I thought that would capture your eyes today because it’s a perennial hot topic in our industry. Today, we’re going somewhere else—interpersonal communication—that thing where a message is sent from one person to another, and another message returned. Interpersonal communication can be in-person, over the phone, through email or text—you name it.
When interpersonal communication doesn’t "go direct," it’s usually not for a positive reason. My grandma calls it “gossip.” She doesn’t email, but I’m guessing has experienced her share by the neighbor’s fence or over the phone. In an office environment, it’s called “office gossip.” By email, it’s sometimes considered “keeping people informed.” Seriously?
Most humans, by nature, avoid conflict. If we have an issue to take up with another person, ideally we approach that person, talk with them and work it out. If we can’t work it out, another person might be brought in to help. Too often we skip step one and go straight for what we feel might be more effective—complaining to the potential mediator or higher authority about how we feel we were wronged or what the still unknowing first person did incorrectly.
Our high school athletic director has a cardinal rule: if a player has an issue, they need to go to the coach directly and discuss it. This can include playing time, why they didn’t get to start, why they aren’t in agreement with something—it doesn’t matter. The player going straight to the athletic director is a no-no—they’ll be turned right back to the coach. The parent going to the coach is off limits unless the player already approached the coach and the issue wasn’t resolved. (Most kids would rather be tortured than to have their parents go to the coach.) The concept, which originated with Biblical times, is extremely simple.
Why you should communicate directly?
- It builds trust. Conflict can be very healthy it’s normal. By showing someone the respect to take the issue or your suggestions directly to them—in a respectful way—you’re saying that you trust that person—and it begins building the trust and respect back.
- It doesn’t destroy trust. Going around the person and emailing their boss, one of their coworkers or customers, or blind-copying a few of your best friends on your communication to the person you’re trying to burn is doing just that—playing with fire and burning a bridge. It hurts your credibility and personal brand in the long run with everyone involved.
- It resolves the issue—much faster! There’s an adage: the fastest distance between two points is a straight line. Period. Give the person the chance to address the issue first. If they truly drop the ball, then decide if the need is strong enough to go to the next level.
When you shouldn’t communicate directly?
- You’re planning a surprise party for that person
- You’re nominating that person for an award
- You’re recognizing them in front of their peers (but should definitely copy them in!)
You get the gist—conflict isn’t fun, unless you have a strange sense of humor. By going direct, we can resolve issues faster, create (or build on) a relationship and capitalize on opportunities much more efficiently.