Quick Summary: Catch phrases such as “I understand” and “I’m sorry” are a barrier to sound communication in the workplace. You’ve heard these phrases. Maybe you say them yourself. Learn what you’re really saying and how to say what you really mean.
Think about the times you’ve heard someone say “I’m sorry” so insincerely, you knew they weren’t sorry at all. Or picture a manager nodding his or her head and saying, “I understand,” when you know the manager was just trying to get the angry customer to leave.
That’s the observation of Richard Gallagher, author of How to Tell Anyone Anything: Breakthrough Techniques for Handling Difficult Conversations at Work.
Gallagher, a corporate trainer and speaker on communication technique, offers some current phrases. He explains what they really mean and gives examples of what to say instead:
• “Let me be totally honest about this.” This phrases signals that you are about to criticize the listener. Instead, validate what the other person is saying with something like, “It sounds like you are thinking …” and then sell the benefits of your approach with, “Let me walk you through what I’m thinking …”
• “I hate to tell you this.”Oh, no, another early warning that you’re about to criticize someone. Instead, reframe the thought from what is bad about a situation to something that is good, hopeful, or possible. For example, say, “I can see very clearly what kinds of things would …”
• “I am telling you this for your own good.”This phrase may be fine when you’re talking to a young child, but in the workplace it signals that you think the listener is too stupid to know what’s best for him or her. Even if you don’t agree with the person’s position, make it clear that you understand how the other person feels and then say, “I just want to share some thoughts on …”
• “That is a no-brainer.” If you think the course of action is logical, then this works. But if someone disagrees, saying this catch phrase signals that you’re seeing things differently and may set up a contradictory relationship. Instead, it’s okay to disagree but don’t belittle. Give credit for another person’s opinion, then share yours.
• “I understand.”Do you really? More powerful: “I have experienced the same thing and felt the same way.”
• “I’m sorry.”No need to be apologetic when something goes wrong. This phrase is usually followed by “but.” Instead, say, “I wish that hadn’t happened to you.” “I feel badly that you had to go through that.” If you’re delivering bad news, say, “I wish I could … let’s look at some options.”
•Listen to yourself and others. Try to read between the lines and understand what people are really saying. Then rephrase by asking them, “Are you saying . . .?”
• Examine your written communications as well. These often reflect the same flawed thinking only on paper. Revise to express your thoughts and meaning authentically.
• Invite a speaker on workplace communication to present a workshop in your company.
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