2 Techniques That Transform Leadership Communication


The following is a guest piece by Dr. Alan Zimmerman.

It was the most memorable line in the movie Cool Hand Luke. When the prisoners wouldn’t listen, the prison guard uttered that ominous line: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

In a similar sense, almost every employee survey complains about a “lack of communication.” Perhaps you work in one of those places.

The good news is: there are two communication makeups that can fix that. One that deals with the quantity of your communication. The other addresses the quality of your communication.

Makeup #1: DNDT Increases The Quantity Of Your Communication

As I speak to various corporate groups, one of the most frequent complaints I hear is “We’re so busy we don’t have time to talk to each other. We’re so focused on our own individual silos that we don’t really know what the other people in our company are doing.”

If that sounds like you, it’s time to implement DNDT or Do Not Disturb Times. Follow these guidelines.

1. Schedule and hold DNDT sessions on a regular basis
Schedule your 20, 40, or 60-minute get-togethers. Don’t leave them to chance. Don’t wait until you’re free from other obligations. It will never happen. Schedule a DNDT at least once a month, ideally once a week.

Put them on your calendar. And nothing short of a real emergency should change that schedule.

2. Establish some “rules of engagement” that create safety
You may decide, for example, to meet in some neutral location that offers a degree of privacy. You may decide there will be no snide remarks, no matter how heated a discussion might become. And you may establish a rule of confidentiality … that there will be no sharing of the discussion with other team members. Draw up and write down your “rules of engagement.”

3. Make “understanding” your primary focus
After all, in any relationship, the people in that relationship see it from different points of view. A teammate thinks the boss should praise her when she does her job exceedingly well, and the boss thinks, “I don’t have to praise my employees for doing their jobs. That’s what they’re paid to do.” In each case, the parties are in the same relationship but perceive it quite differently. That can be troublesome.

In DNDT, you get the opportunity to share your perceptions and motivations to build greater understanding. And this is critical: you’re sharing perceptions. You do not debate who is right and who is wrong.

To increase your chances of achieving true understanding, take your time. Don’t try to rush through your discussion. Maintain your focus. As the DNDT phraseology suggests, no interruptions are allowed. No phone calls are taken; no doors are answered, and no email is checked. You just focus on each other.

4. Comment on the good
Dr. Ken Blanchard, the author of “The One-Minute Manager“, says if an employee receives fewer than four positive comments for every negative comment that is given by the boss, the employee will see that relationship as strained, at best.

So start each DNDT session with a positive comment. Share a word of genuine praise, sincere appreciation, or humble thanks. Insert other positive observations throughout your discussion. And end each session on a positive note that refers to a good quality in the other person or a good feeling you have about your work relationship.

5. Go beyond the superficial
In many relationships, the communication is superficial. Conversation is reduced to the road conditions on the way to work or how someone’s football team is doing.

To get beyond the superficial, ask Brave Questions. Ask questions that start with who, what, where, when, why or how, and reduce the number of questions that can be answered by a superficial yes or no. Refrain from questions that ask something like “Are you okay with this?” The quiet people may give you a polite “Yeah, I’m okay.” But that’s a far cry from openness.

Share your ups and downs. In the busyness of life, the deeper joys and more troubling concerns can get pushed aside. Not smart!

That’s it. Five essential guidelines for increasing the quantity of your communication and making your DNDT effective. But what about the quality of leader-to-follower communication?

Makeup #2: SATS To Increase The Quality Of Your Communication

Throughout my career, I’ve come across many leaders who say, “My people just don’t speak up. I ask them for their input, but they don’t say much at our meetings. So I suppose we’re all pretty much in synch.”

Not necessarily. Do not mistake silence for agreement.

To put more quality into your communication, I recommend SATS or Sharing And Truth Sessions.

1. Adopt a mindset that values input
Good communicators know they can’t think of everything. And they know they are much more apt to find the right answer to a problem if they have several possible solutions in front of them.

President Kennedy certainly knew that. One of his close advisers said Kennedy tried to “surround himself with people who raised questions … and was wary of those who adapted their opinions to what they thought the President wanted to hear.”

2. Encourage open communication
This is a biggie. It’s one of the most important characteristics of quality communication. Everyone in an organization is encouraged to share what he/she really thinks, feels, knows, and wants … which may or may not be what the other person wants to hear.

Successful leaders open up communication by doing five things. One, they encourage other people to speak up by indicating the importance of doing so. Two, they ask for the opinions of others before they have totally formulated their own. Three, they hear people out by giving their full and undivided attention. Four, they refrain from immediately arguing or taking offense at ideas different from their own. And, five, they show in their attitude and their actions that they value a person who speaks his or her mind.

3. Get everyone to participate
Some people will quickly and easily share their input. Others need a little help to do that. Ask them specifically what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling. Some people wait for an invitation before they speak. It’s just the way they’re wired.

Use behavioral descriptions … followed by a question. For example, “I notice you haven’t said anything for 30 minutes” or “I notice you looking down. What are you thinking about all of this?” You’ll probably get a much more informative response.

Try the “one-word go-around.” If you’re having a team meeting, go around the group and ask each person how he or she feels in one word. You’ll often be surprised by their answers.

Finally, when someone shares a thought or an idea, make sure you respond to it. Say something like “Thanks for sharing … or … It’s good to know where you stand.” You’re not saying you agree with what was said; you just appreciate the fact the other person contributed to the discussion.

4. Ask questions
Ask lots of them. If you attend a team meeting where the leader makes a number of announcements or gives a presentation, if there’s no interaction from the other attendees, that is not a Sharing and Truth Session.

In SATS, there’s lots of give and take from everyone. For example, if you’re trying to solve a problem using everyone’s input, ask such things as: What are the facts about this issue? What are your feelings about this issue? What are the possible solutions to this issue? What kind of agreement can we reach on a particular solution?

The more questions you ask the more sharing and truth you’re likely to get.

It’s Time To Get Past “A Failure To Communicate”

A failure to communicate wastes your time, money and energy. At best, it is an inefficient use of your time; at worst it destroys your relationships if not your business. Anything less than clear, open, honest, caring, and respectful communication will hurt you, not help you.

With the use of Do Not Disturb Time and Sharing And Truth Sessions, you have the tools to get past “a failure to communicate.”

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has helped more than one million people transform their lives through the power of a positive attitude. In his new book, “The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want Out of Life and Work“, he reveals the strategies that will take anyone from ordinary to extraordinary. Read a free chapter and take this fun quiz: “Are You Destined for Success or Failure?” at www.thepayoffprinciple.com.

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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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