Our work environments can be either a place where people communicate respectfully and with grace, or they communicate with crankiness and stress. Sometimes we might experience one, and sometimes the other. We all know which we would prefer to experience. And of course, we would all prefer if the standards of behaviour and communication were consistently of the positive kind.

If you wish to take responsibility for creating positive environments, here are some pointers on how to communicate for positive outcomes and pointers on how to avoid the negative.

1. Be a good listener
If you think about all the people you know, how many are good listeners? If you think back to the conversations after they’ve finished, how equally did the participants speak and listen? Listening is a skill and an art, and very rarely are people taught how to listen. It’s the lot of many people to think that the person who they were communicating with spoke far more than they listened. We’ve all had the experience of being with someone who demonstrably is not interested in us, and all they’re interested in is communicating their opinions and views. The net result being that we will often dismiss what they said without a second thought. Whereas when we feel we are listened to and heard, we will have a greater consideration of what the other person said in the communication. By holding our own counsel and avoiding stridently asserting our views, we create the space of the other person hearing us when we do calmly give our opinion.

2. Be discreet about your past, your relationships or your personal problems
In a work context, most people don’t want to know the details of your past problems, difficulties with ex’s or your parents. These stories belong on a therapist’s couch or long-time friends. It’s important to maintain boundaries between your private life and work and so it is OK to let people know that you’d prefer not to discuss much about your private life. Obviously as personal relationships develop, you may choose to disclose more intimate details to one or two people, but don’t make what’s going in your life the currency for everyone to talk about.

3. Stop gossiping about others
If you think passing on some juicy tidbit about someone is not a big deal, beware. No-one trusts a gossip. Everyone who hears you speaking indiscreetly about another will worry about what you’re saying about them, behind their back. All this breeds a situation where you will not be trusted. It’s important not to gain a reputation for being a gossip, nor one who listens to gossip. So, if you’re in a situation where another wants to speak about someone who isn’t present, you can either steer the conversation away by saying “I’d rather hear about you” or “I don’t feel comfortable talking about someone who isn’t present”. It creates a clean environment for you and others not to speak about anyone who isn’t there. It allows people to know that you can be trusted to keep your counsel and their privacy intact.

4. Stop criticising and judging your colleagues, your direct reports and your leaders
Any comments about anyone, if it isn’t directed to the person about whom you’re speaking are useless. The person hearing from you has no power to change another on your behalf. If you don’t have the courage to say whatever you want to say direct to the person then you know you’re being unfair. Criticising others or a situation is generating toxicity in yourself and trying to lodge it in others who will hear you and accept your view. Therefore, your comments are you just trying to make yourself feel better, unjustifiably. If you’re unhappy about what someone has done, or a situation that is arising, seek out the person who is responsible and discuss it directly with them. This is the only way that anything can really change, and if you really wish things to change, tackle this head on.

5. Turn complaints into requests
So many people use the opportunity of conversation as a complaining opportunity – and mutual complaining has almost become a form of building intimacy. Don’t do it! It’s mostly unattractive and sets you up as a victim of others and situations. There’s a very simple solution to this – turn your complaint into a request. Where you’re saying you don’t like something that someone is doing – do the work and think through what you would like them to do instead. Then translate that into a request that you can say to them. Obviously, it needs to be worded constructively, but there’s only three possible outcomes of your request. They will either accept or decline it, but thirdly they can counter-offer and this becomes a negotiation between you. Most of the time, you will effect a change for the better. So, remember to ask yourself and others who may be complaining– “What’s the request you’d really like to make?”

6. Acknowledge people for who they are
We all like to be complimented – even if it’s just for what we’re wearing – but to be powerfully impacting upon people, learn to acknowledge them for who they are. We do this when we identify what they do with a quality or nature that is specific to them. E.g. if you witness someone do a great presentation, you can either say “That was terrific.”
Or you can say “You’re a very skilful speaker. I admire how well you handled that question.” In the latter statement, you’ve identified a strength that they can rely in the future and acknowledges their unique character. The first statement is a compliment, but it has a shorter life span and will be quickly forgotten. Help people identify the good parts of themselves, the qualities and nature that makes them unique and they will love you for it.

7. Speak to be heard
Speaking powerfully means speaking concisely. Learn to say what you want to say with the minimum of words. Delete “I” from your vocabulary. Most of the time in a business context, the I is not needed. You don’t need to say “I didn’t understand your point about XYZ, would you please clarify what you meant.” Just say “Please clarify your point about XYZ.” You don’t need to emphasise what you didn’t understand or think about something before making a statement or asking a question. Eg. “I think this project is going to exceed budget” – say instead “This project is going to exceed budged.” This is also true for giving compliments – don’t say “I think you’re brilliant!” – say “You’re brilliant”. Your communication will have more impact and you’ll come across as powerful and direct.


Penny Sophocleous
20 August 2018