My current contract has me working on Get Well plans for the two major customers of the company I am consulting for. It is interesting to see how the root cause of many of the issues is based on mis- and poor communication. In today’s service oriented world we communicate almost every moment of the day: emails, calls, text messages, instant messages, meetings, you name it. However, many times the message is not really coming across.
Of course it is true (as in my current project) that issues are also caused by processes that are inefficient, late deliveries, and mismatch of priorities. However, customers in general understand that change is constant (see my last post) and are really looking for timely information so they can direct their people and partners correctly. Nothing pisses off a customer more than be blindsided by for example a missed delivery or not communicated change in priorities.
It is very interesting to see how reasonably simple it is to defuse escalations by active listening, following up and showing progress. Even the internal teams breath with more ease since now priorities are clear and they are focused.
Some key tools I use in these kinds of situations:
- Listen actively: Too often people are not listening with their full attention. They are thinking about what they are going to say next when the other person stops talking. To truly hear what is said, you need to listen you’re your full attention, not only to what is said but also what is not said. An example from my current client: we were in an executive meeting discussing the Get Well plan and one of the solutions was to dedicate a separate code line just for this customer. The customer VP was very pleased with the approach which threw a red flag for me so I clarified that the separate code line would be for the new product they were moving to not the current one they were on. At which time she lost a lot of her enthusiasm since she thought it was for her current product. I used my active (non-verbal) listening skills in this example to pick up a mismatch in response.
- Make people feel understood: When I start a new engagement, I find that by just spending time with the customer or teams to understand their issues and make them feel understood a lot of the initial conflict and especially the emotions around it get minimized. In addition, investing this time and effort also increases the trust levels and if people trust you and feel that you care about them, they are much more likely to cooperate with you.
- Don’t argue: Keep your eye on the result you need to reach. I have been in too many meetings where people start arguing their points or even get defensive. Both are very counter productive to getting to results. Arguments make people stake out positions and defend them. Your objective needs to be to get to a common ground from where to move forward to a joined goal.
All this is very common sense. However, based on the amount of work I have clearly common sense is not that common. Remember that the goal of effective communication is mutual understanding and moving towards a common goal, not ‘winning’ the argument or ‘being right’