Thursday, September 23, 2010

Communicating Change – Communilistening?

Off late I’ve considered a rather perplexing phenomenon with a group of managers. As managers go, they do communicate with the team; but the general consensuses are, they’re not really communicating; rather, talking to themselves.
You’d think that it’s pretty obvious; most people just love the sound of their voices. But here’s the challenge - how do you circumvent this tendency to zombify the audience?

Insight 1 – Answer your audience’s question, not yours:-
Honestly, this is kinda hard to explain; but I’ve observed this propensity to imagine that you are the one asking the question and answering it to yourself.

What do I mean by that?

Well, the manager goes through this mental journey of how he has come to the conclusion with a big assumption – He assumes that the question is formed and understood like how he has formed it. So a windy explanation of fundamentals ensues with lessons learned, factors and other points of views and such gets verbally vomited ad infinitum (well, it feels like it). Academics and Consultants fall easily into this trap.

Recommendations:- Clarify the question. Ask “Why” the question was posed in the first place; then answer that question. Not only will it show that as a manager/leader you are concerned with the person’s challenges, you’ll get better quality acceptance of your answer and alignment.

Insight 2- Questions don’t seek Answers; they unravel intents (To Give, to Take or to Avoid)
The Dale Carnegie courses talk about “What’s in it for Me” radio station (WII.FM), i.e. when you’re talking to someone, you have to frame it such that the audience knows how they will be impacted in a positive manner. I like to call it, the “To Take” mind set.

So here’s my attempt at improving this point of view, it’s not only about WII.FM, people can be contributors by nature; they ask because they really want to know how they can contribute to the goals and objectives of the manager’s vision.
The team sincerely wants to know how best they can coordinate such that the goals are met; and people need to know how fast or how slow change efforts progress based on their contributions. Amabile and Kramer (2010) have shown that progress is a powerful motivational tool; and a motivated team is an ‘engaged’ team.

As a manager/leader you are responsible to ensure that the team is ‘engaged’ throughout the journey. There’s the 3rd intention which is pretty negative so let’s not dwell there, hopefully the “to avoid” description speaks for itself.

Here’s a quick run through of potential unspoken questions that needs to be answered instead:-
1. How can I contribute?
2. How does what I’m doing now, fit the big picture; is it still relevant?
3. Why am I doing what I’m doing now?
4. How can I ‘affect’ the required ‘change’? Or rather; is what I’m doing really useful versus airy fairy fluff.

Communicating is hard, communicating and listening are even harder; and effective change hinges on affective and effective communication.

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