How to Resolve Communication Problems with Colleagues so You Work Together More Effectively by maureen collins
When you have really good working relationships with your colleagues, you can move mountains. You trust and support one another; you can anticipate problems. Communication is open, easy and often unspoken. It is easy to discuss problems or mistakes and to give and receive feedback. Conversations become creative problem solving sessions and productivity soars. You feel energised just by being in the team together.
When relationships in a team are poor and they start to affect communication, it is a very different story. We usually start off by trying to ignore the problem. We focus on just getting the job done, and hope that the personal stuff will resolve itself. But this seldom works and as time goes on communication becomes more strained and working effectively together becomes more difficult. Productivity drops, the team comes under pressure, and relationships disintegrate further. Often the only thing to do is to take time out and fix the relationship. Once that is done, you can get on with moving mountains.
Conversations about how we relate to each other tend to be some of the most difficult to hold, but in the long term, they can be the most rewarding. They are difficult for a number of reasons. First, it is likely that the people involved see the situation in very different ways. A colleague whose tone of voice you find condescending may be completely unaware of how they sound. A manager who reprimands you in front of colleagues thinks he is merely giving you corrective feedback. An employee whose attitude you find negative and disruptive believes they have a realistic view of events. And the people you thought arrogant and unhelpful? Maybe they were pushing for a deadline and did not even notice you were around!
The risk in holding one of these conversations is high. You might discover that your own behaviour is contributing to the problem. If you do not handle the conversation well, you may damage the relationship further and turn a difficult situation into one that becomes intolerable, making it even more difficult to work together! To make things worse, since the issues are personal, emotions run high. The only certainty is that the longer the conversation is delayed, the worse the problem becomes!
Step up to the conversation, but plan it carefully.
How will you find a time when you can talk without pressure? Where will you have the conversation so people are comfortable and where you have privacy? Think very carefully about the words you will use to open the conversation and how you will do so in a way that sets a constructive tone and avoids an accusation. You want to talk, not fight!
Then think through what has happened that has given rise to your concerns. Was it something that someone said, or did not say? Was it an event, or a situation in which you found yourself? Think of recent examples that everyone can relate to. Be concise and specific.
Then plan how you will describe your feelings about the situation. You must communicate them clearly because they provide the motive power to the conversation. Your description of the events should show how they arose so that others will be able to understand why you feel as you do. For example, if you are upset about a pattern of behaviour, your description of events should illustrate the pattern, not only one instance.
Then, because there are two sides to every story, think about how you will invite the other person into the conversation, and how you will listen to what they say with the same respect that you want them to show to you.
If you plan conversations on this basis you will find that you can discuss many difficult relationship issues and find resolution to them. Once you make a conversation safe, you have a much better chance of getting to the bottom of the problem, and clearing it out of the way. Then you can indeed move mountains!
Maureen Collins has a B.Sc. degree in Psychology from Edinburgh University and over 25 years of consulting experience. She specialises in communication skills in the business world. In Straight Talk, she trains people how to handle difficult conversations, on difficult topics, with difficult people.
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