Create the Relationship You Want
Shift old patterns of communication from unhealthy to healthy
During the course of each day without even realizing it, we train and condition people how to respond to us. Unfortunately, we often encourage individuals to act in ways that we did not intend, failing to recognize the messages that we send through our own actions.
How are you conditioning people? Do you say it is important to be on time and then start your meeting late? Are you asking people to be upfront but get defensive when they do? If so, you are encouraging people to do the opposite of what you say you really want.
Let’s examine two common problems — missed deadlines and lack of honesty — and see how reconditioning might work.
If you tell someone a report is due at 3:00 p.m. and it arrives at 5:00 p.m., would you say something about it? If you don’t, then you’re conditioning them that your deadlines are flexible and what you say is not what you mean. Over time, people will lose faith in your words and the situation will worsen.
How are you training people to deal with your deadlines? If someone is upfront that they cannot make the original deadline, how do you react? If you respond in a defensive or negative manner, your reaction encourages them (and possibly trains them) to be less upfront with you in the future.
We need to create an open environment for people to respond truthfully about whether they will achieve their deadlines. Then we need to respond in an appropriate way if they don’t do what they say they were going to do. Again, suppose the deadline is 3:00 p.m. You could call them at 1:00 p.m. to see how things are going, or as 3:00 p.m. passes, you could call them to find out where the report is. If indeed they miss the deadline, you could let them know you will have to start to document these misses. Again, this may sound harsh, but we owe it to ourselves and others who might be affected to hold everyone accountable to the same expectations.
Lack of Honesty
As strange as it may sound, we can teach people to be honest with us or we can teach them to be dishonest with us. This happens in all kind of ways, and we’ve already discussed a few of them. Let’s look at another scenario. When someone is not honest with us, we need to ask ourselves what it is about us that makes the other person want to hide the truth?
A manager who had been demoted took my class, and he was bitter. His whole staff, he said, never said a word to him about any problems. Instead, his staff complained to his boss, who in turn demoted him. I suggested he go back and interview his former staff to try to find out what he had done that caused them not to come to him with problems and concerns.
To his credit, he did exactly that. And what he uncovered explained it all. He learned that his staff thought he did not care about them, because he never left his office to go see them. He also learned that when they came to see him, he was always too busy and never seemed to have the time to talk.
Ironically, the reason he remained in his office and did not check in with his staff was that he didn’t want them to think he was micromanaging them. Of course, he didn’t bother to tell them that! And the reason he was so busy was that he was lining up new contracts to guarantee that his staff wouldn’t be downsized. Of course, he didn’t tell them that either! After receiving this feedback, he went to his boss and took responsibility for his actions. He asked what he had to do to get his job back.
Years ago, I was at our traditional, Thanksgiving Day, family get-together, and I overheard my mother say to one of my relatives that my father had shingles (an adult version of the chicken pox). It stopped me cold. Although I frequently call my parents, this was the first I had heard of my dad having shingles. I confronted my mom and asked, “What was it about me that made you feel like you could not tell me the truth?”
Her response stunned and enlightened me. She said that I always prefaced my calls with how I was just leaving this place or going to that place or getting on this airplane or off that airplane, and she just didn’t think I had the time or that I was really willing to listen. She said my calls sounded as if I were just checking something off a checklist.
You know what? That’s exactly what I was doing. My mom was absolutely right. Now before I ask a question, I ask myself, do I really want to hear the answer? We often say we want to listen. We often say we want people to be honest but then send an entirely different message.
As you can see, there are a lot of ways we can condition others to be dishonest with us. What lessons in honesty are you teaching the people in your life? The only person you can control is yourself. The key is to take action that sends the message you want and produces the outcome you desire.
The Train and Condition Results MethodTM
It may be upsetting to realize you have conditioned people to do things you don’t want them to, but the good news is that you can do something about it. If you have been silent, you need to be more vocal. If you have been inconsistent, you need to be more predictable. If you have been getting defensive, you might need to apologize and really listen to and hear the feedback you are receiving.
The following five-step process, the Train and Condition Results MethodTM, can help shift old patterns of communication from unhealthy ones to healthy ones.
1. Take sincere responsibility for your contribution to the situation.
For example, if your staff is having a problem with deadlines, maybe you were unclear when you gave the time frame. Maybe you used vague words and phrases such as “try to” or “ASAP” or “it’s no big deal, but if you wouldn’t mind…” Maybe you were silent when a deadline came and went, giving the person the impression that the deadline was flexible rather than urgent. The key is not to blame others. This lack of blame will reduce their defensiveness, so they can really hear what you are saying. By taking responsibility, you will encourage others to take a look at themselves without forcing them to. This will pave the way to finding a workable solution.
2. Ask what can be done from this point forward to resolve the situation.
People who take part in creating a solution are more likely to implement it. If other people have a hard time coming up with ideas, you might jump start things by offering suggestions. With regard to tardiness at meetings, you might suggest starting a meeting at a different time when everyone can promise to be there. For missed deadlines, you might suggest milestone meetings to check in and ensure everything is on track. More than likely, everyone will have good ideas to contribute if we just ask.
3. Decide on an agreeable, specific plan of action to resolve the issue.
This provides further clarification and allows for a final opportunity to iron out potential problems. In addition, this sends the message that you are serious about changing the situation.
4. Clearly define the benefits of change and the costs or consequences if things do not change.
The universal language we all speak is, “What’s in it for me?” The key is to let others know what the benefits are for them to change. With missed deadlines, you might want to be clear and upfront with a consequence if the problem continues (such as documentation that would go in their employee file). Knowledge of the person and the situation should help you determine the appropriate benefit or consequence.
5. If the behavior happens again, follow the plan and take action.
Make sure you follow through with the consequences you’ve outlined. Otherwise, you will reinforce the conditioning that you don’t mean what you say. The key is to be persistent, follow through, and hold people accountable. This will make it clear that you are committed to change.
Understanding that we condition people how to deal with us and taking responsibility for this is crucial to getting the results we want. If we’ve trained them incorrectly, we can always re-train them. Remember, the key question is what are we going to do about it? By applying the Train and Condition Results MethodTM, you can send the appropriate message, produce the change, and make the difference.
2008 Copyright, All Rights Reserved, Steven Gaffney Company. To reprint this article in any format please contact the Steven Gaffney Company at 703-241-7796 or Christina@StevenGaffney.com.
About the Author
Thousands credit Steven Gaffney’s keynote addresses, breakout sessions and intense seminars with making the critical difference in helping improve communication, boost teamwork, increase productivity and generate new business. Gaffney’s speeches and seminars, combined with his print interviews and media appearances for his two books – Honesty Works! Real-World Solutions to Common Problems at Work & Home (2006) and Just Be Honest: Authentic Communication Strategies that Get Results and Last a Lifetime (2002) – have enabled him to help individuals and organizations make a significant impact. His clients include the Marriott, SAIC, American Cancer Society, American Express, Lockheed Martin, Citigroup, Raytheon, Texas Instruments, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and the U.S. Navy.
Learn more at www.StevenGaffney.com