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This is an email from Letter to Your Big Self, a newsletter by Big Self.

On the Subtle Art of Workplace Communication

Actionable advice on speaking and listening from Big Self writers

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Dear Big Selfer,

A lot of advice around communication can be brought down to one word: timing.

Very often, smooth communication is simply about knowing when to talk and when to be silent. What to express out loud — and what to leave out of the conversation.

But how can you know when’s time for what?

Especially at work, this question can be quite tricky. For example, your boss may encourage you to express your opinions openly because that supposedly contributes to your company’s success. However, if you imagine being 100% honest about everything… You realize that’d be a disaster!

Communicating effectively and at the same time kindly is a fine skill. That’s why I used the word “art” in the title. Just like in art, there are no strict guidelines to workplace communication. To some extent, you always need to play it by the ear.

But some lessons can be learned from other people's experiences. Let’s dive into what Big Self writers had to share last week in their stories.

How I Learned Tough Communication Lessons From a Disastrous Work Conversation by Evan Wildstein

— “If you’ve nothing nice to say, it’s better not to say anything at all.”

Juri Gianfrancesco on Unsplash

This week, Evan Wildstein reflects on his 20-something-year-old-self — and his attitude toward his boss at the time.

Although, as he put it, “words have meaning, and they matter,” there’s more to workplace communication than mere words. We all have (more or less) hidden attitudes, feelings, and filters that make us use words in particular ways.

Evan writes:

“Frequently, I would let my personal feelings step in front of my words, which was strange behavior for me because I have always placed a great deal of value on communication — at work, at home, and in all corners of my life. But back then, with not much experience under my belt, I came to the table with a lot of attitude, preconceived notions, and unrealistic expectations.

Madelyn Burley-Allen talks about these as “filters” — beliefs, values, memories, past experiences, strong feelings, assumptions, etc. In her book, Listening: The Forgotten Skill, she writes:

‘Although these filters are within us, we are often blind to them… When people aren’t aware of how their beliefs influence what they value… they find it difficult to listen to other people’s points of view or accept their behavior.’”

This shows, once again, why self-awareness is the cornerstone of good communication. When you’re conscious of the automatic impulses that drive your behavior, you’re less likely to act on them.

As a result, you may arrive at the same conclusion as Evan —that sometimes, “if you’ve nothing nice to say, it’s better not to say anything at all.”

Read the full story here.

How to Give Negative Feedback Well by Nick Wignall

— “People change when they’re ready to change.”

Photo by fauxels from Pexels

How many times have you wanted to give someone constructive negative feedback — but held back because you worried that person might not take it well?

We often miss out on opportunities to improve because of that — especially at work. Many people don’t know how to give negative feedback so it lands well and is helpful, not hurtful. But here’s the good news — that’s just another skill that you can learn if you want to!

Writer and psychologist Nick Wignall provides a lot of detailed tips on that. As a teaser, here’s what he had to say about giving unsolicited advice:

“The trouble with advice is that people resist it.

Occasionally someone will come to you from an honest and well-thought-through position genuinely asking for advice. In which case, there’s a decent chance your advice will be heard and perhaps acted on. But this is like 1% of the time.

Most of the time, people can’t even hear your advice — much less act on it — if they’re not ready and willing to receive it.”

How can you then formulate negative feedback so it doesn’t come across as advice, or overly critical, or too judgmental? Actually, there are many tricks to achieve that.

The important thing to remember is that, as Nick put it, “people change when they’re ready to change” — and not a moment before that.

Read Nick’s article here to learn them.

3 Powerful Habits That Will Increase Your Influence At Work by Jessica Donahue, PHR

— “When you know more, you can contribute more. And when you can contribute more, you expand your influence power.”

Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels

Having more influence at work isn’t just about power. Sure, there are people who want to climb the corporate ladder ASAP just to feel better about themselves and more in control.

But there are other possible motivations to get promoted, establish yourself as a leader, or expand your influence in some other way. One is to spread your knowledge and ideas more effectively — and make the kind of change you’re seeking to make.

In her latest piece Jessica Donahue, PHR talks about how you can achieve greater impact at work by being deliberate about your interactions. Once again, it comes down to communication and using it to expand not just your area of influence, but also skills and expertise.

“When nothing changes, everything stays the same. If you want to influence others and build the kind of buy-in from those around you that will supercharge your career, you have to know more today than you did yesterday. (…)

But on top of straight skill, building buy-in from other people is another key element of influence, making your relationships at work paramount.

Ask to take on projects that will increase your visibility to leaders who you don’t normally work with on a day-to-day basis. Those are the people who will go to bat for you when a promotion is on the table.”

If you aspire to make a difference in your organization, there are many ways to maximize that. In short? Start by using your communication to build knowledge.

As Jessica put it, “When you know more, you can contribute more. And when you can contribute more, you expand your influence power.”

Read Jessica’s full story here.

Coming back to the initial questions:

How can you know when’s your turn to speak and listen? Which thoughts should you verbalize and which better to leave to yourself?

Reflecting on what our writers shared, I conclude that no one knows the answers straight away. Finding them usually leads through personal trial and error. And yeah, that can be at times awkward — disastrous, even.

Especially at work.

But how better can we learn than through our mistakes? When it comes to communication, maybe it’s easier to just accept that it won't be perfect. You’ll enter an argument or commit a faux pas once in a while. That’s just the way it goes.

But then, occasionally, you’ll also get it right. In those moments, congratulate yourself. And remember: After all, communication is an art — and you’re the artist making up the rules as you go along.

Thank you for reading and I wish you a great week!

Marta, editor of Big Self

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