Make communication work for you

Jane and Bob have been working with their teams for a couple of months, and they’ve really paid attention to putting the right people in the right roles. However, other problems can arise that don’t have anything to do with teams, leaders, and workstyles.

Differences in communication styles or the communication styles themselves are often the cause of problems, rather than the content that’s being communicated. Often we see these problems occur when the topic is difficult; no one has trouble communicating around the success of the project, the awards ceremony for the team, and the overall good health of the company!

What if the topic is difficult?

When Jane and Bob need to discuss a problem, a broken commitment, or a difficult situation, they use the following formula.


* Content
* Pattern
* Relationship


The first time a problem occurs, talk about the content – what happened. Usually it’s a single event, and it only involves the here and now.


The next time the problem occurs, talk about the pattern – what has been happening over time. Patterns acknowledge that problems have histories, and histories make a difference. Frequent and continued violations affect the other person’s predictability and eventually upset trust and respect.


If the problem persists, talk about the relationship – what’s happening to us, and why does this keep recurring. Relationship concerns are bigger than content or pattern. The string of disappointments has caused you to lose trust in the other person. You doubt his competency, you don’t respect or trust his promises, and it’s affecting the way you treat one another.

Clearing the air

Jane and Bob make communication work for them by being clear about their expectations as well as about problems that come up. You need to do the same. Don’t be vague!!! Be specific about what you want and by when.

Vague: “I need this finished right away.” Clear: “I need this research document complete and to me by Wednesday.”

Vague: “It’s important for you to play well with the other departments.” Clear: “In order for your department to work effectively with _____ department, you need to discontinue bad-mouthing or gossiping about the ________ department and their problems to your staff. Discuss any issues you have with that department head or with me.”

Don’t assume that because you made a statement or request the other person has agreed. Ask her! “Monica, I’d like this project completed and results to me by next Thursday. Is there any reason you can’t deliver it by then?” Confirm with her that she not only will deliver what you requested, but also by the date needed.

Tying it up

At the end of the conversation, ask the person to explain to you what he believes you want. This provides you the opportunity to make sure he heard you correctly, and, if not, to change or modify what he thinks.

Often, the gap between your request and what you receive is because of misunderstandings about the specifics.

Armed with the CPR (Content, Pattern, and Relationship) and understanding the necessity of being clear, Jane and Bob have the tools to build and maintain an effective work environment with individuals who understand what’s expected of them.