On Monday, I offered Three Tips for Heading Off Conflicts Before They Start. My third tip was to work to ensure open lines of communication.
In situations where you work closely with people over a long period of time, it is easy to start getting a bit “relaxed” in your communications. This relaxed communication approach has both good and bad implications. It can be good because it can foster openness. It can be bad when we lose the communication discipline to carefully consider what our words and actions communicate to others.
For example, my wife tends to communicate in a direct, bottom-line, high-energy fashion. When she gets really worked-up on a topic, I have difficulty telling the difference between passion about the topic and anger directed at me. Even after nearly twenty years of marriage, I still cannot easily distinguish between these two emotional states.
She is aware that her passion sometimes looks like anger to me. She works to control her expression and to tell me in words what state she is in rather than leaving it to me to interpret her tone and actions. She works hard to communicate more clearly, and she is still a human being. Sometimes she is tired, in a hurry, pressured, or otherwise distracted, and she forgets the discipline she normally works so diligently to apply to her communications.
Because we know that these moments will happen despite her best efforts. We have agreed to two code words that help me to quickly understand her thoughts and feelings. In our case, we have agreed that I can ask: “Sandra, are you angry or are you just passionate about this topic?” When I ask that question, she tells me her mental state in one word. As a result, I know exactly how to interpret the situation and how to best respond to her.
In about 95% of the situations where I would naturally interpret her behavior as angry, she is actually just passionate about the subject. In most situations, anger never even crossed her mind. Using these code words has helped us head off more conflicts than I can now count.
You can apply this same concept with the people in your life either at work or at home.
Thought for Thursday: Discuss this idea with some of the people close to you. Identify potential areas of misunderstanding or miscommunication between you, and develop code words that you can use to immediately clarify the situation for both of you.