7 Secrets to Clear Communication. Even with Bullies.

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Team Turmoil: An All-Too-Common Workplace Communication Breakdown

A Non-Confrontational executive heard from other departments that one of her high performing directors was not being a team player and resisting collaboration. This was no surprise to anyone as he is known to be the type who is rather blunt and intimidating. Or, as we like to say behind closed doors, a bully.

In addition, he is consistently known for driving the agenda, or rather, his agenda by taking over project meetings. Needless to say, his less-than-inclusive behavior was starting to delay progress while creating unnecessary team turmoil.

Precious time ticked on but nothing was done, until a week before the project’s deadline. The sense of business urgency – and lack of progress – made it impossible for the Non-Confrontational executive to continue to ignore. Putting it off for as long as she could, the executive called for a meeting with her direct report

A “Fly on the Wall” to This Conversation

Given the executive’s hesitancy to be direct, the conversation went something like this:

“How’s the project work going with the other directors, Sam?” 

“In my opinion, great, why do you ask?”

“I heard some rumblings that you aren’t playing nicely with others. Is this true?” 

“If you are referring to the fact that I will not just bend over backwards and agree with the majority vote, then yes, that’s true. Candidly Sally, the other directors don’t know what they are talking about.” 

“It’d be nice if you could try a little harder and get things moving. I’m getting a lot of heat from my peers.”

Perturbed and disgruntled, “I’ll try. But I make no promises.” 

“Thanks Sam.”

Most Common Communication Failure: Missing the Mark

Without critiquing and breaking down the conversation for all of its obvious communication disconnects (or questioning why Sally is still in her position): What do you think the chances are of Sam changing his behavior? Candidly, if you are one of the more optimistic people who believe that the likelihood is high, then I have some Florida marshlands to sell you.

Let’s be real. From my experience with communication “bullies,” I can guarantee a zero percent chance of Sam changing, at least for the long term. He’s blunt. He’s aggressive. He’s intimidating. And, he’s probably been that way most of his life.

Sally’s ambiguous and mis-guided “it’d be nice” suggestion –versus mandate – is simply not going to “get the job done” with Sam. Again, we won’t stop to question why Sally is still in her role and, instead, focus on the fact that Sam’s communication style requires direct, “straight-in-his-face,” communication. Why? Because that’s the language he speaks.

What Effective Communication is Really About

Ego check here . . . Communication is not about YOU. It’s about your AUDIENCE.

Folks, at the end of the day, it’s about having healthy, consistent and engaging communication. You don’t have to be perfect, but you must hit the mark – your audience’s mark.

7 “Secrets” to Clear Communication

I only call these “secrets” because they seem so obvious, yet very few of us really follow them when communicating with others! The key is asking – and answering – these questions before you start a conversation or adjusting as you recognize different communication styles.

  1. What is your audience’s preferred mode of communication? How do they like to communicate? Face-to-face, email, phone, even text? You can often judge this based on the method they use to communicate with you.
  1. When is the best time to communicate to them? People lead extremely busy lives with a lot on their mind, both personal and professional. Do you know when peak listening is best for them? Again, you can often glean this based on the timeframes they choose to communicate with you.
  1. How do they want you to communicate to them? Are they blunt, direct and concise? Or, do they like to know all of the details? Miss the mark here and you’ve already failed. The risk here is your audience will shut down, tune out or become frustrated while totally missing key messages and information.
  1. Is your body language and energy consistent with your message? People take for granted the fact that people listen more with their eyes and emotions than with their ears! Your body language and energy must be consistent with your message in order to relay credibility and believability. When it comes to effective communication, words are secondary to how you deliver them.
  1. Do you validate “communication transference?” This refers to the fact that you need to proactively ensure that your audience actually heard your message? What gives you the confidence they really understood what they heard from your message? Are they nodding in agreement, further engaging you, taking notes, making direct eye contact?
  1. Do you follow up, repeat and/or adjust your message if you are not being heard correctly? Are you tweaking and adapting your communication if you get the “deer in the headlights” look? Don’t naturally assume that your message is going to be understood the first time around. Apply the discipline to change your tune, if necessary.
  1. Lastly, realize again, communication is NOT about YOU. It’s about your audience! Focus on what they need to hear, see and feel around your communication – and how they need to hear it. Following this approach, nine times out of ten you’ll hit the communication mark.

My Communication Challenges to You

Effective communication takes practice, knowledge of your audience’s style and an open awareness to monitor and adjust mid-conversation, as needed. Using the “Communication Secrets” above, I challenge you to grow and communicate in the following ways:

Don’t be a Sam or a Sally. Lead with communication that is clear, actionable and understandable by all members of your audience.


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