Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Effective Communication in Teams: Sending Messages

Our daily lives are filled with one communication experience after the next. Communication between ourselves and those around us is constantly occurring as we exchange messages to achieve an understanding of other people’s thoughts and experiences. Effective communication is essential when working in teams, and developing the skills required to achieve mutual understanding within a team through communication takes practice. The word “team” is being used to describe any grouping of individuals—including a committee, class, sports team, family, or work colleagues—as communication is imperative despite the type of team being discussed. If we need to work collaboratively with others, we need effective communication.
In this article, I will offer some tips for sending messages effectively.

Tip #1: Take Ownership!
It is important to take responsibility for your opinions, ideas, and feelings when expressing them to others. To do this, make personal statements such as “I think…”, “I feel…”, “It seems to me…”. When you own your messages, it suggests that you are honest and open with your teammates, and there has been a level of trust established in the group that allows you to comfortably reveal your thoughts and feelings.

Something to watch out for: How often do you use sentences such as “We think that…”, “Everyone knows…”, “Most of the team feels…”? Take note of this! When we speak for other people, it might feel safer than taking ownership for our thoughts and feelings, but it may lead to confusion, misunderstanding, or inappropriate representation of someone else’s opinion.

Tip #2: Describe, Don’t Evaluate!
When giving feedback on someone else’s behavior, it is important to simply describe what you see without making a judgment about it. When we evaluate another’s behavior, it can create defensiveness and establish barriers to effective communication. It is helpful to use descriptive statements, which describe specifically what you have observed without making assumptions about what that behaviour means about the other person’s attitude, personality, or motives. For example, it can be more beneficial to tell a teammate “you seem to be walking very slowly, what’s going on?” rather than saying “you don’t care about finishing this challenge quickly”. We don’t have all of the information. Maybe the person is sick, upset, offended, tired, or hurt (among other possible reasons for this behavior), so simply giving descriptive feedback can begin a dialogue to establish a deeper understanding of you and your teammates’ experiences.

Something to watch out for: How often do you include judgment or an assumption when giving feedback rather than just describing what you see? Take note of this and see if you can alter your communication when giving feedback!

Tip #3: Take the Other’s Perspective
The same message can mean two different things to two different people. In order to send a message effectively, you need to consider the perspective of the receiver. Perspectives are complicated and complex; they are formed through our values, beliefs, and experiences. We can never be certain or complete in our understanding of another person’s perspective, but if we try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we can create and send messages that are more likely to be received the way we intended. For example, if a teammate has absolutely no experience with soccer, and we consider this before sending our message, we may choose to say “try kicking the ball in the net” rather than “try to score a goal”, because the player may not know what it means to “score a goal”. Through perspective-taking, we can alter our communication so it can be more appropriate for the receiver and therefore more clearly understood.

Something to watch out for: How often do you phrase communication based on your own knowledge and experience without considering the perspective of the person your communicating with?

For more information, see Johnson (2014). Keep an eye out for my follow-up articles on tips for receiving messages effectively and overcoming possible obstacles to communication!

Johnson, D. W. (2014). Reaching out: Interpersonal effectiveness and self-actualization (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Written by Shea Wood, M.A., CCC

Dynamix: Team-building for Kids and Teens, since 2002.

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