11 Pitfalls to Avoid in Difficult Business Communication
Recently, I was asked to observe a Home Owners Association board meeting and to provide feedback about what the board members could do to have more effective meetings. From the outset, it was obvious these individuals had never received any type of business communication training.
More than anything, I was shocked at the way they treated each other. The lack of respect and common courtesy they displayed had a huge impact on how some engaged or chose not to engage. The atmosphere their behavior created did not invite collaboration, contribution, or cooperation.
As the meeting began to unfold, what was obvious was that the lack of good communication skills negatively impacted the participants’ ability to rationally consider the topic being discussed. Because I was asked not to intervene, only observe, I had the opportunity to take some notes and create a plan to help them.
Based on those observations, here are some ideas you can implement when faced with difficult business communication in your organization.
Don’t Be Waylaid by Process; Focus on Content
Some people act so disrespectful in their message delivery that we become easily distracted by their bad behavior. Focus on the content of their message and try to understand what is important to them. You can do this by asking considerate and thoughtful questions which demonstrates respect for what they have to say. It will also help you to understand their perspective, and not become derailed by their antics.
Don’t Take Others’ Behavior Personally: See Past Their Actions
Easier said than done, right? When people yell, judge, or blame others, you know something important to them is not being considered. Their behavior not only says more about them than it does about you, but it also signals a violated value. Whether that violation is real isn’t important. It is real to them, or they wouldn’t be acting as they are. Try to understand what is important to them and then address it. Don’t make their behavior about you, because it is all about them.
Don’t Let Your Emotions Rule Your Behavior
Sometimes, before we are aware of what is happening, we begin to feel agitated, irritated or upset. When this happens, recognize your protective-reactive mechanism in your brain is taking over. It is important to be aware when this happens to take rational control in the moment. Take a deep breath, relax, and finish the sentence, “I am beginning to become angry because….”
Answering this question will help you return to rationality by forcing you to think about the reasons behind your feelings. Once you have surfaced your thinking, then you are in a place to challenge its accuracy.
Don’t Make Assumptions; Seek Data
Hopefully the assumptions or judgments we make stem from data or evidence. To maintain an objective perspective, ask yourself what they are assuming? Once you understand the assumptions made, ask for the information or data that supports their perspective. Don’t be surprised if the person doesn’t have any facts to support their position.
It’s also important to perform this same exercise on yourself. When our thinking is devoid of support, then it becomes necessary to question why we think and feel the way we do.
Don’t Shy Away from Disagreement; Embrace It
Many people avoid conflict of any kind for fear of the outcome. View disagreement as the opportunity to explore another perspective. When disagreements occur, lean into those conversations and try to understand by asking questions, exploring different experiences, and surfacing what is important to everyone.
You can refocus a business communication where disagreements occur by asking people what you have in common. This helps lift others above their own perspective to consider a broader view.
Don’t Push Your View to the Exclusion of Others
If you push your view too forcefully, you will only create more opposition. Push creates pushback. If you don’t make any progress with what you share, identify where the resistance comes from and take time to explore another’s view. Then ask if they might consider your outlook. If you shift your focus to understanding the naysayers, you will find they will be more willing to consider your perspective.
Don’t be Impatient – Take the Time You Need
Difficult business communication issues or topics take time to explore and understand. Some people want to make a quick decision so they can move to the next agenda item. Take time to consider if the decisions help, given the desired outcomes. The more input you get from others, the better the learning and solution will be. Productive dialogue or real talk takes time because it requires everyone’s contribution. Being patient will pay huge dividends down the road.
Don’t Let Bystanders Go Unheard – Draw People Out
Some people do not like to be the center of attention. So they will sit quietly and say nothing during important discussions. However, they may understand an issue and see the big picture better than anyone in the room. Notice who is not participating and invite them to share their thinking and perspective on tough issues. Don’t leave these people out of the business communication.
Don’t Let Appreciation Go Unexpressed
No matter how difficult some people may be to deal with, it’s imperative to treat everyone with respect and dignity. Thank people for sharing their views even if they do it disrespectfully. The sharing of ideas is what you want to reinforce, not the method of delivery. Perhaps the appreciation will help validate them to the extent that they may reconsider how they treat others. People tend to reflect the behaviors others project.
Don’t Avoid Making Ground Rules That Will Influence Behavior
The team meeting I observed could have avoided a number of issues if they had taken time to determine what ground rules would guide their behavior and discussion. Take time to develop agreed-upon procedures for discussing tough issues and making decisions. If you do this before the conversation goes awry, you can manage the effectiveness of business communication within the outlined parameters.
Don’t Avoid Giving Necessary Feedback
Sometimes we find it easier to say nothing when people behave badly. You need to assess the cost their behavior may have on others and the team’s effectiveness. If you determine their behavior is worth discussing, then you need to prepare and hold a conversation that will make them more aware of how they impact others and the results they wish to create.
Taking time to recognize what is not working and deliberately making changes will help individuals and groups to increase their effectiveness. Rather than falling into some of the pitfalls of poor business communication, incorporating the tips above will help you achieve your objectives, and help make your conversations work.