A “Communication Hack” is a dynamic change in the way people exchange information that gets some or even all of the parties involved to the desired end result quicker and with less effort (S.Evangelista)
A friend of mine, who we’ll call Chris, is a ‘salty’ First Sergeant in a US Marine Corps Infantry Unit with multiple combat deployments. He has a great technique when he wants honest communication with one of his men. He invites the Marine in to his office, closes the door and takes a seat behind his desk. Out of respect and ingrained military training, the Marine comes in the room and stands at a “parade rest’ position with his hands behind his back, feet shoulder width apart and eyes fixed straight ahead. Chris immediately tells the guy to take a seat and relax. He then tells the Marine that he isn’t talking to the First Sergeant. He tells the nervous Marine that the conversation is man to man and won’t leave the room. Chris unpins his metal rank insignia from his collars and puts them in his drawer. This does several things. It shows the younger Marine that the First Sergeant might actually care about him personally and that he is a strong leader that isn’t afraid to communicate like a regular person every once in a while.
Chris says this catches most guys off guard, but after a few minutes they open up. They realize this isn’t going to be the typical one way conversation they are used to having 99% of the time in the Marine Corps. This has become an effective two-way communication flow that is incredibly efficient. It’s also a type of ‘communication hack’ that gets quick results. Results you won’t get in a one-way conversation. This informal communication is used sparingly and very strategically by Chris when it makes sense to employ it. There are times when this is the way to go, just as there are times when the one-way military conversation is critical to mission success. Flexibility in communication style and application is the sign of a seasoned leader.
Here’s another ‘Commuication Hack’; Give the opposite response that you normally do. What I mean here is this. When someone tells you how angry they are that this or that happened, or how genuinely sad something made them…just listen to them. If you normally listen to someone and immediately respond with a similar story, zip it. Keep the mouth shut, hold eye contact and relax your face. Resist the urge to fire your story out there. The ‘facial tells’ of someone who can’t wait to share their story are obvious to us all. Always have been. Let the person finish and keep comments short and supportive.
More likely than not, this person will have been expecting a ‘topper’ story from you. A ‘topper’ story is one that you deliver right after theirs, only it’s more incredible and impressive supposedly. When they don’t get it, they will be pleasantly surprised. You might even earn a couple cool points you didn’t have before. Do it enough and people will think there is something a little different about you. We know it’s just a tweak to your communication pattern they are not used to.
If you are the silent sounding board for all the chatty kathy’s (no offense to the Kathy’s out there) in the workplace, stop. People approach others expecting a pattern that they have learned from past behavioral experiences with them. We all have a good idea how a person will respond when we engage in a particular conversation. If you always sit and listen to others rant, brag and complain then try this. Tell them you are very busy, would love to talk but have a ton to get done that day. They will then go find a backup silent sounding board, or “host”, to rant, brag and complain to. These people exist in every workplace and are mostly harmless. The problem is they become energy and time suckers that are in constant search for a “host” to feed on.
By changing your typical pattern, they will be forced to consider someone else as their primary “host”. This may be easier said than done for a lot of us, however, the sooner you become adept at controlling this situation the better. You’ll re-gain hours of personal time every month to do with whatever you want. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m strictly talking about people that waste your time with unimportant stories, trivial gossip and boring banter.
Identify the communication patterns people have that you see every day. Act outside the box, don’t just think outside it. Who just sits and listens to everyone rant? Who seems to be endlessly talking day in and day out? Who is the best communicator you work with that has just the right amount of give and take when it comes to communicating? Which one of these are you? Once you have things wired and know each person’s communication template relatively well, control your engagement style with them using respect, clear direction and surprise. Change it up.
Sean Evangelista is the Owner of Magoozle LLC software development. Their current project, Podium Pro, is an iPad App for public speakers and is in development for a Spring 2012 release. He lives in Virginia Beach, VA with his family and two dogs.