Written by Mitch McCrimmon, Ph.D.
Communication is usually thought of as a one-way activity, so we talk about frequency and clarity, throwing in good listening skills as an afterthought. But real communication is dialogue - two way communication.
The best way to foster dialogue is to ask open questions in a supportive tone of voice with a supportive choice of words.
Barriers to Effective Communication
- Using excessive authority, hence creating fear of openness in others.
- Preaching open communication while only rewarding good news.
- Stifling dissent in the name of teamwork.
- Asking closed questions which elicit only yes or no answers.
- Promoting a culture which places too much emphasis on unanimity.
- Being too concerned to win the argument, so not listening to others.
- Speaking down to people - in Parent to Child mode.
- Reacting defensively to negative feedback.
- Speaking in a judgemental tone of voice.
- Dismissing the source because the person is not at your ''level''.
- Interrupting because you are in a hurry.
Steps to Effective Communication
- Listen actively - ask open questions supportively - those not answerable by yes or no.
- Thank people for their openness - stress how much you value it - even if you don't particularly like what they said.
- Point to areas of agreement before jumping on areas of disagreement - this reduces defensiveness by letting the other person know that you agree in part - hence not attacking everything they said.
- Portray any disagreement as simply a difference of opinion - controlling your anger so as not to convey an "I'm right" - "You're wrong" attitude.
- A negative reaction will strongly influence the other person - either to get angry back or say nothing next time.
- People seek confirmation of their own views, so if you really want other people's views, don't penalize them for not agreeing with you!
- Create an atmosphere of partnership to reduce fear in subordinates.
- Promote a culture of constructive dissent - though not to the point of paralysis.
- Asking questions creates a dialogue - this does not mean asking only for facts. Engaging questions ask what other parties want to achieve, what is important to them and what solutions they can suggest. Avoid the error of asking factual questions that are simply enable you to analyze situations on your own.
See also: Relationships at Work for tips on relationship building skills including how to communicate effectively.