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Communicating With Respect

by Alice Lee
August 12, 2014

Communicating With Respect

by Alice Lee
August 12, 2014 | Comments (8)

I’ve always believed that the source, or “root cause”, of all conflict is miscommunication. Anything from a simple mistake to all out war can be caused by two or more parties misunderstanding each other.

I remember explaining to my children years ago the importance of learning how to communicate effectively when they were entering grade school. "If you are able to speak and actually be heard," I said, "you’ll be less frustrated." 

I have the same beliefs when it comes to effective communication at work. I share this simple approach with my colleagues. I ask:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What problem are you trying to solve?

Whether I’m coaching an individual or working with a team, designing curriculum for a class, or speaking to an audience, I always start with these two questions. I ask people to think about them carefully before they even attempt to communicate any big piece of information because I see too many people waste energy trying to communicate and falling short despite their best intentions.

So many of my colleagues struggle with being heard and feeling understood. They tell me how important it is to connect and engage an individual or group in order for them to move and act, and I know this myself. I hear my colleagues say they want to be better teachers and coaches and design curriculum that “speaks” to each student. I hear people say they hope to become more effective leaders. “Can I be more genuine in my communication?” they ask. “Is this possible to do without taking an inordinate amount of time and effort?” “Why is it so difficult to be understood?” We all struggle with how to share news, good and bad, and have the nuances understood.

Why these particular two questions? Because people learn best when they have context. We also learn and hear things differently depending on where we are in our learning curve as well as our change curve. People may respond to the same question differently as they progress along each of these curves. As a result, as leaders, how we design and deliver communication must take into account the purpose of the communication (i.e. what problem are you trying to solve?) and audience (i.e. who are these people, where are they in terms of knowledge and skill development, and where are they in their ability to accept change?).

In a recent article for the Post, Steve Bell shared the concept of Shu-ha-ri in Aikido, a Japanese martial art. It describes 3 states of learning. The learner starts with rote learning (to build a basic foundation for learning) before moving on to exploration and reflection (to better understand the knowledge attained) before finally becoming a true practitioner. When we want to share knowledge, far too often we try to create a one-size-fits-all communiqué. And then we wonder why it doesn’t work. We might keep Shu-ha-ri in mind as we ask these two questions to design our communication.

Understanding who your audience is and what motivates them, why they’re interested in a particular problem, and where their learning level is what helps you hone your approach. Give people too much, too soon and you lose them. Give people too little, too late and along the way they will get bored and check out. In both cases, your colleagues won’t feel a connection with you and may not feel respected by you.

In my experience, this simple two question approach will make you a better teacher and coach, a more powerful speaker and leader, and help you facilitate and focus a team on solving the right problems more effectively. Try asking them next time you have an important problem to address. Tell me what you discover.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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8 Comments | Post a Comment
Trinidad Hermida August 12, 2014
12 People AGREE with this comment

Thank you for sharing this, I have had problems in the past with getting my message across to my audience and this explains a lot. This is useful and I can't wait to implement it.

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Bonnie Baker August 12, 2014
15 People AGREE with this comment
One of the many pieces of advice that will always stay with me, professionally and personally. Thanks, Alice!

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Samantha Ruokis August 13, 2014
11 People AGREE with this reply
Like Bonnie and others who have had the pleasure of working with Alice, this is one of the many concepts that has stuck with me. Simple and useful in many situations! Thanks for sharing, Alice!

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Eric Hill August 14, 2014
12 People AGREE with this comment
Great article.  I've seen poor communication lead to so many issues within the workplace.  A team that habitually asks these 2 questions will create a positive environment and succeessfull results.

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Otto Funke August 19, 2014
11 People AGREE with this reply
Nicely put, Alice.  I have used both questions myself, and when coaching others, but seldom have I purposefully combined them.

Both questions help the learner narrow scope and focus.

If we practice asking .. and answering .. these two questions, they can become habit.

Then, clarity and brevity become our regular practice.

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Oriol Cuatrecasas August 21, 2014
10 People AGREE with this comment
Completely agree! I want to highlight your comments about understanding other point of view, needs...

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Danielle McGuiness August 26, 2014
9 People AGREE with this comment
love it!

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Fazal March 01, 2015
2 People AGREE with this comment

“root cause”, of all conflict is miscommunication

You'r abosolutely right. It's true in personal and professional life as well. 

How not to miscommunicate is a real challenge especially in the professional sphere at the work place. I consult in Lean implementation. At one of my client's place on the very first day I winessed the boss of the company reviewing previou day's production.

Fuming at the targets not achieved and blasting the guys really hard but at the same time listening to the excuses and "problems" so nicely articulated of how the targets couldn't be achieved. Then in a really "Bossy" manner he handed down "solutions' to solve the problems.

It appeared to be a daily ritual with the same results of non performance repeated endlessly

When it was over I turned to the Boss and told him to change his communication style that would hopefully deliver results .

The first thing I told him was that meetings should be conducted to discuss solutions not problems. Problems can only be stated but not discussed. There will not be any waste of time in discussing problems. So ban discussion of problems in meetings.

Boss is there not to give solutions but to choose solutions. Tell your guys in the next review meeting that discussions on problems in the meeting is banned . They must present at least two solutions to their problem. 

The next meeting was started by the Boss with the new tag line. Every body got the message. As time passed the Boss started breathing easy as he didn't have to be a solution provider any more. Things gradually but firmly improved. Target achievement got better 

This is one way in how not to miscommunicate or make communication better with a different angle and perspective, and the benefits it can bring at the work place. There are many ways in how not to miscommunicate



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Search Posts:
Lead With Respect
By Michael Ballé and Freddy Ballé
Perfecting Patient Journeys
By Judy Worth, Tom Shuker, Beau Keyte, et al.
Big Problems? Start Small
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