You Catch More Flies With Honey: how to be effective in your workplace communication
I'm not quite sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the line the common saying “telling it like it is” transformed from a literal statement which meant “I’m providing an opinion that is correct from my perspective” to colloquially mean “I make no apologies for what I say or for being rude about it, and you can’t call me on it or challenge my viewpoint because I’m just telling it like it is”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe wholeheartedly in being a straight shooter and giving an honest opinion, and am no stranger to presenting a controversial point of view myself. What I query though, is whether many of us have lost the art of being able to put across an honest opinion (that may or may not be controversial compared to another’s perspective) while maintaining social graces, and, whether we have forgotten that with freedom of speech comes responsibility - social media is a prime example to highlight this phenomenon.
Personally, whenever I come across an opinion statement where “just saying” or “telling it like it is” or similar is included, I don’t engage. Such phrases are a red flag to me that whoever has provided the original statement feels incapable of taking on board any additional ideas or opinions and have, in essence, closed me down before I even start. This is also a common reaction by hiring staff, who may shut down before you’ve even had a chance to explain to them why they should hire you.
So, the question becomes: how do we present a strong opinion while engaging the other party, particularly during a job or business interview? Here are my top Five:
Mind your manners – displaying general politeness is an act of respect towards whoever you are engaging with. Simple manners can be demonstrated by not interrupting the other party when they are speaking; acknowledging their perspective which may be different to your own but is just as valid; not huffing or sighing while the other person is stating their opinion; not refusing to engage further or cutting the other person’s conversation off. If you really feel that you need to state the obvious and confirm that you both have differing views, you might say something like “I appreciate your thoughts, it’s given me something to think about”.
Be assertive, not aggressive – sometimes there’s a fine line between these two, but in general, if you are calmly giving your opinion and the reasons behind it, without raising your voice or resorting to personal insults, you may consider yourself assertive. Common signs that you are becoming aggressive include lowering your tone or raising your voice; belittling the other person or making value-driven statements towards them; refusing to acknowledge the other person’s right to a view; or using intimidation or harassment techniques.
Maintain eye contact and open body language – Demonstrating that you are open to true discussion is a sure fire way of maintaining engagement with the other person. We all want to feel that our opinion matters, and by being a captive audience you are automatically increasing your attractiveness to the other party. Open body language includes nodding and active listening; general engagement such as asking questions; and keeping eye contact where appropriate.
Be open to listening, and discussing your opinion in a calm way – just as you wish for the other person to listen to your opinion with respect, it is important that you are open to listening to theirs. While you may still not leave the discussion with a changed opinion, you will have had the opportunity to take on board another’s position and put forward your own argument. This forms a large part of my last point ……
Always put your best foot forward – our recollection of discussions with others can become distorted over time, leading to generalised and amplified positive or negative perceptions of the other person. Typically, memories become stronger when a feeling (either positive or negative) is attributed to the person – ie, if we have a pleasant conversation with someone, over time, our memories of that interaction may become even more favourable than they were immediately following the interaction (we might see them through rose-coloured glasses) – and the same is true for negative emotions. It therefore stands to reason that if we experience a conversation with someone who we initially perceived as a bit aggressive or rude in their approach towards us, we are far more likely to foster a generally negative overview of them.