Whether by a current sensitivity on my part or proximity to consistently similar circumstances, I have become more and more attuned to the sound of obtuse communication. In business setting after business setting there is an apparent absence of candor, and hence, clarity in communication. Those delivering the message seem either unable or unwilling to say what they mean, and those receiving the message appear to be either too disengaged or afraid to hear what is being said. It’s probably a little of both.
The underlying core of this problem has many faces. Perhaps in these uncharted times managers don’t really know what to do, or how to lead their teams. Think about it, unless you were in management prior to about 1988 you haven’t seen anything resembling a real recession during your career. Most economic challenges in the past 20 years were merely speed bumps. For the most part the market place has been wind in the sails and a rising tide. Leading and managing in the leaner years requires clarity in direction, unwavering resolve to endure, nimbleness of thought and action to adapt, and unity of team to support the efforts. Perhaps we also have a population of managers, employees, associates and staff members that weren’t trained to listen and consequently don’t understand their half of the responsibility to comprehend the direction being given by the leader and their role in confirming and acting on that understanding. Many of these members of the workforce were educated in a “subjective” style wherein they were given great latitude to interpret the educational offering as it fit their “learning style”. Contrast this with a more “objective” style of learning which was authoritarian and rote. Judging neither method nor its students, there are likely many management relationships in all of our settings that pit a manager wondering why her people don’t understand what she is trying to say and employees befuddled by a message they can’t understand and act on. At best we get action by guessing or worse yet, no action at all. In 2002, by the good graces of a wise mentor the book Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott, landed on my desk. This book turned out to be one of the three most important management books I have read in my 25 year career, and I have read many. (If you’re curious, the other two of my top three are; The Customer Comes Second, by Hal Rosenbluth originally published in 1992; and, Good to Great, by Jim Collins, published in 2001.)At the core of any enduring, productive, successful relationship is effective communication. While there are endless works on communication it all boils down to both the “sender” and the “receiver” being engaged in the communication process, the stage being properly set, the message being clear and relevant, and some form of confirmation from both parties that what was said is what was heard. In Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott masterfully outlines the fundamentals of effective communication. She offers seven principles that are dead on target. Scott’s principles are:
- Master the courage to interrogate reality: Reality shifts all the time. Don’t accept what you believe you know, make sure you know what you know.
- Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real: Change can only occur when real conversations occur. “Unreal” conversations are expensive and a waste of time.
- Be here, prepared to be nowhere else: Participate in every conversation as if it matters..it probably does.
- Tackle your toughest challenge today: The problem named is the problem solved. Burnout doesn’t occur because we’re solving problems; it occurs because we have been trying to solve the same problem over and over.
- Obey your instincts: Your radar screen works perfectly. It’s the operator who is in question.
- Take responsibility for your emotional wake: For the leader there is no trivial comment. The conversation is not about the relationship, the conversation is the relationship.
- Let silence do the heavy lifting: Memorable and meaningful conversations have a lot of breathing space.
Quoted from Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, Viking Penguin 2002
In times of great challenge weas leaders must give clear direction, galvanize our teams to achieve great things with limited time and resources, and take advantage of emerging opportunities in a hyper competitive environment. The ability to communicate effectively and in the moment is the cornerstone of great leadership regardless of our level in our enterprises. Study Susan Scott’s guidance for better communication in your company and put these principles to work. Then, witness the results. I am absolutely sure you will find yourself leading a more engaged, more focused, more committed, and more productive team. Spirits will soar in response to the honesty and clarity; yours and your teams.Lead on!