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Avoid Saying ‘You’ ‘Always’ ‘Never’

When providing feedback, it’s all about the delivery. To achieve your end goal more often avoid the pronoun ‘you’ and avoiding generalizations when giving constructive criticism. Just think about how you felt the last time somebody said ‘You are always late for meetings’ or ‘You never do your share of the work’ – it triggers the defensive reflex.

The purpose of constructive criticism is to change future behavior, not to shame the person exhibiting the behavior. Use of the words ‘you’ and ‘always’ or ‘never’ when giving criticism raises people’s defenses and hinders effective communication, reducing the chance of changed behavior. When we hear ‘you’ we tend to react as if we are being personally attacked, even if that is not the intention. When we hear generalizations such as ‘always’ or ‘never,’ we tend to react as if it is not fair, because nothing is true 100 percent of the time.

These defensive human reactions have to do with the attribution bias, which is the human tendency to take personal credit when things go well and give responsibility to outside factors when things don’t. Attribution bias works just the opposite for others; we assign personal responsibility to others when things don’t go well and assign credit to outside factors when things do go well.

Given what we know about human nature, you will be much more effective as a leader if you carefully word your constructive criticism. To get a sense, just imagine yourself in these two scenarios and see how you feel.

Scenario One: Coffee spills on your shirt so you have to change it before leaving. Public transit is delayed on your route by 10 minutes. You walk into the Monday morning meeting five minutes late and your boss says, ‘You are always late.’

Scenario Two: Coffee spills on your shirt so you have to change it before leaving. Public transit is delayed on your route by 10 minutes. You walk in to the Monday morning meeting five minutes late and your boss says, ‘Let’s all try to be on time next Monday so we can start our week off right.’

If you are like most people, the first scenario feels like a personal attack and you think that factors out of your control were the cause of your lateness. The second scenario feels much more palatable because you think that factors out of your control made you late, but still acknowledge that it is better if everyone is on time.

As a leader, you can experiment with wording your criticism carefully and then watch the different reactions of those whose behavior you are trying to modify. The table below gives examples of alternative statements you can make while doing this experiment.

Instead of Saying This . . .   Say That
You never do your share of the work. Can you stop being lazy and get to work? Don’t you see that everyone else is working harder than you here? When we all contribute significantly, we all benefit from reaching our goals. What do you think your greatest contribution can be here? Is there anything that is hindering your efforts?
You always mess up projects. Your mistake is costing everyone. What were you thinking? How are you going to fix it? The mistake made on this project has significant consequences. What do you think we can do to correct it immediately and prevent it from happening again in the future?
The way you talk to coworkers always pisses everyone off and never gets you what you want. Why are you so rude? Since everyone has different styles of communication, it is helpful to adapt to others’ styles in the office. How can I help you to observe others and learn to adapt to their styles?

 

Odds are you will be pleasantly surprised at how switching just a few words can have a significant impact on the reaction of others and the achievement of your end goal of changed behavior.

Get Out of Your Head

Most of us look at things from our own perspective. This makes total sense because we are with ourselves more than anyone else. But, it doesn’t make as much sense when we are striving for effective communication with others.

When we communicate and interact with other people, our own thoughts are often very active and distracting. We are thinking questions like, ‘what does this person think about what I am saying?’ ‘am I sounding intelligent here?’ ‘did I offend them with that last comment?’ ‘are they convinced of my opinion?’ ‘what am I going to say next?’. Often we are planning what we are going to say in response to what they are saying. Rarely are we paying 100% attention to the other person’s words and body language, even though we know that is what makes the most effective communication.

A key to effective communication is to get out of your own head. By quieting the stream of thoughts in your own mind and focusing on the other person, you increase the likelihood of a successful interaction. A successful interaction is defined as the person feeling heard and you gaining valuable information, including and beyond the content actually being spoken.

How do you quiet that stream of thoughts? Perspective, patience, and practice.

Perspective

Look at things from the other person’s point of view in advance of the interaction. Catalog what you know about the person and how that knowledge may affect their opinions of the topic to be discussed. In this exercise, you can compare and contrast your own perspective with your audience’s perspective to get a sense of similarity and differences.

Also define the objective or desired outcome of the interaction from both your and the other person’s perspective. For example, you have a planned phone call with a prospect and you know your objective is to get a face-to-face meeting. You can assume their objective is likely to discover if there is a good fit between your offering and their need, and you know that they are looking at many other providers. You also know that the person has an accounting background and shares the same home state as you. In this case, you would connect with similarities (home state), acknowledge their objective (determine fit), use logical appeals (accounting background), and close with the ask of including you in the list of providers with whom they meet (your objective). Note that this perspective-taking happens before the interaction, so these thoughts are not streaming in your head as you interact.

Patience

Let them finish every statement completely before you respond. The pause is a powerful communication technique. People feel that you are listening if you give a thoughtful (3-second) pause after they complete a statement. That pause actually allows you to fully listen while your audience is speaking and then think of your response in those 3 seconds. By fully listening while someone is speaking you gain more information than just the content of what they say. Nonverbal communication says a lot. The pace at which they make certain statements, their facial expression and body language – it all tells you more than just the words. Take our example above and assume you got the face-to-face meeting and kick it off by asking their top priorities. The person responds with a list of three but states the first two very quickly and then slows down their speaking pace on the last one. Likely that last one is really the most important one and you just got that added information because you were being patient and really listening.

Practice

After 100 times it will be habit for you to get out of your head and focus primarily on the other person. While it is not always easy to be an attentive communicator, it is well worth the effort. Don’t give up just because you’re stuck in your head for a conversation (or a few conversations). Set your intention, practice, and then kindly remind yourself to return your attention to the other person when you find yourself focused on the stream of thoughts in your head. Tricks to keep your focus on the other person include paraphrasing what they said in your mind or focusing intently on one aspect of nonverbal communication such as their facial expressions or what they are doing with their hands.

By taking the other person’s perspective in advance and planning how you will accommodate that perspective, you can minimize streaming thoughts during the interaction. By being patient and letting them finish every statement before you respond you are both making them feel heard and gaining valuable information for yourself. By practicing you get better at communicating, which improves your interactions, your relationships, and your desired outcomes.

 

 

 

 

“Works well with others” Required

Two budding leaders from Kulesa Faul Public Relations spoke to my Leadership Communication class at San Francisco State this week, offering advice to students interested in entering the profession. The interactive conversation was a good reminder of how effective communication plays into career advancement in addition to being essential for the art of public relations. Here are a few memorable pieces of advice that I find relevant to all stages of leadership.

If you want something, take initiative

That something could be more responsibility within your organization or a better understanding of a client’s perspective on an industry topic, but it will take your initiative to make it happen. Those who sit back and wait don’t get very far in the field of public relations (or any other field, I might add).

A problem with a coworker can be worked out 1:1

The person to go to if you have an issue is the very person with whom you are having an issue. You might first get advice from a mentor on how to deal with the specific problem at hand, but to solving it requires open, honest, and non-judging communication. Sometimes that is best done out of the office and over drinks so that both people can be relaxed and focused.

Acknowledge and appreciate different working styles

Understanding the every person has unique strengths to contribute and different ways of working is essential for high standards of excellence. Success requires learning team members’ styles and then adapting communication so that everyone on the team can contribute and understand others’ contributions.

Intentionally choose the best mode of communication

Email, text, instant messaging, call, videoconference, face-to-face – we have so many possible modes of communication available. Good public relations, good client relations, and good team relations all rely on selecting the best mode for the situation. Taking into account personal preferences, urgency, sensitivity of the content, and the number of people involved will help ensure the most appropriate communication mode is intentionally used.

I truly appreciate the reminder that relationships are the key to success and good communication is key to relationships. Therefore, ‘works well with others’ is required in public relations (and in life).

Consciously Resolve Conflict

While we know conflict is part of life, it still can catch us by surprise and throw us off our ‘conscious communicator’ game. To stay present and bring our best selves forward when conflict arises we need to be knowledgeable and practice being present with discomfort.

In terms of being knowledgeable, there is both understanding the nature of conflict resolution and being prepared to face a specific conflict.

Let’s review conflict basics. There are four elements necessary for conflict: opposing forces, interdependence, affect or emotions, and perceived differences. It is helpful to remember that there needs to be an interdependence in order for there to be a conflict in the first place; there is a connection at some level between the conflicting parties that you can use to help solve the conflict. The word ‘perceived’ is also a key part of the definition because perceptions can change, and as perceptions change options for resolving conflict can arise.

Now, let’s consider the five styles used in approaching conflict set out by Kilmann & Thomas:

  1. Avoidance – passively ignore conflict – this is usually counterproductive unless it is used for cooling off before addressing the conflict or for minor issues.
  2. Competition – pursuing only own goals – this is productive for only one person, it is a win-lose situation.
  3. Accommodation – defer to others – this is productive for the other person, it is a lose-win situation and tends to build resentment.
  4. Compromise – give and take – this is a productive style and can be thought of as the middle ground where each party wins some and loses some.  Compromise is the most common (positive) style of solving conflict.
  5. Collaboration – finding a new alternative together – this is a win-win where both parties walk away feeling they gained something, but it takes time and is difficult to achieve. Collaboration leads to the best outcomes for both parties in a conflict.

Fisher and Ury developed Principled Negotiations, which is a collaboration style of resolving conflict with four action items that are illustrated in the graphic below; separate the people from the problem, focus on interests, not positions, invent options for mutual gain, and use objective criteria for resolution. An example of a position is pro tax increase; the interests for that position might be fairness for all citizens or support for public servants.  By focusing on the interests or motivations behind the positions of each party, it opens up possibility of options for mutual gain.

book-getting-to-yes1

Source: sachachua.com

Of course, even after we have refreshed our memory on the nature of conflict and resolution, we still need to prepare for a specific conflict. Sometimes we know in advance that we will be facing conflict. Then we can prepare by figuring out exactly what we want, what the other party wants (to the best of our knowledge), what we are willing to give away, and lastly what options we have if negotiations fail. Other times we walk into a conflict in the moment and need to gather our thoughts and composure on the spot. In these cases, our ability to be with discomfort is as important as our critical thinking. This takes practice.

Any time we are upset at things that doesn’t go our way, we have the opportunity to try and be our best selves in that moment. One technique for doing so is Tara Brach’s RAIN.

R stands for recognize – pause, take a breath, focus inward and become aware of what is happening inside of you at this very moment. I find it helpful to name it – upset, anger, tension, or fear.

A stands for allow – instead of trying to push away the discomfort, just allow it to be.

I stands for investigate – kindly look at your inner experience from a higher perspective to discover what is being triggered in you and what patterns you see.

N stands for non-identification – realize that you are not your current feelings and that, like everything else in this universe, the current situation is not permanent.

This RAIN technique takes just a moment, and it can create a major shift in perspective that allows you to be more open-minded and openhearted, while still advocating for yourself during a conflict.

To further develop your conflict resolution techniques, you can refer to negotiation expert William Ury’s new book, Getting to Yes with Yourself and the six steps he recommends.

As we all face conflicts, some big and some small, bringing our best self forward by being present with discomfort and brushing up our resolution techniques can help us consciously connect with fellow humans.