Article #7, February 20, 2003
Courageous Communication at Work
Have you ever known someone to lose their temper at work? Have you ever experienced such intense frustration yourself that you wanted to quit on the spot – or maybe you thought about smacking someone!? Perhaps you have been completely taken by surprise at a coworker’s extreme reaction to something you said or did.
Often, communication problems exhibit themselves as confusion and/or seemingly unnecessary mistakes – often accompanied by surprise. Having really effective language to clearly express what’s needed in a work environment can not only promote goodwill and good morale, but can save the company lots and lots of money in lost productivity. Bottom line – it costs money to do things over and it costs money to hire new people.
Example # 1: The manager, Shannon, tells the employee, Joe, in an email at 11:00am; “Print 12 copies of a specific report for the meeting this afternoon at 1:30.” Sounds pretty clear, right? So, Joe makes 12 copies of the report and puts them on her desk by 11:30. (Joe has never been invited to this meeting.) After lunch, Joe continues his regular work and gets a frantic call at 1:40 demanding the reports! And why isn’t Joe at the meeting?! How should this be handled? How could it have been prevented?
At this point, since Shannon is the boss, Joe is on the defensive. Shannon believes she has been very clear and Joe thinks he did as he was told. In the heat of the moment, it’s probably best for Joe to just get the reports and go to the meeting. It will be obvious that he printed out the reports as requested since he immediately appeared in the meeting with the reports in hand. It would be a mistake for Joe to try to explain at this time, when Shannon is already upset.
After the meeting, Shannon and Joe should talk through the situation. Shannon should let Joe tell his perception of what happened first. Joe might say, “I’m sorry I wasn’t at the meeting. I must not have received the invitation because it wasn’t on my (electronic) calendar. I printed the reports as you requested earlier today, but since I didn’t see on the request where you needed them, I did them right away and put them on your desk. I didn’t know you wouldn’t go back there before the meeting started. I’m really sorry.” Joe is taking responsibility for his part in the situation without taking or giving blame, and is using “I” statements instead of more inflammatory “you” statements. “I” statements are typically better received.
At this point, Shannon has the choice to believe Joe or not. Assuming she believes him, it would be productive if Shannon asked Joe how she can make her future communications clearer so this doesn’t happen again.
How could this have been prevented? Shannon could have said in her 11:00 email “Please bring the reports with you to the meeting at 1:30;” Or, “I’ll see you at the meeting.” Had she said that, the reports would have been there on time, and so would Joe. However, since Joe didn’t receive the meeting invitation, it is now up to him to email Shannon back with, “It sounds like I am supposed to attend the entire meeting, but I did not receive the invitation. I’m happy to come if you need me. Please advise.” When both parties take responsibility for clear communication, morale remains high.
Example # 2: John is interviewing for a new managerial position and his wife is expecting a baby in about 6 weeks. He has promised her he will take 2 weeks off work after the baby is born. Should he tell the new prospective employer? How? When? Does it make a difference if his new boss is a woman or a man? What if the new position is an executive position? What if John is the only person in the department?
John’s priorities need to be very clear to him before he begins the interview process. Since he has made the promise to his wife, his priority seems to be her. John should go through the entire interview process being evaluated on his ability to perform the required duties. However, it is very important that John evaluates the new position to see if it fulfills his requirements as well. When John gets the offer, if he feels this will be a good move for him, he can mention his personal situation. He might say, “I feel I need to disclose that I have made a commitment to my wife, who is expecting our child. In about 6 weeks, after the baby comes, I plan to take 2 weeks off. Do you see this as a problem?”
If the employer reacts negatively, then John must decide what he wants. Will he be happy working for someone who doesn’t respect his values? What happens when his wife goes back to work and he needs to pick up the baby from daycare half of the time? Will he be happy in this position?
Ahh – the power of language.