Effective teamwork is dependent on effective communication

In my last post, in discussing the AMA/Institute for Corporate Productivity team defining coaching as “a short- to medium-term relationship between a manager or senior leader and a consultant (internal or external) with the purpose of improving work performance,” I commented that I found it unfortunate that coaching has become thought of in such a limited way. Our findings are that no matter how effective the individuals in a company are, if they don’t work effectively as a team, the company will suffer. This stems directly from our definition of a successful company: a group of “enthusiastic, confident, optimistic, appreciative and happy people who work together on behalf of a future they have all committed themselves to.”

I further stated that we’ve worked with hundreds of companies and that definition is almost always not achieved because human beings simply have not learned three important lessons which the vast majority of coaches don’t seem to understand anything about. Lesson 1: that we need to learn to communicate all upsets, disappointments, unfulfilled expectations and thwarted intentions and not file such communications away; Lesson 2: that we need to complete Lesson 1 in an appropriate and non-confrontational way; and Lesson 3: that we need to make it safe for the people in our lives to communicate to us.

Lesson 1: Because human beings enter all relationships with expectations and intentions which sooner or later will not be met, disappointments and upsets are inevitable. But because the only model we have been given to communicate with is one which leads to confrontations, people mostly resist communicating about such upsets. People resist taking responsibility for their feelings and invariably feel like the source of their upset is the other. So when they begin to communicate, the most frequently used first word is “you,” causing the other to immediately get defensive and a confrontation ensues.

The most frequent tactic employed to avoid this is simply to say nothing. Unfortunately, when one does this, they end up “filing” the undelivered communication away, where it becomes a magnet for future upsets. As the file gets bigger and bigger, whatever openness, intimacy and trust that existed in the relationship in the first place gets less and less, often leading to the demise of the relationship. Refer back to Lesson 1 for the solution.

Lesson 2: Instead of not communicating, communicate from a place of responsibility. Own the source of your upset, your unfulfilled expectations and intentions and communicate from a place of what’s going on with you, not what’s wrong with the other person. Say, for example, “I had expected that we would meet every week to align on a course of action so I knew exactly what was expected of me but we don’t seem to make time for that to happen and I’m disappointed because I often find myself not knowing what the goal of the week is.”

Lesson 3: Generally speaking, people don’t listen. They are mostly interested in what they have to say and when another starts to communicate a disappointment or the like, they immediately feel what’s required of them is to justify or explain their behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. When people are upset, what they want is just to be heard. So the listener needs to say nothing, just listen to the other with compassion, perhaps say you’re sorry if you’re moved to say that, encourage the other to speak, and allow them to empty their files. Once files are emptied, anything is now possible.