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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Assume positive intent!

I had a few pretty contentious meetings this week. My first reaction was probably the same that most people have in such situations – somewhere between: “Really!?” and “What the…!”.

It’s easy to get protective or even combative if you have a lot going on. When in stress, we tend to develop tunnel vision and assume we’re the only ones who have the right solution. We don’t understand why everyone else is so difficult to deal with. It’s a fight-or-flight reaction that our brain falls back to in an attempt to ‘simplify’ our world view in situations of stress and perceived danger. It allows us to react fast and decisively – however, not always smartly.

Unfortunately, the reality is never that simple.

Being in a few such situations this week, I took a deep breath and remembered a training on unconscious bias that I attended a while ago. One of the principles they mentioned in that training is to assume positive intent.

Instead of thinking, “WTF, I’ll set you straight on this…”, rather take a deep breath, and then take another one. Assume positive intent – very few people want to cause trouble, and almost everyone has good intentions that drive their point of views and behaviors. Everyone has good reasons and wants to do the right things.

Assuming positive intent helps you to take some of the emotions out of an interaction. It allows you to take the other’s perspective for a moment and see things through their eyes. You will be able to understand where they are coming from, or if you don’t, you will at least be curious enough to investigate and (hopefully) ask them. There are so much power and beauty in actually talking to people instead of just assuming.

Assuming positive intent, and seeking to understand what the other person wants to achieve, will help you to understand their goals. More often than not, those goals will not be too different from yours. You might identify a shared vision with the other person, and with that, find a solution that leads to a win-win for everyone.

Sometimes it’s hard when emotions are high, but take a few deep breaths, assume positive intent, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see what new solutions arise from that expanded perspective.

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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.