THE BLOG

4 Tips to Improve Communication, So You Don't Have to Whack Anyone With a Book

02/17/2015 07:00 pm ET | Updated Apr 19, 2015
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The inability to communicate effectively can lead to dire consequences including disengagement at work, stress at home and unnecessary frustration in life. One solution is to hit people over the head with a very heavy hard-cover book. Read this if you prefer not to whack anyone with a book to make your point. It may also save you from being the one who gets whacked.

All heads turned in the direction from which a blood-curdling wail was spewing into the air. Still holding her weapon of choice, a fat hardcover coffee-table book featuring luxurious homes, the 4 year-old also burst into sobs as she stared down at her toddler victim. "Why on earth did you do that?! " The shocked mother exclaimed scooping up the younger child, who was already beet-faced from screaming.

Over the next several minutes the perplexed mother went on to lecture her 4-year-old on why she should "use her words" and it was painfully obvious that this was a situation in which the little girl simply did not have the words to express what she was feeling nor did she have the skills to respond to the situation in a way that would have gotten her the results she wanted.

In the scenes just prior to the incident, she had repeatedly tried to steer her mother's attention away from the younger, less patient child, by insisting that her mother look at one photo after another. One can only guess that the book attack was a manifestation of the little girl's annoyance and perhaps jealousy of the younger sister's ability to control the scene and capture her mother's attention combined with a lack of the necessary skills to communicate what she was experiencing and the mother's oversight of what the child was trying to say with her agitated and over- anxious attempts to get her mother to look at the photos.

That scene reminded me of similar scenarios that play out in the adult world both at home and in the office; scenes that most of us recognize and have been involved in at one time or another.

Managers share how frustrated they are with disengaged employees. Those frustrated employees in turn complain that management that doesn't communicate when changes are being made. Exasperated spouses insist that it doesn't matter what they say, because the other spouse isn't interested or isn't even listening.

In most cases, each side is waiting on the other, or some third party to step up and remedy the situation. And on all sides, heavy coffee-table books are figuratively poised to lash out and finally get the point across. There is a much better, more effective and more respectful way to "use your words" and initiate and conduct conversations that ensure you are heard and understood.

Here are four tips to help you communicate in a way that supports your relationships, your career, your progress and your daily joy much better than hitting someone over the head with a hard-cover edition of War and Peace.

1. Take responsibility for making it happen.
Suspend the judgment of who is right or wrong or whose job it "should" be to communicate on an issue. If something is interfering with your work, your relationship or your ability to enjoy your day, claim your power and take responsibility for making the communication happen. Often one great way to do this is simply to ask questions.

If you are a leader and your employees seem to be disengaged, ask why and what can be done to help them engage more.

If you are an employee and work for a notorious "non-communicating" boss, take responsibility for asking specific questions that will help you get your work done and get the results you want.

If you are a spouse annoyed, frustrated or even angry that your partner doesn't seem to be listening, inquire about what is going on in their world. Ask what you can do to improve the situation and make a deeper connection.

2. Focus on the result you want and communicate that in plain and specific language.
Assume that the other person can't read your mind and that our individual filters cause us to interpret things differently. Be clear with yourself on the result that you want from an interaction and let that guide how you structure the conversation and communication.

If you want an employee to stop spreading his negativity about everything change that is announced, say that in plain, simple, solution-focused language.

For example, "You know, Tim, with all the changes coming up, we really need everyone focused on the opportunities and the good things that will happen. That will help us all to navigate the challenges that involved with a little less stress. Since a bad mood and negative energy are even more contagious than a good mood and positive energy, I'd like to talk to you about what has to happen to get you on board and focused on the opportunities."

Remember that clear and simple language beats clever and ambiguous language in creating powerful and effective, relationship-preserving communication. If you have to word-smith for hours, you are probably not clear with yourself on the result you want and you will not be able to communicate that desired result, thus minimizing the chances of achieving it.

3. Invite a true dialogue and take no excuses.
Know that the more important and emotional the subject is the less likely it is that anyone involved is truly objective. Yes, this includes you.

Create the framework for true dialogue in your communication. Whether the communication is face-to-face or virtual. Seek and leave room for the other side's response.

And even though the higher stakes communications tend to be more subjective and emotional, there is no reason to accept any excuses or reasoning for the undesired state of things. The "reason" we do anything is because that is what we have chosen in the given situation. Focus on what has to happen to enable better, mutually acceptable and solution-focused choices going forward.

4. Arm yourself with communication skills (instead of weapons disguised as books.)
Communicating is something that we do constantly. We communicate verbally and non-verbally. We communicate intentionally and unintentionally. We communicate well and disastrously. One of the best and most sure-fire ways to improve just about every area of your life both personally and professionally is to improve your communication skills. There are lots of ways and tools to help do this including books. One of my favorite books on the topic is "Fierce Conversations", an excellent book by the author Susan Scott. You should also explore the other possibilities such as taking courses, observing and mimicking great communicators as well as personal coaching.

What scenarios have you observed of people who have been overpowered by the frustration of not being able to communicate effectively?

I'd love to hear from you, so go ahead and share your stories in the comments.