So often in the annual performance reviews or even just day-to-day conversations people receive feedback that they should work on improving their communication skills. But what does that really mean? And does it mean the same thing around the world?
We all have our own personal preferences of how we speak, what channels of communication we prefer, what words work for us and which ones don’t. On top of that, we grew up in a certain household, with certain experiences and in a certain society and culture. All those factors cannot be omitted when speaking about effective communication.
Something to have in mind is that many leadership and management books come from the so-called ‘western’ world, with vast majority written in various US locations and business schools. When speaking about a good leadership those often point out qualities such as ‘trustworthy’, ‘effective communicator’ or ‘respectful’. Problem is, the tips and advice on how to develop those qualities and how to come across as that, are often set in a highly individualistic US society’s context. They do not necessarily guarantee success in some other places in the world or when working with people from other backgrounds.
Because… what do you actually need to do to be effective, trustworthy or respectful? Well, the ways to achieve that may vary a lot.
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What do you need to take into account when reflecting on effective communication?
- What words do you use?
- Who can you reach out to directly? (can you speak directly to a person higher in the hierarchy? or without consulting with your manager?)
- Who can you ask for advice and input when making decisions? (no-one? colleagues on the same level? your team members?)
- Where are the decisions made? (in the business meetings in offices? outside in the restaurants? in the senior meetings for which you only put forward your proposal?)
- How do you express your opinions and where? (is everyone welcome to add in their points of view? are you able to publically disagree? if there are more senior people in the room do you have a voice?)
- When presenting a product or idea what type of content has the biggest value for the decision-making process? (should the presentation be more fact-based? should it focus more on emotions, usability and connection with the product? should your presentation be structured top down (inductive) to start from key message and applications to supporting points, or maybe bottom-up (deductive) to build the argumentation from the supporting thoughts to arrive at the final conclusion at the end)
The above points should not be understood only in the context of country cultures. There surely are some differences on a society and statistical level in terms of what behaviours and attitudes people consider ‘normal’, but you may find yourself entering a completely different culture when starting a job in a new company, working with a certain client and with specific individuals who each have their own history. The key is to build your communication toolkit so that you can feel comfortable in multiple contexts while still staying true to yourself.
What is the key to deciphering which style would be most effective?
It’s important to realise your own style first and the tendencies you naturally have in your communication. If you are working with people whose style is vastly different from yours, you can then slowly start decoding which aspects of those differences tend to be most challenging and hinder your effectiveness.
For example, let’s say you know you tend to be very direct and are not usually holding off the criticism regardless of whether you are in a group or not. You may start noticing that people stop sharing ideas with you or take meetings without you and the decisions are being made separately. Turns out they maybe treated the criticism personally, as if you were criticising them and not just the ideas; maybe they think harmony of the group is more important during a meeting and they prefer to share negative feedback in other more anonymous ways?
Would you continue with your behaviour if you knew that?
I’m guessing not, and you will want to adapt your style to ensure your points are still taken into consideration while at the same time not compromising positive working relationships with your colleagues.
Once those gaps are identified you can practice awareness and start working on developing an alternative communication strategies which seem more appropriate when working with this given person or group of people.
The thing to have in mind is the common goal you and the other person have. Maybe it’s a project you need to complete together, maybe just one task, maybe you work together in a long-term team and just have to find a way to get on.
Remember that the intention of your co-workers in most cases is positive and you can likely label it with the same general headings of “I want this meeting to be productive”, “I want to build good and trusting working relationships” or “I want the team to be motivated”. However how you achieve those may differ, and the key is to know your own and your colleagues’ working preferences to ensure that the relationship is perceived as ‘good’, ‘trusting’ and ‘effective’ by both sides.