Blog Post / Jan. 13, 2020

Know When to Walk Away from the Screen

Written by Claudia Williams

Effective communication is both a priority and a struggle for many organizations.

Over 90 percent of how we interpret a message is based on the sender’s body language and tone. When you consider how much time we spend hiding behind our screens to get messages out as quickly as possible, it’s no wonder so many messages are misinterpreted.

It’s also no wonder that we are losing our ability to communicate face-to-face. But it is never too late to improve. There are a few key things we can do to improve both our verbal and electronic communication skills.

The first thing we need to do is understand that some messages should not be delivered electronically via email or text message. Before you hit the send button, pause and ask yourself if it is the best way to deliver that message. Messages that tend to be confrontational or argumentative are too easy to send electronically. If you’re having a disagreement with someone, pick up the phone or walk over to that person’s office. You will solve the problem faster, and you will spare yourself and the other person a lot of otherwise wasted time and energy that you would spend trying to outwit each other in an email version of “Game of Thrones.”

Similarly, never deliver bad news or criticism via email or text message. Tough conversations are called tough for a reason. If they were easy, everyone would be great at having them. Delivering tough messages in person is a critical skill that every leader must have. Anyone can fire off electronic messages. Exceptional leaders take the time to deliver difficult news in person, allowing the recipient to ask questions, read your body language and listen to the tone of your voice. Importantly, being able to work through these difficult situations will build trust and loyalty between leaders and their teams.

Next, stop talking and start listening. We tend to stop listening and start formulating our responses before the speaker is done talking. When we do that, we have stopped listening. Instead, force yourself to listen to the entire message. Before you start to argue your case, make sure you understand the message. “Steve, I want to make sure I understand you correctly. You’re saying [fill in the blank].” By doing so, you are telling the message sender that you are trying to understand. The message sender, in turn, will be more willing to listen to you, even if you disagree with each other. This strategy will de-escalate situations rather than inflame them.

Finally, communicate with facts rather than emotion. We often characterize behavior or situations rather than explain them. When we characterize situations, we are sharing our opinions instead of our factual observations. For example, Sue needs to have a tough conversation with Amy about her behavior in a meeting. Sue says, “Amy, you were disruptive in the meeting, and it needs to stop.” Sue did not tell Amy what she did wrong. Sue only gave Amy her opinion that Amy was disruptive. Instead, Sue should say, “Amy, you repeatedly cut off your teammates and interrupted them while they were talking. You need to resist your urge to jump in and give your colleagues a chance to finish their thoughts. They will be more inclined to listen to you if you do, and our meetings will run more smoothly.” Here, Sue told Amy what she did, and she established the expected behavior going forward.

While these aren’t the only ways to improve communication, these small changes can have a big impact on your workplace culture by fostering more effective dialogue and building better workplace relationships based on trust.