If you’re like a lot of people, you know that good communication skills can lead to a better salary, more promotions, and better leadership skills.
But those aren’t the only benefits. Recent research shows that good communication skills can help you improve productivity, reduce stress, and work more efficiently.
The problem most people face is that they don’t have a step-by-step plan on how to improve their skills. In other words, they don’t have a good roadmap that shows them a way to improve their communication skills.
A Step-by-Step Roadmap on How to Improve Communication in the Workplace.
The skills I teach are all part of my Unspoken Rules of Leadership platform. During the workshops, I break down communication skills into several specific steps, all designed to help organizations build better teams and happier employees.
The communication skills training is all based on science. In other words, these are techniques that have been tested and re-tested over the course of time. The result is that the techniques are reliable – things you can trust to deliver the results you’re looking for.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at a roadmap you can use in order to improve communications in your organization.
Step 1: Build a Bridge Between You and the Person You’re Communicating with
All humans have a fundamental need for one thing — respect. And, even though there’s a certain percentage of the population who don’t deserve our respect (you know, the 10% of the population who are jerks or bullies) we can still find a reason to respect the majority of people we work with.
When you enter into a conversation respectfully – and with a dose of empathy to match – it’s a great way to build a bridge between you and the person you’re communicating with.
The next time you have a meeting or discussion with someone, a minute or two before the meeting, I’d like you to pause for a moment and think about something you respect about the person you’re going to meet with.
Are they a good parent? Are they a good boss? Do they volunteer their time to help animals? Have they confronted a lot of their own challenges and become a better person as a result?
Ponder those things for a moment or two before you meet with them. The positive energy you have as a result of doing that will be picked up by the person you’re meeting with and will lay a good foundation for a successful meeting.
Step 2: Look for Mutually Beneficial Goals and Objectives
Let’s face it, there are times where business conversations can get acrimonious, right? If you find yourself in a conversation that is getting a little heated, focus your attention on the North Star.
Your North Star is the mutually-agreed-to goal that you’re trying to achieve together. It’s the objective of the conversation. It might be “increase our ROI by 5%,” or “reduce employee attrition by 7%,” or it might be “improve our client acquisition ratio by 10%.”
No matter what it is, it can be used to shift the focus from the subjective (i.e., information with personal bias attached), to the objective (i.e., information with no personal bias). In other words, you’re shifting your focus from the two of you over to the North Star.
By making this shift, you eliminate the natural tension that might exist between the two of you and focus your thoughts and energy on the mutually-agreed-to goal.
Step 3: Identify Your Co-Worker’s Hidden Motivators
People’s emotions have two levels. The presenting behavior is a part above the surface you can see. Beneath that is the underlying feeling that motivates their behavior. If you’ve noticed that the person you’re working with acts like or creates a roadblock for finding solutions, then you might be bumping into some hidden motivators.
What is causing the roadblock? Is it fear of failure? Or fear that you’re blocking their progress? Perhaps they don’t want to be locked in to whatever it is you’re proposing?
No matter what it is, if you have a sense of their hidden motivator, you’ll be in a better position to address it (either directly or indirectly) as you move forward.
Step 4: Reduce Friction by Dropping the Rope
Here’s another fundamental human need – all people like to be in control of their environment. In other words, they don’t want someone else controlling their activities and behaviors. As a result, when you enter into a conversation with people, they often put up a wall of resistance, either consciously or subconsciously.
We’ve all experienced this behavior in ourselves – you enter into a retail store and an eager sales person comes rushing up to you asking if you need help. Even if we do need help with something, our reaction is to say, “No, I’m just browsing.” That’s an example of the need for control in our environment – even though we actually do need help with something, our initial reaction is to put up a roadblock so we can maintain a sense of control.
Given that human dynamic, it’s your job to drop the rope. In other words, instead of creating a tug-of-war between you and the person you’re talking to, simply drop the rope. Let them know that you’re not trying to sell them anything. Instead, you’re there to help them with an outcome that will be beneifical to them.
Many years ago, I had a brilliant young employee named Devna who told me, “The best way to win an argument is to have no point-of-view.” Her premise was that the more we push for our own logic and arguments, the more resistance we get from the person we’re talking to. The only way around that dynamic was to enter into the conversation in a neutral state so that the other person understands we’re simply trying to arrive at a mutually beneficial solution.
Dropping the rope is the same concept – let go, build a bridge, and find a solution together.
Step 5: Learn how Your Co-Workers Think
Many years ago, the Xerox corporation did an analysis into how their employees think about the world around them. I adapted the research and created something I like to call MindMapping.
A MindMap is a way to understand how people’s brains engage with the world around them. There are four different quadrants. Most people are dominated by a primary quadrant. They might also have a secondary quadrant that influences their behavior, too.
Study the graphic above. Figure out which of the four quadrants is your primary quadrant. Then figure out if you have a secondary quadrant to match the primary quadrant. That can give you an insight into how you view the world around you.
But wait … the most important thing is not to understand your own MindMap. It’s to understand the MindMap of the person you’re speaking to. By understanding the MindMap of the person you’re working with, you’ll be better able to engage with them and problem solve with them.
What follows below is a list of vocabulary words people in each quadrant use to communicate with one another. By using the words in the list below when you’re having a conversation with someone, you’ll be using words (and concepts) that they’re comfortable with.
In other words, you’ll be speaking their language, which will help you build a bridge between you and the person you’re traying to work with.
Step 6: Connect with Others by Using Mirroring and Labeling
Studies show that when we adopt the body language, tone-of-voice, verbal tempo, and vocal pitch of people we’re working with, we create something called neural resonance.
When you’re in a state of neural resonance, you’re better able to connect and engage with people. Neural resonance can be achieved by mirroring the other person’s expressions and body language.
Mirroring has proven to be a very effective technique for people who want to improve their communication skills. Another great technique is called Labeling, which is discussed in-depth in Chris Voss’s excellent book, Never Split the Difference.
Research indicates that when a conversation starts to get heated, one of the best ways to bring the emotions back in line is to label the emotions. As an example, let’s say you’re having a discussion with a co-worker about a particularly challenging issue. As the conversation moves forward, you notice that the person is starting to get emotional about the topic.
You have two choices – the first is to let the emotional heat continue to rise. The second is to label the emotion in a non-judgmental, level-headed way. You can do this by saying, “It sounds like …” or “It seems as though…”
When you say, “It sounds like you’re frustrated by this” or “It seems as though this makes you anxious,” studies show that the person you’re speaking to is able to put the emotion in an imaginary box and look at it dispassionately from a distance.
In other words, by labeling the emotion, we reduce its emotional impact which enables us to manage our way around it better.
That technique – labeling – is an excellent way to bring emotions down a little bit during your conversations.
Step 7: Leverage the Communications Styles Matrix
Dr. Eileen Russo did a study where she analyzed the communication styles most people use in their day-to-day lives.
The styles can be broken into four categories:
- Direct: These are people who are highly assertive and not very expressive. They’re the kinds of people who would walk into your office on Monday morning and, without asking how your weekend with the family went, tell you to have the report emailed to them by the end of the day and then walk out.
- Spirited: These are people who are highly assertive and highly expressive. Oftentimes (but not always), these are top-level executives or team leaders who are very good at expressing where the team needs to go moving ahead.
- Considerate: These are people who are highly expressive but are not very assertive. These are the kinds of people who are very good at being a member of a team or at being the glue that holds a team together.
- Systematic: These are people who are not very expressive and are not very assertive. In many cases there are the kinds of people who do a terrific job but don’t necessarily need a lot of attention for doing it.
It’s important to understand your own communication style, but it’s even more important to understand the communication style of the person you’re working with. For example if you work with somebody who is a direct communicator and they come in and ask for the report to be emailed to them by the end of the day, you should know that this is just their style. They’re not angry, they’re not upset, they’re just communicating.
In similar fashion, when you’re communicating with someone who is a considerate communicator, you want to make sure that you are more empathetic, thoughtful and engaging in your style of communication.
By understanding the communication style of the people you work with, you’ll be better able to build a bridge between you and that person. When you do that, you’ll improve productivity, reduce stress, and work more efficiently.
The Bottom Line About Communication Styles
In the end, the industry you work in has its own unique set of quirks. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find common ground with those you work with. By using the tools and techniques outlined here, you’ll be on your way to a more fulfilling career and a more enjoyable workplace.
If you would like to learn more about the communications workshops I run for organizations around the globe, feel free to send me an email or visit my speaker website.
About the Author: Jamie Turner is an internationally recognized author, professor, consultant, and speaker who has helped employees at The Coca-Cola Company, Holiday Inn, Microsoft, Verizon and others do a better job leading, managing, and mentoring others. You may have seen Jamie in Inc., Entrepreneur, Business Insider, or Forbes. He’s also a regular guest on CNN and HLN, where he delivers segments on marketing, persuasion, and leadership. Jamie is the co-author of several essential business books. You can follow him on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.