Communication agility

Being an effective communicator is critical for being successful in today’s world. Gone are the days where we lived alone on our farms – everything is interconnected today and requires collaboration and with that, effective communication.

The key to such effective communication is to know how to communicate when. We talked about making the content of your communications relevant before – now let’s talk about the tools of communication.

It’s imperative to have a diverse portfolio of such tools at your hands and to know how and when to use them. Don’t be a one-trick pony! Instead, you need to pick and choose the best method of communication deliberately based on the circumstances and on what you want to achieve.

Not all communication mechanisms are equal. Each one of them works marvelously in certain situations, and fails miserably in others. For example chat and texting is effective in ‘interrupting’ someone for urgent information that needs to be acted upon right now. Do it to me for too many times in non-urgent situations and you will be muted for good. Similarly, email is great to asynchronous communications that require thought and time. However, don’t expect me to respond to an email within the hour.

Don’t be a one-trick pony. Have a rich toolbox and know which tool to use when.

You can ask yourself three questions to determine the best communication method for a given situation:

What does the topic require?

Is my request urgent or is there some time to get an answer? Do I need synchronous (right now) or asynchronous (when the other person has time) communication? Must I interrupt the other person, or can I let them answer at their leisure? Does the topic need explanation?

If your topic is not urgent, grant the other person the control over when they want to answer. Let them plan their time and set proper expectation by sending your request or information over email.

If on the other hand you need to solve an urgent matter and time is off the essence, use a more real-time and synchronous communication channel like chat, text, or a phone call. What channel that should be depends on your organization’s culture. However use them sparsely and only if needed. Synchronous real-time communication interrupts the other person, disrupts whatever they were focused on at the time. Use it sparsely or you will piss them off over time.

Lastly, if your topic requires more explanation, it is likely better to talk in person. Schedule a meeting to discuss the topic in detail. If it is urgent, send a chat first and ask for a good time to schedule a meeting in short time.

What best serves the relationship?

Know the communication preference of your partner. If they are more introverted they will prefer written communication, if they are more extroverted they will appreciate the opportunity to meet and talk. Try to accommodate that preference if you can – sometimes that might require you to give up your preference.

Quick information and updates can be well served over email, which also saves time for all involved parties.

Building relationship and a foundation for partnering can only be done in person.

Know your tools and use them wisely!

  • Email – Great for asynchronous information sharing that saves time for everyone.
  • Chat/phone call – Interruptive but ensures quick attention and turnaround. It disrupts the other persons so use it wisely!
  • Meeting/video conference – Great for more complex discussions and building relationship. Plan ahead and respect times that are already blocked for the other person.

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Four ounces of force

Effective negotiations and problem/conflict solving are all about gently guiding instead of butting heads. That is unless you are at a car dealership, in which case butting heads without flinching is the strategy to go.

So how can you gently guide while gaining a deeper understanding along the way? You need to seek for common purpose and goals!

Finding common purpose and goals

It all starts with listening actively, trying to understand what the other party wants to achieve and what motivates and drives them. You must seek to understand their goals and purpose. Likewise, you need to explain your motivations, goals, and reasons-why so that the other party knows where you are coming from and what you are trying to achieve.

Chances are that you will need to take the active part for both sides – seeking to understand the other party and making yourself understood. Admittedly it is a lot of work, but the return is well worth the investment!

Listen to understand. Explain to be understood.

By listening actively, you will find common ground, shared goals, and win-win opportunities that will reveal a shared path forward. Furthermore, working together with your negotiation partner, you will find a solution that is better than what either of you had thought of in the first place.

That is the ideal scenario and hopefully how the majority of your negotiations will go.

But what if the other party doesn’t want to play ball, listen actively, and seek common ground? What if they are actively or passively aggressive? Well, then it’s time for Plan B.

Redirect their energy

Instead of trying to work against their energy – butting heads – lead it in a direction that will guide their momentum where you want it to be. Redirect them. If they want to jump on you, make sure they will instead propel themselves in the place where you want them to be.

There is an exercise in Tai Chi in which you learn to control your partner and redirect his energy (and attack) while never exerting any more than four ounces of force. It’s called Pushing hands, and it’s all about sensing, perceiving, and then connecting and gently redirecting. It sounds too good to be true, but in reality, it is just a matter of awareness and proper guidance at critical moments of a developing move.

The same can be said for artful negotiations or even playing chess (or anything else that requires strategy). You want to gently and proactively set the playing field such that the desired outcome will inevitably be reached while avoiding unnecessary blood baths. You want to be sensitive to developing strategies and moves and redirect them the desired way before they build up momentum.

A master works through soft redirection instead of aggressive confrontation.

In negotiations, you can do this by building a funnel of facts, evidence, reasoning, and logical conclusions that eventually doesn’t leave any other reasonable outcome than the one you desired to achieve. You set guardrails (for example, “These are the goals, do you agree?”, “Here are all constraints that I know of, are there any others?”) and let them narrow in through the negotiations, just like a funnel (for example, “Since we already agreed on A and B, C must be true as well. Am I missing something here?”). Know what outcome you want to achieve, and make sure the funnel points squarely to that outcome – plan ahead how you will start from a wide opening while deliberately narrowing down as you go.

Create a glide path that the other part can – and eventually must – follow.

The more you argue, the weaker your position will get

Also, keep in mind that the one who speaks the most usually has the weakest points. If we are insecure, we talk a lot and try to explain something we don’t fully believe in ourselves. If we are confident, we will make short and pointed statements. Others will pick on that. A sure-fire way to spot a lie is if someone explains their point with way too much detail. Humans are subconsciously tuned-in to those signals.

The shorter, crisper, and more pointed your responses are, the more you strengthen your position and credibility.

Shorter is almost always better – the more you talk and explain, the weaker your point, perception, and position. Of course, you can overdo this, and there is a point where your response lacks the necessary depth to be convincing. However, realistically only a few of us need to worry about that end of the spectrum. Most of us talk way too much and listen way too little.

Keep your comments short and to the point. Make every word matter and serve your goal. Let the other party talk while you lead with questions and build your funnel.

Don’t waste all your energy – let THEM run tired.

At the same time, you need to be persistent – dropping the ball or avoiding the discussion never buys you anything. Put the crisp facts out there, ask guiding questions, build your funnel, and pull the trigger when the other party has maneuvered themselves in the corner where you wanted them, and the outcome is inevitable.

Back to Tai Chi:

Only use four ounces of force. Put them in the right places at the right time and redirect the other person’s energy where you want it to be. You will make it impossible for the other person to break out of your lead.

Did you like this post? Want to read more? Check out our newest book!

Thriving in High-Pressure Environments
Lessons from Amazon, a global pandemic, and other crazy times
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9798718017663

Find it on Amazon: PaperbackKindle

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Effective communications – The Why, What, and How

Effective communication is one of the most important skills as we advance in our careers and lives. The more senior we become, the more we need to achieve things through others. To do so, we first need to convince them to follow our lead. Even if we’re not on the brink of a CEO promotion, we need to convince our peers, managers, or spouses of our ideas.

Communication happens in many different channels, in writing, in meetings, or in 1:1 conversations. The principles of effective communication are always the same: 1) active listening, 2) maintaining a laser-focus on the topic, and 3) a clear thought structure that our partner(s) can follow along.

Today I want to talk about 3) – structuring our thoughts and communication in a way that makes it easy for the recipient to digest, follow along, and buy into our logic. The magic is to always explain the Why, What, and How – in that order!

The Why, What, and How are critically important to convey any idea or suggestion. In presenting ideas, we need to remind ourselves that while we have all the context, causation, and details, our communication partners most likely don’t. Don’t assume everyone has as much context on the topic as you do! – If they did, they would have brought up the idea to you, not the other way around.

If you don’t re-create the full thought context with your communications partner, you cannot expect them to come to the same conclusions that you came to or to agree with your proposal.

The Why

This is also affectionately called the ‘So What’.

Everything starts with this. Tell me why I should care to listen and follow your thoughts. Why does this matter? Why does it matter to me? Why is it important, and why should I care?

If you can establish why a particular topic is important or why a problem needs to be solved, you have already won have the battle. On the flip side, if you don’t have a Why it will be hard to gain support for your idea – there are so many things that already have a strong Why established and thus will take priority.

The What

Ok, you got me with the Why. I know that I need to pay attention, now tell me what needs to be fixed or created.

Don’t get ahead of yourself; don’t jump to solutions. I’m not yet ready for that. I’ve signed up for your cause. Now let me know where I need to direct my attention. If you can get me focused on the right what, you have practically won, and I will crave to learn what I can do for you.

The How

NOW is the time to get to what you wanted to start with. Not a second earlier. For you, this is a long build-up to something that is crystal-clear to you – for me, it’s essential for being able to follow your thoughts.

How can we solve the issue we identified in the What and established as a priority in the Why. Tell me what you want to do and where I can help. What is your plan, where do you need input, where can I help. Be specific, precise, and concise.


Let’s put some meat to the theory with an example. Let’s say you want to sell the idea of establishing a weekly metrics review meeting for Ops tickets (totally made up).

A bad communication would be:

“Hey, I want to identify key metrics for the ticketing systems. We should change some of the ways we measure them and then have a weekly review meeting with the Ops team.”

Most likely, my (unspoken) reaction as a recipient would be either “???”, or “sure, now leave me alone, I have important work to do”.

A better Why/What/How approach could be:

“I noticed that we are really slow with certain tasks while onboarding new employees. Often they don’t get proper access to their systems for more than two weeks. That delays their onboarding, and we’re practically wasting their resources for the first month.

I looked a little closer at the process, and it seems that Ops tickets are a key contributor to those delays. However, we don’t have good metrics for tickets right now, and so we can’t really diagnose where the problem lies or how to fix it.

What I would suggest is to establish a consistent way to measure the performance of such tickets. With that, we can identify key bottlenecks, brainstorm potential improvement areas, and measure if those improvements have the desired impact over time. What do you think about establishing key metrics and reviewing them with Ops leaders every week?”

You would have caught my attention on the second one, as no one likes employees who are eager to contribute but are constraint by systems or processes.

Bonus tips for emails

  • Spend time and energy on formatting – White spaces and paragraph breaks emphasize the structure and flow of your thoughts! Nobody wants to read a solid blurb of text and re-engineer the logical structure.
  • Re-read your message twice – Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. If you have no context at all, does what you wrote still makes sense?

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Check out our book for more thoughts and a week-by-week guide to make strategic changes to improve your health, career, and life purpose:

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Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
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If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.