Communication Is A Beautiful Thing

A beautiful thing happened during a client work session this week: the management team experienced the value of clear, honest communication.

For some time this client has been under the incorrect assumption that its management team communicated well with each other. Yet invariably when I’d have a one-on-one meeting with any member of the management team, I’d hear comments along the lines of, “Well, I believe what he really wants to do is…” or”I don’t think she’s really clear on how to proceed with…” and other similar comments about their colleagues.

They were more comfortable making assumptions about what others really wanted or believed, instead of simply asking pointed questions or confronting their peers to debate points of view.

To them, good communication meant never challenging one another or pushing one another for more information. Needless to say, this wasn’t benefiting customers, the team, or the company.

This “non-communication” needed to stop and this was the week it was going to happen.

I’d given them ample warning the one-on-one meetings were becoming counterproductive and were going to stop. It was time for honest, straight-forward communication from everyone — all the time.

The team nervously anticipated our work session, because they knew I’d be challenging each of them in ways they didn’t do themselves. They believed I would work some magic to get them to open up and honestly communicate with each.

I’m not a magician and I can’t do any tricks. I just don’t like poor communication.

So we established basic ground rules: All conversations had to focus on what was right for the customer, employees, or the company. The conversations couldn’t get personal — they had to stay professional.  Then, I simply had each person answer the questions asked of them directly.

When they talked but didn’t answer a question, I’d ask the question again in a slightly different format or have the person who asked the question rephrase it. When someone veered off topic, I’d redirect him or her back to it. About 30 minutes into the session, I noticed a few of the managers start to follow my lead. They were starting to see that I wasn’t being mean; I was simply asking for information. If I got it, we’d move on. If I didn’t, I’d probe deeper and ask more questions to help spur thought or uncover information.

The team started enjoying themselves as they learned to communicate as professional peers. The team heard information about projects that many of them had no idea were in the works or which were facing serious problems. They learned disagreeing could be productive. They offered ideas to help stalled projects move forward. The work session was productive and the managers seemed to have developed a greater respect for one another. They’d enjoyed having some difficult conversions. They’d enjoyed communicating honestly. It was beautiful!

If your managers talk but don’t communicate, show them how to communicate. Let them experience honest communication. It’s a beautiful thing.