Co-operative Communication

Iole Matthews, Head of Coaching Services, shares how using an "I" Statement at work can allow for better working relationships and increased productivity.

Co-operation, to mix metaphors, is the holy grail of successful teams and the secret sauce in satisfying working relationships. Wonderful to have but not that easy to achieve. And while co-operation can depend on a range of conditions outside of your control, managing your communication style can reap real dividends.

While work pressure and stress can sometimes derail the way we engage with each other there are some skills we can all build which increase the likelihood that our conversations are less likely to trigger antagonism and more likely to get people to 'work with you'; saving you both time and energy.

So, what's the difference?

Confronting Language

  • tends to blame the other person
  • keeps referring to the past
  • uses absolutes such as "never", "always"
  • focusses on "you"
  • includes direct orders, commands

Co-operative language

  • avoids blaming anyone
  • keeps focussed on the present and future
  • looks at specific current issues
  • tends to use "I" and "we" more
  • allows for discussion and input

How does this translate into real life?

Try using an "I" Statement as a way to open a potentially difficult conversation. It works like this:

I feel.... clarifies your emotional response to avoid misunderstanding

When.... describing the specific action avoids all / never language and keeps focus

Because.... the reason can highlight the impact on you and others

And what I would like.... the desired outcome describes what you need from the other person

What might you need.... Identifies potential blockers that you may not be aware of

"I feel quite anxious when I have to wait until the last minute to receive a report because it doesn't give me time to digest the contents before my meeting and what I would like is to have it at least a day before. What might you need to able make this happen?"

This is much less likely to lead to the defensive response that might be engendered by something like "You never get your reports in on time and it just shows how disorganised you are"

Even if you don't use it with anyone else, framing it for yourself can be incredibly helpful in identifying your underlying emotions and needs. For example, in the statement above "I feel anxious" evokes a very different response to "I feel resentful", "I feel disrespected" or "I feel frustrated" and recognising your emotional response can help you be much clearer about the why and what part of the statement allowing you to be very clear about what you need going forward. And if an unexpected emotion pops up? Well, that provides an interesting opportunity for reflection. What might the underlying issue be that really needs addressing?

It can also help to avoid "never" and "always" - move from a statement to a question, focussing on the underlying issues that need addressing

Instead of Whenever we discuss this issue we always end up fighting

try What would help us talk about this without either of us getting angry?

Instead of These meetings are always a complete waste of time

try Is there any way we could make these meetings more productive

Instead of You keep interrupting me and not listening!

try Could we agree on some rules of engagement for this meeting?

Communicating effectively isn't just a skill you're born with. It can be learned and while these are relatively small changes they can have a disproportionally large impact. I'd love to hear how they work for you.