You have no doubt heard the phrase “no man is an island’, or some variation of that adage. That phrase originated in poetry as a lamentation, has been used as an inspiration for philosophers, became a made for television melodrama, a Far Side cartoon, and even found its way into a Bon Jovi song.
The concept that human beings do not thrive when isolated from one another has been known to us for hundreds of years. The truth of this is seen clearly in modern organizations. It is rare that in today’s complex organizations, some lone employee would be able to meet objectives without the active support of others. More commonly, it takes a team of individuals working in concert to accomplish a common objective.
An important ingredient in team performance is good communication. Team members must communicate continually – to one another, with the leader, and with others who have a stake in the team’s performance. The better the communications, the more likely the team can prevent problems or speedily resolve those problems that were not prevented.
While saying ‘good communications’ is easy to do, achieving ‘good communications’ is a bit more difficult. There are multiple barriers that can result in misunderstanding and miscommunications. Communication within teams is more complex because more people are involved.
From a team member perspective, there are four aspects of communication that each member must improve upon to add to the team’s effectiveness:
- Sharing point-of-view
1. Sharing point-of-view
When sharing point-of-view, team members should try to make it easy for others to understand and relate to their ideas. Speaking for effect involves sharing opinions, ideas, perceptions and knowledge by speaking clearly, concisely and assertively.
A simple technique for speaking for effect is called the SRSI Cycle:
- State your idea clearly
- Relate your idea to a particular previous statement or the team discussion
- Support your idea with evidence, facts or logic
- Integrate your idea into the flow of the discussion by asking the team to respond
It is also important that we realize that sometimes our communications can shut down or inhibit communications. This happens when we communicate a lack of openness towards the ideas of others. Ordering, warning, interrogating, preaching, lecturing, criticizing or making derogatory comments about the individual will block communications.
Notice that all the roadblocks mentioned contain a “you” message. “You” stop it. “You” haven’t thought this through. Why did “you” do that? A “you” message will generate a defensive reaction and block communications. The “you” message can cancel the real message that the sender was intending to communicate.
A different approach that yields better results is to own your own ideas, opinions and feelings by using an “I” message. For example, if a manager is upset about some event, he /she can issue a “you” message but that will likely result in defensiveness, anger and some form of excuse.
However, a manager using an “I” message can avoid those negatives. For example:
“I wasn’t aware that we were behind schedule until our Boss mentioned it at the staff meeting. I felt embarrassed and a bit angry that I wasn’t told about this beforehand. This kind of mistake makes me feel like I need to supervise our work more closely.”
Notice that an “I” statement can still express a strong feeling, but it does it without raising counter-productive emotions among the team. The “I” statement has three parts:
- A brief description of the unacceptable situation
- An expression of the sender’s honest feelings caused by the problem
- The impact of the problem behavior on the sender
The “I” statement technique doesn’t solve the problem, but it does help sustain the communication flow that will be necessary to resolve the situation.
Effective team communication also involves listening skills. Listening is our most often used communication skill, but it is often the one that we most often take for granted. More often than not, we are poor listeners.
Good listening requires effort. It is an active behavior. It requires attention to facial expressions, voice tones, gestures and body language. Good listening involves listening beyond the words to understand the other person. Good listening in a team setting will build each member’s self-esteem and build mutual trust and respect among those involved.
There are four skills associated with good listening:
- Show that you are listening to others by physical demonstration. Use eye contact, posture, verbal and non-verbal cues. This is known as attending. It is important to remember that you can’t not communicate, so attend to the listener through positive physical means.
- Asking questions that will encourage others to talk. Proper questions can open up dialogue, reduce anxiety, and build trust. It can also bring out information that is most useful in preventing or resolving problems.
- Show empathy for the other person’s feelings by listening for the other person’s feelings. Once you understand the other person’s feelings, you can demonstrate genuine understanding by acknowledging those feelings. When this is done, the other person will think “I finally found someone who understands!” This will allow further questioning to obtain more information and it will build the other’s self-esteem.
- The final skill involves summarizing and accurate paraphrasing. Summarizing and paraphrasing involve listening and then restating what was said, and the feelings underlying, what the other person said. It demonstrates that you listened and that you understand. In the mind of the other person, it shows that you are genuinely interested in the sender. When summarizing or paraphrasing question, judge or argue with the other person. In this skill area, you are just demonstrating that you understand the other person and that you understand where they are coming from.
It happens frequently in meetings that silence or lack of disagreement is assumed to be agreement. This may occur because individual team members assume that everyone else is in agreement, and that individual doesn’t want to hold up progress. This can lead to groupthink which is a situation where a team goes along with a decision without any real commitment or understanding.
There are 3 skills associated with Agreeing, and they should be used in combination when possible:
- Confirming, this is restating a decision, proposal or position made by another team member.
- Supporting which is verbally indicating your agreement
- Testing for consensus involves determining if those who disagree with a majority alternative nevertheless understand it and are willing to support it. Consensus is about checking where team members stand; provide them with an opportunity to state their opinion, and checking to make certain that the dissenting alternatives have been clearly understood.
Conflicts and disagreements are part of life in every organization. These conflicts arise from differences of opinion, facts and perceptions. Teams will have differences and those differences must be managed. Failure to deal with disagreement shows up in these forms:
- Ideas are attacked before they are completed
- Hostile comments
- Belittling of ideas
- Accusations that others don’t understand
- Distorting other’s ideas
- Impatience with one another
- Hidden agendas
- Factions form
- Suggestions don’t build on other suggestions
- Win-Lose, or We-They, strategies and tactics
- Attributing negative motives to other team members
- Command and control
To avoid the negative impact of disagreeing, team members need to understand that differences are inevitable, but when well handled, they can be a source of commitment and innovation. Negative impact can also be defused by using listening and questioning skills to help understand content and feeling of the other point-of-view.
Finally, openly expressing opinions without putting down different ideas is important in managing conflict and getting the most benefit from disagreeing. This includes:
- Disagreeing diplomatically
- Confronting issues without aggressiveness or playing a win-lose strategy
- Using logic, facts and metrics to establish a position
- Look for areas of agreement, common goals, or robust solutions that can address different positions
As indicated at the outset of this article: team work is integral to the functioning and success of modern organizations. In order for team work to be successful, there are 4 aspects of team dynamics that must be properly attended to:
- Sharing point-of-view
In this article, we’ve looked at those 4 dynamics and the skills that will allow the communicator to function effectively in those areas.