In today’s work environment, communication is often driven by what needs to get done right now. It is fragmented, reactive, and more about immediate response than it is about trust or relationship building.
“Rarely do we hear each other’s voices these days,” says Pat Zigarmi, leadership expert and founding associate with The Ken Blanchard Companies. “Communication becomes a series of one-way texts. It’s kind of like a ping-pong ball going back and forth. There’s very little opportunity to discuss and sort through messages in terms of goals, priorities, role clarity, timelines, or any of the other things that constitute good directive behavior on the part of the manager. There’s even less time for supportive leadership behaviors like listening, facilitating self-reliant problem solving, or exploring options.”
Zigarmi explains that when people don’t know the rationale or immediacy of a request, they have no option other than to become reactive. That’s not true communication.
“Short, request-oriented communication behavior drives out longer, developmentally focused conversations. It’s all in the moment and there’s no opportunity for mentoring, meaningful feedback, or acknowledgment of what’s just been accomplished.”
Zigarmi shares that when there is no opportunity to take a breath, people can feel underappreciated and even stuck. When the short term drives out the long term, question-and-response communication becomes the norm and managers lose the opportunity to create strong relationships.
Even though a lot of information gets shared in a condensed period of time, Zigarmi questions whether this ping-pong approach encourages bad communication habits among managers.
“A basic principle at Blanchard is that a portion of managerial conversations should be focused on others’ needs, not just the manager’s needs. But today’s communication is often all about whatever agenda the manager is pushing.”
That doesn’t leave much time for goal setting or assessing the direct report’s development level to determine their needs for direction and support on a task, says Zigarmi.
“The team member may need to understand the action plan in more detail. Or they may need to have their confidence built on the data they’ve just shared or the action they just proposed.
“… leadership is most effective when it is done side by side. That doesn’t happen with one-way communication such as ‘Answer my questions right away!’ or ‘Get me what I need now!’
“A good performance-based conversation starts with setting a clear goal and then identifying what a person needs to achieve it. That includes direction on a task if they haven’t done it before; direction and support if they’ve found that the task is more difficult than they expected; a collaborative approach if they are capable but lack confidence; or simply support if a person is accomplished at the task.
“In rapid-fire back-and-forth communication, there is no opportunity for the leader to ask ‘How is this sitting with you?’ ‘How does this stack up with your other priorities?’ or ‘What else do you need to know?’”
Zigarmi explains that if productive conversations aren’t happening between manager and direct report, competence is not going to be built, motivation is not going to be addressed, and confidence is not going to be developed.
“…managers [need] to identify what a direct report needs to succeed. With this approach, conversations become more intentional and less reactive.
“Real conversation is give-and-take,” reminds Zigarmi.
In today’s busy work environment, we must maintain a balance between quick transfer of information the leader needs and meaningful conversations that focus on the needs of others. Communication at its best helps team members build their competence, motivation, and confidence on the goals and tasks they need to accomplish.