Last week, Thrive Global came out with 13 Ways to Respond to Constructive Criticism. Helpful article in so many ways and yet it is so much easier for one to respond positively to constructive criticism when the person giving it is someone that takes “sender responsibility”.

Meaning, he/she can be trusted that what he is going to share is non blaming and non shaming, is S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely), and doesn’t include any “mastertalk” type of hyberbole (i.e., “Everyone thinks that”, “We all know”)

If you’d like to be the person that others at the office trust to be a greater communicator, pay attention to the following 7 workplace communication strategies.

Communicating well is the foundation for every interaction that you need to have to succeed- with employees, coworkers, teams, bosses, customers, and culture. Without it, there will always be barriers to success. The following 7 strategies to becoming a better communicator at work will get you there:

1.Make an appointment to talk: Instead of walking into someone’s office unexpectedly or speaking about something important at the water cooler wanting the listener to take note of what you’re sharing, you’ll need to pre-plan a time to talk. That’s because catching someone off guard is threatening. Especially if you need to communicate about something truly important- such as their performance or a constructive point of feedback- their defenses will be up if you didn’t pre-schedule a time.

An email or a quick word, “Hey, there’s something I’d like to talk about with you, when is a good time?” Or if you don’t have much time to wait before talking, you can say, “There’s something I need to communicate with you about, is now a good time”?

Even when you can’t pre-schedule the time to talk, just asking the question “Is now a good time to talk” can help mentally prepare the listener.

We do this on our sales calls, even when the potential customer actually scheduled a time to speak with us already- we still preface the conversation by saying, “Hi, we know you scheduled this time to speak, is now still a good time” because we know how powerful the concept of making an appointment is. In our marriage counseling practice, we instruct couples to do this at home as well especially when you need to talk about something particularly frustrating or important.

2. Breathe. It takes six seconds to shift negative energy and one mindful breath lasting six seconds will help take you from a place of lower consciousness to one that accesses your full brain- the decision making portion of the brain.

We want to avoid conversing where we end up “dumping” onto someone else, and breathing before you talk is a mindful way to ensure you don’t fall into that trap.

It can be hard to hold back and breathe before talking, especially if something angering has come to your attention about the other- but if you don’t take create some kind of “sender responsibility” before talking, you can’t achieve your desire to be a great communicator. The culture of your environment will suffer as a result.

3. Mirror Back: Despite your commitment to breathing and asking for an appointment, in step #1 and #2, the person you are talking with still may end up acting defensively, setting off some reactivity in you.

Wait until the person is finished speaking, before wanting to explain or interject your own reality. By the time they finish speaking, simply “mirror” back what the person shared with you, even if you want to scream inside!

You can say, “So, what I heard you say is…”? Doing that will:

  • a. prevent you from getting reactive- yelling, dumping, and just saying what you want to say
  • b. help the other person “hear” themselves- and perhaps they will realize what they’re saying needs to be corrected or isn’t respectful
  • c. Help the other feel validated and that you really “Get them”- even if you disagree with their point entirely.

Mirroring is not about you agreeing with them- it’s about helping you feel calm and safe, and also serves to make the person sharing feel heard and understood. Many a time, when someone feels heard and understood, their complaints and difficult behavior melt away.

Continue to mirror them until they are finished talking and saying their piece.

Summarizing in total what you heard them say- from beginning to end- will help solidify in their mind that you truly heard them.

Only then, should you begin sharing your piece.

4. Using “I” Statements: When it’s time for you to share some potentially difficult feedback, remember your sender responsibility.

Use “I” statements exclusively-

“When you do x,y,z in the office environment, I feel”

“It’s important to me that this office is a place of x,y,z, and so I need to ask that you not do x,y,z at work”

Can you see how using “I” statements is different than saying something like, “You make people feel uncomfortable with you _____ behavior” or “Everyone at the office feels really upset when you _____”

You want to keep potential reactivity down in the listener as much as you can so that you in turn won’t get reactive and say/do things that you can’t take back.

5. If you listen long enough, everyone makes sense: Sometimes people will “throw you” for a surprise when you listen to them and what they are saying makes absolutely NO sense to you.

You can’t even begin to understand where they got that idea or impression and you just utterly can’t even begin to connect with that person.

As Dr. Harville Hendrix, founder of Imago Relationship Therapy, often says, “If you listen long enough, everyone makes sense”.

And it’s true! It doesn’t perhaps justify any bad or inappropriate behavior, but in this person’s world, they truly think that what they are doing makes sense.

From their vantage point, for whatever reason- their socioeconomic beliefs, their cultural differences, their nature/nurture background- what that person believes, in THEIR world, makes perfect sense!

It doesn’t mean that behavior or belief is the appropriate one, and it may need to be corrected (using the previous steps), but know that in their world it makes absolute sense. It’s likely that the person is not bad or evil, just is really coming from a completely different world, and “if you listen long enough, everyone makes sense”.

Dr. Hendrix told a story about working with a patient who at one point believed he was Jesus. He truly believed that he was Jesus and everything he said and did reflected that belief. When Dr. Hendrix kept listening, he realized that what this man was doing really made a lot of sense, in his own world. Incredibly, when Harville “mirrored” the man’s statements- and said, “You’re Jesus, is that right?” The man said, “Well, I’m not really Jesus but…”

Often people just need to be heard and understood for the undesired behavior to go away!

6. Put down your phone: This one seems obvious and for some reason still shows up for people when they are communicating with others. When there is a lull in the conversation, or the other is talking, don’t pick up your phone! Nothing invalidates the other person more than when you are distracted and not even listening to them. (Dinnertime anyone?)

Phones have become addictive. It’s hard not to reach for them constantly. But if you’re talking with someone at work, and you’ve already put so much effort in implementing the previous steps we’ve explained, don’t ruin all of your work by picking up your phone! It’s part of taking sender responsibility and being intentional in your commitment to becoming a better workplace communicator! Say no to your phone!

7. Connect: At the end of the day, people want to connect. If your intention is to connect with the person that you are talking with- at work in a professional way of course- then even when you need to speak about something uncomfortable, if the person gets the sense that your intention is to connect with them no matter what the outcome is, they will appreciate you. You will be able to walk out of that difficult conversation and still maintain professional decorum and respect.

We see this all the time at Slatkin Communications when we consult with businesses on how to handle difficult or angry customers. If your intention is set to maintain connection with the other- no matter how angry or rude they are- you can quickly diffuse any negativity, and we’ve been able to turn angry individuals into the most loyal, repeat customers!

If you’re looking to create comfortable conversations and communicate with confidence, changing your workplace culture around your employees and your customers, contact Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin of Slatkin Communications for speaking or consulting. Communicating is what we do for companies that want to achieve more effective communication at work.