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11 de noviembre de 2012

Communication Patterns


I remember once when I opened my email inbox to find an email from my boss like this:
  • Jose, how do you happen to postpone the meeting with this client we are chasing for so long? Didn’t it worth making an effort?

You could not imagine how offended I felt by that short line “how do you happen to…” I hardly could keep on reading. I took this as a formidable lack of respect. He did not even say good morning! It’s really incredible how offensive certain phrases can be.



Using Communication Patterns

If I let go myself on that very minute, I would have responded by email, with very bad manners. But then I recalled the advice I got at a recent course on human skills. I remembered there were communication patterns: You should not respond by email when you are upset. It also made me took “psychological air” to be aware that my boss was using a transaction of the kind KP->SC. So I thought:
  • My boss is using his “critical parent” to head my “spontaneous child".

I was aware of the communication pattern I was in. I took distance and calm myself down almost immediately. Then I decided to respond, better than react. I recalled that the most effective response was to use transactional pattern A->A (i.e. adult to adult)

I quickly elaborated a kind response, in an objective factual tone, explaining the situation and the logic behind, without criticizing anybody.

I hit the “send” button, ditched the issue on my side at once, and I focused on the work ahead and other more important things

Since I experienced that, I give importance to communication patterns. They serve us to understand better people and ourselves. If we use them well, they give us effectiveness in our projects.

The feedback rule #1: Don’t say “you”, say “I”

Another communication pattern I find extraordinary useful is this feedback rule number 1: Don’t say “you”, say “I”.

As Project Managers, we often have the responsibility of telling some team member, colleague, seller, etc. that he is not doing well a thing. On these occasions, we should overcome many cultural and educational stereotypes. When we think about someone, we tend to label him with adjectives. We are not use to thinking “Jose is being delayed 15 minutes”, instead we think “Jose is always late”. If we want Jose improve punctuality and we tell him that he is an unpunctual person, we will feel offended, become defensive, and we’ll have an argument. Jose could backfire on his side with phrases like:
  • You don’t know what happened. Why do you criticize me?
  • You have never been late?
  • I’m just 10 minutes late. What’s your idea of being unpunctual?
  • I beg your pardon? What did you call me? Are you insulting me?
  • Don’t you shout me!

Most likely, we finish by discussing issues of form rather than substance. There will be no effective communication for sure. Conversely, if we speak in the first person, saying what we feel and believe by ourselves, then what we say is less arguable and there will be more opportunities for effective communication. 
See how communication changes if instead of labeling Jose as unpunctual, we say something like this:
  • On this morning meeting with the customer I got so nervous and irritated when you don’t turned up on time. I think it took 15 minutes without any signal from you. I think we have given a bad image. In future I want you to warn me when you think you are coming late, please.

Jose may agree or disagree, but he is not going to discuss if this is true or false. This is what you think, and it is out of question.

In my courses, I ask students to do the following exercise: Reformulate these phrases so that they start not by “you” but “I”:
  1. You’re lying.
  2. You’re forgetting something.
  3. You’re wrong.
  4. You’re being illogical.
  5. You’re wandering from the point.
  6. You’re not explaining properly
  7. You’ve got to learn to be punctual.
  8. You must inform people better.


                After a short time, they usually produce phrases like these:
                1. I don’t believe that piece of information can be correct.
                2. I’d like to add something.
                3. I don’t see things in the same light as you.
                4. I find it difficult to follow your reasoning.
                5. I don’t see what that’s got to do with the problem we’re trying to solve.
                6. I don’t understand what you mean.
                7. I get so (irritated, infuriated, angry) when you don’t turn up on time.
                8. In future I want you to tell people about the following points…

                              Click here to read the Spanish version of this article. 
                              Click the label English to see the other articles written in English.