I have a good friend who is a strong and effective communicator in person. When it comes to email, however, she is downright rude. Sometimes her emails cross well into nasty territory. We have worked together on charitable boards and I have seen first-hand how alienating her email correspondence can be. It was through working with her that I learned my number one communication rule: Tough conversations must happen in person or, if meeting face-to-face is absolutely impossible, over the phone.
Generally, as an attorney, I believe in being extremely cautious about what is put down in writing. This is especially true in today’s technological world. Destroying written communication is not as easy as it used to be. But, even when communicating face-to-face, there are rules of engagement that every business leader should follow. Here are three other communication rules to live (and work) by:
- Tough communications should be compassionate. This does not mean sandwiching the harsh stuff between two commendations. That is one of the most inauthentic and transparent communication techniques around. Instead, be specific about the issue on the table, take responsibility for your role in the situation being addressed and be open to the perspective on the other side of the conversation.
- Confirm understanding. I have walked away from many a conversation thinking I communicated my position clearly and we all are on the same page. I have also had team members turn in great work that had nothing to do with the assignment I thought I communicated. So much of communication is unconscious and non-verbal that it is critical to get verbal confirmation that everyone has an accurate understanding of expectations. Don’t assume the people on the other side of the conversation understood what you meant just because you think you said what you meant.
- Take ownership in every interaction. If you are going to lead a team, an organization, or any group of people, you have to be responsible for the effectiveness of all communications within the group. The most important example you can set is one of taking ownership in communications. When you focus on assigning blame rather than accepting responsibility, your organization does the same and you end up with a lot of finger pointers.
Every interaction we have is an opportunity to build or destroy a relationship. And, at the end of the day, relationships help us achieve more than we can on our own. You might as well invest some time in building them.