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1 items from June 2014


4 Tips to Become an “Agile Communicator”

IStock_000001355840_web2It was time for the conference call that I had dreaded.  Our new customer was not happy with the implementation we were delivering and had demanded a call with the project manager (me), program manager, a couple of people whom I don’t remember, and our president (whom I do remember).

I had just come from an informal meeting with one of our developers to talk about how the development work on another project was proceeding.  As I passed the doorway into the program manager’s office (that’s where the conference call was initiated), it felt like I was walking onto a stage.  It was like I had to switch roles and “get in character” in order to become effective on this important call.

Two Observations

Looking back now, I recognize two things: 1) there have been many scenarios in my career where I felt the need to “switch roles” and change how I was communicating (almost every day in fact); 2) my proficiency in whatever I was doing has often been tied to how well I can communicate with agility.

Being an agile communicator means that you demonstrate agility and flexibility by adapting your communication to the other person(s).

The Negative and Positive

There is a negative side to this with which I have wrestled.  Sometimes I change my communication in order to either impress someone else or shield myself from negative repercussions.  I never experience that feeling of satisfaction after these situations… because the focus is on myself and not on my “audience” thus curtailing my ability to communicate and influence effectively long-term.

But there is also a positive side to agile communication that occurs when I adapt my communication based on the “audience” for the purpose of communicating in a way that benefits them.

In this sense, it is not dissimilar to how actors take on a role in a play, movie, or even one of our presentations.  The best actors focus on the audience and adapt in order to give the audience what they want (you always wanted to be an actor, didn’t you?).

Peg Allen, one of our facilitator coaches, commonly says that it is not the other person’s responsibility to adapt to us, it is our responsibility to adapt our communication to the other person.  That’s agile communication.

Four Tips...

So here are 4 tips to become more of an agile communicator - able to communicate effectively to team members, customers, executives, and really anyone:

 1.  Be present in the “scene”

To me, this means that you can’t just physically be there, you have to really be there.  You have to be engaged, listening intensely, making eye contact, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, trying to understand their perspective.  This takes more effort for some (myself included) than others.

2.  Consistently evaluate your “audience”

When you enter a “scene” (a meeting, 1-on-1, or whatever) immediately evaluate the style of your audience.  Are they more assertive or less assertive?  Do they want to get to the point or delve into the details?  Do they want to connect personally or stick with the facts?  Knowing their style will give you clues to adapt your communication to them.

3.  Give more than you receive

If your focus is to give more than you receive, it will change the way you think, which will change the way you communicate, which will change your level of effectiveness.  What can you give during the conversation that the recipient cannot obtain themselves?  How can you be selfless and exhibit servant leadership?

4. Don't block

A primary rule of Improv theatre is to not block the dialogue but to add to the dialogue.  That doesn't necessarily mean you agree, but that you want to keep the dialogue going and validate the other person's perspective.  A simple way to stop blocking is to remove the word "but" and replace it with something like "yes", "yes, and", or "I heard what you said, what do you think about..."

So was my important conference call successful?  Yes and no.  We were able to move the conflict a step towards resolution, but we eventually lost the customer.  Would I do it differently now?  Yes, my focus would be much more on my “audience” and not solely on solving the problem for my own purposes.

Does this always work?  No - we are dealing with people - but more often than not it will.  AND you will experience (as I do) a much deeper sense of satisfaction.

We all know this stuff at some level, we just lose sight of it and don’t do it.  So start now.  Pick one thing that you will change so that when you next find yourself walking “onto the stage” and switching roles, you will be a better agile communicator that gets results.