How do you react when a co-worker disagrees with you? How do you address a lengthy email with a long list of unrealistic demands? How do you approach a customer who appears to be upset or angry?
Communication is part of every job and every relationship. The process of communication is complex yet occurs in a split second or the moment a person decides to send a message – whether verbally or in writing. We all have natural reactions to circumstances and other people, but do those reactions produce the best response?
The answer is that our gut reactions or initial replies and responses do not always address situations or other people in the most appropriate manner possible, especially when strong emotional reactions are felt, which means the underlying issue or problem may be left unresolved. Poor communication can also create damage to important relationships and even a person's reputation on the job.
Every job requires some form of communication. The ability to communicate in an influential manner is essential to expressing your thoughts and ideas to someone else, especially during critical situations or times when you need to resolve problems and issues. There are strategies which can be learned by anyone through practice, and implemented as a means of improving communication. More importantly, when someone takes time to develop their method of communication, it can help to repair and/or build productive interactions and relationships, and create positive outcomes.
Learn About Natural Biases
Every person has natural biases that influence how they communicate. Those biases create internalized filters and it can shape how another person or group of people are viewed, along with the manner in which the message is communicated. That may not pose a problem for most interactions, unless it is a co-worker or customer and the biases have created negative perceptions about the other person. This can create inappropriate and ineffective forms of communication. For example, if you have a negative view of a co-worker, for whatever the reason, you may not always choose to communicate thoughtfully or in a collaborative manner.
The Use of Email for Communication
Another reason why influential communication is needed is due to the use of email as a primary means of communication with others. It can be easy to forget the human element of interacting with someone else when you do not see who you are communicating with. In your career you need to work with others and this is an approach which doesn't come naturally for everyone, especially when interacting with those who have a demanding personality. Many jobs require employees be polite and courteous, especially with external customers, while addressing demanding and often stressful situations. It can be challenging to communicate and resolve issues or needs in person, and even more difficult when email is the primary form of contact.
Understanding the Communication Process
The communication process seems fairly straightforward; the sender has a message to communicate with the receiver. While it occurs quickly, through spoken or written words, there is much more involved to the process. Both the sender and receiver rely upon their perceptions and senses to develop the message before it is sent or interpret the message once it has been received. If the communication occurs in person, there is an opportunity to explain the meaning of the message and clarify any points that may have been unclear or misinterpreted. Face-to-face communication has the inclusion of eye contact and body language, which also influences the message. It provides an opportunity to see how the other person reacts or responds. While the best outcome may not always be guaranteed, the sender and receiver have an ability to interact and that is missing from electronic communication.
Electronic communication relies upon the use of words to convey a message and most everyone has likely received an email that they thought was short, abrupt, or inappropriate – and they are relying on their perception of the tone of the message and its meaning. Once an email has been sent it usually cannot be retrieved, and not being present to help explain its meaning creates a potential barrier. If the receiver has a negative reaction they may either respond in kind or choose not to seek out further clarification, and that is how communication breakdowns occur.
Strategies to Create Influential Communication
The following are the top four strategies for creating influential communication, and are based upon specific situations which are likely to occur in the workplace. I've developed these strategies based upon my work as an educator, organizational consultant, training and development manager, and career coach.
#1. Influencing Difficult Conversations and Conflicts: This is a time when emotions are likely to be running high. In these situations, it is important to control your emotions, listen to the other person, acknowledge their feelings rather than discount their perspective, be sensitive to their needs rather than forceful, and first seek to find common ground as a means of reducing resistance.
It is challenging to jump from a conflict to a resolution, and therefore it must be done through a series of steps, seeking to understand the other person's perspective and then work towards a rational rather than emotional view.
#2. Influence Challenging or Important Negotiations: For these situations it can be easy to have in mind what you need to accomplish and remain focused on your goals, without considering the other party involved, only to create a forceful attitude or disposition. This is not the most effective approach for reaching an agreement.
It is important to first break the ice, develop rapport, find common ground, and then seek a mutual understanding of the needs of each party. It can be helpful to transform your demands into requests, as a means of approaching the negotiations in a collaborative manner – and that is what is referred to as reaching a win/win outcome.
#3. Influence by Responding to or Communicating through Email: If this is a work-related email that need to be sent, one of the best methods you can use is to first write a draft of what it is you would like to communicate. This will help you to control the tone of the message, while managing the mechanics.
A message that contains numerous spelling, grammar, or other mechanical errors can create a negative impression about you and/or your employer. The choice of words used becomes very important and that is how you learn to influence the receiver of the message. More importantly, many people convey important messages electronically when a phone call or personal visit would be much more effective. If a message is sent and interpreted in a negative manner, the relationship may not be easily repaired.
#4. Influence by Giving Important Feedback: The use of influencing techniques is needed to increase the likelihood the other person is going to be receptive to any type of feedback you want to provide. If you want someone to accept a critique of their work, you want to first influence their perception of the value of the feedback being presented.
I've found this to be especially true as an educator. I have always advocated the use of the sandwich approach, which starts on a positive note, addresses a developmental issue, and then concludes in a positive manner. The purpose is to be agreeable rather than aggressive, and work with the students rather than demand their compliance. Students are much more receptive to this approach, especially online students who are not present to interact with and further explain to them what was written.
Other scenarios when influencing strategies are needed include delivering bad news and responding to others who are not acting in a professional manner. In all situations it is important to always be concerned with the words you use, especially with sensitive issues or discussions. You should find ways to work with the other person, lessen their resistance, acknowledge their perspective, and be viewed as someone who is approachable and willing to work together.
One-way communication, or communicating a message and not being concerned about how the other party is going to receive and interpret it, is rarely an effective strategy – especially on the job. If you want to communicate in a meaningful manner, while establishing a reputation as someone who is even tempered and easy to work with, use these influential strategies for oral or written communication. You will find that how you communicate becomes transformed as what you have to say is better received and understood. This will benefit how you interact with customers and colleagues, and even your career in the long term as it won't take long for you to be recognized as someone who is a skilled and influential communicator.
About Dr. J
Dr. Johnson has worked in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005. He specializes in distance learning, adult education, faculty development, and online teaching. Dr. J's roles included Chief Academic Officer, Dean, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, Dissertation Mentor, Faculty Workshop Facilitator, and online instructor.
Dr. J has extensive experience with curriculum development, having authored courses and curriculum for bachelors, masters, and doctorate programs. He also developed a Faculty Performance Model, Faculty Orientation Program, Faculty Training and Mentoring Program, Faculty Professional Development Courses and Workshops, and a Faculty Remedial Program.
Dr. J has a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement, and a Master of Business Administration, MBA. As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has also published over 200 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and career development.
About Affordable Quality Writing
Dr. J founded Afforded Quality Writing in 2003 to offer skill-based resume writing and strengths-based career coaching. Dr. J helps hundreds of clients each year by providing a well-written and highly effective resume, along with instilling in them a renewed self-confidence and sense of purpose.
Dr. J's Featured Resources
Dr. J's new book is available as a downloadable PDF, and as an eBook: Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators
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Dr. J also published the following resources:
- Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs
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