How to communicate with those who disagree with you

Fast Company just posted an interesting article that discusses a study on why communicating in person versus a written text is worth the effort. According to a 2016 survey of more than 2,000 US adults (paywall) where managers were asked what they found most difficult about communicating with employees a full 69% of respondents said they found “communicating in general” to be the hardest part about communicating with employees.

Clearly, there is a breakdown.

In Schroeder’s study of almost 300 people, participants were asked to watch, listen, and read arguments about subjects they agreed or disagreed with, including abortion, music, and war. They were asked to judge the character of the communicator and the quality or veracity of the argument. Schroeder’s team found that the participants who watched or listened to the communicator were less dismissive of their claims than when they read that communicator’s same argument.

Schroeder’s research also found the participants who listened to or watched the communicators talk were also less likely to dehumanize them–a phenomenon where we subconsciously belittle or demonize the cognitive capabilities and moral attributes of people who hold views other than our own.

This article has some great advice and is where the 69% statistic came from.

“Rather than endless lunches or dinners or boondoggles, one of the best ways to build a good relationship with your employees is to make sure they feel heard,” wrote HR guru Kim Scott in Harvard Business Review. Scott suggests regular one-on-one check-ins where the employee sets the agenda, and that managers give regular feedback—both positive and critical.

My take is that business is going so rapidly, individuals don’t stop and have a cup of coffee together often enough. If they do, it’s rushed, not relaxed, and no relationship is actually built.

In Cape Town, I’ve worked with a man who told me of his experiences working in offices downtown before the age of computers. “People had time to think” he said. I’ll never forget that statement, because it doesn’t seem the speed of business allows us that luxury anymore.

In Seoul, while consulting over a two-weeek period, I was privileged to experience a “3 o’clock conversation time” – I don’t know what it was called in Korean and it may have just been this particular organization’s practice. Every day, at three in the afternoon, for thirty minutes the executive leadership would step into the CEO’s office, take off their shoes and have coffee and pastries. The conversation was very open, discussing wives or children, vacations, work issues, jokes, etc. It was a team who enjoyed being around each other and felt like they all had the same goal they were working toward. As the statement above emphasizes: the executive leadership felt heard by their leader. They then turned around and did the same for the staff whom they were responsible for.

Are you having difficulty leading? Try slowing down, being friendly, and listening with no agenda.

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