Smart talk

Question:

“I read your ‘Build a Great Team’ column in the March 4 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee. Could you expand on your comments regarding effective communications within teams? I’m part of a management team that is trying to do a better job keeping one another informed, in the loop, etc. We’ve had some troublesome conflict, and several members seem intent on carrying grudges.”

Answer:

The column referenced by the reader explored some basic principles of team effectiveness. The point was made that for teams to be truly effective, gains must be made at the personal (i.e., How am I doing?), interpersonal (i.e., How are you and I doing?), and team (i.e., How are all of us doing?) levels. In this column, I will discuss some strategies for forging more effective interpersonal exchanges.

Communication of all types is so common but so complex that it continues to justify scrutiny. We think because we all communicate so frequently in one way or another that we have expertise in communication processes. It is surprising that we don’t do a better job, given our experience. But, we have a tendency to concentrate on the transmittal process (i.e., speaking and writing) rather than the receiving process (i.e., listening, reading, and understanding). We think we know more than we do about communication.

Effective communication involves framing your messages so you manage the meaning of the message for your listeners. Through framing, you adjust your verbal language to highlight or accentuate certain aspects of the message. The frame you use can create a message that is positive or negative, confident or wishy-washy, clear or confusing, concise or time-consuming, and attention grabbing or sleep enhancing.

The frames to use are …

  • Positive: To talk positively, use positively-charged words, and a focus on what you and others can do, rather than on what you cannot do. As physician Smiley Blanton observed, “To be happy, drop the words ‘if only’ and substitute the words ‘next time.'”
  • Confident: Use a confident frame to convey that you are in charge of yourself and your message and that your message is important. Own your statements. Some questions are actually statements in disguise. They are used to lead a person to answer a certain way, not to gather information. Portray yourself and your message as valuable. Stop using disclaimers. They diminish the importance of you and your message in the mind of the listener.
  • Clear: Eliminate “fuzzy words.” Use clear words instead. Fuzzy words have a range of meanings attached to them and can cloud a listener’s understanding. Some examples of fuzzy words are these: usually, frequently, often, sometimes, occasionally, and rarely. Instead of “universals,” use accurate facts. Some examples of universals are never, totally, always, completely, everybody, everything and nobody. Keep it simple, as well. Another person’s level of vocabulary may differ from your own. To ensure understanding, whenever possible, substitute a simple word. If the words we use cannot be understood, it will not matter how impressive they sound.
  • Concise: A concise frame eliminates unnecessary information or time from a conversation. It takes care of the “short” in the phrase, “Keep it short and sweet.” Take care of the details by being specific. Save time and confusion by providing the details up front. Throw out “junk” words and keep only “valuables.” Junk words are extra words that take up space and add no additional information to a message. Junk words can be preambles (e.g., “What I want to say is …”), trailers (e.g., … you know?), fillers (e.g., … uh or well …) Eliminate unnecessary words. A message is not clear if it contains more words than needed. Eliminate words that do not add information and words that are already stated or implied.
  • Catchy: You can frame your message in ways that catch your listener’s attention, create rich and memorable images, and increase understanding. Some memorable frames are:

There is an old story about three Englishmen riding on a bus. The bus stops. The first man says, “I say there, is this Wembley?” “No,” says the second man, “this is Thursday.” “So am I,” says the third, “let’s have a drink!” Moral: All too often we hear only what we want to hear!

Of course, the demands of meeting individual communication challenges are small compared to being effective in teams. Sheer numbers and the accompanying arithmetic or geometric interactions possible among teams make the task of managing communication within teams very challenging. After all, teams, like individuals, have and develop their own personalities.

My hope is that the communication frames I touched on in this column can be helpful to you as you think about forging more effective interpersonal exchanges. Here’s hoping you and your colleagues do not wind up like the three Englishmen riding the bus!

Daniel A. Schroeder, Ph.D., is president of Brookfield-based Organization Development Consultants Inc. (www.OD-Consultants.com). He can be reached at (262) 827-1901 or Dan.Schroeder@OD-Consultants.com

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