Rules of Communications

Sept. 1, 2009
One of best communication rules I ever heard goes like this: Connotative adjectives should not be used to describe a person's behavior. Great advice,

One of best communication rules I ever heard goes like this: “Connotative adjectives should not be used to describe a person's behavior.”

Great advice, but what does it mean? Without giving you a boring explanation about nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, let me say it another way. While communicating, don't use emotional words (connotative) to describe what makes you upset with someone else.

To illustrate, this might be a typical exchange between a husband and wife team managing an HVAC contracting company:

Wife: “You're unfair. The field guys are disrespectful and you always take their side.”

Husband: “You're too emotional. You always feel sorry for those whiny women in the office.”

Add in body language, exclamation points, and perhaps even a few four-letter words, and we've all heard or participated in this conversation.

First, look at the communication issue. The wife in our imaginary exchange used the words “unfair and “disrespectful.” These are adjectives describing people. The husband used the words “emotional” and “whiny.” Again, adjectives used to describe people. All of these are adjectives that carry a negative implication with them.

Now, here is the second best rule I ever received on communication: “Instead of using adjectives to describe behavior, provide examples of the behavior.”

Here is an example of using this advice to reframe what the wife says in the previous exchange:

Wife: “Many times the field guys use derogatory terms when addressing the office staff. For example, yesterday when Jan answered Tim's call, he said ‘Hi Sweet Cakes, now switch me to someone who knows what they're doing.’”

In this exchange, a specific example of the behavior has been given. The receiver of the information (husband) now has a specific example that can be discussed. Certainly, the service technician will have his own perspective, but the husband and wife team have removed the emotion from their conversation and can better address the situation occurring between two employees.

Another rule of communication is to discuss specifics, not generalities. Instead of a generalized emotional exchange about the “office and the field,” this exchange is now about a specific issue between two employees. The husband and wife team are not at odds with each other; now, they have a specific problem that can be discussed and a possible resolution discussed.

Perhaps, the husband's reply to the specific example of the technician's behavior would be more positive.

Husband: “I'll talk to Tim. What if you talk to Jan and suggest that she be more assertive with Tim? For example, she might say, “Tim, please don't call me Sweet Cakes. Now, tell me how I can help you.”

The conversation is about the problem. It describes behavior and it doesn't become personal. It provides a specific example of the beginnings of a solution.

Easy rules to put in a column and not so easy to practice in the “heat of the moment.” Kathie Todd, a member of a husband and wife management team, from Central Oregon Heating and Air Conditioning, wrote the following about how a husband and wife's personal perspectives influence what each sees, believes and communicates.

“Truth is only truth to the person as he or she see it. Believe me when I say we can both see and hear the same thing at the same time and come out of that experience with two different truths.”

In other words, one person's perspective is not necessarily the only truth, but it's that person's truth. Accept that your perspective, memories, and reactions may be different than the other half of your company's management team. Remember, his or her perspective is as much the “truth” as your perspective.

Eliminate the emotional adjectives to describe behavior and use specific examples. Don't let employee problems become a problem between the husband and wife management team. Together strive for solutions and remember those very differences that sometimes cause problems in communication may have been the very differences that attracted you to one another in the first place!

The bottom line: be sure to practice the rules of positive communication.

Vicki LaPlant has been working with contractors for the past 30 years as a trainer and consultant. She is an expert in helping people work better together for greater success. In addition, Vicki serves on the editorial advisory board of Contracting magazine. You can reach her by email at [email protected] or by phone at 903/786-6262.

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