Last week, I rang Tom. He answered the phone with a short, abrupt greeting. I could tell instantly that he was busy and didn't really want to take a call. I felt the pressure to keep the call short, as I knew it wasn't a good time to talk, but as he answered the call, I felt obliged to at least begin the conversation. "Is this a good time for a chat?" I asked. "It seems like you might be in the middle of something." "No, it's fine. How can I help?" I could tell it wasn't fine so I did keep the call short and offered to call back later.
This situation frustrated me. Not because Tom was busy, and not because we couldn't talk at length, but because Tom wouldn't tell me what he needed with clear communication. Instead, I was left to read between the lines and take a hint. His mood conveyed what his words didn't. This is lazy communication and eats away at trust and respect. When your words say one thing but your emotional state says something different, people will trust the emotions. They begin to second-guess what you say and have to work harder to figure out what you want.
The more we hold tight to our 'busy badges', the easier it is to fall into lazy and confusing communication. We hope people will take the hint, so we take the easy option and control them with our moods. Whilst this might get compliance in the short term, it will compromise engagement in the long term.
- Do you lead with words or emotions?
- When you're busy and don't want to be interrupted, but feel you have to be available to people, do you communicate abruptly with curt nods and short, sharp responses and hope people will get the hint?
- Do you use your words to set boundaries and tell people what you need?
You'd be surprised how receptive people are to boundaries that you set with them. Telling people what you need, where you stand and what doesn't support you actually strengthens the relationship. Not only do others know where they stand and how to work with you more effectively, but it also gives them permission to ask for what they need in return. Leading to less 'water cooler whinging', more open communication, better results.
A win for all.