We've all heard the adage, "Think before you speak." This blog exists to help you think about how you speak (or write) to make sure your message is having its optimal impact. This post is the third in a series called Compassionate Communication which focuses on the importance of achieving a heart. connection with your audience. If you want to get the full context, go back and read the prior two posts, here and here.
Think about why you talk. Passing on a message is only part of it, There's something far bigger going on.
In our first post in this series, we talked about why children first learn to use words: to enlist help doing something they can't do alone. As adults, we still reach out and communicate countless times a day, motivated by the desire to shape our life experience in collaboration with others.
In the business world, a great deal of our communicating is undertaken to build passion and performance around a project. Whether we are team leaders or team players, we are still using words to get help, all day long, in every task on our agenda.
Boil it down and you get to this realization:
Communication is not just to tell someone something.
It's to sell someone something.
In the last post, I asked you to consider how your worldview is being communicated to others, every time you open your mouth. That may seem at odds with the idea of on-the-job messaging, but I assure you, it's not. It's a fundamental part of team communications. Let me prove it to you:
Stop right here and think about your top project at work right now. Got it? Now, think about the other people with whom you need to work. These may be people who report to you, people above you on the org chart, or people who report to someone else -- people parallel to you. Take a minute to identify three or four names. Do you have your list? Fill them in:
My Project: ______________________
My People: ______________________
Now, on this project, with these people, what are your hottest issues? They probably involve compiling and interpreting data, competing for resources or prioritization, making sure that standard processes are being followed, proving the reliability of the end product, and dealing with setbacks as they occur, All those situations have a common denominator: you need to ask people to put in effort.
Scan the names on your list. Chances are, when you deal with issues like the ones above, you communicate in a different style with different people.
- For some people, you need to craft your message diplomatically, using formal language. Your communication may include extensive background context, including explanations of rationale, citing of precedents, and even name-dropping to establish validity. You may work up a draft, then edit it down strategically, fearing that the person will lose interest or become impatient with you. Even after you send your perfect message, you might anticipate having to go through some additional back-and-forth dialogue to overcome objections before getting the outcome you need. All of this takes a lot of investment of time and energy on your part.
- With other people, it's just a simple one-liner: "Here's what we need, when can we get it?" One-and-done messaging, with a more-or-less guaranteed outcome.
What's the difference between the two? Worldview.
The "easy" people on your list are the ones with whom you already have a comfortable relationship -- the people about whom you might say, "We have an understanding." More precisely put, they have already gotten a taste of how you operate, and have judged that it's based on a worldview that is compatible with their own. Your story aligns with theirs -- or, if it doesn't align completely, at least it aligns enough for them to be able to predict your behavior, and conclude that their world won't be at risk if they accept your message and act on it.
How much people trust your worldview equals how much they will cooperate with you.
Actually, this is where a lot of leaders go the Breaking Bad route. They use threats to get people in compliance -- that is, they project a worldview that power dictates privilege, and bad things will happen to people who don't toe the line. Whether you're the head of a drug cartel, or the Human Resources Director of a huge organization, the tactics are still the same: abuse, intimidation, outbursts, retribution.
Companies with a top-down structure of veiled agendas and political favoritism invest overwhelmingly in this bullying worldview, with significant short-term success. But they also end up losing their best people. In fact, one of the surest ways that you can track an organization's decline is to look at who's leaving of their own accord within any twelve month period. (One of my most reliable mottoes, proven over decades in the workplace, is this one: Healthy organizations attract healthy people. Unhealthy organizations attract unhealthy people.)
Bullying may seem effective in the short run, but in the long run it decimates the team and sabotages real teamwork, and real success. The people who remain are fearful. Fearful people are passive-aggressive people, and there's no way to gain a competitive edge when the shop floor culture is covertly planning to overthrow the dictatorship!
- Engagement withers in a Fear Factor culture where individuals feel steeped in a worldview based on negative messages: "You do this, or go."
- Engagement blossoms in a culture where individuals feel supported by a worldview based on positive messages: "Let's do this, and grow!"
Does this sound too naive? Too Utopian? Not a bit. This is how real progress -- and measurable market share gains -- occur. This is why true employee buy-in is crucial. This is why it's about the sell, not merely the tell.
To get people to maximize their work product, we need to reassure them that they are working for a common good that they can not only accept intellectually, but absolutely bask in emotionally.
Just as a salesperson needs to make a positive connection with the client to sell the product, you need to make a positive connection with your colleagues to sell the project.
Even before they hear the particulars of what you have to say, people need to feel "bought in" to some degree. If they don't feel that connection, they won't even listen. But if they do feel that they can share in your perspective and your values, even a little, they will open up to what you have to say, with their whole being -- head, heart, and hands.
In our next posts, we'll share five tips for how to revise your messaging to communicate a positive holistic worldview that can achieve buy-in and maximize collaboration. It's simpler than it sounds... actually, it's really just a checklist. (An incredibly powerful one!)
Meanwhile, here's some homework: think about the project and the people that you identified earlier. Consider why it's easier to talk to some colleagues than to others. How much does worldview play a role in your workplace?
Start thinking about all those carefully crafted emails and well-rehearsed phone calls into which you put so much effort every week. Wouldn't it be much easier if everyone was on the same side of the issues, seeing things from the same worldview?