While writing an article recently on effective ways to bridge the IT/Management communication gap, I realized that few of us are eager to take responsibility in our business lives to make something different happen and be part of the solution.
Indeed, we have a culture based on blaming: sellers would obviously close more sales if it weren't for the buyer; decisions could easily get made in meetings if people could make up their minds; systems would get designed correctly if the users could get it right the first time; teammates would get along if it weren't for those in the team that were difficult, etc. etc. In other words, it's HIS/HER fault.
The problem is that unless each of us is willing and able to take the responsibility to create a win-win interaction, nothing gets fixed.
While I can't offer a formula to teach folks how to eagerly seek out this level of responsibility, I can offer a communication formula, as embedded in The Buying Facilitation Method?. There is a way to not only take responsibility for every communication, but to ensure that your communication partners are supporting your effort effectively.
Let's look at the seller/buyer system as a model for responsible communication. Buying Facilitation? offers sellers (or changERs - anyone wishing to create change of any kind) a way to take responsibility for creating the parameters of a buyer's (or changEEs) decision; it systematically leads buyers through all of the sometimes hidden, often idiosyncratic issues that need to be taken into account before a decision to do something different can get made.
Yet when buyers turn the tables and want something from sellers, and try to get a seller's behavior to meet their needs, the buyer is the person responsible - hence, the buyer becomes the 'seller' of change and is therefore the one needing to 'own' the responsibility for creating an avenue to get their needs met.
In other words, whoever wants something from the interaction is the seller. Optimally, both parties understand the need to move the mantle of 'seller' and 'buyer' back and forth between communication partners.
WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY IS IT ANYWAY?
On a business trip some years ago, my business partner had to leave unexpectedly. That meant I had to rent a car to get to the airport. Now, I'm on the road all the time; I don't always really know what city I'm in, and certainly don't remember highways.
I went to the nearest car rental company and began filling out the paperwork to get my car. As the papers were being completed, I asked the clerk how to get to the airport. Without looking up he mumbled:
"Go outside, get onto 17, go 'til you get to 35 and you'll see signs for the airport."
"Do I take a right or left on 17? Do I go north or south on 35?"
"Go outside, get onto 17, go 'til you get to 35 and you'll see signs for the airport."
"I don't think you heard me, so let me say it again. DO I TAKE A RIGHT or a LEFT on 17?????"
"Look lady, just do as I say: Go outside, get onto 17, go 'til you get to 35 and you'll see signs for the airport."
By this time I was furious. My head was screaming at me: What the Hell is His Problem? I'm THE CUSTOMER here! Doesn't that idiot KNOW I'm THE CUSTOMER and I SHOULD GET WHAT I WANT? WHY ISN'T HE RESPONDING PROPERLY???"
Just as I was about to scream at him, which he was expecting and glaring right back at me, I moved into my coach/witness self-talk: Yo, Sharon Drew. YOU ARE THE ONE WHO NEEDS TO GET TO THE AIRPORT. NOT HIM. YOU ARE THE SELLER HERE!!!!!!!! BE NICE OR YOU'LL BE IN THIS DAMN TOWN FOREVER.
I smiled at the red-faced clerk and said, sweetly, "See, I've got a problem. I have a terrible time with directions and get lost frequently. Would you mind making a map to get me to the airport? That would be so much easier than verbal directions. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks." "No problem." And it was done.
I had a belief that just because I was the 'customer' that I was the one who should get what I wanted. But in this case I had to become the 'seller' and sell the clerk the idea of giving me what I needed in the way I needed it, separate from his accustomed response. He became my buyer.
IT'S NOT ABOUT RIGHT - IT'S ABOUT RELATIONSHIP
We all face this problem daily: we believe we're right, that we need something done OUR way, that the other person is beholden to us to give us what we want OUR way, and that we're being perfectly reasonable and understandable, in word choice, request, or outcome. Indeed, we might even BE right. But that's not the point: we're seeking a communication, not a monologue.
We forget that we are operating out of our own set of beliefs and values and that others have separate and different beliefs and values. Stir into the mix our often disparate communication capabilities, skill sets, goals, job descriptions - and we're off and running.... in different directions. Then we can say things like:
- it wasn't my fault; I was clear;
- he seemed to understand me when I was speaking with him;
- when I left, we had agreed. I don't know what happened;
- I thought we were on the same page. I didn't realize until too late how far apart we were;
- what's his/her problem?
- obviously not a decision-maker; not smart enough;
- I was speaking perfectly plain English. The guy's a jerk.
Let's assume that everyone is doing the best they can do. Let's also assume that most people are nice, and willing to be helpful. So what happens that makes them jerks?
What's happening is that the other person is hearing us through their unique, very idiosyncratic beliefs systems and filters. Studies have shown that we only listen for data that will concur with what we already believe or are comfortable with.
When we get new data, it's up for grabs as to how we accept it. According to accepted learning theories (G.M. Edelman and G Lowenstein as per discussion in Driven: How Human Nature Shapes our Choices by Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria) if there is a small gap between what the listener is hearing that is familiar and what is divergent, a perceived large gap between the two, or non-perceived large gap, there will be no response or a fear-based response to the talker. It's only when there is a perceived medium gap will any action be taken - and then the listener will attempt to close the gap by following his/her own standard operating procedure.
In other words, people don't like to be out of their comfort zone.
So if you've got something to say to someone that involves
- something new to think about,
- some need for change,
- anger/annoyance about something the listener didn't realize s/he created or didn't create with purpose,
the odds of being heard in a way that supports collaboration are minimal at best.
The sad thing is that relationships get damaged when one person gets annoyed that their communication partner is not responding 'appropriately ("You're not hearing me!")', or 'adequately' ("You didn't respond to what I just said."), or 'sufficiently' ('buyers are liars' fits here).
HOW DO WE TALK TO EACH OTHER RESPONSIBLY
In order to ensure that our communications are received the way we want them understood, we need a way to create a 'we space' between communicators.
That means, someone - the 'seller' or the person wishing something from the communication - must make sure that each person is heard, understands what's being said, and responds appropriately.
I'd love to tell you that each person in all interactions are willing to take responsibility, but that's just not true. Prospects have no reason to make sure they are being heard, or hear, efficiently; hostile partners or teammates don't care if they hear you or not; etc. Try convincing a teenager that they need to hear you lecture. Particularly when we get into our individual 'stuff', when our beliefs get triggered, it's very difficult - if not impossible - to really hear the person who's triggered our discomfort.
We're not talking about 'right' here; we're talking about taking a level of responsibility above and beyond the normal 'communication' level, and working toward a collaboration regardless of who might be in the 'right'.
So how do you take responsibility for another person's communication? How do you correct misinterpretations - before they happen? How do you fix something gone - or going - wrong?
While there are several complex skills that are required to support this level of communication integrity, there are some simple behaviors that can go a long way toward making a difference. Primary is the recognition of a problem to begin with. Let's look here at the noticing aspect, the correcting aspect, and the make-sure-it-continues-to-go-right aspect.
Noticing if it's working or not:
1. physical. Note the other person's demeanor. Notice facial expressions and posture. Was there a shift? Does there seem to be confusion? Does the facial expression seem to be congruent, but the words are not in total alignment with your end of the communication? If it doesn't seem right to you, it probably isn't. There's probably a glitch somewhere between what you thought you said and what they thought you said.
2. emotional. Are you both in rapport? How do you know? Do you continue in rapport as the communication proceeds? Do the words used have a natural cadence of up and down? Is there some malleability to your communication partner's voice, rather than a stern or emotionless voice tone? Has this person gone from comfort to discomfort? From soft to hard, or from light to heavy? If you are feeling discomfort, the other person is also.
3. mental. Are the messages you are sending being heard in the connotation you imply? If your message isn't being received properly you will hear a non-sequitor in response. Or you will hear what sounds like a normal response, but the affect/pitch/tone will be flat.
Correcting a misperception:
When you notice something is awry, you must go in and fix it immediately or it gets carried along within the dialogue as a huge sore that no one is attending to but is acutely impacting the communication. As one of my client's from Boston once said, it's like the turd in the punchbowl: everyone knows it's there, but everyone avoids it; everyone claims they are not thirsty and no one will take the responsibility to fix it, so they move on to another party where they can get punch. It's lose-lose.
I'm suggesting that the person who wants something from the communication make sure the punch bowl is clean.
As the owner of the communication, you must be the one to say:
"Excuse me. I think there might be a confusion in our communication. I hear you saying X and it seems to me you might have heard me say Y. Is that true?"
"It seems to me you're annoyed by what I said, and that wasn't my intent. I want to make sure we stay on the same page: can you tell me what you heard me say so I can either correct it or re-state it?"
"It sounds as if you've lost interest in our conversation. Is there anything you need me to know in order to get back on track with you?"
Because communication is a two-way exercise, losing the Receiver means you're not communicating. That might be ok in some situations, but not in others - especially when your job or relationship depends on it.
The question I leave you with is:
What would you need to know or believe differently to be wiling to take responsibility for both sides of a communication? What are you currently missing to make that happen?
It might make the difference between success and failure.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of New York Times bestseller Selling with Integrity. She is the visionary and thought leader behind a wholly original sales model based on the systems of how people change and decide. She has taught this system to 13,000 people in the fields of sales, customer service, negotiating, coaching, and change management. Sharon Drew is a keynote speaker and decision strategist, helping companies change their internal practices to embrace collaborative decision making, ethics, values, and integrity. She can be reached at 512-457-0246 and http://www.sharondrewmorgen.com and http://www.newsalesparadigm.com