The Art of Articulation: Part Two

By Shane Metcalf, CCO of 15Five

In my last post, I discussed the importance of  brevity and vulnerability when communicating. No matter what the medium of communication, being honest and authentic creates a solid connection. Part Two is about communicating truth and instilling transparency as a practice in your organization.

All words begin as thoughts. So take some time before you broadcast them out into the world. If you want others to admire you as a confident and direct communicator, always consider the perspective and the need of the person who is listening to you or reading your words.

Why are you mumbling?

We usually obfuscate communications when we don’t feel we are performing well. Transparency is only scary when we feel lack of confidence around our performance, knowledge, or skillset. So when people don’t speak clearly, I am wondering what they are hiding or if there is an insecurity around knowledge or performance.

Most people feel intimidated to tell their bosses face to face that they are stuck and not making headway. But revealing stuck points is one of the most powerful things you can do when communicating up the ladder. For starters, the simple act of articulating an issue puts your mental machinery in gear.

As Charles Kettering famously said, “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.“ The key ingredient is to state it well, because the thinking involved in framing the question is the same as the thinking involved in analyzing the problem and ultimately discovering the solution.

The other part of discovering the solution comes by discussing an issue with others. Making them aware of where you are struggling, opens the door to receiving the coaching you need. Why struggle on your own, when you can pool resources and leverage the support of the team?

What can be said in 50 words can be said in 15

While information can be elicited from employees in a variety of ways, written reports have particular advantages for both the asker and the responder. The asker can take the time to contemplate and write specific questions. Only a precisely worded question will yield a concise answer. Not being face-to-face subconsciously gives the respondent permission to out the truth in his own language.

15Five was designed to get information quickly, by asking straightforward questions. When you are answering report questions, you may be tempted to discuss a variety of topics that you think will make you look good. This isn’t your annual performance review and will have the opposite impact of frustrating your manager.

So be a poet! No, your response doesn’t have to rhyme (in fact, it shouldn’t). Poetry is all about word economy. Take a few extra seconds to think out an answer that conveys your message in as few words as possible.

Know your audience

We’ve all been there, that boring meeting led by someone who droned on and on about information that everyone already knew.

The higher up the chain of the command you go, the quicker you must provide the information being sought. You don’t have to go off on a diatribe about your core values when speaking with your founder. He or she probably wrote them and knows them better than you. Give the information that is unknown to the listener and just enough background to provide context.

When you are having an in-person conversation, look at the person you are speaking to. Are they actively listening or experiencing discomfort? If their eager listening face turns to a furrowed brow and then they start checking their phone, you are no longer speaking effectively. In person, you have to constantly re-calibrate the audience. Adjust your communication accordingly and address your audience with questions, if needed.

Watch Out for the Elephant

Throughout my career, I would have conversations with colleagues or clients and it was apparent that they were hiding something big. It’s amusing to me when others are obviously hiding massive concerns or conflicts. When I was able to elicit the thing they were dancing around, tensions eased up and an outcome emerged. There may have been a period of awkward discomfort, but on the other side is greater clarity around what both parties want and how to achieve that.

I believe in discussing the tense points and the friction to out the bitter (and beautiful!) truth. Share what’s going on for you and speak it directly. Instead of “I don’t trust you”, express the outcome of someone’s failure to meet a deadline. Being direct and explaining the bigger picture can give the other person a permanent sense of ownership.

Be forthright and specific, calling it as it is without judgment. Always get to the hard conversation immediately with direct, but tactful, language. This will create more movement faster, and people usually respect the candor.

Instead of “these results suck”, try saying “these were my expectations and this is how they were not met. What happened on your side?”  Articulate why it did not meet your expectations so that you can easily achieve the desired result in the future. Get curious before making assumptions, since the purpose of the dialogue is to understand what happened.

Take Ego Out of It & Focus on the Results

Remember that most of your conversations are not about you, they are about the outcome.  By focusing on the results, you automatically take into consideration all of the moving pieces that worked in concert to get you there. Cut to the chase, focus on the need, and provide the info that is being sought. Then the listener can work backwards from the main point that you have conveyed.

One formula for calculating success is progress divided by time. Adding time to the equation will dilute the power of all your other efforts. So take it easy, don’t write an entire book when someone asked you for a paragraph.

How does your organization streamline communication? We would love to hear all about it,  just leave a comment below.

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