Aloha! This is post 3 of the series, and just this morning I determined that there will be 2 more after this. So buckle up, and get ready to tackle YOUR communication struggles!
Biggest communication struggle: Tact
For this one, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the definition:
Tact: a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense; skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations. – Dictionary.com
I think another way to put this is… “how to not make things worse.” Which is something we have all done in the past.
Unfortunately, tact is something you learn by actually making things worse… at first. Certainly this is not your intent, but you don’t develop “a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense” without at some point doing or saying something that DID give offense. The more you interact with people, the more you develop that sense.
That is not to say that you can’t apply what you have learned about one person to the interactions you have with another. You absolutely can use those experiences as a guide – but remember that everyone is different, and you also need to take into account what you know about that individual to determine what is going to make things worse, or give offense.
Spider-man has his spidey-sense that helps alert him to imminent danger. You need to develop a similar sense in yourself that alerts you to when you are about to make things worse.
The definition also mentions “skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations”. What makes the situation difficult or delicate? Generally, it’s the people you are interacting with (their personality or behavioral trends) or the subject matter. To me, the ultimate use of ‘tact’ is when you have to tell someone something that they really don’t want to hear.
Let’s say an employee did not get the promotion they were going for. One approach would be to say, “You didn’t get it. Too bad, so sad”. Pretty easy to see that those last 4 words were not only inappropriate, but most likely will make a difficult, potentially awkward situation, worse.
Using a little more tact, you would take into consideration what kind of employee they are, how far away from being qualified were they, and how much of the relationship do you want to preserve? This is where your powers of observation and perception come in, to guide your keen sense of what to do and how to approach the individual. You probably want to communicate WHY they didn’t get the promotion, and offer up any insight you have about what they could have done to increase their chances of consideration in the future. If you want this employee to continue to be a productive member of the staff, you have to approach this with their thoughts, feelings, impressions and desires in mind.
Most likely when you take all of those things into consideration, you will be acting with the appropriate amount of tact.
Biggest communication struggle: Not listening
Huh? What’d you say?
Whoever wrote this is not alone. Listening is a HUGE issue for many of us. We unfortunately now live in a society that, in public arenas, does not value true listening, but stating your case at all costs. There is no better example of ineffective communication than two people screaming at, and over, each other.
You said what you wanted to say, good for you. No one was listening. It’s like that question about the tree falling in the woods… it does make a sound, but no one is there to hear it, so it doesn’t matter.
If you know that listening is an issue for you, there are two major questions to ask yourself (and be honest with the answer, ‘cuz it doesn’t work any other way).
- Are there particular situations that I find it more difficult to truly listen?
- Are there specific people I tend not to listen to?
Notice I said nothing about the physical ability to hear. That’s because hearing and listening are two different things. It takes ears and the mechanisms in the ear canal to “hear” it takes an open mind to “listen”.
If you identified certain situations where it’s more difficult to listen, what are the common factors? Do you not like or understand the subject matter, does it not interest you, do you have opposing view points, is it due to distractions, either physical or mental…? The list goes on… Whatever you have identified, is there a way for you to get over that roadblock so you CAN listen? Even if you don’t like the subject matter, if you find that it’s important information you can use for your job, it can be easier to digest and willingly listen to.
If it’s a person, examine the level of trust and respect you have for them. We tend not to actively listen to those we don’t trust. It’s survival thing. Work on the trust and you’ll increase your ability to listen to them.
Listening takes focus, and it’s a skill you can develop. The distractions you create for yourself, the inner story you tell yourself that may or may not be true, clouds your ability to take in information more than any external factors ever could. The next time you feel yourself not listening, no matter the situation, try this:
- Clear your mind of assumptions and preconceived notions from the past
- Avoid the temptation to judge what you are hearing as its being said
- Allow the other person to speak without interruption
- Ask unassuming, non-threatening questions to clarify meaning and intent
- THINK before you respond (see post 1 for a piece on being patient)
Biggest communication struggle: Hot headed/emotions clouding communication
I’m not sure if these folks meant that other peoples’ hot headedness was clouding the communication or if it was their own. If others are getting hot headed, please refer to exhibit A & B (the previous topics in this post). If YOU are the hot head, read on.
We are emotional creatures, and that’s not something that will change. Emotions often drive our thoughts, which drive our behaviors. Sometimes when we think about things too much, and our multiplied thoughts actually drive our emotions, which drive our behaviors. Either way, our emotions are in the drivers seat, or are at least riding shotgun.
That means we need to be acutely aware of the things that DO boil our blood, and how to remain tactful (again, see exhibit A) in those situations. If you already know what kinds of things get under your skin, you can brace yourself when you sense them coming and CHOOSE to take a different path.
Since everything we do is a choice, choosing how you react to a situation is up to you – even if it angers you to the point of a vein popping out of your forehead. The key is to be ready for it… remember that a pot of water on a stove doesn’t boil (or boil over) immediately. It takes time to reach the right temperature. You generally have a “warming period” that you can use to examine the situation and choose a different path. Take a deep breath. Consider your options. Consider what blowing a gasket will do and how it probably is not the best scenario in the long run. Take another deep breath. Count to ten. Don’t you feel better already?
And you are probably thinking clearer, too, which can only help in the long run.
But what about those situations where you seem to go from 0 to 700 MPH in a split second? Well, you either don’t know your triggers, or other things have been building up that you have not addressed. When we don’t address things (i.e. closure), our emotions don’t get a sense of resolve; they still feel uneasy or unsettled. That’s like a bomb just waiting to go off… and you may never see who lit the fuse or just how short the fuse was.
The next time that happens, take a minute afterwords to replay the incident in your mind. Was there a trigger this time, or was this a little thing that is equivalent to the straw breaking the camel’s back? If so, what are the unresolved issues that have been ignored and that need to be dealt with?
One last thing that helps control or reduce our hot headed outbursts is trying to understand the other point of view. It’s not always easy, but if you have an appreciation of where they are coming from, you will see that they probably have some validity, even some things in common with what you are saying. If you are too busy trying to yell over them and make YOUR case, you’ll never hear that. And they won’t actually listen to you, either, no matter how loud you yell.
Thanks for reading!
Okay, so that was a long one. How about no more reading for now? Instead, here are two nerds on a roller coaster. Can anyone tell what coaster this is?