Improve Communication Skills by Asking the Right Questions
There is a line from a popular Paul Newman movie that goes like this: “What we have here is failure to communicate … ”. I have heard and used that same line any number of times to describe what happens inside organizations and, with leadership teams. If less than effective communication between and among teams is commonplace, what can we do to improve?
As with any improvement initiative, the pathway to improved communications begins by asking questions; of ourselves and of others. Here’s an example.
Over time, I’ve noticed that there are certain ways I like to receive information and ways in which I prefer to communicate to others. There are effective ways to communicate with me and ways that are less desirable. Until I took the time to make note of these and share them with my team members, there was no small amount of frustration for me and for the team.
For example, if I ask a question the answer to which is a number, I do not want to hear words. “How many leads did we generate this week?” Pretty straightforward question which requires only a number in response. Yet, I can’t tell you how often I would hear words instead. “Oh, we really hit it out of the park this week” or “Well, we plan to double down on our email campaign … ”. These are answers but not to the question I asked. I just want a number.
So, one way to improve the process is to tell and to ask. That is, tell others the way in which you wish to receive information and the way you prefer to give information. Then ask your individual team members how they prefer to receive information and work toward a common idea.
There are several ways to convey a message. Face-to-face, phone, voicemail, text message, email, printed/handwritten note, or memo, etc. In addition to conveying the message, there is the construct of the message itself. Do you want details, or do you prefer a high-level overview? In written communications, do you prefer text, lists, or bulleted items. A paragraph summary with detail attached?
What about timing? Are you more receptive in the morning, mid-day, or late afternoon? Would you prefer a report delivered late in the day so you can review it on the way home (not while behind the wheel, of course) or in the evening?
All of us have a favorite, most effective way of giving and getting information from members of our team. By sharing this simple construct with your team, you can avoid many of the traps that derail internal communications.
For a helpful guide to communicating effectively and other tips to optimize the team process, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.