business communication

Talk To One Another, Even If It’s Difficult

Sam and Alex are joint senior partners in a professional practice. Until recently they have got on well, but lately their relationship has deteriorated. They can’t agree on anything and they irritate one another terribly. As a consequence, they stay in their own offices and keep out of each other’s way.

One of the biggest problems is when one of them has a meeting with members of the staff, the employees are expected to relay messages from that meeting to the other senior partner. In short, these two managers are acting like a separated married couple using the children as messengers.

I was initially employed by the firm on a consulting assignment to find out why staff turnover was high. I’m sure you can guess the answer.

The employees were tired of feeling they had to walk on eggshells for fear of saying the wrong thing about one senior partner to the other. They were tired of distorted information as messages morphed in translation after translation. They were tired of not being part of a collaborative team and being torn between ‘them and us’ as various members of staff took sides with Alex or Sam.

Customers were noticing the discord at the firm and stress levels were high. Many staff were actively looking for new jobs.

As an important aspect of my assignment to understand the underlying dynamics inside the firm, I spent a lot of time working with Alex and Sam to get to the bottom of their differences. And, as is often the case, the perceived original problems boiled down to poor communication.

After a fair amount of blaming, unkind words and hurt egos, they came to a common ground of understanding. They are not out of the woods completely yet, but at least they are talking to one another now and not using the staff as messengers. You will probably not be surprised that morale in the firm has begun to improve.

If you know of anyone in this situation, please mention that acting like separated parents using their children as a game of ping pong is never sensible for anyone. And at the very least, encourage them to appreciate the need to talk together in order to move forward positively.

If you’d like support to unpick a communication issue you’re facing, I offer a focused on-to-one Communication Clinic, over Skype. Contact me to find out more.

When two people clash and it is so avoidable

When two people clash and it is so avoidable

Have you seen the birthday card with a couple of hard-of-hearing elderly people having a conversation? It goes something like this:

“It’s windy today”
“No, it’s Thursday”
“So am I, let’s have a cup of tea”

This is an amusing greetings card, but have you ever heard anyone at work having a similar conversation? No, not due to deafness, but due to lack of concentration because they are preoccupied with other tasks rather than listening properly. Especially these days with so many phones, tablets and computers competing for our attention.

I was aghast recently, listening to two people in the board room having a conversation that quickly became more and more heated. All because neither party gave their full attention to the other at the beginning of the conversation. It went something like this:

Person A: “I’m actually pretty good at having an open door policy. My teams know they can come into my office anytime to discuss issues”

Person B: “Are you saying that I don’t help my people the same way?”

Person B was distracted and took the comment as a criticism and misconstrued the meaning, a common mistake when we are preoccupied and stressed.

Person A: “I didn’t say that but now you come to mention it, I did hear someone in the corridor complain that they couldn’t get to see you”

Person A’s reply is defensive and counterattacks to try to gain some control.

And so, the heat began to rise. Nonsense, isn’t it? Misunderstandings and misinterpretations are quite frankly toxic and can create conflict with devastating effects on productivity, team work and collaboration as well as poor health due to anxiety and even spill over to poor customer service.

How might the board room conversation have gone?

Person A: “I’m actually pretty good at having an open door policy. My teams know they can come into my office anytime to discuss issues”

Person B: “Well done. How do you communicate that to your people, so that they don’t take advantage of your generosity?”

Person A will then feel flattered and a debate is opened for an honest discussion about an open door policy.

Virtually every conflict in the world is due to poor communication. Being constantly aware of what you are saying and giving people your full attention can contribute greatly to staff working together for the good of the company, whilst avoiding you having to navigate the treacherous waters of conflict.