Communication is the biggest problem in human life. Not because it’s a bad idea, but because we do it all wrong. So let’s drop our typical vision of business “communication” to start something much more effective: “dialogue.”
I’ve been reading an interesting discussion of project managers on LinkedIn. The discussion started with a question about the most important element of successful projects. A large percentage of the comments center around project communication with a recurring theme that said roughly this: “you can be the world’s best communicator, but some people just won’t get with the program.”
If you are the world’s best communicator, I can assure you that most people will get with the program. That’s because the world’s best communicators start with dialogue.
Know your stakeholders. One mistake we frequently make is “preaching to the choir.” We gather a group of people who share our perspective and in short order, not surprisingly, we all agree on a course of action. Before you begin to communicate, you need to know who’s really involved with your problem or project. Who cares what we do? If you’re making product decisions, your stakeholders include your supplier’s supplier and your customer’s customer. Make sure you have reached out to as many as possible.
Encourage dissent. Once you know who the stakeholders are, look for the complainers, the opposers and the disgruntled. As far as improvement goes, they are your first line of assistance. Ask them why they feel the way they do and listen to the answers. You’re going to talk to some thoughtful partners and some angry ranters. You will hear a lot of general complaints. But when you hear the same complaint multiple times, particularly from different stakeholder groups (two employees and one customer, for example), you know you’re on to something.
Actively open your mind. Confirmation bias – a phenomenon which makes you more susceptible to messages that confirm what you already know – is a powerful psych. You have to work actively to avoid it by first asking yourself, “why do I believe what I believe?” Once you understand your own bias, you can ask the more important question “why do they believe what they believe?”. If you can’t do this for yourself, look for rational partners – not ranters or whiners – who can calmly and clearly help you understand the opposing view.
Now… communicate the big picture. When you engage in this type of dialogue, you have an opportunity to see all sides of the issue. Remember that your stakeholders didn’t go through the learning process with you. When you do communicate a path forward, be sure to include a brief overview of what was considered in the decision; all the paths you considered, dismissed, and eventually settled on. Even stakeholders who disagree with the direction will know that they were part of the decision process.
Dialogue… Who would have guessed that simply talking to people could be such a remarkable idea?
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeyphillips/9360787263/