Friendly communication... or how to achieve more by respecting your colleagues

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Friendly communication... or how to achieve more by respecting your colleagues

Francis* is livid. He bursts into his colleague Mary’s* office: “You’ve neglected to document your plans in EDMS once again – open the application right now and get it done!”

How does Mary react to this demand?

  • “Once again” makes it sound like it’s a habit: “It’s true that it sometimes takes me a bit of time to document my work, but apart from my current project, I’m up to date!”
  • “Neglected” implies that she has somehow failed: “If it takes me time to document my work it’s because I want to do it correctly; I’m not being negligent.”
  • “Get it done” is an order that doesn’t leave any room for discussion or manoeuvre: “You’re not my boss; I set my priorities how I see fit.”

Final score for Francis? Zeroes across the board.

How could he have approached the situation differently?

“Mary, I’ve noticed that the documentation for your current project isn’t on EDMS yet. That’s a problem for me because the workshop expects us to be thorough and stay up to date. And I need it to be able to make progress with my own work. Could you possibly update the information quickly?”

This approach puts Mary much more at ease. Instead of criticising her, Francis builds his speech around several constructive points: he starts with an objective observation: documentation is missing for the project currently in progress. This is an undeniable fact. Next, he expresses his feelings: he is worried about the reputation of their section, of which he is proud. Mary understands why this makes him uncomfortable: Francis has been part of the team for a long time and he attaches a lot of importance to the section’s reputation. Then, Francis clearly explains his needs: if Mary doesn’t enter the information, his own work will be delayed. She realises that Francis is relying on her work. Lastly, he formulates his request: respect the deadlines, as is expected of everyone in the team.

This leaves Mary with room for manoeuvre; she feels respected.

In the heat of the moment, when emotions take over, we sometimes make abrupt requests of our colleagues. Even if we don’t intend to, we can come across as aggressive, causing the person we’re talking to react defensively and reject our request. By making an effort to communicate in a friendly way, we can get much better results and maintain a good relationship with our colleagues.

*Names have been changed

Pierre Gildemyn

If you’d like to comment on any of my articles or suggest a topic that I could write about, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at Ombuds@cern.ch.