Episode: BONUS: Communication Breakdown Q&A

Michael Hyatt: Hey, everybody. Michael Hyatt here. Today we have a bonus episode of Lead to Win that I know you’re going to love. It’s all about communication breakdowns you face at work and how to avoid them. By the way, that’s the subject of my new book No-Fail Communication. Megan and I did a Facebook Live conversation about it last week, and the response…phenomenal. I wanted to make sure everyone has a chance to benefit from these practical tips for solving one of the biggest challenges in any workplace: communication. I hope you enjoy it.

Okay. I’m going to take a question here. Timothy has a question. He says, “What do you do when others have a sense of urgency, you own it and get it done, but the urgent party does not communicate back in a timely manner? When they finally get back to you with changes or updates, everyone is stressed to achieve the goal. What do you do?” Well, that has fortunately never happened to us. Just kidding. Megan, what would you say in that kind of situation?

Megan Hyatt Miller: Well, if you find that that is a repetitive problem…maybe that’s your boss or another coworker you have…I think you could kind of head it off at the pass. You could schedule a follow-up meeting. Let’s say you provide your version one of whatever you’ve been asked to provide that’s deliverable. Go ahead and schedule a meeting, either that day or the next day if they need a little time to process, and just create space on the calendar.

Dad, you always say, “What gets scheduled gets done.” If you know this is going to be an issue, just get it on the calendar that you need a follow-up meeting where you can ask a series of questions and get their response. Of course, ideally, they would be proactive and do that. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you’re just not going to be able to make that happen, but you can take responsibility for getting what you need by getting that on the calendar.

Michael: That’s really good. Okay. One other question came in from Michael. He said, “I’m in the navy and have been hearing stories from those who have retired or separated. Do you have anything to say about the “Welcome to the civilian life” troubles communicating without acronyms?”

Well, I will say this: Every culture has its own language. Every culture has its own nuances. Every culture has its own shorthand, but if you’re going to be a good communicator, you have to be empathetic enough to hear the message that’s coming out of your lips through the ears of the people you’re trying to communicate with. That’s why we try to stubbornly avoid acronyms at Michael Hyatt & Company. We’re sometimes better than at other times.

Acronyms can obscure meaning when, essentially, you’re trying to do shorthand. It goes back to that kind of communication that’s not clear. It may be expressed, but it’s not clear. If you use an acronym, just know that if not everybody is read in on the meaning of that acronym, you’re going to be leaving some people out, and they’re going to be confused or left to fend for themselves. Not a good situation.

Megan: That’s a really good point.

Michael: This question came in: “What do you recommend to do when people are afraid to communicate due to mean management?” Megan, you’ve had to deal with that with me, because I’m mean from time to time.

Megan: So often.

Michael: How do you overcome mean management? What would you do if you found yourself in a culture like that where the boss is just mean?

Megan: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to have good and healthy boundaries around communication. If you’re in a situation where you’re regularly being abused, that would cause me to have a different conversation in my own head that wouldn’t be about communication. It would cause me to have a conversation about maybe I need a different kind of job in a different kind of culture. However, sometimes what you have are bosses who are just not self-aware. Honestly, that’s one of the plagues of leadership.

It really can be a problem, where leaders are kind of insulated from the truth and don’t understand how they come across. They are unintentionally or just unconsciously harsh or curt or something like that. What I’m about to say is not really a resolution for a mean boss. I don’t know that I can help you solve that problem, but if you are having an issue with getting your boss to give you attention, having that person be engaged with what you’re saying, I do think you have to learn how your boss communicates.

You and I, Dad, both value being communicated with in summary form. We don’t like to have to go through someone’s whole explanation and all the detail before we get to the conclusion. We want you to start with the conclusion and then give us some background detail to help us know why you made that decision. Otherwise, it’s very hard for us to keep our attention. That’s just kind of how we’re wired. That’s really a personality thing. It’s not good or bad. Some people are the exact opposite.

But it is helpful. If you want your boss to not be irritated with you, it’s important that you learn to communicate in the way he or she likes to be communicated with. It’s possible that what you’re experiencing is irritation, where someone is just irritated because maybe you’re too long-winded or maybe you’re not clear enough in your communication, and they just don’t have time for that. Outside of the bounds of someone being legitimately abusive, learning someone’s communication preferences…

You could even initiate that conversation (this would be a great way to communicate) and ask your boss, “You know, I’ve noticed that it feels like sometimes our communication is maybe not as good as it could be, and I feel like I’m not able to serve you at the level I’d like to. How do you like to be communicated with? What are three things I can do to communicate with you in a way that really would serve you and help you to do what you need to do more efficiently?” Hopefully, you get a great response to that and some insight, again, that you can act on and improve your ability to communicate and actually help them communicate too.

Michael: That’s good. I just thought of an example. Back when I was in the corporate world and our company had been bought by private equity, there was a point at which, as we started to approach the Great Recession, we started to see our sales sag. I remember giving a report to the board of directors, including the private equity guys who basically were supervising us, and I copied all my executive team, which was my custom, and I basically gave them a summary of the operating results for the previous month. We had missed our sales target, and we had missed our profit target, so it wasn’t good news. It wasn’t horrible, but we missed the numbers.

So, I reported on that. The lead from the private equity company did one of those “reply all” things when he thought he was probably just replying to me, and he basically said, “What the heck is going on?” He basically reamed me out, chewed me out, but he did it copying everybody. Well, I was furious. Megan, you know me well enough to know that I do not like to be embarrassed, and I particularly don’t like to be embarrassed in front of a whole bunch of people.

Megan: Who does?

Michael: Particularly my direct reports. So I let that kind of simmer for a day. I went home, and I thought, “I just can’t let that go.” The truth is (and this is true in communication) you kind of get what you tolerate. This is back to the question about a mean boss. I said, “For my own sense of self-respect, even if I get fired… I don’t think I’m going to get fired, but even if I do, I’ve got to have this conversation for myself.”

So I called him up on the phone. You know, a little chitchat, and I said, “Hey, you know that message yesterday that you fired back to me after we reported the operating results?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Were you aware that you replied to everybody?” He said, “I did?” I said, “Yeah. You replied to everybody.” I said, “You kind of cut my legs out from under me with my own team. It didn’t communicate that you support me. It certainly communicated no empathy. I mean, I tried to make clear in the memo that I wasn’t happy with the results either. I don’t need to be horse-whipped in front of an audience to get the point. I got the point.”

Then I said to him… And this was really hard. I was kind of trembling as I said this. I said, “That will never happen again. I simply will not tolerate it.” Boy, he got super apologetic. I don’t think it was because he was afraid I was going to walk. I think he honestly just did it with a lack of self-awareness, and probably he had never been called on it before. So I called him on it. Boy, that changed our relationship from that point forward. I think sometimes when you have a mean boss you just have to have that adult conversation and get straight to the point.

Okay. Joe said, “There is obviously major overlap between two of your most recent topics, communication and vision. What are some of the ways you recommend communicating vision, and how do you ensure that the communication is heard and is effective?” I do talk about communicating the vision in The Vision Driven Leader but only as it pertains to, basically, selling downline to upline and out from the organization.

This book is about more sort of your rank-and-file, everyday communication inside of your company or inside of your ministry or whatever organization you’re in. This is much, much broader than just vision. This is basically everything I know and everything I’ve learned over a 40-year career about communication, having done it a bunch when I’m wrong.

Megan: Also, the other thing I would say about that is that The Vision Driven Leader is at the vision level. It’s very big picture. It’s very specific for a certain audience of leaders. This book is very tactical. This is like, “Here’s what you need to go do to solve this problem.” It’s very on the ground, hand-to-hand combat. You can apply it today. It’s not big picture. It’s really just how to help you solve real-world, frustrating problems that you keep getting stuck in. I would say this is more of a handbook.

Michael: That’s right. And it’s really practical. One of the things that marks all of my books is super practical, almost like a recipe. Put these ingredients in and you’ll get the cake. You know, if you want this result, then here’s what you have to do.

So, Kim said, “How do you communicate win-win with other departments that are more win-lose? It can seem like they are only team players when it’s convenient for them, and I’m trying to be the bigger person and not spiteful. Thank you.” Megan, do you want to take that?

Megan: Yeah, that’s hard. I think it’s a couple of things. First of all, when you’re communicating, communicate with their interests in mind. Just like we were talking about a few minutes ago, part of what you need to help them do is win, and over time, hopefully, with enough helping them win, they want to help you win too. If they can really trust you and see your investment in them, that it’s truly like you’re out for their best interests, it’s great.

The other thing is just being honest about what you need, about what they need, being willing to have adult conversations sometimes, can be really, really helpful. That can feel really brave, if you feel like someone is sabotaging you or something like that, but honestly, sometimes it’s just this whole passive-aggressive thing going on in the background, and if you can just sit down and have a real conversation about it, a hard conversation, you’ll be surprised what comes out of it.

Sometimes what’s happening is that we’re creating limiting beliefs or what my coach calls files about other people, these kinds of beliefs that originate out of a situation. Maybe you asked somebody to do something and they didn’t get it to you on time, and you just developed a belief about them that they don’t really care about delivering on time; they’re only out for themselves.

Maybe, in reality, they had some other emergency that was way more important than what you needed. Maybe it was a personal emergency. They didn’t feel comfortable telling you, but you developed this whole story. Then what happens is they’re doing that on the other side, and then your two stories, or your two sets of files, are just pinging off of each other, and you’re not even relating based on what’s actually happening in the present; you’re relating based on these past beliefs. Man, we have all been there.

Michael: It happens in families, sadly.

Megan: It happens in families. It happens in all kinds of ways, and it really is a problem in the workplace. So I think, partly, suspending your own disbelief and even challenging those files in your own mind and asking what else could be true besides what you believe. Sometimes it might not be that they’re actually out for their own gain. You just think they are based on some behaviors you’re kind of stringing together and making meaning of.

Michael: That’s good. “What if your company or your superior is not supporting digital communication channels during the pandemic? As we run shifts, we have developed two different operating teams, and we have no opportunity to exchange. We are failing.” Well, when you’re trying to sell anybody anything (and in this case, you’re trying to sell your boss on something that you see clearly), you have to sell it from their perspective.

This is the key. I have a whole chapter in the book on this. How do you sell your boss on anything? You have to show how your proposal is going to help your boss get more of what they want. Here’s the thing I promise you your boss wants more of: they want more execution, more accomplishing of goals, more predictable outcomes, and all that. They want execution. Here’s the problem: execution depends upon alignment, and alignment depends upon communication. It has to start with communication.

So, what I would do is put together a formal proposal using the Recommendation Briefing Form which is in that key template package that comes as part of the bonus. I would use the Recommendation Briefing Form, and I would make a proposal to your boss about how what you’re proposing with regard to digital communication will help him or her get more of what they want.

Megan: I was going to say the same thing. I think anytime you can go with a proposal… Part of what they may be resistant to is that they feel overwhelmed by how to solve that problem. Maybe they even agree, like, “Yeah, that’s not working very well,” but maybe they don’t consider themselves to be very tech-savvy or they don’t really understand the world of digital communication, and maybe they’re a little embarrassed about it. If you took responsibility for that, offered to source a solution, offered to oversee the implementation or at least help to resource them in some way, they might be totally game for it. It’s just that they’re either overwhelmed or kind of afraid of it.

Michael: Josh said, “Aside from preparing the content, which you address in some of your bonus material, how do you prepare your body and mind for hard conversations so that your anxiety, frustration, etcetera, are contained and you can communicate clearly?” We talk about hard conversations in the book. Megan, do you want to take that?

Megan: Well, I’ve had a lot of hard conversations. Sometimes it feels like that’s a big part of what I do. Really, often they’re in the context of coaching a direct report or somebody coming to me with an issue they need to talk to me about. I’ve been on both sides of the hard conversations. First of all, I want to just say that if you feel anxious, that is so normal. I feel anxious all the time about all kinds of stuff. I mean, I just think it’s part of being human.

In fact, I was talking to my coach today about it, and she was saying, the truth is all humans feel anxious about situations where there’s uncertainty. It’s just that people deal with it differently. With some people, you can see it visibly. It’s outwardly visible. Other people are really good at hiding it, but it doesn’t change that everybody feels anxious about it when the stakes are high, when they’re going to do something vulnerable, like have a hard conversation. Feeling anxious is just an indicator that you’re doing something important, and that’s what I tell myself. That’s part of how I prepare my own mind and heart for that.

The other thing, practically, that I do is I always create talking points for the conversation. This is actually something I learned from Brené Brown years ago. She was talking about how whenever she goes into a conversation, she takes a yellow legal pad. I don’t know if she still does it on a legal pad now or if it’s on a device. She said she always felt kind of embarrassed about it, but she said, “This conversation is too important to just wing it, so I want to make sure that I say the things that matter, that I’ve really thought through.”

I do that for every single hard conversation. Sometimes I don’t look at it much when I’m in the conversation because my heart takes over and I remember what I’ve written and I don’t really need to go by the notes so much, but I always benefit from thinking it through so that I’m clear on what I want to communicate and what I want, most importantly, the outcome to be. Dad, you talk about this a lot: beginning with the end in mind so that you think about, “How do I want the person to feel when we’re at the end of this hard conversation? What’s my vision for that outcome?”

If I have to talk to one of my direct reports about something that’s not going well, how do I want them to feel? Do I want them to feel defeated or empowered, for example? That really changes how I position what I’m talking about. Again, we get more into this in the hard conversations chapter, but it’s normal for hard conversations to feel hard. You do develop more confidence the more of them you do, because you have positive experiences, if you handle them well, and you’re like, “Yeah, okay. I got through that one. I can get through this one too.” That’s kind of the conversation in your head.

Michael: One of the things I’ve discovered, having been through dozens and dozens of hard conversations, is that the pain of not having the conversation is much greater than the pain of having it. How many times have you had that conversation and you went, “That went a lot better than I thought it would”?

Megan: Right. And I avoided it for like a year sometimes.

Michael: Yeah, exactly.

Megan: I can think of specific examples (I won’t share them) in my past where I avoided a hard conversation with somebody on our team that I should have had for a long time, and the truth is when I had that conversation, the relationship, the teamwork we were able to have was so much greater. Like, oh my gosh! The truth is I cheated myself and the other person out of the opportunity to grow and to become our best selves.

That has been true when somebody has come to me with something hard, which happens plenty often as well. I think sometimes we back away from those situations because they’re uncomfortable, because we think if we’re uncomfortable it must mean it’s dangerous and we shouldn’t do it. It just means it’s uncomfortable. It doesn’t mean anything more than that.

Michael: That’s it.