Our workplaces are increasingly complex and dynamic. Improving internal communication in the workplace is one of the most foundational things a leader of a team or company should do. With many different disciplines all laboring together - engineers, clinicians, business leaders, sales persons, accountants, marketeers … there are a lot of agendas. Often our backgrounds, our chosen area of expertise or professional disciplines create frameworks for how we communicate and how we get along (or not) with others. For professionals who endeavor to work well in a matrix-managed workforce or an organization that is made up of a wide array of disciplines, the success of your company may be a case of managing different hows while working toward the same whats.

Here are 5 tips for mastering two-way communication that all of us can use.

1: Realize that everything is a negotiation

Whenever two or more people are engaged in a discussion during which a decision must be made, some form of negotiation is taking place. I want one thing, you may want another. Or, perhaps, I want the same thing you do but we have very different ideas of how to get there. So, we negotiate. The sooner you recognize that many of the conversations you have on a daily basis are of the negotiation variety, the sooner you can ask yourself some questions: ‘What do I want at the end of this meeting?’, ‘How do I feel now and how do I want to feel when we are done?’, ‘How do I want the other person to feel?’, ‘Is there a way for us to both get what we want?’. These and other questions are a great way for you to plan for that next conversation, meeting or change management discussion that you must have. Knowing that all parties will be haggling for the things they feel are more important gives you an added level of preparedness.

2: Ask more than you tell

Whether you are simply hanging out with colleagues during a team building or you’re engaged in a stressful alignment discussion about the future of your company, try to remember you aren’t the only one in the room. Give the floor to others and ask them for their feelings, input and ideas. This may seem self-evident and basic, but often we get geared up for a workforce meeting or a face to face discussion and spend so much time reviewing what we have to say, we forget to ask questions of the other party. Expressing a genuine desire for the other person to share themselves and their thoughts with you not only shows you’re not a cold, heartless ogre but you will also likely come to a deeper understanding of your colleague and that is always helpful.

3: Be aware of your own story

‘Oh, I hate this guy!’, ‘Great, I have to meet with her and she never likes my ideas…’. We are full of stories that run through our heads about those we work with. Sometimes we’ve had bad experiences with these same people. Sometimes we are operating on ‘stuff we heard’ or office ‘buzz’. The fact is, we are going to gel with some colleagues more than others. Now, to be honest, we don’t have to like everyone we work with in order for us all to be effective, but, having good relations does help. It also makes it less likely that Stan in accounting is going to take my yogurt parfait every time I leave it in the fridge just because he didn’t like my idea in the last planning session and I know he takes my food on purpose just to tick me off and then lies when I ask how he got a yogurt parfait because I know he never left the building! Er… Okay, overshare. The bottom line is the better we are at leaving preconceived notions outside the room, the better our interactions will go. Even with those you don’t care for, try playing the ‘Anakin’ game prior to an interaction. What’s the ‘Anakin’ game? Well, when I have to interact with someone, that based on previous experience, has me convinced that they have gone completely over to the dark side and become Darth Vader, I tell myself ‘there must be some Anakin Skywalker left in there somewhere… I’ll try to appeal to him.’ Sometimes that works.

4: Know if you’re a zero or one-hundred per-center

We all know (or should know) our tendencies when we frame up others. Are we trusting or are we from Missouri, the ‘show me’ state? Do we open ourselves up to everyone or prefer to wait and see if they are worthy? You likely know if you are a zero or one-hundred per-center. That is, do you start people off at 100, giving your trust and warmth to everyone and then remove points from them only as they show you the dastardly dark depths of their heart, or, do you remain emotionally distant with all you meet and force them to earn every point of trust from you in a grueling climb from being regarded as a zero to you? Knowing how you tend to measure and behave with others is part of the self-awareness you must have if you are to grow your communication and interpersonal skills. Your own biases have a role to play in how you and the other person relate, and if you don’t own your part in the building of a bond through understanding your own leanings, it can make things difficult.

5: Pre-framing how we will communicate solves a lot of problems

Finally, when we have just begun a collaboration or partnership, nothing beats a good ol’ ‘just put it out there’ conversation that establishes some ground rules. ‘Hey, colleague, how do you like to get bad news?’, ‘Do you want to be able to talk out loud when you have an idea, forming it as you go and I will just be quiet and listen or do you want me to interject and help you form thoughts?’, ‘When you step in a pile of it, how should I call you out?’, ‘What do you need from me and what can I do or change to set you up for success?’. These, and many others, are great ways to not only set up some rules of communication engagement but the mere act of you wanting to have this kind of dialogue shows you care and sends a message to those you’re with that you expect to be held accountable for your own role in the relationship.

Are you having a communications debacle? Is your workplace or firm not as cohesive as it could be and is that inhibiting the results you could be achieving? I’ve worked with teams and leaders in a wide variety of situations to help them get aligned, communicate effectively and become powerfully engaged toward the same goals. Get in touch and maybe I can help you solve your communication disconnect.

— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with business and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash