Communication Impasse

“To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, but to imagine your facts is another.“

~ John Burroughs

A Communication Impasse…..what do you do when you just can’t seem to communicate effectively with someone else? Or even worse, how do you handle the situation when both of you think you’ve communicated perfectly, but you come away with entirely different takes on a conversation? Here are a few possibilities for why this type of misunderstanding can occur:

  • Failure to listen effectively
  • One or both of the parties has an outcome so strongly in mind, he hears what he wants to hear.
  • Touchy subjects are danced around, rather than dealt with directly, leaving the
    communication ambiguous.
  • Denial becomes a defense mechanism; if I don’t hear you correctly, I don’t have to follow through on that path.

One of the best things you can do to ensure that communication has “gotten through” is to reflect to the other party what you heard from them, and to ask for confirmation. For example, “if I’ve heard you correctly, what you want from me is to know what I’ve got planned for the marketing over the next 90 days…is that correct?” or, “you sound hurt because I haven’t been able to spend much time with you over the past month…is that what’s going on?”

To know that another person has heard what you’ve tried to communicate, asking questions and paraphrasing can help. “So, based on what I’ve said, how would you suggest we proceed?” When dealing with uncomfortable subjects, we can sometimes err on the side of diplomacy or bluntness. Decide beforehand what your primary tact is going to be, and what your back-up style will be. For instance, if an employee is not performing up to expectations, you may want to start out with an encouraging approach – outlining goals and focusing on that person’s strengths to motivate her.
However, if this approach is not effective in getting the employee to recognize that improvement is needed, very direct communication may be called for, such as, “Linda, your performance is not up to par in the following ways…”(be specific). “What I’ve tried so far to help you improve hasn’t worked. If things don’t get better in the next 30 days, your job is at risk. What do you suggest as a plan to turn things around with respect to your performance?”

Sometimes it can take several attempts to clear up an issue. If two friends have a major upset, one may think things are fine, just with the passage of time. The other may feel that the rift is ongoing, and may have a need to talk it through before getting closure. What do you do when one person sees an issue and the other doesn’t? Here are a few approaches you can try:

  • Acknowledge to the other person that even though they may be fine with a particular issue, you’re not. Ask them to value your relationship by discussing it with you, so that you have an opportunity to feel heard.
  • Ask the other person (and yourself!) if there is something else going on between you that is preventing open communication. Often the apparent issue is not the core issue.
  • If you are truly at an impasse after making earnest effort, enlist someone to facilitate the situation – a colleague, boss, friend, associate, or coach.

Communication with full closure is not always possible. The best you can do is to know that you’ve taken all steps possible on your end. Remember to try both verbal and written communication – you may be better at one or the other, and the other person may receive/understand one better than the other. Being an effective communicator is an ongoing process, and with practice you’ll have more success, and you’ll shorten up your timeframes. And for those times when there just doesn’t seem to be any way to connect, consider trying again at another time. Lastly, understand that you may just have to let it go. Know that you’ve done your best, and proceed with your life accordingly. As always, if you have a particular situation you’d like some support on, let me know!

Group and Workshop Opportunities for Entrepreneurs
and Other Self-Employed Types

After a standing-room only audience at my overview seminar “Survival Skills for Entrepreneurs and Other Self-Employed Types” last weekend, several people have indicated a desire to participate in a monthly group around these skills, and to go through the entire four-part workshop. I will be starting a group on Monday, November 15, from 7-9 PM. The workshop will also be offered in January. Both the group and the workshop offer a great way to get lots of concrete skills, coaching support, and the opportunity to get feedback and learn from others. Call me at (970) 259-4847 for details. For those of you not in the Durango, CO area, I will be offering this workshop via teleclass format in February (people from all over meet on a teleconference bridge for the seminar – you can participate right from your home or office).

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