Leadership is almost entirely made up of communication.
Communication means what you say, what you don’t say, what you write, text, type, what your face says unconsciously, what your body shouts by accident! Communication is also the only way to resolve the issues that crop up and pull teams & relationships apart. A fractured relationship causes incredible stress, and the worst part of everyone tends to show up.
In this blog, we will explore 4 steps to help you navigate the miscommunication, hurt, and resentment that build up at work and home:
Step 1: What is the story I am telling myself?
Ask yourself: What is the story I am telling myself about what the other person is saying or doing? In the space between what they are saying or doing and how you feel, lies the story that you are telling yourself. The story gives rise to emotions. It isn’t actually the behaviour in and of itself, it is the story you tell yourself about the other persons behaviour.
Let’s track some examples through the 4 steps:
Example 1: When your husband doesn’t pick up the “thing” from the place that you specifically asked him to, it makes you feel irritated and unappreciated for all the things you do. You unconsciously add this complaint to the growing list of others that you keep tally of in your head and tell yourself the story that he forgot because he doesn’t love you and disrespects your needs.
Example 2: When your Boss seemingly asks everyone else for input in the meeting and doesn’t ask you; you feel excluded and marginalized & look for more evidence to support your feeling. The story you tell yourself is that your Boss values other people’s opinions more than yours & you pull further back into yourself and avoid offering suggestions.
Step 2. Interrogate that story.
Seriously? Would a rational human-being actually try so hard to be hurtful/mean/disrespectful? Or could there be another reason? We often assume that others are doing things to us with malicious intent. We think that they are thinking as much about us as we are in that moment thinking about them. The humbling reality is that we do not take up as much head-space in other people’s minds as we think! Most people aren’t trying to hurt, insult, ignore, or cause injury. So, assume positive intent and look for alternative reasonable explanations for the behavior that contributed to the story you are telling yourself.
Example 1: He just totally forgot, distracted by the pressure of other things. OR he was multi-tasking and talking on the phone whilst driving and got distracted. OR ….
Example 2: The Boss didn’t notice that you were not invited to participate, it wasn’t personal it was just an oversight. The Boss probably didn’t notice that everyone else was included! That was just a happy coincidence (for them).
Step 3: Choose your response
You could react and show-up as your out-of-control 3-year-old self: sulk, withdraw, shoot out a sarcastic comment or accidentally on purpose forget to do what he asked you to do. Or you could pick up the phone/ walk over and curiously enquire about what they meant. (Note: curiously enquire! Not demand, not sarcastically rebuff.) Also – pick up the phone… not text… not email! Voice carries meaning & motivation. In a text or email, it is really tricky to convey tone, even with a plethora of emoji’s and animated GIFS. Take the guessing and assumptions from the table and use your voice. Better yet, add your body into the communication: your facial expressions, your posture, your demeanor all send major signals to the recipient of your communication. A gentle smile, open hand gestures, slightly raised eye-brows are all associated with warmth, genuine connection, and curiosity.
Example 1: I was making up all sorts of stories about why you didn’t collect the “thing” for me, help me understand what happened…
Example 2: I was making up a story about how I was excluded from participating in that meeting on purpose, but I am sure there is another explanation, help me understand this from your perspective….
Step 4: Listen
Listen with more than just your face. Listen with your whole self, including your brain. Listen to what the other person actually says and repeat what you heard back to them. When you do that it lets them know you are serious about this listening thing. Stay curious. Stay kind.
Actively listening helps the other person feel respected. And when they do, most often they match respect with respect. After all… why are you bothering to ask what their perspective is?
Is your motive to show how wrong they are? And how right and perfect you are? If it is… don’t bother. You don’t want to resolve conflict, you want to stir it up.
Resolving conflict takes self-control: notice your story, engage your curiosity, listen, and mean it, check your motive. Stay curious, stay kind.
[One of the best books on this topic is Crucial Conversations – Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High. The steps above are loosely based on their work.]
Angela de Longchamps is the Lead Architect & Founder of Inspired Leadership. She is a passionate South African who sees potential in all people. South Africans are resilient, creative and optimistic people who look for humor in whatever they encounter.
Angela has leveraged her South African spirit into a career inspiring people. Since leaving her long-term corporate employment with IBM in 2017, she has taken her extensive experience in designing & running blended learning journeys, facilitating leadership development across the world and studying what makes people tick and led the design & deployment of the learning experience that is Inspired Leadership.