In my previous post, I addressed the #1 thing you can do to improve communication on your team—being explicit about the difference between the intent and impact of your words. After reading it, I know you were more deliberate about how you communicated; bearing in mind how your words would land for the person you were talking with. (Right?)

Unless you printed copies and handed them out to everyone you know, I’m guessing you still had a few whammies where your boss or a teammate said something to you that landed like a ton of bricks.  So what do you do when someone says something that bowls you over?

Intent and Impact

First, you need to remember the moral of the story from my previous post.

“Communication is transfer of meaning from speaker to listener. Words are one inelegant and inaccurate conduit.”  [Tweet it!]

If someone says something to you that feels terrible (nasty, hurtful, frustrating, mean, dumb, ignorant), it’s possible that they meant what they said but just as likely that their words failed them.  Follow these steps.

  1. Experience your reaction and take note of it.  (Inside voice.) “Wow. That just threw me for a loop. I can feel my heart racing.”
  2. Share your reaction. “Yikes, John, that just came out of nowhere for me. Give me a second.” That way, John will get a clue about the impact he’s just had on you.  This is also good training for John who will learn that his words are more impactful than he knows.
  3. Ask a question. “When you said that I am being too controlling, can you tell me a little more about what you mean?” Make sure you quote the person properly.  Nothing worse than putting words into someone’s mouth like “John, when you said I’m an evil cow…”
  4. Listen really carefully. When the person responds to you, listen openly so that the message has the chance to land differently the second time. Take note of the exact words as the person will likely choose them much more deliberately the second time around.
  5. Ask another question. “When you clarified, you were talking specifically about how I chaired the meeting this morning.  Do you think I’m always controlling, or were you thinking specifically about today?”
  6. Clarify intent. “I get the sense that you’re trying to help me manage my reputation with the team.” Or “Your intent is to give me a bit of a wakeup call. Is that right?”

It’s tough to say how many times you’ll need to pass the baton back and forth before you are on the same wavelength.   For those who are musical, it’s like tuning two instruments together until they literally are on the same wavelength. For the more visual, think of it as trying to bring two circles closer and closer together until they overlap.

In the end, it’s possible that the communicator’s intent was something that is upsetting to you and you need to be open to that.  More often than not, the person had a positive intent and just butchered it with sloppy words.

I’ve watched teams transform their communication in a matter of hours by using language such as “my intent was to…” and “here’s how that landed for me…”  I know it will do the same for your team.

Further Reading

Tips to improve the connection when you communicate

You need to communicate

Communicate with, not to

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