Recently, a delegate attending a programme I was running on leadership development expressed frustration as to the lack of success they were having when communicating with a colleague. “Why is it that every time I say something they seem to clam up?”
This exchange got me thinking about the number of times I have conversations with clients about the communication tools they take away from a leadership development programme where they learn about the different styles of communication. Often, it isn’t necessarily just the tools they have available to them but also how and when to use them that makes the communication effective. In other words, how to be flexible in the moment when communicating across the organisational matrix structures that many companies employ today.
For me flexibility is a way of thinking and behaving in which you vary your messages based on the unique situation. It's one of the essential skills of interpersonal communication at work.
Flexibility is especially important when communicating feelings, whether they are positive or negative. It’s especially important in emotional communication because it’s in times of emotional arousal that you’re likely to forget the varied choices you have available. The greater your flexibility, the more likely you’ll be able to see the varied choices you have for communicating in any situation.
Given my recent observations here are a few ways to cultivate interpersonal flexibility.
No two situations or people are exactly alike; consider what is different about this situation or person and take these differences into consideration as you construct your messages.
Communication always takes place in a context; discover what that unique context is and ask yourself how it might influence your messages.
Be aware of the constant change in people and in events. Everything is in a state of flux. Even if the way you communicated last month was effective, that doesn’t mean it will be effective today or tomorrow. Realise that sudden changes will influence what are and what aren’t appropriate messages.
The fact is that every situation offers you different options for communicating. Consider these options and try to predict the effects each option might have.
Be flexible in your approach to communication. Being aware in the moment of what could work and what might not can be the key to effective business conversations. This awareness in the moment – the ability to ‘think on your feet’ - will deliver benefits in your communication efforts.
I like to think of this as: it takes two to communicate but only one person to improve the communication.