Here's something I’m pondering. Better communication skills. It keeps coming up as a topic for my clients and network connections. I’ve been a human resource professional for 20 years, a coach and workshop facilitator for the last 10; in all that time the topic of communication has always been HOT. That’s 30 years of this being an area of concern for professionals. And it’s not like it hasn’t been worked on; everyone I’ve had the privilege to work with has received training on how to communicate, from being a better listener to getting clear with their message.
So, why does better communication continue to remain at the top of everyone’s professional development list?
There’s something fundamental missing in the majority of the resources out there. A void. A blind spot. Maybe it’s this; communication is principally about being clear and easy to understand within the context of a relationship - but in order to truly be an effective and adaptive communicator you need to work with the emotional undercurrent beneath all those words.
And that is not something I’m seeing expressly taught in the majority of communication training.
Words are great, love ‘em! But they can also be a shield, or they get in the way of what needs to be communicated. You can reach understanding, and still not get the outcome you need with communication, and that happens when feelings are not taken into account.
Yes, we’re communicating more carefully and inclusively, and that is a very good thing. But those aren’t the feelings I mean. Let me give you an example. I had a client who was a very skilled communicator, but she knew she wasn’t being effective. She would provide clear direction to her staff and still not get the outcomes she needed. When we broke it down, her staff were trying to do what she asked, but they weren’t feeling confident about being able to do it, nor were they comfortable asking for her support to help them do it well. They were afraid to look bad in her eyes, and proceeded to “fake it until they made it”. Which wasn’t working.
So, what was going on? She was a very approachable person, a supportive leader, and yet when she was communicating, it didn’t extend to reflect or capture the way her staff felt about the work they were being asked to do. My client was making assumptions about the way her staff felt about what they were doing (and that they would come to her if they needed support).
Working through this in coaching, my client and I came up with an effective strategy for her to use with her team. In addition to giving clear direction, she would then ask them (on a scale of 1-5) how comfortable they felt doing this work? My client recognized that leaving it at that might lead to a continuation of the “fake it til’ you make it” strategy her staff were used to using, so we added to it: “On a scale of 1-5 how comfortable are you doing this work, and why did you choose that number and not one higher?” (5 being “totally comfortable doing this work”).
This was a simple way to open up much needed dialogue qualifying how her staff felt about what they were being asked to do. In using this one simple strategy it created the necessary conditions for her staff to discuss their concerns, and give voice to the support they needed to get the desired outcomes. It was an absolute game changer for her and her team, without being “touchy-feely”.
Emotions are often the last thing we think about when crafting a message or communicating. Yet, if you don’t communicate with emotions in mind, you miss the point of communicating entirely. Emotions are the human GPS system; nothing happens unless a person’s emotions can get behind your request or message. That doesn’t mean people won’t try, but compliance is not the same as commitment (as my client discovered).
Communicating with emotion in mind requires emotional intelligence, which is also not something that is expressly taught in schools and organizations today. But coaching develops it. We all have emotional intelligence, and coaching helps you to harness yours so you can communicate effectively no matter what work throws at you.