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Bad communication ruined your work day?

Bad communication ruined your work day?

Bad communication ruined your day?

You know that developing effective communication skills is important at work, but today you are shaking your head wondering what you need to do to get noticed!

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

Duncan emails Emily in HR about a pay-related issue. When Emily doesn’t reply, he feels irritated – after all, this is something that’s important to him and he feels like he’s being ignored.

He waits a few days and then emails Emily again. This time he gets a response, but it’s not what he was hoping for. Instead of answering Duncan’s query, Emily sends him a brief message to say that she’s very busy and doesn’t have time to look at it.

In Duncan’s mind, Emily’s email is curt and dismissive, and this makes him feel angry and defensive. He decides that Emily must be a difficult character, and that in future he will treat her as such.

The relationship between Duncan and Emily has now broken down – and it only took a couple of emails!

So what went wrong?

A key part of successfully managing your career is building good relationships with others – which is why developing effective communication skills is so crucial.

And although we can’t change how others respond to us, we can change how we respond to them.

“In many ways, effective communication begins with mutual respect, communication that inspires, encourages others to do their best.” ~ Zig Ziglar

If we can try to understand where the other person is coming from – and then adapt our language and behaviour accordingly – we can expect much better outcomes.

Let’s rewind to Duncan and Emily.

What could Duncan do to strengthen his relationship with Emily rather than damaging it?

Putting himself in Emily’s shoes would help him to recognise and understand why she reacted in the way she did. He could then adapt his language and tone as he guides them both to a common solution.

Emily says ‘I’m really busy at the moment’, and her email is short and to the point. This suggests she’s feeling overworked and overwhelmed. So instead of taking it personally and getting angry, Duncan could say ‘I understand you’re really busy at the moment, so perhaps we could have a chat when things quieten down for you.’ 

By acknowledging Emily’s needs and concerns, and mirroring her language, he’s letting her know that he’s empathetic and that she’s been heard.

So far I’ve only talked about how written communication can be misinterpreted, but the same is true for phone calls, video meetings and face-to-face interactions – despite the fact that we have more to go on! We just need to know what to look and listen out for.

Next time you’re talking to someone at work about something important, instead of listening as an automatic response, try ‘deep listening’.

This means listening consciously and carefully – without judgement or interruption – to try to better understand what is motivating the other person in this particular situation.

So if they say ‘What we don’t want is …’, this tells you they’re focused on the problem and not the solution.

Rather than going straight to ‘What we want is a solution …’, you can respond by first recognising that they’re in avoidance mode, before using language that leads them towards a solution. For example, you could say something like ‘Yes, we definitely don’t want a repeat of this. What can we do to avoid this happening again?’

This makes the other person feel heard, and that the problem has been acknowledged.

Deep listening is a particularly useful skill to develop for phone/virtual conversations where we don’t have any non-verbal cues to help us decode the subconscious signals people are sending us.

But in face-to-face interactions, we can look as well as listen.

If at the beginning of a conversation, we take a mental snapshot of the non-verbal cues a person is giving out, such as facial expression and posture, we can then monitor how these change to reveal what someone is really feeling – even if this contradicts what they’re saying. This is a process known as ‘calibration’.

For example, clipped speech coupled with a closed posture and lack of eye contact might signal someone is stressed – and certainly not receptive to what you have to say! In this case, you could pause, change the tone and pace and ask, ‘Is now a good time to talk about this or would you rather we rescheduled when you have more time?’

It takes time and practice to develop effective communication skills – and there’s a valuable tool that can help.

The Language and Behavioural Profile (LAB Profile) can teach you how to better understand why other people behave in particular ways in given situations, and then communicate with them more confidently and effectively to achieve a positive outcome.

If you want to find out more about the LAB Profile, you can read about it here, or get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me on support@careerambitions.co.uk.

Now for some homework!

Revisit a recent email conversation which left you feeling angry, upset or frustrated.

As you re-read the messages, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and think about what might have been going on for them at the time.  

If they were feeling fed up and undervalued, might they have mistaken your formal tone for impatience or annoyance? Could you have misinterpreted a hurried dashed-off email as being rude and unhelpful, when in fact, they were rushing off to an urgent meeting?

Here’s some food for thought – next time, instead of an email, perhaps you could do something unexpected, such as phoning that person, or sending a voice note on LinkedIn, using a warm, friendly tone, so that they pick up on the real meaning behind your message.

I hope you’ve found this article useful – and that it’ll help you to straighten out any future communication misfires (which we all experience from time to time!).

For more tips on improving your communication skills to help manage your career, you can read my previous posts on choosing the right moment to start up a conversation at work, and strategies for talking to your boss to make sure you get the results you want.