Advanced communication and rapport building skills for managers

Enriched communication, building rapport and a climate of trust

Regardless of whether our lips are moving or not, we are all communicating, all of the time. In fact, the meaning of our communication is not necessarily in the words we say, but in the non-verbal behaviour and actions associated with it.

Take the leader of an organisation who is outlining his plan to improve employee wellbeing over the next year. He might be saying all the right things, but if his previous actions indicate that he won’t follow through on his promises, he might as well be telling everyone a bedtime story. 

What we say, how we say it and our actions therefore form the bedrock in your career as a manager helping you to communicate effectively, build rapport and develop a climate of trust among your team.

Sensory specific language

Have you ever wondered how some people can hold a room, where others lose it as soon as they start speaking? The chances are it has a lot to do with the senses that the speaker is appealing to.

Whether we know it or not, when we communicate we all have an inclination towards a specific sense; visual, auditory or kinaesthetic (feelings). The very best communicators are able to change their language to appeal to the preferences of others.

Once you start to recognise someone’s preference, you can adapt the way in which you communicate to match their style, increasing the likelihood of them understanding what you are saying (and equally, building rapport). 

How to recognise someone’s sensory preference

The way we speak mirrors the way we think so it’s essential to take notice of the words someone uses.

For example, those who are inclined to think visually are more likely to say things such as:

  • I get the picture
  • It’s clear
  • I see what you mean

Those who think in a more auditory way may say:

  • I hear what you’re saying
  • That rings a bell
  • That sounds good

And those who experience is more feelings based (kinaesthetic) tend to say:

  • That feels right
  • I was moved by that
  • It had a big impact on me

Our eye patterns can also give away clues as to the way someone thinks. Visual people will tend to look up a lot, auditory will often look forward and those who think more based on feeling may look down more. 

Eye movements

When you start to recognise these language and behaviour patterns, you can start to alter how you communicate accordingly. For example, I have an inclination towards visual thinking and therefore, if you were to explain something complex to me, it would likely help if you were to draw it.

When you start to understand and notice sensory specific language, it can also shed light on why two people might struggle to work together. Take one team member who has a strong preference towards feelings and another who is more auditory. The feeling based team member is likely to make decisions based on their gut feel, whereas the team member who thinks in an auditory way will want to discuss all the intricacies around different options. When you have a better understanding of this, you can start to adapt your language and behaviour to ensure you appeal to the needs of both team members.

Filters on the way we communicate

Do you see the glass as half full or half empty? Do you consider what happened in the past when making decisions or are you more likely to focus on the here and now? 

We are all faced with trillions of pieces of information at any one time so our subconscious acts on our behalf to filter out only that which is relevant to us in the moment. The important thing to note here is that we all have different filters and therefore, we all interpret things slightly differently.

Here, I will address some of the common filters that we use in our communication so that you can recognise them in yourself and others. If you can use similar language patterns as your team members, you will increase the level of mutual trust and influence (afterall, we all like those who think the same as us…). 

Associated vs Dissociated

Think about a conversation you have had with a member of your team recently. As you are thinking about it, pay attention to how you are thinking about it; are you seeing, hearing and feeling the situation as if you are there in your own body. Or are you watching and listening to yourself in that moment as an onlooker? The experience of thinking about a situation in your own body is when we are associated, and that where we are outside of our body is called dissociated.

Why is this important in managing teams? In order to manage people effectively, we have to be able to move between associated and dissociated states. Being in an associated state allows us to connect with our emotions which is essential in building trust in certain situations. For example, if a member of your team comes to you with a personal problem and you’re not able to put yourself in their shoes, you will likely come across as cold and lose any rapport you had. 

But in management, you can’t stay associated with those feelings for longer than is necessary. The next conversation you have will probably require you to be objective which is where you need to approach from a dissociated state.

Towards vs Away from

Think about a goal you have for yourself or a member of your team. How are you experiencing it? Are you thinking about a situation when the goal is achieved? Or are you aware of what you are trying to move away from? This is towards vs away from thinking. 

A good example would be someone who wants to improve their presentation skills. When you ask what specifically they would like to achieve they might give you a ‘towards’ statement e.g. I want to speak with confidence. Or they might give you an ‘away from’ statement e.g. I don’t want to be nervous. By phrasing a goal in the desired state, it automatically sets our subconscious in motion moving us closer towards the end goal by coming up with ideas to support your development. The opposite can be said for those who are inclined to think more about the problem state. 

Why is this important in management? When you’re delegating tasks or setting objectives, it’s important to think about what you DO want, rather than focusing on what you DON’T. What we think is what we get, our mind doesn’t recognise the ‘don’t’ in the problem statement. So if you’re telling someone ‘not’ to do something, you are essentially programming their subconscious to do it instead! This is also why telling someone ‘not to worry’ never works…our mind only sees the ‘worry’ part of the statement! 

Match vs Mismatch

Do you look for similarities (match) or differences (mismatch) in people or situations? Do you look at your team members and think about how they are similar or do you think about all the ways they are different?

Match vs mismatch

There is no right or wrong, some professions are built on spotting differences or abnormalities (auditors are a great example!). But it can also be quite hard to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with everything you say. Noticing this filter in others (look for the ‘yes, but..’ pattern) can help you to avoid feelings of frustration and instead identify ways to communicate with them more effectively. 

I once worked with a client who challenged everything that was said. At first, I found it exhausting and dreaded meetings with her. But once I recognised this pattern and understood that her way of understanding things was to have a debate about it, I was able to adapt my communication style to prompt that and always stay one step ahead.

Big chunk vs Small chunk

Do you focus on the details (small chunk) or concentrate more on the bigger picture (big chunk)?

As managers, it’s important to develop the ability to switch between big chunk and little chunk, as well as being able to chunk up and down accordingly.

Take a conversation you are having with your manager setting out a goal for your department. It is your responsibility to take this overarching goal and ‘chunk down’ to get to the specific tasks and actions required of your team. However, to take this one step further, the chances are that you have some team members who feel stifled when told exactly how to go about a task and others who feel overwhelmed when you give them a longer term goal without any guidance. Therefore it’s important to differentiate and ensure that you give team members guidance that will challenge them, but not overwhelm them; and this will differ between people.

Having this skill and being able to recognise when it is needed when talking to your team members will help you to build trust and respect. When I was managing a team in an agency, they were each responsible for managing clients who would come to them with various challenges. In some cases, team members would repeat back to me what the client had asked for, not knowing what to do next. Nine out of ten times, the reason they were stuck is because the client had asked for big chunk, and the individual had not asked them enough questions to break the request down into something which could be delivered. 

Internal vs External

It’s important to recognise whether your team members are internally referenced (use their own feelings, images and voices as their evidence of fulfillment) or externally referenced (rely on external sources as their evidence of fulfillment).

Internally referenced people will know within themselves when they have done a job well and will likely cringe at the thought of being publicly praised. This is not to say you shouldn’t acknowledge their great work – but consider doing it on a one to one basis rather than in front of the whole office!

Externally referenced people rely on being told they are doing well or seeing how their input made an impact. They tend to enjoy being praised in public and can get demotivated when they feel their efforts have gone unnoticed.

These are just five examples of filters we all use to communicate. There are others including past, present or future and self vs other but learning to recognise the filters listed is a great first step. Developing your flexibility in the way you use the filters will give you a greater chance of finding a way of communicating effectively with each person you meet.

Effective listening and the ability to ask great questions are two further communication techniques that are essential to develop as a manager. We will look at these two areas in detail in the ‘Coaching for managers’ section.

Want further support in your role as a manager?

Our Intentional Manager Programme, developed for new and aspiring managers, or for those with up to 3 years’ experience is a unique, year long partnership to help maximise potential and deliver effective, lasting performance improvements.

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