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My #1 Tool For Communication That Connects

The power of contrasting

In the last several weeks I've taken a deep dive into burnout research to prepare for my new workshop “Navigating Burnout: Resilience Through Community, Connection and Care.”

In that research, a resounding theme across multiple sources is that burnout is largely impacted by how effectively someone is managed. According to Gallup, one tangible, actionable behavior managers can capitalize on to reduce burnout-by-manager is clear, consistent communication.

Clarity is power.

When employees are uncertain of their expectations, their roles, and their goals due to unclear or inconsistent messaging, conflict and frustration ensue. These conditions make work more difficult and frustrating for the employee. Chronic stress fuels burnout. Ensuring clarity in what needs to be done and how to do it well empowers and energizes the employee.

Contrasting: a tool for clear communication.

My favorite tool for sending clear messages, establishing safety and preventing misunderstandings is called “contrasting.” A simple way to provide a clearer picture of what you are trying to say (especially sensitive or nuanced communications). Adding contrast puts fences around a message that can decrease misperceptions or confusion, preventing disconnects. Contrasting is a presentation of opposites.

Contrasting statements for roles, goals, and expectations can look like:

  • “What I'm saying is… What I'm not saying is…”

  • “What I'm looking for… What I'm not looking for…”

  • “What I expect to happen… What I don't expect to happen…”

  • “What I meant by that was… What I didn't mean by that was…”

Contrasting questions for roles, goals and expectations can look like:

  • “What's clear about the scope of this project? What's unclear?”

  • “What have been some wins this week? What have been some challenges?”

  • “What feedback was helpful? What wasn't helpful?”

  • “What will help you succeed in ______? What will be a roadblock?”

You get the idea. There are infinite ways to customize contrasting for your unique purposes, people and processes.

The hidden habit for successful communication.

For this tool to be truly successful, you must take time to prepare for meetings that require it (and those meetings must happen consistently). A great manager is thoughtful and will try to anticipate where employees may have confusion. They will take a moment to sit in the employee's shoes and reflect on how a message might be received and anticipate what questions or concerns they may have.

Remember: being in the game is different than being in the press box.

I'm not saying mind-reading is the key to leadership success (no one is good at that), but I am saying compassion, empathy and thoughtfulness are powerful communication tools (see what I did there? 💁‍♀️).

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