“The English language is built on polar terms, according to Richard Maybury of Peak Performance Group. What are the midpoints when you try to place a term between good and bad, generous and stingy, polite and rude, success and failure?”
In my experience it seems that groups do tend to polarize around any given point of controversy, and though I hadn’t considered that our language might be contributing to that, I can surely see how it could. I know personally that whenever someone speaks in absolutes, I feel a natural desire to counteract that view to move perspectives back to center, and I notice others tend to do the same.
What Comprises a “Whole Message?
Burt Albert, in his book, Fat Free Meetings, tells us that a whole message consists of four types of statements, or parts, delivered in this sequence:
- Observation (statements of fact)
- Thoughts (inferences/conclusions drawn)
Burt goes on to suggest that if a sender omits any one of these four elements in delivering their message–especially one dealing with an interpersonal, potentially volatile topic–the receiver may become confused, unconvinced, irritated, or alienated. And in a frenetic business world, where shorthand is often spoken, the likelihood of omission is significant.
Four Questions to Communicate Completely
Here’s an example of a message fragment, commonly used in our business world delivered by Bill to Joe:
Well Joe, it looks like we’re not going to make that WInston Report deadline.
A more complete way of expressing that message using all four of the above elements might go something like this:
Joe, around 8:30 this morning I noticed two of the three people working on the WInston Report head off to assist another customer on the other side of town for what sounded like an all-morning affair. According to our schedule, we need a first draft of that report to the customer by this friday and yesterday, when you showed me the report, it was barely halfway done. (Observation) Based on our past performance with Winston, if he doesn’t get the report by this Friday, as promised (Thought/Inference), I’m afraid we’ll lose his follow on project which will amount to nearly $1M in annual revenue. (Feeling) I made a promise to him that we’d get this to him on time and with high quality, and you agreed to this schedule. I really want us to succeed on this project and earn his respect. (Need)
In this message, Joe is not attacked personally. Bill simply states what he saw, what he inferred, and how these inputs affect how he feels and what he needs. With this complete information, Joe is far more likely to accommodate Bill.
In your groups, you might want to post the following four questions for participants to consider whenever they have a difficult concern to convey to someone else in the room. Encourage them to use this approach in all their challenging communications in the workplace. Though it may take a little longer to communicate the “whole” message, it’s apt to save a lot of time in the way of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and missed deadlines.
- What facts do you know based on what you actually saw, heard, or read?
- What inferences or conclusions do you draw from the facts?
- How do the inferences or conclusions make you feel (without blaming or judging anyone)?
- What needs do you now have (without blaming or judging) because of the information you related above?
Use the four questions above to deliver a difficult message to someone this week. And/or offer this approach to your clients or coworkers and encourage them to use it in their next meeting?Please click on the Add Your Comments and tell us about it.