I, Susan, am a golfer. In Montana, that means I get to golf from April (if the snow is gone) to late September. However, I was so busy this past April through June that I didn’t even get the clubs out of the garage!
So, when I finally made it to the driving range, my relatively average golf game, at best, was horrible! But I didn’t quit playing golf. No, I expected the poor performance and started practicing daily to get my swing back.
As a new golfer a few years back, I did not expect to play well. I was horrible for quite a while, but kept practicing, failing and still playing. Of course, in sports, you don’t expect to be in top form when you pick up a new sport, or return to it after a long lay-off.
It’s funny that we don’t give ourselves that same benefit when it comes to communication!
CrisMarie and I introduce every team and leader we work with to our book the The Beauty of Conflict, which has our Check It Out! communication model. This model is an amazing tool that can be very effective at clearing up differences, handling tough conversations, and communicating with clarity in building team cohesion. Check it Out! is great for building bridges in conflict situations, and even developing emotional intelligence.
However, it’s a tool—like an iron, a wood or a driver in golf. Just like in golf, you’ve got to learn to practice and develop the right muscles for using Check It Out! You can’t just expect to get introduced to a new way of thinking and communicating and assume the next interaction or conflict is going to go well. Effective communication takes practice!
So how do you practice communication?
Well, for those of you who’ve worked with us and know the model, this next section will be easy to follow. For those of you who haven’t yet had that chance to work with us, you may want to download, How to Have Tough Conversations at Work.
Practice starts by analyzing and breaking down an interaction that did not go well and finding the problem areas. This means noticing:
Step One, Data: What did you hear or see? This is “just the facts,” the objective details.
Example: Sheila arrived twenty minutes late to the meeting. She didn’t apologize for being late. She was quiet throughout the rest of the meeting.
Step Two, Story: What meaning did you give it? In other words, what story did you tell yourself about what you saw or heard?
Example: Because Sheila was late, and didn’t apologize, my interpretation is…she doesn’t care about this project. Her behavior was unprofessional and disrespectful not just to the team, but to me personally as well! Maybe she’s jealous that I was chosen to lead this project instead of her?!
It’s important to remember that this story is your personal interpretation of the facts. Your interpretation might be 100% correct. Or 0% correct. Or somewhere in between. The truth might be very different than the first story that arises in your mind. For instance, yes, it’s possible that Sheila doesn’t care about this project, or that she’s jealous of your leadership position and that’s why she was late and unusually quiet. It’s also possible that Sheila just got a distressing phone call about her mom who’s in the hospital and that’s why she was late and unusually quiet. The first story that pops into your mind might not be the truth, or even remotely close.
Step Three, Feelings: What were you feeling? Keep this simple. Were you open or closed; interested or disinterested?
Example: When Sheila came in late, I felt annoyed and disrespected.
Step Four, Intention: What did you want or not want? What was your intention?
Example: I want my team to do their best work. I want this project to go well. I want people to feel inspired, interested, and motivated to do a good job. And I want Sheila to enjoy being a member of this team.
Step Five, Action: What did you do? This is the video test, which means if we could rewind a video of the conversation—this is what we’d see on it.
Example: I asked Sheila to stay after the meeting ended to ask her why she was so late. I tried to be unemotional, but my irritation definitely came through. I think my tone was pretty harsh. She seemed flustered and on the brink of tears.
Usually, when I take the time to break down an interaction, I discover where I missed something.
Maybe I interpreted the facts incorrectly and I made up a story about what was happening—and my story was way off-base. Or maybe my intention wasn’t clear. Maybe I didn’t say what I really wanted. Or maybe both!
After a game that didn’t go well, athletes will often watch videos of what happened on the field to identify what went wrong, and when, and why, so they can avoid the same pitfalls in the future. This can sometimes feel uncomfortable (after all, most people don’t enjoy reviewing their stumbles, fumbles, hiccups, and mistakes!) but this is crucial if you want to identify your problem areas and make improvements for the future.
We can do the same thing with communication. You can review difficult interactions (meetings that didn’t go well, conversations that felt tense) and figure where your blind-spots are. Analyzing an interaction that did not go well is a powerful way to practice and improve your communication skills.
Communication is a sport. It takes muscular development, practice, trial and error! Don’t give up, and don’t expect to be a pro without the practice.
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke
Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict
CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.
They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.
Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.