How To Communicate Better At Work Easily And Accomplish More

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

Some people seem to know instinctively how to get along with others at work: how to make other people comfortable yet get their own points across without friction. This skill can seem elusive to most of us. But Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection, believes that anyone can learn to be a supercommunicator.

“It’s not that people who are supercommunicators are particularly charismatic or are uniquely extroverts,” he says in a recent conversation. “It’s just that they have learned a couple of skills that helped them, and they’ve also trained themselves to pay a little bit closer attention to what’s happening in a conversation and therefore be able to see opportunities.”

Supercommunicators practice several cornerstone skills which Duhigg says anyone can learn.

Start With Questions

Supercommunicators ask deep questions that probe to learn about people’s values, beliefs or experiences. It isn’t enough to ask about necessary facts and data, although those are always significant components of work conversations. Instead, deep questions focus on drawing out and understanding another person’s perspective, motivations and concerns.

For example, Duhigg suggests, a deep question “could be something as simple as, ‘Hey, Jim, I saw that memo you sent out and I’m just wondering, like, you obviously spent a lot of time on it. Tell me why you think it’s important? Like, what’s going on there that I really need to think about?’” The answers to these questions will cue you to what really matters to the other person—and the things you need to pay attention to as you continue to interact.

Listen Deeply For The Heart Of Things

No matter how good your questions are, says Duhigg, people always check to see if you’re actually paying attention to their answers or just waiting for the next chance to speak. He recommends using a technique called “looping for understanding” to prove you’re listening. When someone answers a deep question you’ve asked, listen to their answer carefully and then repeat back to them what you just heard—in your own words.

Then, take a step that most people don’t: Verify that you understood the other person correctly. “The reason that’s really powerful is because, first of all, it convinces the other person that we are listening to them,” Duhigg says. “And there’s a reciprocal need in our psychology, that if we listen to them and prove it, they’re going to listen to us in return.”

Identify The Nature Of The Conversation

It’s also important to pay attention to the specific kind of conversation the other person intends to have, because if you can mirror their intention, you can strengthen the relationship. “Every discussion is made up of many different kinds of conversations, and in general, those conversations fall into one of three buckets,” Duhigg explains.

“There are practical conversations, where we’re talking about plans or making decisions together. There are emotional conversations, where I tell you what I’m feeling and I don’t want you to solve my problem, I don’t want you to solve my feelings, I want you just to empathize and connect. And then there are social conversations which are about how we relate to each other in society, and how our social identities influence how we see things.”

According to Duhigg, “All three of these conversations are equally valid, and all three of them very well might happen in one discussion. But what’s important is that they use three different parts of our brains, so if we’re not having the same kind of conversation at the same moment, then we’re unlikely to connect.”

Show Your Desire For Connection

When you demonstrate your human desire for connection, you naturally build trust and can move forward together more easily to accomplish your goals. When people feel connected, they tend to reciprocate at the same depth of authenticity, feeling and meaning, all of which strengthen their sense of relationship. That can be true whether or not the individuals happen to agree about, say, the compensation package or warehouse layout they’re discussing.

It’s also important to match the other person’s tone. When we enter a conversation, “if we feel anxious, or it feels hard, it’s because we don’t actually know if this other person actually wants to be talking to us or if they want to connect with us,” Duhigg explains. “And by the same token, they don’t know if we really want to be talking to them, if we want to connect with them.” But supercommunicators make their desire for connection obvious. “‘They say things like, ‘Oh my gosh! That’s so interesting! What happened next?’” he says. And “they laugh and return’” to the conversation, showing that they want to connect.

Communication Is A Leadership Responsibility

There will always be times when leaders need to be extremely directive, like during a crisis or when an initiative is going off course. But once you get past any need for command-and-control leadership, leaders can motivate employees through conversation. “Look, if you don’t know how to loop for understanding with one of your direct reports, you’ve got a major deficit in your leadership toolbox,” Duhigg says. “If you don’t know how to ask the right questions and listen for what’s unsaid, then you’re taking huge risks because there might be stuff going on.”

But leaders shouldn’t try to control the dialog or anyone’s emotional response. Instead, a leader should face—and work on—the things that the two individuals can control together. “That doesn’t mean that we’re going to agree with each other,” Duhigg says. “But it does mean that we cooperate on some basic things. And that cooperation is going to make it easier for us to find a solution.”

Onward and upward—

Leave a Reply