Communication is easy when you’re telling people what they want to hear. But when you’re working on something bigger than yourself, with a team of people, communication must be constructive as well. This means it needs to challenge people, as well as supporting them, in order to cause them to grow and the project to be a success. So let’s talk about how to communicate with character.
Goals Refine Us
Goals grow people together. When you share a common goal, it unites people. But it also requires us all to put forth effort, change how we do things, listen, and learn from each other. This means a proper point of view on a project not only leads to a more successful project but stronger team members as well.
And because communication is more than just a signal being exchanged, there’s skill involved. In fact, people who are chosen to communicate on a radio — think of military radio operators or air traffic controllers — must be calm enough in a stressful situation to communicate clearly and understand what the other person is saying. And the information the two people exchange needs to be helpful for the goal and something the person on the other end can absorb and understand.
So what gets in the way? Here are a few examples:
- A team member gets offended, possibly from a feeling of being left out or disrespected.
- A leader fails to challenge people out of fear of their reaction.
- A team member misunderstands the goal.
- A leader fails to properly describe the goal and the way to get there.
The solution: Don’t get offended easily, and don’t lose focus on the goal. Instead, communicate with character.
Communicate with Character
Communicating with character is less about communication and more about character and caring about the right things. It’s more than just not lying. It means actively building relationships, building an understanding of the project goal, and tying it all together, helping to rally everyone around that goal. When this happens:
- Everyone is clear on why they’re doing what they’re doing (not just the task, but the purpose as well).
- A clear goal helps people make decisions closer to the work, because they now know how to make good compromises when problems occur (e.g. is it better to wait for the shipment of supplies for this job or to cancel and order with a new supplier)?
- People can’t make as many excuses when the goal is clear. Clear goals add pressure to grow, rather than make excuses. Goals magnify our areas of weakness and so we can grow through it.
Most times, we’re talking about communication because there’s a problem. It could be an obstacle set up by nature, by another person, or the person you’re talking to could be creating their own problem. But processes represent solutions to problems you know about; only people can solve new problems. It takes imagination to solve new problems. People look at things from interesting angles that you just don’t have time for. They can plan and implement solutions, again, saving you time. So if you’re communicating with them, it gives you a way to help them, whether they’re your boss, another trade (e.g. carpenter, plumber), or an employee.
#1 Define the Problem
If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions. -Albert Einstein
Communicating with character means you’re using communication to build toward a goal with other people, even a building project. Many problems are easy to solve. The ones that are left — and the ones most people talk about — require us to go back to basics, even if it’s just for a minute. Real problem solving takes a three-pronged approach that’s consistent with Edison’s approach above.
- What’s the perceived problem? How would we describe the problem? What’s causing it (make sure you ask this until you arrive at the root cause)?
- Why is it a problem? How high are the stakes? How does it affect the project (is it worth solving)?
- Once the problem is solved, what does the solution look like? What are the steps, starting with step one?
#2 Connect with the People
People need two things in a communication/negotiation/problem-solving interaction: they need to be heard and they need to be included. And, as we’ll talk about below, this isn’t about pandering to someone’s alternative “truth,” but rather making them feel like contributing members of the team.
They need to feel/be heard
Sometimes, people need to feel understood. Lots of times, this is because they value your opinion, and they just want you to understand they’re not a dummy or that they’re smart. But other times, they want to make sure you understand the situation correctly. In either case, it helps to repeat back to them what you think the problem is and how they’ll solve it.
They need to be a part of the process
We can’t leave people behind.
- If he’s an employee, unless you’re pushing them out of the team, this is a chance to let them work.
- If it’s a partner, she needs to be able to do her job and own it.
- If it’s a project manager who’s just asking for your help, you’re the guide, helping them think through things.
So unless there’s an emergency, there’s hardly any reason to leave someone out.
This is where character comes in big as you exert influence on the team’s direction in a way that focuses people not on themselves, but on the goal of the project.
The Project’s Needs Come First (Mostly)
People need to remember (and be reminded) that the project comes first. And you need to be able to sniff out people who don’t share that philosophy. This is challenging because you need to do two things at the same time: create a calming influence that allows them to admit it when their concern is not with their job and help them see that it’s the project’s needs come first.
Ever watch the show “Cops?” They’re great at this. They make it sound like everything’s gonna be okay if you just “Step out of the car for me.” You could have 5 warrants, and they know and you know that you’re going to jail. But they talk like they’re just doing a routine thing.
Be like a cop: soothing.
People need to be challenged.
The workplace is a great place to build character. You’re all working toward a similar goal, and you need each other’s help. So if someone isn’t pulling their weight, everyone else exerts pressure on them to step it up. If a contractor isn’t showing up on time, there’s accountability. This builds professionalism, character, and a sense of commitment. So when problems arise, and someone needs to get up and fix it, it’s not always easy; they have to sometimes dig deep. But it’s this kind of challenge that allows the workplace to build stronger people. And it’s for all of us to provide that leadership focus that helps people grow along with a project.
Communication Builds People and Successful Projects.
Most projects in the workplace serve people, which makes it more important than you and your wants. An apartment complex you’re building provides space for people to live and an office gives them a place to work and earn an income. Not only is this a huge contribution to an economy, but it grows our business and it gives us the opportunity to get better at our work and our communication. It demands excellence from us. But if we can’t communicate in a way that builds character as well as buildings, we’ll be missing out on productivity, getting the most out of each person, and giving them a chance to contribute meaningfully.
So communicate for project success, and never forget that you’re doing this to help others grow, both those you’re working with and those who will benefit from the project you’re building.