CASE : How to communicate more clearly while solving problems?

Clear and effective communication is one of the most common learning questions and is therefore often the objective to enrol in a Start2BU training “Communication with impact”.

“How can I communicate in such a way to make people listen and engage with what I say?”

Marleen, a thirty year old, has been working in a family business employing the odd 20 employees since 5 years.

During the intake interview she says:

“I am the first point of contact for customers and responsible for planning all the work. My task is to give clear instructions to employees about the tasks at hand. The biggest challenge for me is to sort out difficulties and make sure everyone is happy with the solution. I am happy to share my opinion, but I don’t really take the lead. More often than I would wish for this results in both customers and employees rejecting my opinion. This is exactly what I would like to change. Sometimes I feel I am not being taken seriously. It’s not easy for me to find the right words to sell and implement my ideas.”

“What’s particularly difficult are the unpredictable situations turning my planning upside down. These situations force me to look for quick fixes which require me to communicate unpleasant news to our customers and this makes me feel very uncomfortable. At the same time employees are annoyed having to work overtime. And all of this is so overwhelming for me that it becomes an impediment to thinking in a solution-oriented way. What I need to learn is to let go of control and to focus on communicating more clearly to both customers and employees.

Communicating clearly

During the 1-day course “Communication with Impact” Marleen shows a flexible and adaptable way in her personal communication style. Pleasing everyone and making sure everyone is on the same page is her main focus. This makes it at times confusing for everyone.

During a group exercise with different assignments against a deadline, Marleen picks an exercise in which she needs to give out clear instructions to a blindfolded person. The objective? To complete the task as correctly and quickly as possible. She has no means of making eye contact with the blindfolded person to whom she’s giving instructions.

From this experience she learns that giving instructions is not so difficult at all. There’s no need to weigh and consider every word she says.

She realises it is allowed to communicate directly with people and even more importantly, that not everyone is thinking and feeling like her. Most people prefer clarity in communication.

“I learned so much from this course. For example, that sometimes all is needed is one simple question at the end of the conversation: “Do you understand?””

Coaching call after the course

One month after the 1-day course I coach Marleen by phone. This is the ideal timing to hear if she implemented the learning into practice.

“I notice I still communicate too nicely at times. I feel I still need to push myself to be more strict with the employees. What has changed is the awareness in the moment. Now I feel when I’m being too accommodating with people.”

Challenging unhelpful beliefs

The unhelpful belief of Marleen is that giving clear instructions is equal to being too critical. She is afraid she might hurt others’ feelings being a very sensitive person herself. Comments or criticism from others can be very unsettling for her.

In order to avoid upsetting other people she wraps up her messages in such a way the core message is well hidden. The listener loses track, doesn’t really get the point she wants to make and hence goes on doing his or her own thing. As a consequence Marleen doesn’t feel taken seriously and concludes people simply don’t listen to her.

After an exercise in the coaching session in which I give Marleen feedback with her permission it becomes very clear:

“Not everyone is as sensitive as me. From now on I will just say whatever I think without pondering on how it may sound. I will start catching myself by being clear and more concise in my communication. No more sidewinding while I’m giving instructions.”