By Shannon Stamey, Client Success Manager
Your team is growing, departments are developing, and it feels like you’re the captain of a ship where everyone is running around the deck to keep the ship moving in the right direction. Once your crew takes up the positions needed to work together to navigate and keep the ship afloat. It’s exciting and scary at the same time. If the timing is off, or someone makes a wrong move, your ship could hit an iceberg and sink.
The key to keeping your boat afloat is communication. If you can effectively communicate with your team, and they with each other, you have nothing to fear. You will move and grow and build a crew that comes to depend on and trust each other.
So, how can you and your team effectively communicate, creating an environment where everyone feels they can contribute? It’s actually pretty simple (notice I didn’t say easy – it’s not always easy). Follow the below steps and you should be off to a good start.
1. Begin with the end in mind
This may seem like a cliché, but it’s absolutely true. Ask yourself what your goal really is, what the best possible result of the exchange would be. It’s helpful to find a common purpose with your interlocutor(s). This will likely require you to think about the bigger picture, rather than just what you are trying to accomplish in that moment. Set a company objective that is aligned with your vision and mission. Whenever there’s a solution to be found, make sure it aligns with this objective.
2. Learn to use empathy
Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a powerful tool to evaluate the tactic you want to take when approaching any situation. It helps you to consider the body language, tone of voice and actual words you are going to use when communicating with a group or individual. It’s a good idea to encourage your team to do the same. It’s a challenge for different departments to communicate, especially in the tech field. Technicians don’t really understand sales people who are always excited, moving around from one deal to the next and sales people have a hard time relating to introverted technicians – and then there’s management. That’s a whole other ball game! By stepping out of your own perspective and placing yourself on the other side (which is really the same side, because you’re all on the same team after all) you change the way you look at a problem and allow for much more open communication and consideration of varying viewpoints.
3. Create Safety
There’s nothing worse than starting a conversation in a completely (you think) innocent and straight forward way, only to find that you’ve been completely misunderstood and now the person you’re speaking with is defensive and put off. How do we avoid this? By creating safety. Learn to anticipate when a conversation may head south. Make sure you stay observant during your conversation and stop occasionally to evaluate how it’s going and adjust if needed. If someone is getting defensive or shutting down, pause, reestablish safety and then move on with the conversation. But how do you rebuild safety? Try this tactic: use a contracting phrase. Say what you don’t want, followed by what you do want – “I don’t mean to imply you’re doing a bad job, but I do want to explore how we can be more efficient in this area.”
4. Be understanding
Communication occurs when there is understanding on both sides of the conversation. Everyone internalizes things differently. So, it’s important to realize that if your message is not getting through, the responsibility lies with both of you, not just the person receiving information.
Sometimes it’s hard to admit when we’ve failed to communicate an idea or message clearly, but it’s better to give your interlocutor the benefit of the doubt and find a different way to get your message across. This is a tactic used by language learners and teachers alike – when you don’t know how to express yourself, or your student is having a hard time understanding, use different words, use stories, explain it in a different way. You will eventually find the way to achieve mutual understanding and then you are in communication. You can then file it away in your brain and use the same tactic the next time you speak with that person.
5. Create and communicate clear expectations and next actions
Sometimes the purpose is clear, the message is given and everyone understands what needs to be done, but that’s where it ends. No one gives a structure to what’s been said. So, what next? Once everyone is on the same page and you know what should be done, establish clear expectations and next actions with your team. This doesn’t mean that you tell them what they need to do. It’s much more effective to give them some of the decision-making power. Let them take responsibility and ownership of solutions and tasks, because then you have their buy in – they have a stake in the outcome. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Implementing just one, or all, of these tips will open the lines of communication between you and your team, and among the team itself. And when your crew is all on the same page, communicating every step of the way, identifying challenges and overcoming them together, navigation is easier. Even when there are stormy skies on the horizon, your ship will see only smooth sailing ahead.