How an open communication style can elevate your workday interactions

Listen with intent, ask questions, and understand that ‘no’ is often a steppingstone to ‘yes.’ These techniques can help you bridge divides and foster cooperation.

Open communication at work

Our workday lives and workplaces offer daily exercises in challenging conversations.

From feedback and coaching discussions to interchanges with co-workers who can say “yes” or “no” to your requests for resources, process changes, budgetary allocations or fresh ideas, there’s no end to the pivotal interactions we encounter at work.

Though there are many tools, techniques and approaches for gaining support or getting your way, a few commonsense, authentic communication tactics can improve your success and strengthen your credibility.

Here are five communication techniques that show you care:

1. Listen so hard that it makes you sweat.

Tom Peters offers in “The Excellence Dividend”:

 If you’re not exhausted after a conversation, you weren’t listening hard enough.

By pushing everything out of your mind and focusing on the speaker, you can understand and build an empathy bridge with the other person. It also shows respect.

When you engage, stop thinking about what you are going to say next or forming your argument. Though difficult, it’s important to shut down your filters and biases. Lock down the voice in your head and concentrate, and you’ll learn a great deal toward gaining cooperation.

2. Ask questions that show you care.

Questions are a powerful leadership and communication tool; however, they can work against you if the other party feels they’re on trial. Deliver questions with a genuine desire to understand someone’s situation, as well as their ideas, fears and hopes. Showing someone you care about their point of view will increase your credibility and encourage cooperation.

3. When the response suggests stress or fear, reach out.

Try the “label and ask” approach. For example, “I have the sense this idea is stressful for you. What’s going on?” or, “I can tell this is something that makes you uncomfortable. How can I help you?”

Experiment with labeling and asking, and adapt that technique to the situation. You might learn that your label was wrong, but you could also learn something to help you advance the dialog.

4. “No” is a great response for you to hear.

Early in my career, I worked for a global firm where it was important to understand that “No” was an invitation to continue the discussion. The culture lived by the “three no’s on the way to yes” philosophy. An early rejection was seen as a sign of progress, rather than a barrier. In “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss, there’s a chapter on this concept titled, “Beware Yes, Master No.”

Your job when facing a “no” or a series of “no” responses is to dig deeper and strive to understand the individual’s situation and why a “no” answer makes sense to them at that moment. This approach once helped me secure a senior leader’s approval for unprecedented product sharing.

5. Remember, we make decisions on emotions, not logic.

Your impeccably developed business case crafted with air-tight logic and backed by solid facts doesn’t stand a chance if it strikes a negative emotional chord with the individual who holds power to approve or reject it. Remember, logic and data don’t sway; emotions carry the day.

Every person you encounter wants to feel like the most important person in the conversation. Life and work are easier if you genuinely let them know you are interested in their thoughts, hopes, concerns and aspirations. Listen hard, engage with genuine curiosity and pile on the respect and a desire to make their situation better, and you’ll be amazed how easily doors to progress open for you.

Art Petty is a leadership coach, blogger and speaker. A version of this post first ran on his site.

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