You've decided to implement communication skills training. Maybe it’s part of a specific talent development strategy, or perhaps communication issues have been a continual challenge, dragging down productivity, collaboration, trust, customer service ratings or any of a number of critical business functions that we can’t afford to be struggling with in today’s fast-paced, complex environment.
Don’t waste your money.
That’s not to say communication skills training isn’t valuable. The bottom-line impact of communication breakdowns in the workplace has been well documented. The problem is, many companies waste the investment because their approach misses the mark, or the conditions aren’t in place to support it—or both.
It’s not enough to focus on behavior change.
Whether driven by a performance improvement issue or a growth and development opportunity, communication skills training, like many other learning initiatives, is often approached from the perspective of changing behaviors to get the desired outcomes. And behaviors are important. But a focus on behavior change isn’t enough.
Our research has shown that the way people communicate and respond to others, how and what they pay attention to, and how they take in information best are all rooted in how they think. These are mental processes. Unless you address the thinking first, you won’t be able to change behavior in any kind of lasting way, especially considering that any number of external factors can affect how someone behaves. Their thinking is what’s constant.
What’s more, context is everything. When faced with an array of data, your brain automatically puts it within a context. You can make a conscious choice about which context to use—there's almost always another way to look at any situation—but unless you’re deliberate about it, your brain is going to provide it for you.
A classic example is an email message that’s misinterpreted because it’s written with a context that the recipient doesn’t have. We’re all context seekers, and when we don’t have it, the brain fills in the blanks. That’s how we jump to conclusions about intent, meaning and purpose.
In fact, mindset and thinking have everything to do with how people present, listen to and react to information. When your learning initiatives focus on thinking first, the resulting behavior change is much more likely to last.
Communication requires alignment, not just skill.
Effective communication is about more than technique, tone or style. It’s about alignment, getting in sync. It requires making the mental shift from “as I see it” to understanding and adapting to the way others want to be engaged or influenced. Alignment is what allows people to collaborate successfully and “get” each other, even when they don’t agree with each other.
But here’s the thing: alignment is bigger than participants in a training course. It’s cultural. Simply put, leaders have to create the environment where effective communication can thrive. This means everyone, at all levels, must embrace, encourage and value different perspectives rather than ignoring them or shutting them down. It means giving people a common language for expressing their ideas and the tools to productively engage with others in a way that makes sense for everyone.
When there’s alignment at a cultural level, it makes it easier at the team and individual levels to focus on those critical connection points that allow for meaningful interactions and quicker, more productive exchanges. The benefits go beyond improved communications to better decision making, problem solving, employee and customer engagement, and more.
Communication skills training has a lot to offer, but don’t waste your money by sabotaging your good intent. Make sure you have the right approach and conditions in place to get the results you want.