How to improve communication skills between left brain and right brain employees to create a whole-brained approach
You may have heard people talk about “Left or Right Brain” personalities. While most of us use both sides of our brain on a daily basis, some people tend to rely primarily on the left side of their brains, and others may be known for leaning more heavily on the right side of their brains (Comedian Jeanne Robertson on Left-Brain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YFRUSTiFUs). While neither one is better than the other, it is helpful in communication to be aware of what is most effective for the Sender and Receiver.
The workplace dynamic between manager and direct report used to be about “Situation and Solution;” yet, now employers have an increased understanding of different personality types in the work environment, employees are seeking to create a job of meaning versus task fulfillment, and Millennials who desire more collaboration. There are two more steps which need to be “sandwiched” in between the standard “Situation and Solution” conversation. These two steps connect the mind with the heart.
Look before You L.E.A.P.
I recently worked with a CIO who shared with me that his secret formula for success in managing people pretty much boiled down to one acronym: L.E.A.P.
L = Listen. Presenting the situation requires active listening. Active listening requires that the Receiver stays silent and focused on what the Sender is communicating. No interruptions (i.e. clarifying questions), because that may steer the communication to deliver information which the Receiver may consider more important, yet it may be of lesser importance to the Sender and steer him/her away from disclosing pertinent information.
Examples: “I want to talk with you about the lack of feedback I received on my last project, but also in general. I keep trying to meet with you, and it seems like there is never an opportunity to do so.” Or, “I am so incredibly frustrated by how my colleague promises to deliver and never does.”
E = Empathize. This is where it’s important to add an emotion and/or paraphrase. Right-brain Senders appreciate heartfelt understanding. If after practicing active listening, you cannot figure out why the Sender would be so agitated, saying, “So what?” often trivializes the Sender’s intent to share.
Examples: “That’s frustrating when that happens; I know the feeling.” Or, “You want your colleague to follow through on commitments. I value integrity.”
A = Ask. Clarifying questions can start here to make sure the Receiver fully understands the scope of the situation. It is also important at this stage to determine whether the Sender wants to just vent or if s/he is coming to the Receiver for problem-solving. Left-brains have often delivered unappreciated, unsolicited advice, because they skip this step. The Sender may just wish for a “sounding board” to air out some thoughts and feelings.
Examples: “How can I help?” “So, to be clear, your interpretation/impact of what happened is…”
P = Problem Solve. This is the part left-brains wish to leap to — they wish to check a task off their list. Some conversations are initiated by the Sender for him/her to process, and they’ve selected the Receiver because s/he is a trusted source. Consider it a compliment. It is vital to bear in mind that the best way to gain buy-in to a solution is for the solution to come from the Sender. It is also a prime opportunity for the Receiver to treat the moment as a way to allow the Sender to develop his/her managerial technique in resolving situations.
Examples: “What do you have in mind to resolve this?” “A Best Practice for me on a situation analogous to this one is when…”
Remember that instead of the old situation and solution conversation, a more effective approach is to slow down the stimulus-response with an extra two steps. These two steps include 1) bringing in the heart by empathizing and relating to how the Sender feels; and, 2) demonstrating comprehension of the need at hand by asking clarification what is really being said and for your role in this conversation.
Photo credit: Flickr/Tom Shahar