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March 2016
Communication at Work

Slow Down – Curves AheadPatti Lind

We all experience occasional rough patches in our communication. A friend of mine calls them "speed bumps" because we have to slow down and move with caution. One good thing about the occasional rough patch is they provide us the opportunity to pay attention to our weaker communication skills. I need to slow down my reactions. Or, Next time I’m going to listen first. If we learn from the rough spots we can strengthen our resiliency and hopefully improve our relationships.

Unfortunately rough spots do not always lead to better skills and improved relationships. Sometimes they lead us down a stressful path towards communication breakdown. I spend quite a lot of time working with communication breakdowns and I’ve learned that the downward spiral from a rough spot to a breakdown is fairly predictable. They usually start with a trigger event rising from time pressures, complexity, fatigue or insecurity. A poor communication choice is made and that is followed by another poor response. Back and forth it goes with each person shifting further away from behaviors that retain relationships and reduce stress. Some obvious steps along the pathway towards communication breakdown include…
  • Becoming more and more critical of the person and thinking of them in disparaging terms.
  • Avoiding interactions and relying on email.
  • Acting out. Overtly showing your displeasure or being openly combative.
  • Creating a negative coalition with others who will reinforce our view that the problem is "them" not "us".


In the moment we might feel justified and perhaps consoled with these behaviors but the truth is, communication breakdowns result in high personal cost. People leave jobs they love. Business partnerships fall apart. Patient care falls into the deep crevasses of people who have chosen to not communicate with one another. People lose their sense of self, what they value and what they hope for.

The important thing to remember is that we are not powerless in this collapse; we have many options at each step of the way. The key is to reset our moment-to-moment communication back towards behaviors that stabilize relationships. The earlier we can catch ourselves the easier it will be to turn a deteriorating situation around.

Consider these tips:
  • Recognize the warning signs of making things worse after a trigger event (i.e., hyper-focusing on the negative, reduced interaction, overt irritability, engaging the sympathies of others). These choices are hurting not helping you.
  • Attempt to talk things through: Apologize for any behavior that has led to the deterioration of the relationship; be respectfully honest with them about how you feel and what you would prefer
  • Continue to interact with normal frequency despite your inner reluctance. This is one of the best choices you can make over time.
  • Have a plan for self-managing your emotions when you get in a tight spot. Excusing yourself to go get a glass of water is frequently a good back-up plan.
  • Seek the advice of someone who can provide guidance, rather than spreading your discontent to others.


I realize that none of these options feel like easy things to do. Far from it — they might even feel mountainous. But taken one at a time, moment-by- moment, they can serve to slow things down and help you recover from a challenging rough patch.
A fun way to fill the gap time when people are arriving to meetings is providing them with paper and crayons. The paper can have a banner that spurs creativity (e.g. What makes me smile. Or, Doodle Time!) If you want to add to the fun encourage them to shift papers every minute and add to what was drawn by the previous artist. This is also a great way to invite creativity before engaging a team in a brainstorming activity.

Resources
I am speaking at an upcoming conference on interviewing job applicants. While preparing for this talk I came across the book High Impact Interview Questions: 701 Behavior-Based Questions to Find the Right Person for Every Job, by Victoria Hoevemeyer. If you are involved with interviewing applicants, this book would be an excellent time saver.

My book, Communication At Work, is available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, and eBook formats, and may be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell Bookstore and Inkwater Press.
Communication at Work

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Patti Lind | pattilind.com | 503-318-4665
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