How to negotiate the communications minefield
When we think of the word communication, we automatically think of speech and the written word. Communicating itself, is natural from the moment of birth, when we scream and make incoherent noises to explain our needs of the moment. As we develop our skills we demonstrate our needs and feelings by learning to speak and write, putting full sentences together and later on through technology such as the telephone and E-mail.
With the devoted assistance of our parents and education we have become equipped to write and speak correctly, learn the basics of other languages, and more recently children are learning to spread their word via computer. By the time we reach adulthood we should be excellent communicators and as we are expressing ourselves so well then our relationships and interactions in the both the home and workplace should be trouble free.
Now take a look at real life. What went wrong? Why are people so timid about expressing themselves or just make matters considerably worse when they endeavour to do so, thus creating hostile reactions rather than the fruitful results they were seeking. After all, the baby with its limited skills and diplomacy gets the food and change it requires immediately. Is it because as adults we recognise that babies do not know any better? Well, of course they don’t but that is not the real answer, though it may seem like the obvious conclusion. Anyone who has limited skills such as children, animals or those with mental problems do not consider what is thought of them and are able to be forthright with their emotions. If you are not happy with the way your business partner or colleagues are conducting certain negotiations one may be afraid to approach them because of a possible backlash and so keeping the peace seems like the safest option rather than creating tension.
A child will not care about any repercussions and will just demand its food, NOW. In return a child will give love and affection without words but by demonstrating feelings and making different sweeter noises, although still unintelligible. We have to use an extra sense of knowing to sense what is being said to us and whilst it may be frustrating, the communication does not result in ongoing hostility or litigation battles where we require lawyers to mediate because we cannot make an approach in a civilised and adult fashion.
Lack of communication is the most common problem in the world today. Couples divorce because they are not happy or are incompatible, but the ensuing battles usually occur due to the inability of both parties to talk to each other. Business problems arise for the same reason. It is unrealistic to expect to work with the same people every day and never be unhappy with them. Business partners and staff have different talents they bring to the workplace and this is exactly why they work together. However, conflicts will sometimes arise and this is natural and human. It is how we deal with the conflict that makes the difference between a more successful future and a bankrupt company.
The advent of E-mail was intended to improve links between people and to some extent this is true. If you are traveling on business to a time zone eight hours behind the E-mail ensures that information can still be passed on without the inconvenience of waking your boss at 3 am. It also allows us to send quick messages without being held up on the phone for ages. E-mail and the telephone has been the best invention ever for improving international business relations. As with everything, there is a downside…
We get so carried away with all this technology that we forget the disadvantages and the disastrous results of ‘remote communication’ When we are face to face with someone we can eyeball them and voice our concerns and it is harder to avoid giving an answer. So remote communicating or no communicating is safe. We will not be attacked and neither can we be accused of being seen as the bad guy for saying some things that might upset someone. So we remain quiet and suppress our true feelings. Let’s not rock the boat, after all it’s too risky.
Speaking as someone who has been accused all my life of being too honest and confrontational, because I have never seen the point of hiding ones feelings, there are many times when I find it hard to communicate because others do not always share my views and they refuse to talk. Openly expressing your concerns to someone who won’t talk is futile. The idea is to have successful dialogue, not monologue. This may be a wonderful release and get things off your chest and it is better than not speaking up at all and you will find that your comments have been heard and digested, which hopefully will bear positive results later, but it is not the same as a two way interaction. There are times when we know someone senses we have something to say but goes on the defensive before we have a chance to speak as they are convinced we are going to criticise. Many people are guilty of this and often miss out on information that can be complimentary or advantageous. In fact, I find that most of the time, fear gets in the way and this creates a rift between people before any interaction has taken place.
These situations arise when we feel unsafe and insecure and are frightened we will be ridiculed or counter attacked. The irony is that for the most part we discover that the results can be very positive and we can discover wonderful and constructive things about how others see us, thus resulting in a monumental breakthrough in the relationship that turns out to be beneficial for all concerned. There are some very basic aspects to review when approaching a sensitive issue with someone and the first is to look at why we are nervous in the first place. Have we created or sensed any hostility from the other person? Are we worried that they will take it too personally and we do not wish to hurt them or frightened that we will be faced with the ‘well, if that’s the way you feel’ attitude. All these factors depend on your intention behind the communication as much as the words you use and the most important thing is to be honest and explain how you feel about the circumstances.
I have listed below some basic steps for successful communication both at home and at work.
- Never suppress feelings. If something is concerning you speak up as soon as you have the opportunity. Suppression will lead to anger and subsequent friction. Once you have made the decision to confront you will feel an instant relief and the next part is simply a matter of when and how you carry out the dreaded deed.
- Go through in your mind exactly what you are going to say and imagine how you will turn things around if it starts to get hostile. Writing a script sometimes helps. This way you can memorise the script and it will give you something use as a reference o if things go off track you can return to the main points you wish to cover. Be firm but kind when it comes to focusing on the issue at hand and make it clear that you are expressing certain grievances for their benefit as well as your own. Nobody will appreciate it if you act in such a self absorbed manner that it comes across as if it is all about you without any consideration for others feelings. This leads me to the next point…
- Consider the other person’s feelings. Maybe you feel hurt but if there has been an awkward situation percolating for some time, they may feel more damaged by your own actions. It is better to clear the air than have two people wondering and trying to analyse – usually incorrectly – what the other is thinking.
- Talk firstly to the person or people concerned and not third parties who are on the peripheries. This is Chinese whispers and hardly a professional way to run a business. Sure, we all need people to talk to and discussing things with others is healthy, but you need to find out what is going on and you will only get this information by talking directly to the right individual.
- Choose the right time. When you sense someone is stressed or they have just announced that their dog passed away, their mother is in the hospital and they lost their savings on the stock market this morning, be a little sensitive. This is not the time to suggest a talk even if you have spent the past three days rehearsing your script and know you won’t have another chance until next week. It’s only a week and if it is that important it will wait for a few days. Speak face to face. It is too easy for others to make their excuses on the telephone and cut it short, leaving you frustrated and half a story will make matters worse.
- Have courage. Don’t be stubborn and think that if others have something to say, they should approach you. This may be the case, but why come down to their level? At least if you pass on your views and it is done in an honest and diplomatic way, you will know that you have been honourable and tried to do the right thing. Once you have broken down the barriers between you, ensure that you continue this level of communication in the future and discuss issues as they arise and make others feel comfortable enough to do the same.
At first this will be difficult but in the end you will gain respect once others recognize that your approaches are designed to be helpful and constructive in the long term.