Six Tips for Improving Electronic Communications

February 27, 2019

Last week I discussed interpreting electronic body language. Decoding electronic body language well is the mirror image of being sensitive to the messages we write. Let’s look at some important, but often overlooked, principles of clear electronic communication. Here are six key principles to consider:

1. Different from verbal communications

Everyone knows that e-mail and texting are different from conversations, but often people don’t change their communication patterns accordingly.

For example, people cannot modify content of a message based on the real-time visible reaction of the other party as in face-to-face conversations. Instead, all information is presented at once without feedback.

Misunderstandings or hurt feelings are common. No matter how sensitive you try to be, the reader may interpret your comments as being insensitive.

2. Electronic documents are permanent documents

Once the “send” button is pushed, you can’t take it back, and you normally lose all control over who views your words. The permanent nature of notes is often forgotten in everyday interactions, but the implications are serious.

Consider the difference between verbal praise and praise via email. When praise is given vocally, the impact is reduced over time as people tend to forget. When praise is given via email, the recipient is likely to read it many times and even print it out to show others at home. The benefit is amplified.

Unfortunately, the more lasting impact also occurs on the negative side. A verbal reprimand is an unhappy event for anyone, but time often mitigates the pain. A reprimand in a text or email tends to endure and even feel worse with time. It will be read many times, and may be forwarded to others.

3. Understand the objective

Before you write a note, consider what are you trying to accomplish. Make sure when you proofread a note that it will achieve your goal.

Most people who annoy or anger others in notes don’t have that intention. You can eliminate problems if you clarify your objective.

4. Less is more in electronic communication

Short notes are more likely to be read and understood. A note must be opened, read, and internalized by the reader to have any value.

People who write long, detailed, and technically perfect notes are frequently ignored by others due to the volume of information. Have they communicated or just annoyed?

5. Set the tone

Your tone is established in the first sentence, or in the case of an email in the subject line. A poor start means the reader is likely to reject much of the content or become defensive. Notes that start with the right tone are more effective.

6. Write when you are yourself

Avoid sending messages that are written when you are angry or not yourself. At these times, you are not the person you want to portray to the world.

These points seem obvious, but they are often ignored. With the proper mindset and attention to detail, you can easily make major improvements to your electronic communications.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Improving Electronic Communication 1

February 20, 2019

Many of us now view electronic communication (email or texting) casually. We just type information as if we were chatting with someone in the hallway. This is potentially a big mistake.

When we communicate verbally, most information is conveyed through body language and voice inflection; only a small fraction of information is conveyed by the actual words. In electronic communication, all we have are the words as clues to decode information accurately, so the challenge is significant.

Imagine the advantage if we could read “ebody language.” We could understand the intent of notes by interpreting meaning in between the words on the screen. That skill would be important, as the percentage of electronic communications continues to rise. There is ample “body language,” and even voice inflection, available in electronic communications—if we know how to read the signals.

Unfortunately, most people have no training in reading electronic body language. They rely on the written words to impute meaning, which is like trying to paint a full-color picture using only red paint. They can’t blend different colors into subtle shades that reflect the richness of the scene.

Working with just the words means that sometimes people become offended when no offense was intended.

To read between the lines of text online, we have to pay attention to the signals and integrate them into a pattern that yields more information than the words alone. For example, if we know what to look for, the first few words on a message often give vital clues to the tone of the note.

The difference between “Hi Mary,” and “So Mary,” is huge if you are Mary. Keep an eye out for the tone, timing, and tension in your electronic communications.

Tone

Tone builds additional meaning into notes in dozens of ways. Emoticons and acronyms are two well-known methods that should be used sparingly and only in casual communications.

Qualifying conjunctions, such as the word “but,” often convey the opposite meaning from the literal words of a note: “We loved your class, but it is good to have it completed.” The conjunction becomes an “eraser word” because people pay more attention to what comes after the “but.”

Other kinds of expressions might also convey the opposite meaning. For example, “no offense” usually means the writer is expecting you may take offense. Some words or phrases tend to inflame people if not managed carefully. “Let me make it perfectly clear” is a good example.

Much of the tone of a note is contained in pronouns. “You” is the most commonly misused pronoun. “You never let me finish my work” is an example. The reader interprets this as an accusation or lecture and becomes defensive. Whenever starting a sentence with “you,” check to see if it might send a wrong signal.

Overuse of the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my” make the writer sound parochial or egotistical.

Too much emphasis on “we” and “they” will signal a competitive atmosphere where silos inhibit good communication and cooperation.

To maintain credibility, avoid using absolutes. “She has never done anything to help us” is easily proven incorrect.

Try to avoid phrases with double meanings, one of which is sarcastic: “His diatribe at the meeting shows what an emotionally intelligent leader he is.” Sarcasm is often disguised as humor, but it can quickly backfire with uncontrolled distributions.

Never write something in an email that you would not be willing to have anyone read, because literally anyone might receive a copy.

Timing

Timing issues with electronic communication often lead to problems. A major issue is the asynchronous nature of email and often with texting. Since people open notes at different times, one person might respond to a note that has already been superseded, leading to much confusion.

When chatting, your input may be a response to a point made several entries back, which can lead to unintended, often comical, but sometimes embarrassing exchanges.

The antidote is to be alert for misunderstandings based on when people respond to notes. Sometimes notes arrive in the inbox when readers are in an overload situation or otherwise unable to react positively.

The solution to timing issues with electronic communications is to use common sense and try to reach your reader at a time when he or she is most receptive. This advice is more critical when emotions are high.

Tension

Tension and interpersonal conflict often leave a bloody trail in electronic correspondence. Inappropriate outbursts of anger in texts or e-mails usually make both parties look foolish. When individuals escalate conflict in online exchanges, it becomes like a childish food fight.

The way to stop an “electronic grenade” battle is to refrain from taking the bait. Do not respond to the attack in kind. Acknowledge a difference of opinion, but do not escalate the situation. Switching to a different form of communication will help avoid a trail of embarrassing notes.

The three T’s explain some of the mechanics of e-body language, but why should organizations be vitally interested in this subject?

E-xcellence: The Corporate Case

E-xcellence offers a pragmatic and inexpensive approach to resolve some of the most frustrating issues quickly. All organizations face the challenges associated with communicating online efficiently. The solutions may appear elusive. So, by including e-xcellence as part of your vision, you gain a huge competitive advantage.

Your organization has a sustainable competitive advantage if:

• You live and work unhampered by the problems of poor online communication.

• Employees are not consumed by sorting out important information from piles of garbage notes.

• Coworkers are not focused on one-upmanship and internal turf wars.

• Leaders know how to use electronic communications to build trust.

Once you learn the essentials of electronic body language, you will be more adept at decoding incoming messages and better sense how your messages are interpreted by others.

You will understand the secret code written “between the lines” of messages and enhance your online communications in your sphere of influence. Next week I will share some additional principles to keep in mind when communicating electronically.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 81 – Trust Leads to Better Communication

June 23, 2018

In any organization, the most frequent complaint about the quality of work life is usually about communication.

Supervisors are the mainstay of communication in any organization, because they work at the critical junction of the professional staff and the workers.

If you work in an area of low trust, communication is difficult at best. People will continually second guess what you are trying to convey. They will look for ulterior motives or hidden agendas.

It is common for workers to actually hear what they think the supervisor was going to say rather than what she actually did say.

To assure your message has been internalized, it is necessary to verify what the people in the group heard you say. Often there is at least a partial shift in meaning if trust is low.

In the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, Richard Edelman measured a shift in what it takes for people to believe information they are hearing about the organization. Prior to that time, the majority of people said they were likely to believe the information if they hear it once or twice.

By 2011, most people said they needed to hear the information three to five times before they were likely to believe it is true.

That shift in perception means that supervisors need to be highly creative to send consistent messages in different ways until people really understand and internalize the information.

The best way to test if people have heard you is to ask them to repeat what they just heard you say. Be sure to do this in a friendly and sincere way rather than with a demeaning attitude. Stress that you are taking this verification step to test for understanding on important points.

When trust is high, more of the true meaning is absorbed instantly. The supervisor may even mess up the communication, yet the workers will hear the correct message. That is because people are emotionally aligned with the supervisor more often and know what is in her heart. If something comes out garbled in a statement or email, they are more likely to cut her some slack.

I believe the weakest communication skill set for most human beings is listening skills. When employees complain about poor communication skills on the part of supervisors and upper management, the most frequent interpretation is that they are not being heard, or if they were heard, their views were disregarded.

One reason for this problem is that humans can think at roughly four times the speed as we can talk, so there is a lot of excess capacity in the brain while someone is talking to us to formulate our responses. We end up not paying close enough attention to the full message.

It is vital that supervisors practice good listening skills, but there is a major challenge in doing so. Great listening means paying attention at a higher level than we do in casual conversation, but that takes so much energy that most supervisors cannot sustain the effort and relapse into casual listening.

The proper way to listen with precision is to reflect some of the content back to the speaker. It is called reflective listening. That technique also requires more energy than most supervisors can sustain continuously and many find it difficult to do.

The antidote here is to have a signal whereby you know which conversations require you to wear your “listening hat.” The signal is when an employee is coming to you in a highly emotional state. I think over 80% of conversations are casual, so relaxed listening is adequate in those situations.

Serious conversations with another person who is highly emotional require us to shift into a higher gear of listening effort.

Pay close attention to your communication skills. If they are solid, you are likely adding to the trust on a daily basis. If they are weak, get some help to avoid having your communication weakness drag down the ambient culture in your organization.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 72 Didn’t You Read My E-mail?

April 7, 2018

My work with supervisors often focuses on communication. Reason: Poor communication is the #1 complaint in most employee satisfaction surveys. Habitually, communication has been a major bone of contention in organizations.

Even though communication tools have morphed into all kinds of wonderful technologies, the problem is still there and even is worse today because many managers tend to rely too much on electronic means to communicate information.

For the past decade, the majority of workers say they need to hear information 3-5 times before they are likely to believe it. The implication is that the bar has been raised on the number of times supervisors need to communicate a consistent message before people are likely to internalize it.

The sad truth is that many supervisors put information in an e-mail and honestly believe they have communicated to people. Let’s examine some of the reasons this opinion is incorrect.

People rarely read long and complex e-mails

Supervisors who put out technically well-worded messages have a vision that the employees will read every word and fully absorb all the points. Hogwash! If it takes more than about 30 seconds to read a note, most people will only skim it for the general topic and miss parts of the message.

If a manager puts out a note that is 3 pages long and takes 15 minutes to read, I suspect not 2 in 10 people are going to internalize the meaning. In fact, when most people open a note and see that the text goes “over the horizon” (beyond the first page), they either delete the note without reading it or close the note and leave it in the inbox for a more convenient time.

Naturally, a more convenient time does not surface, so the note is allowed to mold in the inbox like last week’s opened cheese in the refrigerator. Eventually it is thrown out in some kind of purge when the stench becomes too much to bear.

Written information needs to be augmented with verbal enhancements

The written e-mail should contain simply an outline of the salient points. True meaning should be obtained by reinforcing the key points in other forms of communication. This would also include the opportunity for personal involvement or at least dialog, so people can ponder the meaning and impact. Questions for clarification will enhance understanding.

Important conceptual topics need a third exposure (and maybe a fourth)

Some form of summary hand out, YouTube video, voicemail, text, Skype, conference call, newsletter, or podcast should be used to solidify the information. If action is required, this is a critical step that is often not highlighted. The supervisor assumes everyone got the message by an initial e-mail and is astounded that not one of his direct reports took the action he requested.

Formatting is really important

E-mail notes should be as short and easy to digest as possible. Aim to have the message internalized at a glance and with only 15-30 seconds of attention. Contrast the two notes below to see which one would be more likely to be followed by the sales force.

Example of a poorly formatted and wordy note:

I wanted to inform you all that the financial trend for this quarter is not looking good. In order to meet our goals, I believe we must enhance our sales push, especially in the South East Region and in the West. Those two regions are lagging behind at the moment, but I am sure we can catch up before the end of the quarter. Let’s increase the advertising in the local paper so that we get more buzz about the new product. The increased exposure will help now and also in the next quarter. Advertising has a way of building up sales equity. Also, I am cancelling our monthly meeting at headquarters in order to keep the sales force in the field as much as possible. This means you can give your full attention to making customer calls. I am available to travel to the regions next week if you would like to have me meet face to face with your customers. I look forward to celebrating a great success when we have our Fall Sales Meeting. Thank you very much for your extra effort at this critical time for our company… Jake Alsop: Sales Manager, Domestic

Improved format of the same content:

Let’s look forward to celebrating success at the Fall Sales Meeting. Since we are currently behind the pace (particularly in the South East and Western regions) I am asking for the following:
• Increase newspaper advertising to improve exposure
• Stay in the field this month; we’ll skip the meeting
• Request my help with customer presentations if you want it
Thanks…Jake

The second note would be far more likely to be read and internalized. When the sales force opens up the first note, they would see an unformatted block of text that is a burden to wade through. There are no paragraph breaks to give the eyes a rest between concepts.

It contains several instructions amid redundant platitudes and drivel. The second note can be internalized at a glance, and it would be far more likely to produce results. Note the use of bullets eliminates wordy construction.

Use the “Golden Rule” for writing e-mails; “Write notes that you would enjoy receiving,” and utilize many different forms of communication rather than relying on just e-mail.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 59 – Improve Online Communications

January 7, 2018

Supervisors are increasingly called upon to communicate with crews online rather than face to face. This may be due to people working in other locations or working on different shifts. Communicating effectively online is a very different process from communicating face to face.

I wrote an entire book on this topic, entitled “Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online.” In this brief article, I want to share a dozen tips for improving online communications.

Overarching consideration: Use the right mode of communication – often email or texting are not the right ways to communicate a particular message.

1. Do not treat online notes like a conversation. In normal conversation we use the feedback of body language to modify our message, pace, tone, and emphasis in order to stay out of trouble. In e-mail or in texting, we do not have this real-time feedback.

2. Keep messages short. A good email or text should take only 15-30 seconds to read (texts as little as 2-3 seconds) and absorb. Less is more in online communication. Try to have the entire message fit onto the first screen. When a messages goes “over the horizon,” the reader does not know how long it is, which creates a psychological block.

3. Establish the right tone upfront. Online messages have a momentum. If you start on the wrong foot, you will have a difficult time connecting. The “Subject” line and the first three words of a note establish the tone.

4. Remember the permanent nature of e-mails. Using email to praise helps people remember the kind words. Using email to be critical is usually a bad idea because people will re-read the note many times.

5. Keep your objective in mind. Establish a clear objective of how you want the reader to react to your note. For sensitive notes, write the objective down. When proofreading your note, check to see if your intended reaction is likely to happen. If not, reword the note.

6. Do not write notes when you are not yourself. This sounds simple, but it is really much more difficult than meets the eye. Learn the techniques to avoid this problem.

7. Avoid “online grenade” battles. Do not take the bait. Simply do not respond to edgy note in kind. Change the venue to be more effective.

8. Be careful with use of pronouns in email. Pronouns establish the tone. The most dangerous pronoun in an online note is “you.”

9. Avoid using “absolutes.” Avoid words such as: never, always, impossible, or cannot. Soften the absolutes if you want to be more credible online.

10. Avoid sarcasm. Humor at the expense of another person will come back to haunt you.

11. Learn techniques to keep your email inbox clean (down to zero notes each day) so you are highly responsive when needed. Adopting proper distribution rules in your organization will cut email traffic by more than 30% instantly.

12. Understand the rules for writing challenging notes so you always get the result you want rather than create a need for damage control. Proofread all notes carefully. Think through how the other person might react from his or her perspective rather than you own.

Your organization has a sustainable competitive advantage if:

• You live and work in an environment unhampered by the problems of poor online communication. This takes some education and a customized set of rules for your unique environment, but the effort is well worth it.

• Employees are not consumed with trying to sort out important information from piles of garbage notes.

• Your coworkers are not focused on one-upmanship and internal turf wars.

• Supervisors know how to use electronic communications to build rather than destroy trust.

For supervisors, once you learn the essentials of e-body language, a whole new world of communication emerges. You will be more adept at decoding incoming messages and have a better sense of how your messages are interpreted by others. You will understand the secret code that is written “between the lines” of all messages and enhance the quality of online communications in your sphere of influence.

Training in this skill area does not require months of struggling with hidden gremlins. While supervisors often push back on productivity improvement or OD training, they welcome this topic enthusiastically because it improves their quality of work life instantly. Four hours of training and a set of rules can change a lifetime of bad habits.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 36 – Improving Virtual Communication

July 23, 2017

For the past couple decades, I have been fascinated by the topic of virtual communications. This topic was the subject matter for my second book, Understanding E-body Language: Building Trust Online.

For many supervisors, the need to communicate clearly in virtual situations is becoming more important. Unfortunately, very few supervisors have been trained on how to communicate well virtually. This article will provide some tips to help fill the void.

In most cases supervisors are local managers, and these people are not charged with managing teams in different parts of the world. For those supervisors who do deal with subordinates in remote locations, I recommend the work of my friend Nancy Settle Murphy and her wonderful searchable blog Guided Insights. She has a wealth of information on how to be an effective manager of remote teams.

This article is for supervisors who work with people locally, but do a lot of communicating with subordinates via some form of computer. I will use email as the example, because that is a common form of virtual communication, but the principles will apply to texting or any other non-verbal communication method.

1. Use the right mode of communication

For many applications, a digital note may be the expedient way to communicate, but it may well not be the best way. Consider whether having a face-to-face discussion or a phone call might be the more efficient route in the long run.

Having your cell phone or iPad in your hand is not a reason to use the wrong mode of communication for important topics.

2. E-mail is not a conversation

We often think of email as a type of conversation where one person makes a point and the other person responds. Thinking of e-mail communication like it is a conversation is very dangerous because the two modes are completely different.

When we converse with someone face to face, we modify the pace, tone, cadence, and even the content based on the visible reaction we are seeing in the other person. If we detect misunderstanding based on a quizzical facial expression, we know to back off and try a different approach.

In electronic communication, there is no ability to modify the message as you are giving it, and you get no feedback as the person is absorbing your points.

Therefore, if you start to diverge in terms of understanding, there is no way to correct the problem in real time. The disconnection simply grows as the reader plows on to the next point.

3. Get the right tone at the start

In any message, even a tweet, you need to set the tone at the very start so the other person understands your frame of reference. If not, the message can be read in a way that is totally opposite to your intention. With longer email messages, this is a critical element.

4. Keep the content brief

Twitter helps us in that regard, but the side effect is that sometimes the true intent can be lost in the extreme brevity. With social networking and email, less is often more, because people do not take the time to wade through mountains of text to get the meat.

5. Avoid Absolutes

If I write that you are “always late for meetings,” it is not likely an accurate statement. “You never call me,” is usually proven to be incorrect.

Even if an absolute word is technically correct, it has an accusatory tone that sets up a negative vibe in the mind of the reader who will try to prove the writer is incorrect.

6. Don’t play one upmanship

Escalating emails in an organizational context are familiar long strings of increasing rancor and expanding distribution. I call these diatribes “e-grenade battles.”

The antidote here is to refrain from taking the bait. Simply do not reply in kind to a message that gets under your skin. Instead, pick up the phone or walk down the hall to clear up any misunderstanding.

7. Read before sending

Depending on the gravity of the message, you should reread it at least twice before sending. With social networking this is also true.

Make sure you attempt to put yourself in the place of the reader. Think how the information might be misinterpreted, and make sure you spell things correctly, at least most of the time.

8. Recognize you cannot take them back

Most digital messages are permanent data. They do not atrophy with time like verbal communication does. You can apologize all you want, but the other person can demonstrate that you said this or that.

Make sure you write what you mean to communicate. Emails never go away.

9. Understand you lose control of the distribution

Once you push the send button, it is all over. You cannot get the message back or delete it. It is out there for the intended recipient and potentially any other person in the world to view.

That includes your harshest critics or worst enemies! We all learned that lesson in the last election. Email can become an Achilles Heel, because it can always be recovered somehow.

There are numerous other ways to improve digital communication, but if you keep these nine concepts firmly in your mind, you will have a much more fruitful interface with other people online in the long run.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 34 – Communication Improvement

July 9, 2017

The “VAK” Model (Visual, Auditory, or Kinesthetic) is a wonderful technique to improve communication that any supervisor can use once she has picked up the necessary skills.

Its origin goes back to some studies done in the 1970s by behavioral scientists Bandler and Grinder, who proposed that humans have preferred ways of learning information.

The model was part of a much larger system called Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). The VAK Model hypothesized that each person has a preferred channel for taking in information: either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic (movement, as in learning by doing).

The VAK Model is often used in teaching to ensure that people with different learning styles have the same opportunity to learn. It can be used in business and personal situations to establish rapport and increase understanding in communications.

The ideas have been debated by scientists over the years, and I have found the VAK Model is very helpful when it is applied to communications in business.

In the 1980s, Neil Fleming expanded VAK to include Reading and Writing, so the model became VARK. With all the acronyms, it sounds like a little “hocus-pocus,” but the concept is very simple and amazingly powerful.

The idea is to find out what “channel” is the one that the other person prefers and flex your communication style to use that method of transmitting information. Rather than walk through the theory of why this can be helpful to a supervisor, I will share a story that illustrates the point.

Many years ago, I was teaching a Leadership Course at Syracuse University. I had just completed a module on the VARK technique, complete with how you can determine the preferred communication channel by listening to the words a person chooses when talking normally.

Before the class met the next session, a young female student approached me and said, “It works! That VARK system you taught us really does work.” As the class started I asked the student to tell the story to the entire class.

She said, “After our last class, I went to see my calculus teacher. I am having a problem getting the feel of double integrals. I understand everything he is saying in class, but I just cannot make it happen by myself.” Notice the student said she could not get the “feel” of the content (indicating that she is a kinesthetic communicator).

She indicated that she and the professor seemed to be on two different planets in terms of communicating and that both of them were starting to get annoyed.

She said the professor was getting red in the face and finally put his hands on his hips saying “I just don’t see what your problem is.” BINGO! A little bell went off in her head that she was listening in Kinesthetic, but he was a Visual communicator.

She immediately went to his white board and drew the sign for the double integral. She pointed to the place in the process where she was not visualizing the right thing to do. (Note: she shifted her communication mode from Kinesthetic to Visual by drawing on the board and using the word “visualizing” as opposed to “feeling.”

The student related that the professor “melted and became like a puppy dog.” He said, “Oh, that is what you are not seeing, let me show you.” She said that in 5 minutes he had explained it so she understood it forever, and they parted the best of buddies.

For any supervisor or manager, having the ability to flex your own communication style to match the person you are trying to reach is like a magic potion.

The trick is to pay attention to the words the other person uses to describe what is happening. Within a sentence of two the other person will tell you his or her preferred channel by the phraseology.

For example, if you hear the following words, they give away the channel to use:

I hear what you are saying – Auditory

This feels a little dumb – Kinesthetic

He was texting my best friend – Read/Write

I don’t see your point – Visual

We have a procedure on that – Read/ Write

Looks like I will see you at the meeting – Visual

That sounds easy to me – Auditory

He was experiencing a deep depression – Kinesthetic

Also, it is important to pay attention to a person’s actions and patterns.

When you tell them something, do they remember it? — Auditory

Or do they have to write it down? — Visual or Read/write

Can they learn from watching you do something? — Visual

When they have to learn something new, do they have to do it over and over until it finally “sticks? — Kinesthetic

The first order of business if you want to become a master of this technique is to determine what your own preferred channel of communication is. It may not be obvious to you, but if you simply go back and read some of your notes in your “sent” file, you will quickly determine your channel.

We all use all of the modalities in daily life. The trick is to determine which is used the most and your pattern of usage. Also, think of your learning style. Do you learn best by listening, watching, reading, or doing?

It may be different depending on the subject. Doing this type of self-analysis will help you understand how you communicate and learn as well, saving you time in the future.

The second step is to look for situations where the communication with a particular individual seems to be not as smooth as it should be (by the way, I just gave away my preferred channel by using the word “look.”)

If you can see (again, I give it away here) a potential problem, then pay attention to the specific phrases the individual is using. Once you determine his or her preferred channel, try flexing your normal mode to play into the way the other person receives information.

You will immediately see (once again) a huge improvement in the ability to communicate with this individual.

You can play this little game without the other person even knowing you are doing it. It’s kind of fun, but it does take time and practice before you will observe improvement. People can be complex in their approach to their world. Keep with it, and you will have great rewards.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763