This week, we’re sharing tips for improving your leadership skills through effective communication techniques. Pulled from an article in RCI’s Kettle Talk magazine, Joseph Grenny identifies three key communication principles employed by influential leaders and how to apply those principles to your own skill set. Joseph Grenny is the co-founder of VitalSmarts,as well as a four-time New York Times bestselling author, speaker and leading social scientist for business performance.
I’ve spent thirty years studying what makes leaders influential. After studying more than 25,000 people, my colleagues and I found that one versatile skill set accounts for a great deal of the most effective leaders’ influence: how they deal with crucial conversations—emotionally and politically risky issues or disagreements.
Having seen how central crucial conversations are to bolstering the influence of leaders, I set out to learn how the 3 to 5 percent who master these moments do it so well. The reason I was particularly interested in these crucial conversations was because these influential leaders found a way to be honest without compromising respect, and to be respectful without compromising candor.
In my books, Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability, I describe key principles that result in this kind of quality dialogue and increased influence. Here are some that make the biggest difference:
#1 Learn to Look
Those who are most effective at crucial conversations are most conscious of their own behavior. They are aware of their own “Style Under Stress” and catch it quickly when their approach begins to damage dialogue. Specifically, they watch for when their own or other’s behavior moves to silence or violence— some form of withdrawal or attack. When that happens, they stop and mentally refocus on their real goals. To get back on track, they consider what results they really care about. When the other person is reacting badly, they make it safe.
#2 Make It Safe
Have you ever noticed how some conversations—even about very risky subjects—go very well? And others, perhaps even about trivial disagreements, can degenerate into combat or retreat? Why is that? We’ve found that the antidote to defensiveness in crucial conversations is to make it safe. People can listen to tough feedback so long as they feel safe with the person giving it. How do you create safety? You help others understand that you care about their interests as much as you care about your own. When they believe this is true, they open up to your views. When they don’t, they shut down. Secondly, you must help others know you respect them. Mutual purpose and mutual respect are the foundation of safety.
#3 Make It Motivating
The key to influence is empathy. Before starting a crucial conversation, influential leaders carefully think about how the problems they want to raise are affecting, or will affect, the other person. They think about the natural consequences of the situation to the other person. And they reassure others that these consequences always exist. For example, if a direct report appears incompetent, it’s likely their incompetence is as frustrating to them as it is to others. The problem is that they don’t see how their weaknesses are connected to their own concerns. However, if in a respectful way you can help them see how their own interests are served by addressing the problem, they are naturally motivated to engage in solutions.
Now let me be clear about my claim. I am not suggesting that if you Learn to Look, Make It Safe and Make It Motivating, people will naturally give you everything you want. What I am suggesting is that your influence will increase. Rather than contributing to problems by “acting out” your concerns, you’ll be talking them out—which gives you the potential for a solution.
Can these skills be learned? Absolutely. I’ve spent years developing methods for teaching and training leaders to increase their influence by improving how they deal with crucial conversations. And when they do, relationships and results improve rapidly and remarkably.
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