How the quality of conversations in leadership, teamwork and customer contact can sustainably be improved through relationship oriented basic attitudes.
Time and again I see people hoping for quick fixes for their interpersonal issues by searching for the right communication techniques and methods. I have managers asking me "What technique will help me become more assertive? What method will make me become more quick-witted? What can I do to become a better influencer?" These kinds of questions and the wish for more self-efficacy that comes with them seems understandable. However, they fall short of their goal because they remain on the level of behavior and therefore on the surface.
Of course, techniques and methods are important in communication. Knowing what my options are in order not to let a conversation escalate that has an elevated potential for conflict, or how to even actively de-escalate, is very valuable. However, all methods will fall short if the required basic attitudes are not given, for they permeate every word and every sentence I say. They influence the quality of my questions, my listening and ultimately the quality of the whole conversation.
And so there are some recommended basic attitudes that have consistently proven to be promoting an effective dialogue. They are perceived more deeply than any conversation technique and reliably improve the quality of leadership, teamwork and customer interaction.
Would I be able to accept what I am about to say and remain unhurt, if my conversational partner would be saying the same to me? If the answer is "No", it might be helpful to re-phrase the statement in a more relationship-oriented way before actually expressing it.
A conversation on eye-level would be considered symmetric, which would manifest itself in an equal share of speech, for example. Symmetry as a basic attitude is possible, even in a situation that has a tendency to be asymmetric, like critical feedback in a leadership context. Some specific situations are asymmetric by nature. If police requires me to pull over and wants to see my driver's license, this is an asymmetric situation to which I better submit. Some time ago, conversations with a physician tended to be rather asymmetric whereas today they can more often be seen as a dialogue between two partners.
This is about genuineness and vulnerability. The prerequisite is a conversational climate that allows for fearless expression of thoughts and emotions (that is, without having to fear negative consequences). Do I show myself as the person I really am - even though I am in a role, e. g. of a leader - or do I mask myself in my behavior? Genuineness creates contact and trust, masking creates mistrust and distance. The masks most commonly shown are attacking, blaming and the "drooper" or victim. They all have the purpose of self-protection. Whether we are authentic can mostly be seen in our non-verbal expression. It has a bigger impact than what we say. Especially if we are not authentic - then it is perceived as dissonant by others. This being said, authenticity does not mean saying everything we think and feel. What we say, however, should be in line with our inner convictions.
Most likely you have heard the term "empathy" before. It describes the ability and willingness to put yourself in someone else's shoes and see the world with their eyes. The behavioral manifestation of empathy can mainly be seen in partner-oriented questions and real, active listening. Obviously, this is the kind of behavior we naturally show when we sit on a park bench with our best friend. It can become more challenging when we are confronted with a screaming customer, team member or boss. In such a moment, the ability to show empathy is not enough. More than anything, the willingness to show empathetic behavior that will promote dialogue is required.
We are credible if we walk the talk, if we do what we say and only demand of others what we would demand of ourselves. This includes that we clearly inform our counterpart about the purpose and goal of a conversation and that we stick to what we say or assure.
6. Respect and Goodwill
The basic willingness to respect a conversational partner in his or her uniqueness does not mean that we accept or agree with everything they say or do. Respect and goodwill are rather active attitudes by which we indicate our willingness to solve problems in such a way that there no winners or losers in the end but a win-win situation.
Basically, we can approach a situation or a challenge in a problem or solution oriented way. In a problem-oriented approach, the goal is often to understand why something happened and whose fault it was. Hence, it is mostly focusing on the past. A solution-oriented approach moves the focus of attention towards possible solutions and is therefore also future-oriented, as this is where we can actually change and influence something. During a conversation, we can use questions to steer the other person's focus of attention from the problem towards possible solutions: "What should happen now, according to you? What can we do now? What do you propose?" etc.
Bottom line: No technique or method, even if it is perfected in its application, can replace these basic attitudes. On the contrary: without the respective basic attitude, most techniques and methods remain mostly ineffective.
Therefore, the journey towards better communication with less friction and conflict needs to go inwards first. What are your basic attitudes, at work and in your private relationships? Which of those basic attitudes are promoting dialogue, which ones aren't? A coach and sparring partner can help you answer these questions by making you aware of blind spots, by showing new courses of action and thus supporting the change process in a lasting way.
About the author: Operating out of Switzerland, Thomas Gelmi stands for more efficacy in leadership, teamwork and customer interaction by developing InterPersonal Competence. More information can be found at www.gelmi-consulting.com