Why good communication fails under pressure
You wouldn’t be alone if you wished teams would communicate better at times. The upsides are significant: getting problems solved so they stay that way, halting disagreements before they escalate and delivering work to a higher quality at less cost to name just a few.
For many businesses though poor communication is a persistent problem. And you only have to reflect on your own experience to understand why.
You’ll have experienced critical moments in meetings when a difficult emotion bubbled up and you had to make a call on whether to speak up or stay schtum. Recognise any of these?
You had a strong opinion on something but felt no one would listen to it or take you seriously.
You felt ill at ease when a colleague or client made a comment you disagreed with.
You felt frustrated by those who clearly didn't listen to a discussion and stayed quiet or found yourself arguing a position from your frustration or anger.
You got anxious or annoyed when an important meeting veered off course and spent too much time on unimportant issues at the expense of more important ones.
You felt confused when someone senior to you didn’t make themselves clear.
You could have volunteered to pick up on an action but felt reluctant because it wouldn’t made much difference.
You had a basic question but feared looking a fool if you asked it.
What people do with their feelings
What people do at these key pressure moments shapes the quality of communication that follows. Feelings like those above for example lead many to not ask a challenging question or advocate an alternative point of view. Others do the opposite, but when they speak from their reluctance, confusion or frustration they're rarely as influential as they's want to be.
The net result is that teams under pressure get caught up in these strong feelings and it gets in the way of them openly and honestly discussing the challenges that need their attention.
Though it’s changing, feelings are not typically considered to be a business-y topic. The convention is for rationality and logic to feature more in communications amongst teams.
Yet you, nor anyone else, can give of your best if you’re feeling confused, ill at ease or are carrying frustrations about ‘the way things get done around here’ in the back of your mind. Caught up in emotions like these it’s pretty hard to see what’s really going on in different situations, let alone talk about them with any clarity.
"We need to communicate better"
This is the most common reflection teams have when considering how they behave. It's not however a rallying call to have more communication, it’s a cry for a better quality of exchange.
That means making it OK to understand how emotions affect the quality of communication. It also means helping people own whatever they feel whilst helping them be clear on the thinking they’re doing that’s causing their disquiet. That way they get back into a high-performing frame of mind more easily.
Poor communication in everyday discussions is a key indicator of how well a team is likely to perform. The good news however is that when leaders stand back and notice this, rather than get caught up in it, they see what would help teams improve quickly. And, contrary to popular belief, good communication is less about acquiring new skills but more about using qualities that already exist and become available when we are clear minded.
Discover more in our short Insight Papers or our Informational Picture Essay about how people can remove the blockages to great communication.