Happy Lunar New Year as we welcome the “Year of the Ox.”
Are you more like an ox than you’d like to admit?
On the plus side, oxen are known for their diligence, dependability, strength and determination, according to the Chinese New Year Zodiac.
The negative? Oxen are weakest in their communication skills. The Zodiac explains that oxen are not good at communicating with others, and even think it is not worthwhile to exchange ideas with others. Oxen are stubborn and stick to their own ways.
Well, it’s 2021. To work well in our VUCA world where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity reign, you can’t go it alone. You’ve got to work with other human beings, and that requires you to communicate well – both giving and receiving information, which often means communicating for action.
Communicating for action involves someone making an “ask” and at least one person and often multiple people “taking action” in response.
And even though the difference between your “ask” and their “act” is just two letters, the route between them is often a long winding road with many potential detours and dead ends.
For instance, even if you’re the boss, you can’t assume that you’re going to get people’s attention the first time you ask. Attention spans are fragile, especially when team members are juggling multiple requests from different project managers as well as their boss. Plus, everyone is working harder than ever under suboptimal conditions –ongoing pandemics surrounded by family members and other distractions.
So whenever you make a “call to action” to a team member, you need to be intentional and purposeful about what you’re doing. To say it another way, you need to cultivate one of our most basic human processes — our ability to communicate — into strong communication habits that improve understanding, rather than contribute to ambiguity, confusion, or errors.
Our five principles for communicating for action are:
- Adjust your mindset. Start with the end in mind and ask yourself what you want to achieve with your ask. Also think about the context that people need to understand in order to do it right the first time. And if they don’t, how are you able to mitigate against the risks?
- Determine your CTA (call to action). Consider how you’re going to make your ask clear, compelling, and actionable. As you’re doing so, consider whether your action is something that people are familiar with or is it something they’ve seldom or never done before. Also, figure out how easy or hard it is to do. The answers to these questions will help you decide how much detail you need to provide in your ask.
- Identify who gets the CTA. Is it one person or several? If several, do they have similar backgrounds, experiences, and capabilities that they can all get the same call or action, or do you need to customize it by person or group?
- Decide how you’ll do the CTA. In other words, what communication channel of the very many you may have available will you use? And is this channel well suited for your call to action? And is it a channel that others regularly use and like?
- Follow through. As the maker of the ask, you need to take responsibility and accountability to ensure you made the ask, individuals received it, understood it, interpreted it correctly, and are able to act on it. By following through, you improve your chances of avoiding communication breakdowns.
Sam, Jim and I are intentionally using the word “principles” instead of “steps” because principles are broader, more flexible and are behavior-based. Principles are “fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behavior,” according to Ray Dalio, the author of the best-seller Principles and the founder of Bridgewater Associates.
With good principles in place, you’re able to set yourself and others up for success more easily, including making better decisions more quickly. And because you’re dealing with principles rather than rules or steps, you can adjust your actions to fit various situations, including the variances of the humans you encounter.
While these principles can help you reduce the friction, wasted time, and miscommunication that often happens when you’re communicating for action, you won’t ever reach zero defects 100% of the time. Humans and the communication process are too complex.
However, even if you’re a stubborn ox, you can achieve greater success when you’re more more intentional, focused and deliberate when you communicate.
For more tips and notifications of future webinars and other events, join our LinkedIn Group, The Communication Habit.
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