How to Navigate Communication "Like a Boss"Jul 26, 2016
In a previous post, I asserted that we can ask better questions, get better answers, and have better outcomes as a result. Let's look at last week's public hearing involving the U.S. Attorney General to discuss some things we can use to make that happen.
The U.S. Attorney General was not just acting as an attorney; she also works in the political arena and was being questioned publicly on a topic that might have threatened her job. This was high stakes for her so we could reasonably expect her to bring the best game she could, requiring the people questioning her to do the same in order to succeed.
First, in order to be at their best, they needed to be extremely clear on what specific outcome they wanted and the exact points needed to secure that outcome. That gives focus and helps to develop the line of questioning. But if we really want results, asking questions doesn't stop at asking a question. It also involves adjusting and taking another pass when we don't get the answers we are looking for.
So the second thing people needed to be able to do in that instance was have the flexibility to rephrase questions in order to direct the conversation. We already know the system with the greatest flexibility controls the exchange, and a couple things could impact that : level of abstraction, focus, and emotion.
The attorney general led the discussion because she controlled the level of abstraction. During the hearing, for example, the person I saw questioning her expected specific answers of yes or no, but his questions included too many variables, leaving room for her to say, "It depends." And she did, keeping her answers general. The person questioning her might have been able to overcome that by narrowing the scope of his questions, making them more specific or increasing abstract, then gradually increasing specificity again. And that's where flexibility in responding to our own emotion comes in.
When we know we have a choice in how we respond, we are in a resourceful state, but if, instead, the dog believes the tail is wagging the dog, it could be frustrating for the dog. And while frustration may be understandable, it doesn't have to be the final response. And if you want the best results, it can't be.
Going back to the hearing, the person questioning her got frustrated with her for coloring within the lines he provided. Further, he lost time responding to that frustration by lecturing her and, ironically, expressing a desire for more time. In the end, he was not successful because he failed to adjust resourcefully.
There's always the possibility something will throw us off course.That's why having focus is so important: we have to be able to choose a response that is reasonably calculated to get us back on course. And when we don't have the luxury of a second chance, we can't let emotions get in the way. So, in the hearing, for example, emotional intelligence could have helped the person I observed recognize he was off course, allowing him to adjust.
Emotional intelligence in this case isn't difficult. It includes being aware of our emotional state throughout interactions. And if the state changes such that it is no longer a resourceful state, you deliberately choose another resourceful emotion that allows you to proceed.
Is emotional intelligence necessary to know you're off course? No. But if the fact that you're off course happens to sneak under the radar of your logic mind, emotion can be a reliable backup.
We can, and must, do the same in our interactions. For your personal finances, a company budget, or a business strategy, you know where you want to go and the metrics associated with it, and the factors involved. You may even have a plan that considers all that, adjusting as you go. Effective communication does exactly that for your discussions; you go in with a key message and a plan, recognize the factors that may change the plan, and adjust.
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