My clients often ask me how to communicate more effectively. We all are capable of effective communication, we just haven't learned how to actually do it. Here are some basic tips on how to get started.
1. Set up an atmosphere for communicating. Everyone gets to say what they want, nobody is punished, and everyone is safe to say what they want with no fear of retribution. It's important to set up an environment where people actually can participate freely without having to worry that it will affect their jobs. You can't just say you have an open door policy; you have to demonstrate that you really will follow through.
2. Everyone agrees to listen and only person talks at a time. When someone speaks other people simply listen. There should be no advice giving, rebuttals or contradicting. Everyone gets a chance to say what they want. Stick to these guidelines in order to create an atmosphere where people respect each other and commit to listening to one another without the usual chaos that ensues in regular meetings.
3. Everyone agrees that there is no such thing as a wrong comment or dumb question. Think about how you feel when your point of view is crushed. It's very important, and productive, to validate people's input. It doesn't really matter whether they are wrong or right and you don't have to implement their ideas. The point is simply to help people feel important by accepting their comments.
4. Everyone agrees to talk about the same amount of time. No one person monopolizes the conversation. No one person is more important than another. Level the playing field by eliminating the demoralizing effect of one person standing there talking endlessly while everyone else falls asleep. Make sure everyone has a voice.
5. We agree to communicate with each other respectfully, with a calm tone of voice, without harsh language and with no derogatory comments. Louder isn't always better or more effective. It's much more enjoyable to talk calmly and give yourself a chance to relax instead of always being agitated.
6. We agree that any information that is communicated will not be used against someone or to make them feel bad. We promise to not use information to hurt other people and that we will be a workplace that values individuals' input.
7. Keep it simple. Say what you mean, say it briefly and constructively. People fall in love with the sound of their own voices and forget that other people have equally important things to say. Say what you want to say and then get out of the way. Practice saying things briefly, you will eventually get good at it and be able to devote your time to more enjoyable pursuits.
8. Leave any personal agendas out of the meeting. When people come in with a predetermined outcome in mind it tends to derail the whole group. Keep an open mind and redirect the conversation when you notice that someone is trying to settle a score or is aggressively advocating for a personal issue.
10. Keep it positive. Communication ideally builds a positive atmosphere that promotes solutions rather than only gripe sessions. Remember to model positive behavior so that everyone follows your lead. Keep the tone upbeat and people will have a hard time staying cranky.
Once you follow all of these concepts you will be on your way to communicating effectively. Each one takes practice and commitment from all parties involved. Practice each area (one at a time) until you master it. At first, you will notice resistance and people may even think you are nuts. Over time people will enjoy the new, calmer way of doing things and you will get more work done. When you have mastered all of them you will experience the peace of mind that comes from communicating effectively.