Communication Creates Solid Relationships
Recently I was asked that if I had to drill down all the tips around what created good relationships what my one response would be. There are tons of things to look at and explore when looking at any relationship, be it a married couple or a large team in an organization. My response was “Intentional Communication”.
One big thing that people often miss when communicating is their underlying intent. The nuts and bolts of a communication are one thing, but the unspoken message can have a much greater impact. I always suggest that people spend some time to reflect on what is underneath the message they are trying to convey. Moreover, what message are you delivering that you aren’t aware of?
Intent vs. Underlying Intent
Say one is conveying a message to staff about a change the organization is going through. Facts, details, and status updates are all provided. It is clear. What may also be clear, although completely unstated, is that the Leader doesn’t believe in the change. Maybe what is written or stated orally is “Ask me if you have any questions.” but what comes through to people loud and clear is “Do not approach me about this.”
The Subconscious Underlying Intent
I recommend you ask yourself what your underneath reason is when writing a message. Examine this because you will most certainly get the response you subconsciously want and feel confused. Why have the complaints or questions gone underground? Maybe, just maybe that is because what you really, really want is not to hear complaints! If you write a memo because you are getting sick of hearing the same stupid question over and over, then the message received may well be stop asking me questions or I think my staff is stupid. Communication is very important.
When Your Communication Efforts Are Misconstrued
There are many things going on when we communicate and a lot of them are happening under our awareness. This means we need to take the time and effort to search consciously within ourselves to discover our real, true and sometimes not so highbrow intentions. The best communications have the stated intent and the underlying intent in harmony.
If you believe your message was misconstrued, I would advise you to let go of your ego and see if there was a conflicting intent underneath.
1st Example of Conflicting Intent in Communication:
- An acquaintance of mine was miffed about a family dinner scheduling snafu. Some people could make one night, and some could make another. My acquaintance had a surprise planned for the night they could make it which did not turn out to be the night selected for the dinner. This left them hurt, offended, and jealous that the other people “got first dibs” all the time, etc.
She sent off an ostensibly humorous message which basically said the others got first dibs all the time. They were subsequently taken aback when the recipient of this communication was offended. It was a joke, they said. Man, you can’t say anything to her. Uh, huh. The stated intent was to joke. The underlying intent was something else – perhaps to express their hurt, make the person feel bad, point out the unfairness, change something. What happens is that you get to accuse the person of misinterpreting your message. Well, they may have misinterpreted it somewhat, but they did not misinterpret that it was NOT a joke but indeed was criticism of some variety.
2nd Example of Conflicting Intent in Communication:
A leader I was coaching was uncomfortable about a communication they were directed, from above, to deliver to staff about a change initiative. Well, while exploring the discomfort it was discovered that there was a mismatch between what staff was being told and what the leader really wanted. It was one of those messages that concluded with the statement that if people had any concerns to speak with their leader. What the leader really wanted was for people to definitely NOT ask them about this as they didn’t support the initiative and didn’t want to lie.
This situation occurs frequently in the corporate world. The “my door is open if you have questions” statement is practically an auto-fill in corporate memos. Then, staff don’t come and ask questions because they can read the intent – don’t ask! – and the leader gets to point to the memo and, yes, there we are in the defense/blame game!
3rd Example of Conflicting Intent in Communication:
I talked with one client who was procrastinating about sending out a thank you letter to a service provider. Their boss had drafted a letter my client believed was overly appreciative and contained some errors. After exploring the issue, we were able to find a level of appreciation that the leader could truly express, and they provided two options to their boss. 1) That the first letter go out but under the boss’s signature, or 2) sign and send out the revised letter which was in congruence with their sentiments. Now that’s effective communication!
The Real Message
I think we need to realize that the real message always comes through in communication, even if it is from unconscious delivery to unconscious reception, and to do what we can to ensure we are coming from integrity. Do people sometimes have to deliver a message that they would prefer not to? Yes. I would still say there is something you can do to have the overt message come more into alignment with the internal.
Naturally the same holds true for oral or written communications. You can believe that tone only comes through in oral communications but we all “hear” tone in emails, letters, memos and scratched out notes on the counter at home.
Questions to ask yourself:
What emotions/feelings are coming up as I prepare this message? What’s that about?
If I had my way, what would I really say?
Would I deliver this message if I wouldn’t hurt others feelings/get fired/be punished?
If people knew my real intent, what would change?
Tactics to consider:
- Once you’ve identified any unease, propose changes so that the communication becomes something you can stand behind.
- Would it help if the message came from a more appropriate person? Be careful that you aren’t simply hiding or avoiding. Use this tactic only if you feel it truly makes sense for that person to send because of the content of the message.
- Think before using humour. Humour is effective in the right circumstances but if you are using it to be the passive-aggressive delivery of a message, or as sarcasm, think again. It will come back to bite you!
I’m curious what other people have experienced. Do you think the underneath message comes through in some way? Let me know what you think.
Rosalie Boulter, Paradigm Shifters Consulting – Aug, 2018
Rosalie Boulter is a partner at Paradigm Shifters Consulting. She loves coaching and educating clients on increasing their self-awareness. This allows them to more fully utilize their best selves and, in turn, help bring out the best in others. Check out her upcoming event taking place in October 2018 here: https://paradigm-shifters.com/courses/