Commentary by Lt. Col. Fred Taylor
50th Space Communications Squadron
I’m not talking about the IT-related communications through cyberspace, but rather the interpersonal communications we have with our friends, family and co-workers. A commonly identified “best practice” among high performing teams is effective communication between team members. Unfortunately, effective communications are not the norm in many organizations I’ve witnessed. Some of the most sage advice I’ve come across came from the Tongue and Quill (1996 version) and it read, “Strive to communicate in a way that you cannot be misunderstood” — anonymous. I’d like to offer some do’s and don’ts to effective communications and also some insights to enable you to “walk the talk” and develop high performing teams.
Consider the following eight components of interpersonal communications to ensure your communications are clear and unambiguous. First, ensure that you have an active listener. Second, establish the problem or identify the requirements. Third, make sure there is a commitment to future action. Fourth, identify the conditions that will satisfy the need. Fifth, establish the context for the request, which may be obvious when you know someone well, but also be careful to not assume or omit critical details. Sixth, establish a time frame to complete the request. Seventh, indicate that you believe the person is capable of fulfilling the request. Finally, be sincere that the fulfillment of your request is important. When all these conditions are not met, you open yourself up to ambiguity and misunderstandings.
I’ve noticed that when projects are not on-time, on-budget, nor meeting requirements, it’s often because of “misunderstandings.” In industry, it is commonly accepted that poorly designed systems are the result of people poorly articulating requests. So what are some common pitfalls to effective communication? First, making assumptions about what is or isn’t mutually understood. Second, not requesting or receiving feedback to confirm what was requested. Third, the conditions for satisfaction were not specific enough. Fourth, the justification (for the request) was not articulated clearly or at all. Finally, the requester is afraid of rejection or indebtedness, so the request is never made.
Now that we know what we should and shouldn’t do, I’d like to highlight two actions that I think will help take teams to the next level — making powerful requests and following through on promises. I’ve heard it said that, “We literally don’t show up in our own lives until we learn to make powerful requests.” As leaders, we should never be afraid to make requests that demand stretching a team’s capabilities. Requests have a generative and transformative power that can carry teams to greater heights of success.
Similar to powerful requests, promises offer the potential to change the world. When our words align with our actions, we demonstrate commitment. Commitment is not an act; it is a way of life. Cohesive, high performing teams are able to deliver and follow through on promises both big and small. So when making promises at home, work, or play, make sure you deliver.
We communicate every day — every minute of the day — and sometimes in ways that we don’t even realize. Be cognizant of your interpersonal communications and try to improve upon every interaction you have. I’ve covered some do’s and don’ts for effective communication, but remember that it is just talk, unless you back up your words with actions and follow through. Our reputation, credibility, and commitment are embedded in our daily communications, so take it seriously as you reflect on your own interpersonal communications within your own teams.