For more than 16 years I have focused my career on helping leaders find good ways to deliver bad news.
With that goal in mind, every message I write for my clients adheres to three principles: It must 1) contain an element of truth, 2) be considerate and 3) be objective, taking both sides of the conflict into account.
Lately I’ve noticed we seem to be out of whack as a society when it comes to being considerate of one another. In fact, if I gave you a peek at my “bad news files,” you would be appalled by the name calling, threats and accusations they contain. Or would you?
Perhaps you are experiencing the same mistreatment. Or you might be guilty of not treating others the way you want to be treated.
It’s easy to blame social media, email and text messaging for this decline in civility. People are hiding behind their computer or phone, cyber bullying without consequence, never having to look their opponent in the eye and see the hurt they cause.
But blaming social media, something that will be with us forever, doesn’t solve the problem.
So, what will?
We need to get back to that age-old practice of consensus building.
Here are four simple communication techniques to get you started:
1. Speak or write kindly. When our mothers told us, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” they were mostly right. I say, “If you can’t say something nice, at least say something neutral.” Don’t provide ammunition that can be used against you. Avoid negativity. Speak the truth—but do it in the most considerate way possible.
2. Ignore your emotions and do what’s right. It’s easy to get riled up when someone is berating you. Anger stirs within you and all you want to do is strike back. Don’t. Hostile emotions, especially anger, muddy the communication waters.
3. Focus on the desired outcome. Let your opponent ramble on like a mad man. Keep your eyes on the prize—the results you’re trying to achieve. Don’t get dragged down into the quagmire of he-said-she-said. Nothing good ever comes from that tactic. Instead, show others a path forward that let’s everybody get some part of what they want. To help you do that, use phrases like “I can’t speak to all that, but here’s what I can tell you.” Or “You make a good point. However, let’s focus on what we can do now.”
4. Listen actively. Technology has given rise to an epidemic of distractedness. Learn to tune out all the digital noise so you can mindfully listen. It enables you to begin your response by briefly stating what you heard and address points specific to the conversation. It makes better use of everyone’s time.
Today’s 24/7, blended-work-life-norm is a hindrance to diplomacy. Practice shutting things down long enough to focus, collect your thoughts and then reply. Your message will be clearer . . . and much less likely to offend.
Before you act . . .
To foster a personal mindset of considerateness, take care of yourself with proper nutrition, exercise and rest. You’ll be much more likely to treat others in a way that does you proud.