Workplace Communication: Not ‘Saying it Straight’ May Cost You!

Workplace Communication:  Not ‘Saying it Straight’ May Cost You!

This article follows in a series – Communication – A Spectator Or A Contact sport

If people could only say what they want and want what they say! Communication in the workplace is fraught with anemic requests and feeble declarations. You know you’re in this territory when you get those demur requests where people “beat around the bush” dancing from foot to foot as they ask for something. You scratch your head telling yourself that something does not add up because their words don’t match up with their tone of voice and body language.

There is a reason for these garbled messages. People are afraid to ask for what they want. Their internal self-talk goes something like this: 

“If I ask for what I want, and the other person will either say that I can’t have it or start to argue with me. So then, I will feel less rejection if I don’t boldly state my case”.

This feeling of rejection is almost too overwhelming for these people to face.

It is painful to feel rejection and most of us will go out of our way to avoid it. One of life’s important lessons is to learn that people will say yes and no to us. If we live our lives to secure a yes every time we ask for something, we will cripple our ability to fully realize our desires. In addition to short changing ourselves, we will confuse our colleagues and live in quiet frustration. The problem for many is that they confuse rejection of their ideas and requests with rejection of themselves. We must come to realize that when someone says no to us it does not automatically taint our total existence.

Beth was a longtime employee in her company and the recipient of much praise for her loyalty. Her faithful service however was not reflected in her pay check. Beth was a compliant person and not given to making waves. She did however feel compelled to request a pay raise and suffered greatly as she contemplated approaching her boss. After much anguish she mustered up the courage to request a meeting. Instead of getting directly to the point, she confused her boss by launching a mini campaign of petty complaints, hoping that he would get the message that she wanted more money.

To clearly state her request was more than she could tolerate.  Beth couldn’t face the idea of being turned down so she masked her real message with a lot of “staged grumpiness”. After probing more deeply her boss was able to extract her real concern and willingly agreed to increase her pay, even apologizing for the delay in doing so. This story has a happy ending because someone could see through all the emotional noise and get to the real issue, even though Beth was not able to do so. 

So what can you do to stop the camouflaged requests?

  1. With communication in the workplace, we must understand that not being direct and clear may hold back our productivity. Oblique requests often show up in the form of a question that puts the listener in the driver’s seat.  A question like, “What are you doing this afternoon?” when the person really wants to say, “I’d like you to join me for coffee”, is a common way to obscure the truth. The belief here is that if you ask in an opaque way the rejection will be muted if the other person refuses to oblige.
  2. Write out your request of another before you present it to them so it is clear in your own mind. It is much harder for you to think clearly when your cognition is couched in an overlay of emotion. If it is too hard to speak your truth directly to another present the written request to the person concerned.
  3. Know that you have a right and responsibility to speak your truth and make your wishes known to your co workers as you communicate at work.
  4. If asking for what you need is a nagging problem affecting all aspects of your life, then additional assertiveness training and coaching is a good idea to explore.
  5. Life would be so much simpler and richer if we could just say what we want and want what we say. This is one time it’s okay to feel entitled. There are handsome rewards for putting our wishes out there. Making our needs clearly known will enable us to enjoy freedom and self respect. Deciding to be clear on your needs at work is the first step to creating communication in the workplace that is solid and synergistic.

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