On a scale of 0-100 (100 being highest), how would you rate your communication skills? An 80, maybe even a 90? Are you confident that you are an effective and engaging communicator?
Well, think again. Your own perception of your communication skills may not match the perception of the people around you.
The most interesting results and insights from these self-assessments vs. outside perceptions, both in quantitative as well as qualitative terms, related to significant deviations in 3 areas:
- a gap of up to 40 points regarding the manager´s ability to focus on other people´s needs instead of just their own. People felt that the managers “predominantly talked about themselves”,
- a gap of up to 45 points regarding the manager´s ability to listen. People felt that the managers were “in their head already formulating their own responses and not really listening”, and
- a gap of up to 60 points regarding the manager´s ability to stay neutral and communicate in an objective, non-judgmental way. Especially in situations of receiving feedback from the managers, the respondents felt they were “being evaluated and judged personally”.
So, can you ….?
….avoid such gaps between self-perception and outside perception?
The most effective technique to maximize your communication effectiveness are the simple steps of Marshal Rosenberg´s “Non-Violent Communication” (NVC).
By focusing our own thinking and perception on our needs and values, rather than our thoughts and moral evaluations, we are able to stay calm in any given situation and as a consequence relate to and communicate with other people much more effectively.
Step 1: Address (only!) observable behaviours
Rather than presenting your counterpart with an editorialized version of what you think of their behaviour according to your own value system, be aware of and carefully select neutral, fact-based words to describe someone´s behaviour. Stay out of evaluations, interpretations and judgments – they would only imply that you think you are “right” and that the other person is “wrong”, in turn leading to defensiveness and an escalation of verbal violence in the conversation.
For example: what is wrong with the following sentence? “You are so disrespectful because you always interrupt me in meetings!”
- Error #1: A negative statement is personalized, meaning: the speaker has not differentiated between the person “you” and their behaviour and the intention is to make the other person feel bad. This intention, and the way it is presented, is “violent” according to Rosenberg.
- Error #2: “Disrespectful” is personal judgment, again aimed at making the other person feel bad.
- Error #3: So is “always”. Statements that contain elements like “I never…”, “you always…” and vice-versa are prone to personal judgments.
- Error #4: Even the verb itself, “interrupt”, is commonly understood to have an inherent negative connotation, so most people will feel judged when hearing it and will react defensively.
The better version to communication non-violently would be: “Look – remember last week when I gave a presentation and several times you started to speak before I had finished my sentence?”
Step 2: Express your feelings
Share with the person that you felt uncomfortable when that behaviour occurred. This expression of your feelings should, however, not be an inherent judgment either. So, “I felt disrespected” would be as judgmental as saying “you are disrespectful”.
Instead, simply state that “I must admit that I felt uncomfortable when this happened.”
Step 3: Express your needs
Directly related to your feelings are your needs. Try to resist any temptation to put the blame of your feelings onto someone else. Because the truth is – all of our happy feelings we have ever felt in our lives occurred because our needs, wants and interests were met. And all of our negative feelings we have ever felt in our life occurred because our needs, wants and interests were not met. So just share with the other person why you have these feelings.
In this example, you could say: “Quite frankly, I felt a little uncomfortable because I took a long time to prepare this presentation and my need was to make a valuable contribution to our common team purpose”.
Step 4: Express empathy for the other person
One of our biggest motivations as humans is recognition. We all crave recognition (and yes, that includes the people who say that have never needed it!). Allow your counterpart to save their face!
Therefore, the advice is to make an upfront investment into the relationship and acknowledge their good intentions. For example: “I know that you didn´t do it on purpose. On the contrary, I know that you take really good care of our customers and that you seem to be really busy at the moment.”
Step 5: Make a fact-based request
Finally, state what you want and relate your request to an observable behaviour. Again, avoid any judgmental words, such as: “Please can you stop being so disrespectful”. You would be back to square one.
Better say: “Would you mind if we agree the following: That from now on, in any meeting, we let each other finish the sentences. And if there is anything to be discussed, we make comments or ask question after the other one has finished their sentence (or their presentation), or bilaterally afterwards.”
You will see – once you have practiced a lot and internalized this technique, you are very likely to see improvements in the connection with the people around you. You will be able to avoid many tensions and outright conflicts, because people will never feel personally judged nor offended.
And a very nice benefit on the side: You will fare really well in the area of self-perception vs. outside perception of your communication skills in any of my future surveys!