7 Tips For Being More Thoughtful And Less Reactive When Communicating

Few things can derail a person’s productivity quite like negative interaction with a colleague, manager, or a company leader. Negative interactions happen all the time, and sometimes, leaders lack the self-awareness to realize when their emotional reactions cause them.

Negative interactions that occur between colleagues of equal status are likely to generate resentment. If they occur often enough, they can even lead to a toxic company culture and an unproductive work environment. However, when an employee has a negative interaction with a superior, the consequences for the impacted individual can be far more devastating both personally and professionally.

Reacting emotionally is not without its benefits. Your amygdala, which is the area of your brain responsible for emotion, controls your fight or flight response. Emotions play an important role in decision-making and relationship building. Motivation is often driven by emotion. As a leader, your emotional reactions have likely helped drive you toward success and elevated you into the position you’re in today. However, when it comes to leading, managing, and inspiring others, uncontrolled emotional reactions can be significantly counterproductive. They can lead to misunderstanding, emotional negativity, and can even ruin your company culture or your entire career.

If you’re looking to improve the effectiveness of your communication skills, below are some steps that can help you be more thoughtful and deliberate in your speech.

1. Be Aware Of Your Triggers

The key to gaining a sense of self-awareness is to become aware of the external factors that trigger your emotions. What behaviors, attitudes, situations, or language causes you to react negatively in the moment? When you experience these things, how do you feel? When someone experiences a trigger, they can often feel their body tense, their heartbeat increase, and an overwhelming sense of anger, fear, or irritation. By recognizing your triggers and the emotions they invoke, you’ll be better positioned to control yourself before you react. Learning about your own personal triggers is an essential part of leadership development.

2. Pause Before You React

This one takes some practice, but over time, it’s arguably the most important method for being more thoughtful in your communication. When hearing others speak, we’re conditioned to react in the moment, especially when faced with a trigger. By practicing self-awareness, you teach yourself to pause before you react. Pausing gives you the chance to calm yourself and formulate a thoughtful reaction.  A one breath pause is usually all it takes.  The other party(ies) in the conversation will see you as being thoughtful and considerate which further builds trust.

3. Slow Your Thinking

As a leader, you’re likely very good at formulating quick opinions and analyzing situations. However, to communicate effectively, you need to slow your thinking. Slow yourself down during conversations and thoughtfully consider your approach to the discussion. Take the time to think about the other person’s points and objectives, versus just planning your response. Take extra care not to shut down the opposing opinions, and listen to what others have to say – even repeating it back to them using “I think I hear you saying __________ (repeat their key thoughts).  Did I get that correct?”. This firms up the fact that you are HEARING your employees, and if employees don’t feel heard quickly lose motivation and engagement.

4. Don’t Take Things Personally

Reactiveness so often comes when we feel threatened or take things personally. The amygdala takes control and we immediately become defensive. When you hear something that causes an emotional reaction, take a minute to stop and breathe. Try to put yourself in the other person’s position and get a sense of where they’re coming from. While we may perceive their words as an attack, it’s important to try to uncover their true intentions.  Take a beat and ask “Where is this ________ (concept) coming from?  Tell me a little more.” 

5. Write Down A Response First

If you’re dealing with a complex issue that requires a response, buy yourself some time to write down your response on paper. Writing down your response allows you to have more time to calm yourself, reflect, and formulate an appropriate response. You’ll then also have the opportunity to practice or rehearse your delivery.

6. Ask Questions

Asking questions during a discussion can really help improve your thoughtfulness and effectiveness of your communication skills. When you ask questions, it’s a signal that you’re listening and engaged in the conversation. It also gives you the chance to dig deeper into a concept or discussion to obtain more information or clarify something you don’t understand. Asking questions is an essential part of strong and thoughtful communication.  Again, “Tell me more…” are the magic words here.

7. Recognize Emotions In Others

When speaking with your colleagues or employees, learn to recognize their own emotions. Pay attention to how they’re expressing themselves and how they’re reacting to what you say. When an employee is speaking with a manager or leader they often try to disguise their emotions and take a standard approach to delivering their message. This sometimes means leaders need to pay extra close attention in order to decipher how the other person is truly feeling. By asking questions and taking the time to observe and analyze the other person’s emotions, you can be better prepared to formulate the appropriate response.

Learning how to communicate thoughtfully and deliberately is absolutely essential for leaders, as it’s necessary to avoid negative emotional interactions with employees and other senior leaders. When you react emotionally, you’re far more likely to say things you don’t mean instead of formulating a helpful response.  This can cost you crucial personal credibility and harm your standing in the company.

As a leader, improving the effectiveness of your communication skills can pay off significantly, both in terms of personal development and company performance. Consider investing in a leadership development program that helps you develop thoughtful and deliberate communication strategies. Contact Lilly Consulting Group today.

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