Creating a culture of clarity: expert tips for effective conversations
Do you ever leave a conversation with a colleague and feel like you aren’t quite sure what you were discussing? You might feel like you don’t have the full picture of what they were trying to convey. This is quite common - but nonetheless it can make it hard to gain clarity and communicate clearly and effectively in the workplace.
As a leader, there are things you can do to recognise and address these confusing conversations, creating clarity for yourself and your team. We spoke with Paul Larkin, Senior Facilitator and Executive Coach at WLA, about what to look out for when conversations become clouded.
Generalisations occur when someone makes a sweeping, all-encompassing, everything or nothing statement. For example, ‘everyone’s unhappy about that decision.’ While this is a concerning statement that needs to be addressed, it is unlikely that every single person is totally unhappy about a decision.
Distortions occur when we take information and add meaning to it that may not be there. For example, a team member may look at their phone while someone is giving a presentation. The person presenting might take that gesture to mean that this individual does not care about the work they have done, or does not find it interesting. This may be the case – or there could be a family emergency, or an urgent alert. However, the person presenting has applied their own meaning to the action, and this is when a distortion occurs.
Deletions occur when a crucial piece of information is left out. For example, ‘this is important.’ Who is it important to? Why is it important? Another example is ‘there’s no time.’ No time for what? Why is there no time? Most of the time, this will be clear. However, in situations where it is not immediately clear, or where further information is useful, it is important ask follow-up questions to truly understand what is going on.
Blinking words are words that have multiple meanings, or that may lend themselves to different interpretations. Paul explains that often, there is ambiguity in a statement that needs to be addressed. But by identifying blinking words, you can ask further questions to figure out precisely what someone is saying to you.
“For example, someone says, ‘The culture of this place is not healthy.’ Many people would either simply agree or disagree, aligned with their existing point of view,” explains Paul.
“But by using generalisations, distortions and deletions, and by looking for blinking words, we can recognise that there is a lot in the statement that demands clarification, for example: where precisely is ‘this place’? Is it the company, department, team, city, country? What precisely is meant by ‘culture’? What precisely is meant by ‘healthy’? By recognising that there is a lot of ambiguous information in the statement, we can become curious and invite the person who said it to share some of their thinking more deeply.”
In the above example, the words ‘culture’ ‘place’ and ‘healthy’ are all blinking words. To fully understand your colleague’s meaning, you need more clarity around what all these words mean to them.
What happens next?
Using high quality advocacy and inquiry techniques will allow you to clarify the issues and prompt your colleagues to communicate more clearly. Questions like:
- Who doesn’t agree with this decision?
- What is it about the culture here that is unhealthy?
- What does a positive culture look like to you?
- Who is this important to?
- Could it mean something else? Are you sure?
By understanding generalisations, distortions, deletions and blinking words, and asking the right questions, you can help both yourself and your team to communicate effectively and with clarity.
How will you use this information to communicate more clearly? Share with us in the comments below!