A Wise Manager Lays Out an Objective and Then Asks the Group How They Want to Approach It.
By Thomas J. Roach
In business we need to think of communication as a means to an end. This is different from how we look at communication in our private lives, where communication is an end in itself. Privately we say what we want, but as professionals we say what we need to say to get desired results.
The most important step is determining the desired result. Often this means not saying what is really on our minds. Another consideration is timing. When is the best time to say something?
Also, when we are communicating to achieve objectives, we consider the words we select to express our thoughts. Usually we avoid pretentious words and look for plain language that conveys humility and compassion.
These are necessary considerations for those in leadership positions. If we want our employees and coworkers to be committed to common objectives, we cannot bark orders at them and humiliate them by pointing out their mistakes.
A wise manager lays out an objective and then asks the group how they want to approach it. Chances are the group will figure out the best way to proceed. If necessary, the manager can participate in the discussion and encourage the group to explore certain arguments. Eventually the manager can say something like, “After considering all your concerns and ideas, this is how I want to proceed.”
Sometimes we want to modify someone’s behavior. If a coworker is reacting emotionally to a problem and we get angry and respond emotionally ourselves, then the result is an even more charged situation.
If the objective is to create a rational dialogue, it is best to suppress our own anger and reflect the emotion we are observing: “I can see you are very frustrated,” for instance. Usually when people realize someone appreciates how they feel, they are compelled to let go of the emotion. If the emotion subsides, a transition phrase can put the conversation on a new track. For instance one might follow up by saying, “Let’s take an objective look at the problem.”
One theory about bad-news delivery recommends saving up bad news and delivering it all at once. A potential benefit is that once the listener is made unhappy with the first statement things cannot get much worse by adding on more disappointing news.
Another advantage is that spreading out bad news spreads out the period of emotional stress; whereas, if one delivers the bad news all at once, there is less time to wait for the relationship to return to normal. This is essentially a timing strategy.
The Five Stages of Grief
The Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief has been a useful guide for managers dealing with work issues like layoffs that dramatically change someone’s career. Ross observed that people experiencing personal loss like the death of a loved one might cycle through periods of denial, anger, bargaining and depression before getting to the acceptance stage.
Arguing with someone in the early stages actually tends to slow their progress. So, if the objective is helping someone reach acceptance, then one needs to exercise patience and wait for the grieved party to move at his or her own pace to the acceptance stage. In the Kübler-Ross model, focusing on the desired result, considering timing, and selecting the right words all play a part.
Someone who is adept at using communication strategically can be highly manipulative. A sales interview technique adopted from the Kübler-Ross model starts with the seller asking open-ended probing questions that expose problems. Then, using information from the first part of the interview, the seller asks closed questions that create a sense of crisis.
Finally, the seller leads the buyer to realize that the crisis can be resolved with a service or product. Those of us in leadership positions need to be results-oriented communicators, but we also need to keep in mind Aristotle’s assertion that the most important elements in communication are not cleverness and control; they are honesty and good will.
Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].