How to avoid a communication breakdown

It can be harder to recover from a conversation meltdown than to avoid one in the first place

Research suggests there are three things you can do to avoid communication breakdowns

Research suggests there are three things you can do to avoid communication breakdowns

 

We have all experienced a communication meltdown. Maybe your agenda didn’t play out the way you were hoping. By the time you walked away from the conversation, you could have cut the tension with a knife. The conversation weighed heavily on your mind, adding more stress to your workload.

For some people, it can take a lot more time and effort to recover from a breakdown in communication than it would to avoid one in the first place.

Our research suggests there are three things you can do to avoid communication breakdowns.

Be present (really)

Given our busy schedules and the many messages and emails, sometimes we are not present with the people in front of us. To help stay present in a meeting or conversation, turn away from your computer and put your phone into airplane mode.

Even better, leave your phone at your desk. If you have a moment or two before the meeting, rather than trying to send a few additional emails, meditate or do some calming breathing exercises.

Listen more

Be genuinely curious and interested in what is being said, even if initially you’re not. Pay attention to cues: does the person spend a lot of time on a particular point? Does she get more animated at specific junctures and less at others?

Listening more and with curiosity provides valuable input on how you may frame your response and navigate the conversation. It can help you tune into the topics your colleague is passionate about. Getting to know them will help you see their perspective and come to an agreement that meets everyone’s needs. From this place of actively listening, your conversation will move forward more constructively.

Be open

Communication involves the exchange of viewpoints – sometimes opposing positions. Unless you open your mind to another’s perspective, common ground can be tough to find. And finding common ground requires us to listen in order to really consider someone’s position.

Over time, listening openly and attentively to others helps to cultivate trust. This contributes to a sense of psychological safety

Being open-minded at times may require you to be open to being proved wrong. As someone is speaking, notice: are you already thinking about your rebuttal? Or have you already interrupted? Be open to another person’s perspective.

If you’re worried about not having the perfect reply, you can always say, “I haven’t thought about it that way before. Can you give me a day or so to think it over?”

Over time, listening openly and attentively to others helps to cultivate trust. This contributes to a sense of psychological safety, which has been found to be the key to successful teams.

The ability to take risks and speak up can be the difference between thwarting a mistake or learning from one. In the end, everyone benefits.

– Copyright Harvard Business Review 2017

Emma Seppala is the science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of The Happiness Track. Jennifer Stevenson is the vice-president of client services and faculty at TLEX, Transformational Leadership for Excellence.

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