Five Keys to Artful Communication
Some leaders are very good at bringing up topics in conversation and coaching. Even difficult or sensitive topics seem to be easy for them to openly bring to the table. When a conversation is in full force, they keep the objective in focus. They listen and drive judiciously to mutually agreed-upon resolutions.
Then they gain heartfelt commitment by achieving mutual understanding and agreement and by focusing on personal interests. Finally, they follow-through to ensure that commitments become action. With a plan for completing assignments in place, they guarantee progress.
If these qualities and communication steps sound familiar, it’s because they represent the 4 Ups! of Effective Communication. Bring in Up! Talk it Up! Wrap it Up! and Follow it Up!
Recently we refined the 4 Ups! to enhance leadership conversations in an even richer, more artful form of effective communication. We added mental preparation from our Feel. Think. Act. Talk. process and expanded the Talk it Up! process with more artful finesse.
In my consulting practice we advise focus on two specific preparations.
Align thinking and feelings about the conversation topic.
This preparatory step requires leaders to reflect on how they feel about the situation, person, and the topic at hand. If they detect positive emotions, all is well and good, and they proceed. If they encounter negative feelings, they revisit their emotional attachment and resolve their internal conflicts before proceeding.
Clearly outline the objective.
Artful conversation begins with leaders clearly defining for themselves and fully understanding what they want to achieve with the conversation. Artful communicators reject emotionally charged negative objectives such as telling someone off or expressing anger. They focus on objectives that achieve positive results, such as building stronger relationships, asking for behavior change, or confirming behavioral boundaries.
The way leaders approach conversation makes a huge difference in the result. Leaders who approach with body language and a concerned tone of voice reduce the power imbalance inherent in the business hierarchy. They communicate their intention to listen attentively and engage cooperatively when they put away their phones and establish attentive eye contact. They may even begin with explaining explicitly what they hope to achieve in the conversation.
Artful communicators never let emotions or switching topics derail them. They never allow themselves to be sidetracked by off-topic avoidance responses or defensive rationalizations. At the same time, they never discount objections or fair clarifications.
Once a conversation has been brought up, talked up, listened up, and agreed to, leaders gain heartfelt commitment by achieving mutual understanding and agreement and facilitating focus on personal interests. They provide specific direction and expect firm and specific commitments. They may even use a script along the lines of, “So, we agreed that X will do X, on or by X date, at X time, with X outcome, and report back to X in X way?”
Follow-through ensures that the commitments become action. A plan for completing assignments and tasks must be in place to guarantee progress. Many organizations perform poorly because of lack of follow-through. Successful leaders share clear assignments, hold people accountable, and establish a regular review processes to track progress.
To learn more, I invite you to read my paper, 4 Ups! of Effective Communication.