You have likely found that the more people that you’re responsible for, the more you need to adjust your communication style to be heard. Different people process information differently, and their motivations and emotions also have an impact on their perception. What you mean to say and what people interpret can differ, even when you have the best of intentions, and your meaning is clear to you.
The sheer number of people you interact with, and the unique perspectives of each, means you must go beyond your intuition and experience when leading your teams. Strong leaders actively spend time advancing their communication skills. Doing so improves their ability to engage their teams, motivate individuals and resolve conflict within any given organization. Understanding these powerful subtleties of persuading and influencing will help ensure that you are most effectively leading and motivating those around you.
Your Word Choice Matters
When you speak, do you think about the words you use? There are some words that we commonly use without much thought, like “but,” and “try”; words that are actually very powerful. These ordinary words radically change the meaning of your communication and can even relay unintentional subconscious meaning to the people with whom you’re communicating. Be intentional when using these two words! Here’s why.
Mind Your Buts
“But” is dismissive and sends the message that the other person’s communication has been disregarded. No matter how delicately you approach a situation and intend to affirm someone’s perspective, following a statement up with “but” under cuts the message, and could even spark conflict or undermine your rapport with that person.
Working around this issue is simple. Get in the habit of saying “and” instead of “but.” Consider the following examples:
- “You bring up a good point about AI investment, but I think it will be expensive to implement.
- “You bring up a good point about AI investment and I think we need to consider the overall investment required to implement.”
The first sentence implicitly dismisses the idea of investing in AI. The second suggests that the idea of investing in AI is an important one and invites collaboration about the associated expense. As you can see, using “and” strategically will help build rapport and also assist you in steering the other person to your desired outcome.
Try Presupposes Failure
“Try” is another word that requires careful consideration. Often leaders use “try” with the intention to bolster someone and improve their attitude or get buy-in on goals. Unfortunately, the word has the opposite impact. It opens the door to the idea of failure. Consider these examples:
- “Please try to gather your metrics by tonight.”
- “Let’s try to achieve the sales goal this quarter.”
These sentences plant doubt in the mind of the person you’re talking to as to whether the goal will be achieved. Simply omitting the word “try” and replacing it with more certain words or phrases makes these more powerful, persuasive statements:
- “Please ensure you gather your metrics by tonight.”
- “Let’s make sure we achieve the sales goal this quarter!”
Understand and Adjust for Different Processing Styles
In your career you have worked with all sorts of people, and each has a primary representational system: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or a combination. Based on your own processing style, you have likely found that you work better with certain individuals. These are the people who rely on the same representational system as you. This match is one of the reasons you seem to have a better line of communication with one person over another and why communication seems to take more effort with others. Once you understand these three processing styles you can match them, which helps others feel understood and increases rapport.
Start by paying attention to the way people code their language (which gives you clues about which representational system they prefer). For example, consider how your team members talk about the same report:
- Those using a primarily kinesthetic system may say, “This is a solid report.”
- Those using a primarily visual system may say, “This report looks good.”
- Those using a primarily auditory system may say, “I hear you’ve put a lot of work into this report.”
Carefully listen to determine the processing style that a person appears to use most dominantly. When talking to a large group comprised of many people who each have different processing systems, use all three styles in your language in order to connect and communicate more effectively with the entire audience. Doing so will increase the likelihood that each individual will relate to your message.
Understand and Adjust for Motivational Factors
Each individual has several motivational traits driving them. Understanding those traits and speaking to them is one of the keys to effectively motivating your teams. Three motivational traits that are valuable for you to know are:
- Internal and External: Those who are internally motivated act on what they think and their own criteria while those who are externally motivated act on what others think and on general external consensus.
- Away From and Toward: Those who have an away from motivation focus on what they want to avoid, eliminate, or prevent. Those who have a toward motivation seek what they can accomplish, gain, and achieve.
- Options and Procedures: People motivated by options tend to focus on the variety of possibilities and choices available. Part of their strength is in brainstorming new ways to do things and because of this, they may struggle with follow-through. People motivated by procedures like to focus on “how” things are done. They may have great follow-through and could miss opportunities to do things in new, better ways.
Sorting out where people fall on these continuums is as simple as listening to them. For example, an options-motivated person may express that there is more than one way to achieve a goal, or that they want to consider all the possibilities. A procedures-oriented person may want to stick to the rules and prefer to do things the way they have always been done. Once you understand which motivational factors are driving someone’s behavior, it is much simpler to communicate using matching language to move them towards the outcome you want. It also allows you to leverage their strengths, including within the context of team initiatives. And, when speaking to a group, you can vary your language strategies so as to appeal to a broader range of people.
Cultivate Higher Agreement
In group meetings and one-on-ones, we can get bogged down with the details and end up feeling like we are on a radically different page than others. As a leader, you already know that a key part of your role is establishing and maintaining agreement and buy-in. Have you intentionally utilized the strategy of moving back to higher levels of agreement when conflict arises? It’s a good method to have in your toolbox.
To use this strategy, keep track of the higher-level goals and priorities that everyone agrees on, and confidently step back to that foundation when resolving conflict. For example, let’s say everyone in your meeting agrees that you need to make investments in technology to promote a hybrid workplace. If teams get bogged down in details, like security and password protocols for the technology, disagreements may arise. At this point, you can reestablish agreement around that higher level goal – that your office should be better equipped for your hybrid workforce. Then, move back into navigating the details only as quickly as you can maintain agreement. When everyone is reminded of a shared goal (so long as it truly is a shared goal), then it’s much easier to find win-win solutions.
Some of these strategies may initially require a little extra investment of your time and energy than others and be assured it’s well worth it because they will pay off exponentially in the long run. Start with simple changes like using words thoughtfully and intentionally (removing “but” and “try” from your language) and work on more detailed strategies (like discovering and using another person’s motivational drivers). Remember, investing in your own communication strategies will yield results in terms of improved conflict resolution and increased motivation across your teams.
Written by Stephen McGarvey.
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