Difficult Communication Situations
Effective communication is a complex process in which many factors are involved - our emotions, needs, physical condition, communication barriers, environmental distractions, etc. The goal of effective managerial communication is not to manipulate the communication partner and fulfill only the manager's needs but rather it is about finding a win-win solution that is mutually acceptable.
In communication, we can choose different styles - passive, aggressive, assertive, or manipulative style. Assertive style is generally recommended for effective communication - it leads to meeting the needs of both communication partners. All four styles are described below.
„You are more valuable than I am.“
Passive behavior is characterized by defenselessness to the demands of others. A passive person lacks self-confidence and gives way to others. Though he has no reason, he tends to apologize. Conflict situations are unpleasant to him and try to avoid them. He feels that others are using him, but he has trouble defending himself. With a manager, passive behavior is problematic because it leads to the failure to resolve disputes or various communication situations.
„I am more valuable than you.“
An aggressive manager can clearly define his goals and enforce his needs regardless of the others´ needs. He doesn't care if he hurts his communication partner. He believes that he is right and does not like listening to others. His communication tools are: blaming, judging, moralizing, sarcasm, etc. He has difficulties admitting a mistake. The aggressive behavior of a manager leads to interpersonal conflicts, frustration, isolation and tension. Subsequently, team members may try to avoid communicating with the manager and solve their problems themselves without informing the aggressive manager because they fear his reaction.
„Our value is the same.“
The assertive manager is aware of his needs and boundaries, respects the needs and boundaries of the communication partner and is able to compromise. He takes responsibility for his behavior. He communicates constructively, manages his emotions, can listen, checks for understanding, talks about his feelings and can admit a mistake. If he is dissatisfied with something, he can provide constructive feedback based on facts, without humiliating and manipulating the other. His goal is cooperation, not fighting. Assertive communication can help a manager in many situations - from communicating negative information to persuading, delegating, evaluating, refusing and dealing with emotionally tense situations.
„You will have value, if… “
The manipulator chooses different methods to fulfill his needs. He does not communicate his goals directly and tries to get the other person to act according to his intention. He can use both aggressive communication style (e.g. intimidating the other, evoking a feeling of inferiority) or assuming the role of a victim, causing the other to feel guilty. Flattery or the use of the principle of reciprocity are considered manipulative behaviors as well.
How to be assertive?
The manager can choose simple assertiveness (expressing a clear position without using empathy and proposing solutions) or empathetic assertiveness, which helps build a relationship with the communication partner. Therefore, for example, if a manager needs to decline a team member´s request (e.g. a request for an unexpected vacation) without leaving the subordinate feeling frustrated and angry, he should proceed as follows.
The point is to realize whether the manager really wants to decline the request. If so, it is advisable to use empathy to show the team member that the manager understands the needs of the communication partner: “I understand your situation… / I understand your request.” Consequently, the manager should give the statement: “Given the current situation, it is not possible for you…” It may also help to explain why the manager declines the holiday request. To avoid frustration, the it will help if the manager suggests an alternative course of action / solution: " I can give you a vacation in March ... / I recommend that you submit your vacation notice next year in ..."
The three steps (empathy, opinion, solution) do not guarantee that the subordinate will not be angry, but will ensure that the team member knows why the manager declined the request and what the other options are.
Assertive rejection is only one of the techniques a leader can use in his practice. I recommend you to review all the other tools we covered in our webinar: emotional management, adjusting your communication to the personality type of your communication partner, broken record technique, giving constructive feedback, etc.
Rosenberger, M., B. (2015). Nonviolent Communication. PuddleDancer Press
Adair, J. (2009). Effective Leadership. London: Pan Books.
Goleman, D. (1996) Emotional Intelligence. London: Bloomsbury
Green. A. (2015). How to Be an Effective Leader: Develop Leadership Skills and Build Effective Teams. Great Britain: Amazon
Jo, O. (2017). The Leadership Skills Handbook. London: Kogan Page
Ury, W., Fisher, R. (1981). Getting to yes. Penguin Group
Bodily maps of emotions: https://www.pnas.org/content/111/2/646
This article is a summary of the webinar on the same topic led by Olga Lostakova, a lecturer at LIGS University.