Tools for Tech Leaders – Part 2: Communication
This is the second in the series of blogs on coaching tools that can help technical leaders. The previous part was focused on trust and relationships. Today the focus is on communication.
Communication is improvisation. But unlike jazz musicians, we don’t learn music theory to base our spontaneous expression on. No wonder that even our best efforts fall short and often don’t deliver the results we want.
Most value from coaching on communications skills comes from unpacking our implicit rules and hidden beliefs about communication. With more awareness about how we communicate and why we communicate the way we do, it’s much easier to adjust one’s style to the needs of the moment (and also align communication with one’s values).
1. Chris Argyris’ Left Hand Column.
This tool helps to express the things that we are not willing to say. It makes people more aware of their habit of censoring themselves and not speaking up.
Here’s the basic structure of the exercise:
1. Divide a page into two columns. In the right column, to the best of your ability write down the dialog you had with someone.
2. In the left column, write down what you were thinking at the moment but didn’t say.
3. Ask yourself: Why did I think that? What was I feeling when I thought that? Why didn’t I say it? Is there a way for me to express it constructively?
You can read more about this exercise here https://www.gpsgoaltrak.com/how-to-speak-your-mind/
2. Expectations vs Agreements distinction.
It’s important to distinguish between explicit agreements we made with people and our implicit expectations.
Especially when you find yourself in a disagreement with someone be sure to explore what was agreed and what is just your expectation.
Also when you finish a conversation it’s very easy to assume commitment rather than agree on it.
Here’s a talk on this topic by Steve Chandler https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ajz5ddoL_Ww&feature=youtu.be
3. Interests vs Positions distinction.
It is very important in the context of negotiation.
Once people know how to solve something they then stick to these solutions too stubbornly. Then, because they insist too much on this solution they miss other creative options.
When we understand the difference between position and interest we can, firstly, communicate interests that underpin our solutions and, secondly, not clash with solutions others propose but rather explore what are the interests behind their solutions.
More on it here:
4. Jack Gibb’s Defensive communication.
Defensive communication is communication that produces defensiveness.
Jack Gibb introduces 6 distinctions that influence whether communication will be defensive or supportive:
Evaluation vs Description
Control vs Problem Orientation
Strategy vs Spontaneity
Neutrality vs Empathy
Superiority vs Equality
Certainty vs Provisionalism
Jack Gibb’s obscure article is a must-read https://reagle.org/joseph/2010/conflict/media/gibb-defensive-communication.html
5. Chris Voss’ Accusation Audit.
It is a great way to alleviate expected tension or hostility.
On one hand, it’s an advanced way to say I’m sorry. On the other hand, is a preparation to deal with objections your conversation partner can raise. If you address those objections first it will help the other person feel understood.
To use this tool, you first list all the possible grudges people can hold against you. Doesn’t matter whether they are rational or not, your fault or not. Then when you start the conversation you say something like: ‘I realize it may seem like I’m….’ and go through all of those things
6. Advocacy vs Inquiry distinction.
Negotiation and persuasion require us to push and pull information. Many times smart people think that once they devised a great solution, if they barrage others with all the reasons this solution is great, others will acquiesce. Surprise-surprise more often than not it doesn’t work. One needs to listen and take into account the point of view of others.
Here’s more on it https://actiondesign.com/resources/readings/advocacy-and-inquiry
7. Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument.
This tool helps one to map habitual ways to respond to conflicts. It’s a 4×4 matrix with assertiveness on one axis and cooperativeness on another.
One way to use this tool is to think about a specific conflict situation. Then you can explore: How one behaved in that situation? How aware was one about behaving in that way? What would be a more efficient way to behave in that situation? How specifically one can do it the next time?
Here’s more on this model http://ascenditur.no/blog/2017/04/30/managing-workplace-conflicts/
Of course, these are not all the possible tools but they can help to address the majority of challenges related to communication.
I will cover more tools related to other subjects in the following blogs. Stay tuned!