Summary: Communicate Better with Everyone By Harvard Business Review
Summary: Communicate Better with Everyone By Harvard Business Review

Summary: Communicate Better with Everyone By Harvard Business Review

Set Boundaries, Foil Boundary Predators, and Say No

Boundary predators are easy to find at work. They include the boss who asks you to work the weekend you have a family wedding or the client who tacks on two more presentations to the senior team than you agreed to. They are the team leader who assigns you more work than your colleagues.

Boundary predators aren’t just at work. They also include the crafty 4-year-old who says, “But Daddy said I could have another cookie!” They are the 17-year-old who commits to driving three friends to the movies without first asking your permission to borrow the car. They are the beloved partner who leaves the dishwasher for you to unload even though you made a deal to take turns and you did it yesterday.

Boundary predators rely on their power and authority and your passivity to get what they want. It’s up to you to push back by understanding how to create boundaries and maintain them. Personal boundaries are difficult to define and hard to maintain in all spheres of our lives. Unlike laws or national boundaries, personal boundaries don’t exist on their own; you have to will them into existence through conversation, especially if you aren’t in a position of power. However, all kinds of people conduct these difficult conversations every day with customers, clients, and kids, clarifying the work to be done and both drawing and holding the line. The following approaches will make it easier for you to conduct persuasive conversations that set and maintain boundaries:

Have an Agreement Up Front

When everyone consents to terms ahead of time, everyone knows what the objectives are and what to expect, and there is usually less potential for opposition.

Mention Your Credentials

Setting boundaries, no matter how casual, requires some authority. Briefly referring to the expertise you bring to the table gives you additional power in boundary negotiations.

Expect Your Boundaries to Be Challenged

We’re all familiar with “scope creep”—when you’re asked to do more than you signed up for. As any parent of a 2-year-old knows, setting a boundary is almost an invitation to test it. So, don’t get angry. Think about it and make a choice. Do I want to make this an exception or do I want to stick with the agreement? There are times when you can gain something from conceding, but you’ll need to reset the boundary bargain as a part of the same conversation.

Ask Questions

Ask loads of clarifying questions before committing, especially when you aren’t clear on the right approach. The answers will help you decide what to do when your boundaries are challenged. Keep your questions open-ended, so you’ll be able to gather more information without being perceived as negative


What Great Listeners Actually Do

Chances are you think you’re a good listener. People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average.

In our experience, most people think good listening comes down to doing three things: Not talking when others are speaking. Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”). Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word for word.

In fact, much management advice on listening suggests doing these very things—encouraging listeners to remain quiet, nod, and say “mmm-hmm” encouragingly, and then repeat back something like, “So, let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is . . .” However research suggests that these behaviors fall short of describing good listening skills.

Good listening is much more than being silent. To the contrary, people perceived the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said but comprehended it well enough to want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialogue, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” inter action. The best conversations were active.

Good listening builds a person’s self-esteem. The best listeners made the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive (or, for that matter, critical!). Good listeners made the other person feel supported and conveyed confidence in them. Good listening was characterized by the creation of a safe environment in which issues and differences could be discussed openly.

Good listening is a cooperative conversation. In these interactions, feedback flowed smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made. By contrast, poor listeners were seen as competitive—as listening only to identify errors in reasoning or logic, using their silence as a chance to prepare their next response. That might make you an excel lent debater, but it doesn’t make you a good listener. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.

Good listeners make suggestions. Good listening invariably included some feedback provided in a way that others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider. This finding somewhat surprised us, since it’s not uncommon to hear complaints that “so-and-so didn’t listen; he just jumped in and tried to solve the problem.” Perhaps what the data is telling us is that making suggestions is not itself the problem; it may be the skill with which those suggestions are made. Another possibility is that we’re more likely to accept suggestions from people we already think are good listeners.


How to Make Sure You’re Heard in a Difficult Conversation

A difficult conversation has to be a two-way street, whether it’s with your teenager or your boss. You’re unlikely to come to a resolution if you don’t hear the other person out. But equally important is getting your message across when you’re addressing a conflict. So after you’ve thoroughly listened to your counterpart, you can increase the likelihood that they will see things your way by taking the following steps.

Own Your Perspective

If you feel mistreated, you may be tempted to launch into your account of the events: “I want to talk about how rudely you spoke to me in front of your friends.” But that’s unlikely to go over well.

Instead, treat your opinion like what it is: your opinion. Start sentences with “I,” not “you.” Say “I’m annoyed that this project is six months behind schedule,” rather than “You’ve missed every deadline we’ve set.” This will help the other person see your perspective and understand that you’re not trying to blame them.

Explain exactly what is bothering you and follow up by identifying what you hope will happen. You might say, “I appreciate your ideas, but I’m finding it hard to hear them because throughout this process, I’ve felt as if you didn’t respect my ideas. That’s my perception. I’m not saying that it’s your intention. I’d like to clear the air so that we can continue to work together to make the project a success.”

Pay Attention to Your Words

Sometimes, regardless of your good intentions, what you say can make the issue worse. At other times, you might say the exact thing that helps the person go from boiling mad to cool as a cucumber. Here are some phrases that can help make sure you’re heard:

“Here’s what I’m thinking.” “My perspective is based on the following assumptions . . .” “I came to this conclusion because . . .” “I’d love to hear your reaction to what I just said.” “Do you see any flaws in my reasoning?” “Do you see the situation differently?”

There are some basic rules, such as avoiding name-calling and finger-pointing, you can follow to keep from pushing your counterpart’s buttons.

Your language should be “simple, clear, direct, and neutral,” says Holly Weeks, author of Failure to Communicate. Don’t apologize for your feelings, either. The worst thing you can do “is to ask your counterpart to have sympathy for you,” she says. Don’t say things like “I feel so bad about saying this” or “This is really hard for me to do,” because it takes the focus away from the problem and toward your own neediness. While it can be hard, this language can make your counterpart feel obligated to focus on making you feel better before moving on.

Watch Your Body Language

A lot of people unconsciously convey nonverbal messages. Are you slumping your shoulders? Rolling your eyes? Fidgeting with your pen? During your conversation, pay attention to your facial expression, arms, legs, and entire body, and take stock of the overall impression you’re giving.

Do the same for your counterpart. If their nonverbal cues are sending a different message than what they’re articulating, ask about it. For example, you might say, “I hear you saying that you’re fine with this approach, but it looks as if maybe you still have some concerns. Is that right? Should we talk those through?”

Change the Tenor of the Conversation

Sometimes, despite your best intentions and all of the time you put into preparing for the conversation, things veer off course. You can’t demand that your counterpart hold the discussion exactly the way you want.

If things get heated, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, mentally pop out of the conversation as if you’re a fly on the wall, and objectively look at what’s happening. You might even describe to yourself (in your head) what’s happening: “They keep returning to the fact that I made a mistake.” “When I try to move the conversation away from what’s gone wrong to what we can do going forward, they keep shifting it back.” Then state what you’re observing in a calm tone. “It looks as if whenever the sales numbers come up, you raise your voice.” Suggest a different approach: “If we put our heads together, we could probably come up with a way to move past this. Do you have any ideas?”


How to Talk to Yourself with Compassion

Often, we’re our own worst critic. When we feel anxious or frustrated, we talk to ourselves more harshly than we’d find acceptable from anyone else. I blew that presentation. Everyone on my team has such strong technical skills; I can’t follow the conversation. My kiddo is going to be so mad at me for working late again. We wrongly assume that criticism will motivate us to do better. We become even more of a perfectionist than usual. Instead of talking to ourselves with self-compassion, we raise our standards for our behavior as a defense against our feelings of doubt, anxiety, or frustration.

Self-compassion improves people’s participation in groups and is associated with a more adaptive attitude to failure. People who are self-compassionate recover better from psychological knocks, like relationship breakups and career setbacks. When people have self-compassion skills, they have options for feeling better beyond decimating a large bag of chips.

One way to show yourself compassion is through self-talk. Here’s what that is and how it works.

What Are the Ingredients of Compassionate Self-Talk?

There are four elements of self-compassion: using a tone of kindness, recognizing that pain is a universal human experience, taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions that neither suppresses or exaggerates them, and expecting yourself to make the best decision you can in the situation you’re in.

Understand your sabotaging patterns. Self-compassion often involves knowing what your sabotaging patterns are in the first place. If you know you have a sabotaging pattern, self-compassion can help you gently acknowledge it and make a better choice when you notice it occurring.

Pay attention to what others say that soothes you. Notice when a mentor or friend says something that soothes and calms you. This could be a comment particular to you, or even a proverb like “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Incorporate what they say into your self-talk. Hearing their words in your head might help you let go of control and perfectionism. Listen to your emotions to understand what phrases and messages help you feel better and make better decisions.

Plan ahead. Come up with a half-dozen common scenarios in which you think compassionate self-talk would help you make better decisions. Here are some examples to spark your thinking: when

working with new people, when you sense perfectionism is driving other people nuts, when other people are better than you at something. For each scenario, write some sample language for what compassionate self-talk would sound like.

Ask for help. Your scenarios will be personal to you. If you’re stuck, ask a therapist (or emotionally skilled mentor or friend) to help you. For example, bring your list of triggering situations to a therapy or coaching session and work together to come up with effective, compassionate responses.