An acquaintance said to me, “I need to talk to Calvin about his progress on a compliance report, but I procrastinate because conversations with Calvin are lengthy.”
Another person reported, “When I attempt an in-depth discussion with Duane, I leave the meeting uncertain about whether we have understood each other.”
Do either of these examples sound familiar? Juan Siliezar, writing in the Harvard Gazette, described a study by Adam Mastroianni, a Ph.D. student in Harvard’s Psychology Department which reported only two percent of conversations ended when both parties wanted them to end.
In almost half of the cases, conversations extended longer than both parties desired. In a display of politeness, parties in two-person conversations appear to continue talking, not because they have more to say, but because they are unsure of the other’s intentions. Persons said their conversations ended too soon in only about ten percent of the cases.
Many discussions pose a dilemma. Individuals are busy and wish to communicate efficiently but prolong conversations unnecessarily.
How can you resolve this issue? Try this. When you believe you have what you need, say something like, “That sounds good to me. Are you OK with it?”
(Part 1 of 2 Parts)
While working on a project with a tight deadline, Jessica made a critical error and it did not seem to bother her too much.
When Emma, the team leader inquired, Jessica said, “It doesn’t matter all that much if we are late. They don’t expect us to complete these projects on time anyway.”
“Jessica,” Emma explained, “the deadline is important. I want you to correct the error and help get the project back on schedule because it will improve customer satisfaction and revenue.”
Emma used the pronoun “I” and the word “because” in a declarative statement to express her opinion about Jessica’s behavior. This influence tactic is frequently used and can be quite effective.
However, I have observed that many influencers shy away from using “I” and prefer to substitute the pronoun “we.” For example, “We need to do what we can to get back on schedule.” The use of “we” by Emma would have made her expectation of Jessica far less clear.
Some influencers also leave out the word “because.” Emma by including “because” explained the reason why the schedule was important.
Declarative statements that include both “I” and “because” increase the likelihood of influencing the behaviors of others.
Amelia and Jayden, both leaders of high-performing teams, were having very different experiences with their new divisional manager (DM).
Jayden complained to Amelia, “I don’t know why the DM keeps asking for so many reports with such detail. It takes a lot of my time.”
Amelia responded, “The DM is a detailed person. I organize my team’s metrics into subheads and update him weekly.”
Amelia added, “I also learned that he is not interested in reviewing compliance reports. He just expects my reports to pass muster.”
Jayden countered, “I insist that the DM review my reports because I know he will hold me accountable for any miss steps.”
While both were committed to the division’s mission, Amelia quickly figured out the DM’s work patterns and complied with them. Jayden became frustrated because the DM did not operate the way he thought he should.
We know for sure that successful leaders are different, particularly on stylistic matters such as: written or verbal presentations, spontaneous or regular updates, extensive detail or big-picture concepts, what interests them and how they make decisions.
Boss-staff relationships can be as complicated as the tax code. Subordinates who develop meaningful work relationships with their managers hone in to their communication and decision-making proclivities.
Part 2 of 3
“I was in management for a few weeks when a large company bought us,” Willard explained. “The new owners said there would be no major changes. But in the first month, they required us to transition to their IT system for tracking job status and costs.”
Willard continued, “I understood why the new company wanted consistent processes, but my staff was very confident in our current system. A tug of war ensued between my staff and corporate.”
“How did you handle that?” I asked.
Willard said, “I waffled back and forth between supporting management and advocating for my employees. My team fell behind schedule. Corporate officials grew impatient and told me to get my group in compliance. At the same time, my people became frustrated because they thought I was not supportive enough. I just felt like I was caught in a vise.”
Managers who try to straddle the fence between their team members’ wishes and corporate requirements just make their jobs hard. Willard’s job would have been easier had he explained corporate’s reasons and said something like, “I’m confident we can meet the schedule for transitioning to the new system, and I’ll support you every way I can.”
Maybe Yes No Red Dice Representing Uncertainty And Decisions
“I’ve just reviewed our recent performance data, and we may need to change some work assignments,” the vice president reported in his Monday morning management meeting. “But I want you to keep this in the room for now. I’ll know more in a couple of weeks. We can communicate the changes at that time.”
Although the vice president’s decision represents a typical approach, the result is usually exaggerated rumors and fear.
In most employee surveys, among the highest ranked items is, “the need to know about changes that impact me.”
“I believe in quickly communicating changes,” a manager said to me. “But I don’t want employees worrying about things until we know for sure what we are doing.”
Employees are great at reading the tea leaves. They notice whether orders have ticked up or down, and whether their managers spend more or less time in meetings, on the phone or traveling. Many employees have contact with customers, vendors, information technology staff, regulators and truck drivers; all of which are information sources.
I say it is far better to err on the side of communicating too much too soon. Employees will have greater confidence in leaders and the rumor mill will be less active.
“Some of my team members work in the office and some are in the field,” explained Tillford. “People in the field seem to have difficulty understanding my expectations. I often have to send documents back for corrections and updates.”
Tillford further explained that the office and field members were well-trained and, thanks to robust electronic media, he used the same format for communicating to both groups.
I asked, “Do field staff every come to the office? Do you visit them in the field?”
“Field people come in every quarter for our all-hands meetings but I don’t get much one-on-one time with them.”
I said to Tillford that perhaps he should make time for more face-to-face contact, either by periodically visiting field offices or by asking field staff to travel to his office. Because of the cost and inconvenience, Tillford had resisted doing this in the past. However, because he was so frustrated with current performances, he agreed to try it.
Six months later, Tillford reported, “I can’t believe how much our communication has improved. After just a few field visits, our understanding improved dramatically and field team members are performing just as well, maybe even better, than their office counterparts.”