Podcast Transcriptions

Pursue What Matters

Episode 5: How Can I Communicate Effectively with My Team?

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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Hello again and welcome back to the Pursue What Matters podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Melissa Smith. And today we’re going to talk all about talking. No, that wasn’t a stutter. We are talking all about communication and how to communicate effectively with your team. So let’s jump in.

Dr. Melissa Smith 0:20
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Today, we’re going to talk about talking communication is one of the most important aspects of all relationships. So what we say and how we say, what we say can make all the difference in either strengthening or undermining a relationship and a work team, right? I mean, think about your relationships, think about your family relationships, your work relationships, and communication really is a linchpin that cuts across all of those. And you know, when we have really effective communication, it can make all the difference in terms of effectiveness, and when we have pretty lousy communication, it can really undermine a team and a relationship.

So first, let’s think about some of the numbers as they relate to the role of communication in relationships. So a study done in 2012 found that 65% of the participants cited communication problems as the most common factor leading to divorce. Right. So and, you know, in a related factor, the couple’s inability to resolve conflict was cited as a second on the list. So 43% of participants cited inability to resolve conflict as responsible for their decision to divorce. So right, these communication issues are a huge factor when it comes to the marital relationship. thinking a little bit more about the differences between men and women, this probably won’t be too big of a surprise to many of us. But men and women have different complaints about their partner’s communication skills. So 70% of men said that nagging and complaining was their primary issue for their partner, so they did not like it, when the women in their life were nagging and complaining. And and then 60% said that their wife not expressing sufficient appreciation towards them, was the second follow up issue behind the nagging and complaining. So that’s that’s the complaint that men have about women is that women are nagging and complaining, and also that they don’t express sufficient appreciation. So not a huge surprise there. And for women, what do we think women are saying? So 83% of women so women really feel very strongly about this. So there’s there’s a lot of agreement there. 83% of women said that a lack of validation for their feelings, was the biggest communication issue for them in their intimate relationship, followed by 56% of participants stating that their spouse didn’t listen to them, or didn’t talk too much about himself. So So here’s what we hear our hearing from from women, right, like they wanted validation for their feelings from the men in their lives. And they also wanted their husbands the men in their lives, to listen to them more, but they also wanted to hear from the men in their lives more so right communication really was core to some of these relationship challenges that people are citing in some of these studies that we’re looking at. Seven out of 10 Americans agree that good communication is the most important factor in a happy marriage. 

Dr. Melissa Smith 4:53
Now, there are some relationship experts and marriage experts that may not completely agree with that, you know, John Gottman, he is one of the forermost researchers on marriage and he says it’s not whether a couple argues or not, because a lot of people, a lot of people out there, say like, okay, like if a couple argues that is a problem, right that like that that’s not a good sign and that you’re, you’re heading for divorce. And Gottman said, you know, the fact that a couple might argue a lot is not necessarily a problem. But the thing that Gottman has found in his, like 30 years of research, he really has a huge database of research, is that the way a couple argues is what’s most indicative of divorce. And so that, you know, that really speaks to the way that we communicate, and the way that we address our concerns in relationships, is the biggest issue. But you know, in this in this survey, seven to 10, seven out of 10, Americans agree that good communication is the most important factor in a happy marriage. And if you just think about your own relationships, whether you’re married or not, but if you know, if you’re in a serious relationship, you know, the ability to communicate while and to say what you need to say, to feel like you’re heard, to be able to listen while to your partner, I mean, that’s a pretty important factor, to feel like you’re understood. And so I think, you know, we can all, you know, agree that communication is vitally important. But of course, we also know that communication doesn’t just affect our personal relationships, but communication is just, you know, the, the way that communication plays out, in the work setting, it’s just the impact happens exponentially, right? Because we’ve got all of these additional relationships, we’ve got all of these additional forms of communication, whether it’s email, whether it’s face to face meetings, whether it’s video conferencing, whether it’s Slack, right, I mean, just think about the complexity of communication channels, in work settings. And then, you know, with a work setting, you have all of these different people coming at work from different systems, right, and different cultures and different communication styles, and different power structures, as well. And so, you know, communication can get really murky really quickly. So let’s look at how communication plays out at work a little bit. So first of all, they’re around $37 billion. And that’s billion with a be our last yearly, due to employee misunderstandings and bad communication. Okay. Think about that. That’s a lot of money. That’s lost every year due to bad communication. 57% of projects fail, due to bad communication. And I want you to just take a take a minute here, and think about, you know, the projects that you have been a part of in the last year, or maybe it’s a project you’re working on right now. And think about where you have gotten stuck in these projects. And if you can, if you can consider some of the root causes, or some of the biggest issues related to the challenges of that project, how many of those issues are tied to poor communication? You know, as I think about that, for myself, and my own businesses, and the teams that I have been a part of, almost every single issue has been tied in some way to poor communication. Right? So it’s, it’s not that, you know, poor communication is necessarily the root cause of failure of projects or the root problem. But I would, you know, probably bet good money. If I were a betting person, that poor communication is a symptom of every problem that you see on a project failure or a significant issue on a project. And so, you know, it is something that we really want to be paying close attention to. 

Dr. Melissa Smith 9:52
So 70% of us Simplot employees do not feel engaged in great part due to communication barriers. So right. We know that engagement at work is a huge issue. And something that is critical for, you know, being successful and for reaching potential and fulfilling purpose and vision in your work setting. And communication barrier is one of the biggest issues for employees. So 70 70% of employees do not feel engaged due to these communication barriers. And so this, you know, if you can really address some of these communication issues in the work setting, this can pay really big dividends across your organization, not only in employee engagement, but in the success of projects, you know, in the, the effectiveness and the efficiency of the organization. And so we see a really big impact across organization. Further disengaged employees cost us companies, between 450 and 500, and $50 billion. So, again, that’s with a B billion dollars a year in lost productivity. So again, this is a really big issue. And this next number, this one really strikes me pretty personally, because I’m a small business owner, but in a business of 100 employees or less, right, so these are small businesses, which most companies are, and they spend an average of 17 hours a week, clarifying bad communication, oh, my goodness, that one, like makes me sick to my stomach. So that’s a lot of time. That’s a lot of time, money, energy and effort. And of course, we all know that nobody’s got time for that. Nobody’s got time for that. But right, if we think about how many times do we have to send clarifying emails, or how many times do we have to have a follow up meeting because something isn’t clarified while or communicated directly in the first place. So it’s a, it’s a big, big issue for, I would say, all of us, both at work and at home. Today, I want to introduce you to the communication continuum, which can be a really helpful tool for thinking about balancing the way you communicate. So it’s really not about being a perfect communicator, because there’s no such thing. But we really want to think about striking this nice balance. And so hopefully, I can give you some tools to help you think about how you balance your communication, both at work and at home. The great thing, of course, about this tool is that it can be really useful for any sort of relationship. So whether this is at home with the kids or with your spouse, or whether you’re at work or whether you’re at the grocery store, it’s very useful. So first of all, let’s think about a continuum. a continuum is a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct. So right as you move along a continuum, you start to see differences along that continuum. So you get on one end of the continuum, it’s quite distinct from the opposite end of that continuum. But as you move across that continuum, the adjacent elements are pretty similar. And so let’s think about three different communication styles and how they can be effective and how they can also sometimes be problematic and how they show up. So the first style and you’ve, you’ve probably heard of these styles, I’m guessing the first style that I want to talk about is the avoidant style. So the avoidant communicator. And this is the communicator that is really conflict avoidant. So these are the people pleasers, these individuals hesitate to disagree with the crowd, and they really become very uncomfortable if there is contention. So traditionally speaking, we see this communication style, more typically with women. And in work settings, we would see this communication style more with women, though, of course, that’s not necessarily always the case. And there are plenty of men with an avoidant communication style. So some examples of what this might look like at work. 

Dr. Melissa Smith 14:44
So I avoid regularly communicating with my team about needs, progress and concerns. So like sometimes they just have radio silence. They’re just not saying much about what’s going on. I sometimes don’t hear about concerns until it’s too Late, and so right, because sometimes there’s just radio silence, right. So this individual isn’t necessarily communicating very actively with his or her team. They also don’t necessarily receive feedback from their team about what’s happening, because there’s just not a pattern of open and ongoing active direct communication. So these individuals tend to struggle giving balanced feedback that includes both strengths and challenges. So this individual might tend to overlook sharing some of the difficult feedback because they’re kind of conflict avoidant. And so, you know, in a performance review, for example, they might gloss over some of the challenging feedback that really needs to be addressed. But they kind of water it down. Or maybe they don’t even share it because they don’t, they don’t want it to be an uncomfortable performance review. And so what happens is, that individual receiving the feedback or not receiving the feedback, really misses an opportunity to understand how they’re doing and how they’re actually performing within the organization. And so it’s a really big disservice to those being led by this individual. So this individual tends to avoid giving critical feedback. And this person also resists giving feedback that may be difficult to hear. So sometimes they’ll kind of walk on eggshells, or they’re, they’ll water it down, like I mentioned. Okay, so that’s the avoidant communicator. So now let’s talk about the other end of the continuum. So right, if the avoidant style is on one extreme of the continuum, on the other end, opposite extreme of the continuum, is the aggressive communicator. So these are the folks that the avoidant people are afraid of. So these individuals often come in looking for a fight. And they can sometimes present as angry, hostile, or really looking for someone to blame. And they can create a lot of tension on a team or in a relationship. And this, these can be really uncomfortable people to, to, it can be really uncomfortable to be around these people, I should say. So some of the ways that this might show up, are okay, so I’m hard to please, that can certainly be said of these people. Team members are sometimes intimidated by me. So that is definitely a factor. I sometimes don’t hear about concerns until it’s too late. So especially in a work setting, that can happen quite often, because people are afraid of this individual or they’re worried about the reaction of this individual. And so for instance, if there is a concern on a project, team members might not reach out early on in the issue to seek feedback or seek seek some direction or some help from this individual, because they’re really concerned about how this individual is going to react because they tend to overreact. They tend to react pretty strongly with anger, blame, and hostility. And so this is also a really big problem, because issues go unresolved for too long. And so when the issue finally gets uncovered, it is usually a bigger problem. And then of course, there’s all there’s usually a lot of anger, a lot of hostility, and that can really, you know, be very undermining to relationships on the team. 

Dr. Melissa Smith 19:09
So this individual tends to struggle giving balanced feedback that includes both strengths and challenges. So like the avoidant communicator, the aggressive communicator also struggles giving balanced feedback, but in the other direction. So these individuals can give lots of hard feedback in terms of how, how team members need to correct their actions, but they struggle to give some of the encouragement or the props to be able to say, you know, like, I see I see your hard work and I see the ways that you’re growing and so they you know, we really want to help these individuals develop more of that balance. So these communicators tend to believe that if there is a problem, it’s my job to correct the team member immediately. And so, sometimes these communicators will come in swiftly, they will kind of come in with the hammer, and they will make the change, but it will, it will be pretty painful for everyone. And so that aggressive style can be very forceful and very daunting for everyone. And then these individuals have been known to get angry at their, at their team members. So they can be seen as very controlling and angry, especially when they’re stressed or when they’re under pressure.

Okay, now let’s talk about the assertive communicator. So this is the balance communication style, in the center of that communication continuum. And so this is kind of the sweet spot where we would all like to reside most of the time. And, you know, this is the style that we really want to strive for, in our communication, both in love and at work. So some of the features of this communicator. So I regularly communicate with my team about needs, progress and concerns. And so we want to think about ongoing direct communication. And so do you have built in ongoing communication opportunities with your team, so whether those are stand up meetings, whether those are regular check in points where you and the team can communicate back and forth, that is a, that’s a big part of direct communication is just having a holding space, for communication and opportunity for that. So team members are comfortable reaching out to me about specific concerns, this is also essential, especially if you are in a leadership role. Because whenever you’re in a leadership role, you’ve got to be aware that there’s a power differential, you have more power as a leader than your team members. And so inherent in that power dynamic, is the fact that you have more power. And so you’ve got to set up communications such that your team members have more ability, and more access to reaching out to you. And so we want to make it really easy for them to access you. So this idea of team members feeling comfortable reaching out to you about concerns is really essential, and making sure that they know how to do that and what’s going to be most effective, whether that’s email, whether that’s in the stand up meeting, whether that’s face to face, making sure that they have access to you is an essential part of that direct communication. Because as most of us know, some conversations need to happen face to face, some conversations need to happen, one on one, not all conversations are appropriate for a group setting. And so, access is a really important issue when it comes to communication with leaders, I have an open door policy with my team members. So this is very much related to the last point that I made access. So are you approachable? Can your team members find you can they access you? Are you are you available, I regularly give team members critical feedback about their performance. So if you are a leader, your team members should not question how they are doing in their role. 

Dr. Melissa Smith 23:58
So that would be my challenge for you is that is that your team members know how they are doing at any given point. And that, mainly, we want them to know because you are giving them ongoing feedback. And when I say critical feedback, what I mean by that is direct, honest feedback that is balance. And so you’re not pulling any punches, you’re able to say what needs to be said. So if there are actions that need to be corrected, you are you are giving that feedback, but you’re also balancing that with what you see in terms of their potential, what you see in terms of their efforts, what you see in terms of their growth, because that balance is essential for everyone we need we need to know that our efforts are seen and that our leaders see our potential and our growth, that that’s so essential to motivation. Hope and engagement. So I communicate team expectations clearly. And that is an essential task of leaders that your team knows, knows what you expect of them. And that that is communicated ongoing, that it’s communicated directly and that there aren’t questions about that. team meetings include vigorous debate among all team members. So I really like this one, I think, not not all teams like this one. Sometimes this idea of vigorous debate makes some individuals a little bit uncomfortable, especially those who might tend to be a little more conflict avoidant. But the point here is that we want all team members to have a voice and to have a seat at the table. And the most effective teams are teams where there is room for dissenting opinion, and dissenting view, because what we understand in terms of creativity and innovation, is that there’s there’s got to be a diversity of thought. And so, groupthink is really dangerous to an organization. And so if we have teams and team meetings, where, you know, we have Devil’s advocates, and we have a lot of divergent thinking, and an ability to question assumptions, and bring up different opinions, and that, that those types of communication are welcomed, and invited and actually encouraged, then it really builds a very healthy foundation for an organization. And so that’s something that we really do want to see. And I think that’s not always our natural inclination, especially as humans, we kind of, for many of us, we do tend to avoid any sort of conflict or contention we’ve kind of been taught to, to make nice, and so it, it can definitely be a skill that you, as a team want to build together and really cultivate together and say, Okay, this is something we’re all going to, we’re all going to work on together, because this is a value that is important to us as a team and as an organization. Okay, so now let’s take a look at how we can help you move the needle. So if we think about this continuum, and on one end of that continuum, we think about the assertive communicator. And on the other extreme of the continuum, we think about the aggressive communicator, and in the middle, we think about that assertive communicator, we’re now going to talk about how we can help you move the needle and take action, if you find yourself toward one extreme of that continuum. And what I would say is, given different situations and different stressors and different points in your life, we’re all at different points of that continuum, right? Like, I can look at different points in my life, and identify when I have maybe been towards one extreme or another due to stress due to some other vulnerability factors. 

Dr. Melissa Smith 28:47
And so it’s not a rigid box where it’s like, okay, I, you know, I am an aggressive communicator or anything like that. So, I don’t want you to think like it’s this rigid box that you can’t move out of, but I just want you to think in terms of balance, and how do we kind of slide and move along that continuum. And now we really want to think about how do we take action and move that needle towards more balance. And whenever we’re looking at making, you know, behavioral changes, and, you know, moving that needle, we really want to be very intentional, because, by default, we tend to move to more extreme positions. That’s kind of our psychology, for most of us, especially when stressed, especially when, under a time crunch. And so, when we are taking action and moving the needle, we want to be very intentional. And so that’s exactly what this podcast is about. That’s exactly what meaningful behavioral change is about. So let’s think about cultivating this self awareness and striking up balance. So if you find yourself mostly on that end of the continuum where you are an avoidant communicator, we want you to take action and move the needle towards more balance. So some of the specific ways you can move that needle would be to schedule feedback time with your team members regularly. So this is something I would say, schedule it on the calendar. And that could be really helpful to just have built in time, because your default is probably going to be to kind of avoid that. And yet, if it’s scheduled, then it becomes something that you can count on something that your team members can count on. And it becomes predictable. And this is the really great thing. The The one thing, when, if you’re an avoider, the one thing that you want to avoid is avoidance. Okay, so if you already have feedback time scheduled in your calendar, over time, it will become less anxiety provoking for you. So that push to avoid it will decrease over time. And so you will, you know, over time, you will become less less avoidant in terms of that communication. So it’s a win win over time. Another way that you can take action is to consider holding office hours to make yourself more available to team members. So some of these avoidant communicators like to hide out and to disappear. I have a friend who is a leader at an organization. And when we were doing our MBA program together, he said when he was trying to study now, this was him trying to study so this wasn’t him trying to avoid communication. So I, in fairness to him, but he said when he was trying to study, he would go find an empty office and hide out so he could study because it was the only time that he could get away where people would not find him. And sometimes with these avoidant communicators, they might, they might try and hide out. And so one of the ways that you want to make yourself more available is to maybe hold office hours like professors hold and I think that’s a great idea to help make yourself more available. Another thing that you could do to take action would be to utilize a metric to more objectively assess team member progress. So right, these communicators tend to struggle giving balanced feedback. So right, they might give mostly, you know, softball feedback, or really positive feedback and struggle with more of the critical feedback. And so this is where using an objective measure could be really helpful because it forces more of that balance and really forces them to look at, okay, what is some of the critical feedback for this individual The next point, and the next way that the avoidant communicator can take action is to really consider how critical feedback can develop team members in important ways and then commit to giving it and I think that this, this is really where you need to do a gut check and recognize the value of critical feedback. I think the reality is critical feedback can at times be painful. 

Dr. Melissa Smith 33:44
So let’s be honest, critical feedback can hurt and it can be painful in the moment. And this is where gentleness and kindness but also directness are very essential. But critical feedback really helps to propel growth. And it is an essential part of development. And so if you are in a leadership role, and you’re withholding critical feedback from your team members, you are really preventing their growth and development. And so I really want you to remember that, as a leader, it is your responsibility to provide this feedback to those that you lead and then really commit to giving it Okay, so now let’s talk about taking action, if you find yourself more on the aggressive and have that communication continuum. So one way that you could take action would be to focus your feedback on specific behaviors and not character traits. So one of the mistakes that aggressive communicators often make is that they play the blame game and they label people. And so that kind of say like, oh, you’re lazy or you don’t do things, right. And obviously, that feels horrible to hear if you’re on the receiving end of that. And so one thing that can be really helpful is to focus the feedback on specific behaviors, and not character traits. So we really want to separate the behaviors from the individual. And that can make a really big difference in the effectiveness of that communication. So an example would be, you’ve been tardy the last six out of 14 days, that is focusing on specific behaviors, rather than saying, like, you’re lazy, you can’t get yourself out of bed. Obviously, we wouldn’t want to say that, although sometimes there are some leaders that do talk that way. And so focus on specific behaviors. Second way that you can take action is to ground yourself with key questions prior to giving feedback. And so have a template for yourself or have a set of questions that you use to guide yourself through the feedback process. And this can be a really helpful way for you to keep yourself on track. So that it, it can keep you from getting pulled in to this focus on character traits that can help you to resist getting pulled into that blame game. So really paying attention to what’s most important in terms of the feedback on this project, or this quarter for this individual. Another thing that you can do is to wait 24 hours prior to giving feedback, I think this is a really important point for those who lean towards more aggressive communication. Because often what happens for these communicators is their emotions get the best of them. And when there is anger or hostility that gets in the way, usually that communication is very ineffective. And there’s a lot of hostility, and it leads to a lot of hurt feelings, and a lot of harm, actually. And so making yourself wait 24 hours, gives you time to settle down and slow down and really consider what is the heart of the feedback? What is the heart of the concern here? What do I need to communicate to this person and giving yourself 24 hours to clear your head of of, you know, the boiling temperature. And the anger can be a very powerful tool to really clarify the feedback that needs to be given. Okay, another way that you can take action is to balance the critical feedback with strengths and progress. And so I would recommend for the aggressive communicators that you write down that feedback beforehand, and that you make sure that there’s a pretty balanced list.

Dr. Melissa Smith 38:19
So if you have, you know, five items of critical feedback, make sure you have at least four items of strengths and progress. Now, don’t feel like you have to make anything up. Right. So we don’t ever want that happening in a feedback session. But can you see effort? Can you see progress? Can you see encouragement, this is one of your primary roles as a leader, it is actually your job as a leader to lead people. And so if you cannot see their progress, if you cannot see their strengths, if you cannot see their efforts, how on earth can you help them grow and develop. And so that is an essential task of a leader and, and if you lean towards more aggressive communication, you really will need to balance that critical feedback. And so I think taking some time beforehand, writing it out and making sure that there is a pretty good balance on that feedback can be very helpful. And then the last thing that I would say at this point for for those of you that trend towards more aggressive communication, is to invite feedback from team members, and then act on it. So right be open to feedback yourself, and then make sure you are acting on it. So listen more than you talk. Don’t be the first one to speak up when problem is presented in a team meeting and make sure if they do Bring up concerns about you that you’re responsive to it. That will be the most powerful thing that you can do to shift any concerns or fear that team members may have about you and your aggressive style. Thank you so much for joining me on today’s podcast and listening to me talk about talking. I’m really passionate about this issue. Communication is so so important and I really hope that this way of thinking about the communication continuum is helpful for you and gives you a way to consider some of these issues that you may be dealing with in your work setting or home and can really help you with some clarity and some specific tools. Make sure you head over to our website to check out the show notes with all the great resources I mentioned in this episode www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-5 one more time, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-5 as in the number five, and as always, please head on over to iTunes and give us a review. I really do want to thank you all for being here and I hope I’m helping you pursue what matters in your life. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.

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