metabolizes much faster than cortisol, so the effect doesn’t linger as long.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, consultant Judith E. Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence and biochemist Richard D. Glaser (we have no relation to either) cited their survey research asking managers how often they engaged in positive conversational behavior (e.g. showing concern for others, and painting a picture of mutual success) versus negative (e.g. mistrusting others’ intentions and just pretending to listen).Those surveyed contended that they engaged in more of the positive, though 85% admitted to “sometimes” engaging in the negative.
As the authors point out, “when leaders exhibit both types of behaviors it creates dissonance or uncertainty in followers’ brains, spurring cortisol production and reducing C-IQ (conversational intelligence).” Nobody’s perfect, but leaders should be mindful of the power of chemistry. Take an extra moment before you speak: try to quiet negative impulses and communicate your best intentions. The positive, productive reaction you unleash, cognitively and chemically, will be your reward.
Share your experience: Do you notice lingering positive effects when you communicate in positive ways, and vice versa? What are you doing to shift the balance toward the positive? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question on our forum: Community of Practice Forum.
Not everyone we work with will be our best friends, and some may prove challenging to get along with; still, we often must rely on our co-workers for our own efforts to succeed. If a relationship at work proves troublesome, our natural inclination is avoidance. But this can be self-defeating.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Dorie Clark, strategy consultant and Adjunct Professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, advises acknowledging your own role in the tension, mentally pressing a “reset” button, and changing the relationship dynamic by avoiding past patterns.
We completely agree. We have long said that while we cannot change another other person, we can always change the way we react to that person. The first step is taking accountability for your part in the tension. Be observant as to how your reactions could be making a tense situation worse. Understand yourself and you will gain insight into the dynamic. Change your behavior and change the dynamic. You may not gain a BFF, but you can gain respect and cooperation
Please share your experience: What has worked for you in repairing damaged relationships at work? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
We so often present idealized versions of ourselves to others. If we feel disappointment, envy, or anxiety, we don’t want to let on. But research shows that sharing our vulnerabilities is actually of immense value.
Consider this study: Arthur Aron, director of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University, paired students who were strangers and gave them 45 minutes to ask each other a series of questions. Half were given superficial questions (e.g., a favorite holiday or TV show), the other half’s questions gradually became deeper (e.g. the role of love in their lives, the last time they cried in front of someone else, whose death would impact them most). Afterward, Aron’s team asked the participants to rate how close they felt to their partner. Pairs from the second group formed much deeper bonds. Some started lasting friendships; some perceived their connection to their study partner as one of the strongest in their lives.
So, contrary to what we may believe, presenting a “totally together” version of ourselves actually separates us from others. We may fear that if people find out “who we really are”, they’ll distance themselves. In fact, our authenticity and vulnerability—our sheer humanity—breaks down barriers.
Please share your experience: When has sharing vulnerability resulted in a stronger connection? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Those who react defensively to criticism are less happy with their jobs, have lower performance ratings, and lower self-esteem than their colleagues. So says recent research by PsychTests AIM Inc. of Montreal, which provides psychological assessment products and services to H.R. professionals.
This study captures what we have long believed: Those who not only tolerate but also learn from criticism ultimately are the better for it. Most of us have been conditioned to react defensively to criticism since toddlerhood. We have learned over our lifetime to explain our actions: to our parents, teachers, bosses, colleagues and relatives. We want them to understand that our actions were based on the circumstances we faced – not our bad motives or lack of commitment. When our energy is spent trying to get our critics to understand us, we are doomed to failure – because they will never hear us until they believe we understand them. So our model for responding to criticism is counter-intuitive: It teaches how to get the critic to “tell me more” rather than “hear me out.”
Please let us know your thoughts: What has been your experience with receiving criticism in productive ways? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Although research consistently shows that listening is critical to leadership effectiveness, many leaders still appear to be lacking in this area. A recent study conducted by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business showed that boards of directors gave poor listening grades to CEOs. In fact, “listening” and “conflict management” were the skills least mentioned as strengths of the over 160 CEOs in the study.
Writing for the Harvard Business Review Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins, founders of Isis Associates consulting, note that many people overestimate their listening abilities. Listening suffers when we are preoccupied with our own performance; when we are too busy anticipating what will be said next and how to respond; and when we are not open to having our minds changed.
Please share your experience: Whether or not you consider yourself a good listener overall, what have you noticed that either interferes with or promotes good listening? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
We all have what the Harvard Business Review calls “default behavior,” moments when we let our visceral automatic pilot usurp reason. These default reactions can lead to impulsive decisions. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that highly experienced parole judges reasoned more carefully at the start of each workday and after meal breaks, when on average they granted parole to 65 percent of applicants. But as their sessions wore on, favorable parole judgments fell to an astonishing 0% prior to each food break.
Whatever drives us toward default—be it hunger, fatigue, or a certain type of person who “rubs us the wrong way”—is not serving us. One big reason, in our opinion, is that during default moments we are listening less and cutting off the flow of new information. Lee Newman, Dean of Innovation and Behavior at Madrid’s IE Business School suggests three steps for overriding your automatic pilot response:
1) Know your default triggers.
2) Anticipate and mentally rehearse your overrides.
3) Design your days to minimize triggers at high-stress times.
We want to hear: What drives you into “default” mode and what are you doing to regain control? Are you doing anything to modify your behavior? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.