Successful Supervisor 35 – Communicating with your Group

July 16, 2017

In my last article, I dealt with improving face-to-face communication with individuals using the VARK Model, but often supervisors are called on to communicate information verbally to their entire group.

The skills to do this successfully are different from the ones used to get a message across to a single person, because the group contains people with different communication styles.

There is a group dynamic that can create negative momentum that is not present when working with one individual. Normally, you can read the body language of one person rather easily.

When the information to share is good news, supervisors usually have no problem just getting everyone together and sharing the information. When the news is problematic for the workforce, supervisors often make mistakes that lower trust or even cause more angst than is necessary. It is this case that I want to explore in this article.

When the supervisors are faced with trying to explain information that people really don’t want to hear, it is a real test of their leadership ability and communication skills that many supervisors cannot pass.

Here are some tips that will be helpful to improve the results when communicating negative information.

Have a Plan

If the subject is difficult, it is worth the time to do some concrete planning. Don’t just call everyone together and “wing it.” Consider the reaction you are likely to get and think through how to keep things from spiraling out of control.

You may want to have an HR manager attend the meeting, or you may want to even have some security people available and ready just in case.

Outline the key points, and make sure the sequence is not confusing. Put yourself in the seat of a person who is known to react strongly and test the validity of your approach based on that insight.

Anticipate the issues, fears, and questions people might have and be ready to address them.

Use Different Forms of Communication

Each individual will absorb information most readily based on whether he or she is a visual, auditory or kinesthetic communicator. If the supervisor just speaks (auditory) the information, it will be picked up accurately by the auditory learners but often not by the people who have alternative styles.

Use a chart or a slide to illustrate (visual) your message visually and then get people to share their feelings about the message (kinesthetic).

It will not make the information any easier to take, but it will ensure a better understanding of the message by everyone.

Try Communicating with Smaller Groups

If the news is particularly bad, like an impending layoff, the supervisor would be smart to deal with small family groups rather than a large room full of all the people impacted.

For example, she might get together with the crews on a packaging line for a briefing early in the morning and have a separate meeting with the inspectors later that same morning. Recognize that the rumor mill will spread the bad news very quickly, so do not space out the small groups with a lot of time in between.

Since this communication is one person to many by design, it is important to keep people from shouting insults or derogatory comments and keep the focus on questions for clarification. The smaller group format will be particularly helpful for this.

Body language is extremely important to convey a calm demeanor, even though the topic is troubling. The tone of voice should be soft and low, and the information should be shared in its unvarnished ugliness, but avoid using inflammatory words in the description.

Rehearsing the delivery is important for very sensitive discussions. Trying to sugar coat bad news is a mistake many supervisors try to use in order to get out of a tough situation. It usually does not work.

Allow People the Opportunity to Grieve

Upon hearing bad news, people tend to go into shock. They need to go through the stages of grief in order to work their way through a transition. If you try to deny the grieving period by promising some good things to come, they will become hostile and make the situation worse.

Allow them to feel badly, if that is appropriate, and promise that you will be there for them as they work through the situation. By acknowledging the grief and showing you care about them as people, you will actually be helping them cope during the shock period.

Don’t Lie or Weasel

Often supervisors try to protect themselves by blaming other people or some situation out of their control in order to soften the blow. This strategy will usually backfire.

People have a keen ability to sniff out the BS, so be sure to tell the truth and do not try to weasel out with some lame excuse why it is not your fault. If they are going to blame you anyway, there is nothing you can say to stop that, and any attempt to deflect blame will make things a lot worse for you in the end.

Keep in mind that to these people, you represent the organization.

Set up an Open Channel for Future Communication

Most supervisors have an “open door” policy where people can stop in the office to chat whenever they need it. When there is bad news, it is smart to redouble the accessibility and make an overt attempt to be out there with people.

In doing so you will be one-on-one with individuals, so you can use the VARK Model to match your communication style to their preferred channel.

As a division manager, I noticed that when there was bad news in the air, supervisors tended to cloister themselves in their offices, thinking it would reduce exposure. That behavior only inflames the matter.

I always advocated that supervisors (and managers at all levels) consciously double the time they spend mingling with people in the difficult times. It allows people more opportunity to vent, which reduces the pressure.

In addition, you have the opportunity to squash any false rumors that happen to spring up. During difficult times, rumors seem to take hold and spread with ease.

Make Small Gestures that Show You Care

There is an old saying that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Look for ways to show empathy, but avoid saying something false like saying “I know exactly how you feel.”

I learned a long time ago to avoid saying that phrase to someone who just lost a loved one. It is better to say something like “I cannot imagine the pain you are going through now.” At least that is an honest statement.

The very best approach to use with people is to ask yourself how you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed. This “Golden Rule” approach normally is the safest one to use in sensitive times.

All supervisors and managers go through times where difficult messages need to be disseminated. If you approach this task delicately and with sincerity, you can get through it with grace, and your subordinates will appreciate it, even though they are not happy about the message.

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