In today’s ever-polarized society, interpersonal communication often takes a back seat to working together collaboratively and respectfully. Despite our differences, there is always a better way to express our feelings and opinions. In the workplace or at home, conflicts are bound to happen. However, how we deal with these conflicts to come up with solutions that work for everyone, that’s the key to successfully moving forward.
In this article, I will outline several really good strategies that I’ve used over the years to communicate more effectively. The goal of any discussion is to be sure that your opinion is expressed professionally and respectfully by opening the discussion to those who may have opposing opinions. It may sound difficult to do, but in reality, it’s quite simple.
Before you get started
- Define the issue – Is it an opportunity, a problem, or a challenge to be resolved? Make sure that everyone involved with this discussion is invited to give their input. Many times, the actual issue is not what you originally thought it was about after listening to others.
- Do your homework to research your point of view, as well as others, by reading and becoming well-versed in the subject.
- Approach the meeting/discussion with an open mind and practice your interpersonal communication and negotiation skills regularly.
- Be sure that all stakeholders are invited to participate in the discussion. If they choose not to participate, then be sure to share minutes from the meeting to keep them in the loop.
- In many cases, I’ve actually created written guidelines for stakeholders to review in advance of our discussion to ensure that everyone is in agreement on the goal of the meeting and committed to working together in a professional setting. Setting ground rules is also an efficient way to stay on track before a scheduled discussion.
When the discussion begins
- Appoint someone to be in charge of taking notes or recording the discussion. This ensures that all opinions are recorded and makes it easier to share the discussion and decisions made with everyone present or not.
- Actively listen to everyone physically in the room or on the Zoom call.
- Be aware of your body language, eye contact, and posture – Make sure that your body language, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues don’t detract from effective communication. Sometimes it’s as simple as working on your posture. By standing up straight or sitting upright in your chair, you are showing your commitment to the discussion. It helps to promote positive and effective communication.
- Watch your tone of voice and always be polite; don’t interrupt. It makes a big difference when information is shared in a positive, collaborative manner.
- Ask for feedback, be proactive to get everyone’s opinion and be willing to discuss them in more detail to be sure everyone is heard and on the same page.
- Paying attention is the key to effective communication. When another person is speaking, give them all of your attention and acknowledge that you are hearing their message.
- Put away your mobile device, shut off your computer, and limit any other distractions that may prohibit you from being present during a conversation.
- Work with empathy. Consider the feelings of the person you are communicating with so that you can better acknowledge their needs and concerns.
- With written communications, be sure to review your work and always re-read what you’ve written to be sure it’s clear, concise, and easily understood. Don’t use abbreviations, slang, jargon and other forms of language that may not be understood by others. Spell out words and ensure proper spelling and grammar.
When differing views are presented
It’s important to know that learning and innovation often happens when different people come together. In order to avoid conflicts, we need to:
- Approach other people with different views than you with curiosity. Assume that you can learn from them and them from you. Ask good questions to increase awareness and understanding. Show interest in other people’s ideas and plans. Ask questions about how they would implement their plan. These questions should be framed as questions, not judgments.
- Identify each person’s strengths. We all have unique skillsets that are different to our own. Try to understand and make the most of them. Focus the team’s attention on how you can achieve more as a team when everyone contributes the best of themselves. This reduces unhealthy competition because people feel empowered, heard, and the need for competitive and sometimes heated discussion diminishes.
- If someone in the room is behaving aggressively or competitively, try to understand the positive intentions behind that versus taking a competitive stance yourself. Sharing a common goal makes competitive behavior hard to carry on.
- Approach the discussion without the “need to be right”. Your opinion or your ideas might not be the best or only ones in the room. The first step to managing conflict and different opinions is to welcome it, don’t shy away from it. When multiple people have different opinions, start by listening to each person and view it as a good thing. Ask yourself and your stakeholders what can be learned from these different views? If there are many differences, it’s also important to keep track of these opinions by appointing a notetaker who can record or transcribe everything discussed. Be sure to include everyone in the discussion and don’t forget to include everyone’s views in the meeting minutes/notes.
- Be positive in your tone and approach. By doing so, you are opening up to the other person. Focus on the positive, the possibilities, and the possible connections.
- Differences and tensions are usually the result of poor or no communication. By making wrong or inaccurate assumptions, you are opening the door to misunderstandings, arguments, and feeling unheard.
- Keep the discussion laser-focused on the common purpose of the meeting. Be sure to regularly communicate the common goal to everyone involved. In the end, everyone should be in agreement on reaching an agreement along with the shared commitment that comes with it.
- Identify ways to incorporate all of the team members’ views. If you are only a part of the team, try looking for commonality in the different views. Be proactive, don’t wait to be asked.
As a leader, it is important to communicate openly with your team (group and individually) regularly. If you are part of a team, it’s your responsibility to speak up and communicate as well. It creates a positive and collaborative environment which is what everyone wants in a team setting. By getting everyone on the same page, moving forward together, that’s how projects both small and complex get completed successfully. Practice these communication strategies and remember to do your homework in order to get the very best results in your future interactions with your family, friends, and professional colleagues.
Paul Brencick is the president of Optimal Communications & Consulting. Paul has 25 years of experience helping businesses successfully develop and implement communication strategies aimed at increasing market share and keeping existing clients. Visit www.optimal-comm.com to learn more and sign-up for a FREE, no obligation consultation, or call (858) 247-9191.