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Why Communicating Effectively is King at DDI and Google

By Carly Barry

women and man positively interactingI recently read an article that reveals a simple evaluation Google uses to ask team members how their managers are performing. The article says, “All but one question focuses on soft skills: communication, feedback, coaching, teamwork, respect, and consideration.”

Do these skills sound familiar to you? They certainly resonate with us here at DDI. Helping leaders at every level develop these critical skills and use them every day to maximize their business impact and inspire their teams is one of our greatest passions.

The article goes on to highlight a major pillar of ours, “What you know matters, but communicating effectively, delegating, creating a sense of autonomy and purpose...that matters a lot more.”

We echo the thought that successful leadership is less about the technical skills someone brings to the role, and more about the leadership skills they have, or the potential they have to develop those skills. 

Not to slight technical knowledge, skills, or experience, as these are important pieces of the entire picture of what makes a great leader, but they tend to carry much more weight than they should when evaluating and selecting leaders.

Researching what makes an effective leader

Google spent years of research identifying the key behaviors of its best managers, behaviors that include the ability to coach, empower their teams, create an inclusive working environment, communicate well, collaborate, support team members’ career development, make strong decisions, and more.

We beat Google to the punch with this one, as nearly five decades of our leadership research have been built on the idea that positive interactions have the power to help others maximize their own impact—and this happens when people feel respected, valued, listened to and understood, committed, empowered, and supported.

This sounds strikingly similar to what Google found above, huh?

As we found that great leadership and collaboration depend largely on the dozens of interactions or conversations people have at work every day, we defined the elements of what makes a successful interaction as five Key Principles:

  1. Maintain or enhance self-esteem.
  2. Listen and respond with empathy.
  3. Ask for help and encourage involvement.
  4. Share thoughts, feelings, and rationale. (to build trust)
  5. Provide support without removing responsibility. (to build ownership)

Along with these Key Principles, we’ve developed five Interaction Guidelines that form the structure for communicating effectively. These guidelines (Open, Clarify, Develop, Agree, and Close) focus on the practical side of interactions because relying solely on personal needs without meeting people’s practical needs, and considering the purpose of the interaction, will result in failing to meet the desired outcome.

Whether interacting with one person or a group, in a formal or a spontaneous discussion, or in person or over the phone, every interaction must accomplish its purpose efficiently. Each guideline represents an important, logical step in the discussion process. Together they provide a road map to guide successful discussions.

Joining Key Principles and Interaction Guidelines

The model below shows how Key Principles and Interaction Guidelines work together. I’ll borrow a simple comparison my colleague Bruce Court used in his recent blog on this subject: Key Principles are like the hub of a wheel, the Interaction Guidelines are like the spokes, and the specific business purpose for the conversation would be like a tire.

interaction essentials model

Best of all, this model can be easily adapted to either personal or professional situations. In fact, I’ve used this to resolve minor (that could have easily morphed into not-so-minor) conflicts with my husband, as well as in numerous interactions with my four and two-year-old sons:

  • Shifting my response when an accident happens (usually resulting in a boo-boo or hurt feelings) from “You’re okay!” to “Can you tell me what’s wrong?” or “How can I help you?”
  • Allowing the dishwasher unloading process to take what feels like hours to support learning a new chore
  • “Your capital J’s are looking awesome! I’m so proud of you. Let’s work on making your lowercase k’s look great, too.”

I also shared Interaction Guidelines and Key Principles with a good friend recently who was struggling with a hot-headed, but well-meaning co-worker. She was able to use them to talk her co-worker out of having an explosive reaction in an important meeting that would have likely resulted in this co-worker being fired, which would have been a huge loss to the team—and likely caused a key strategy to fail as this co-worker was indispensable to the project finishing on time. Communicating effectively for the win!

Personal vs. practical needs

As alluded to above, we’ve found that whether or not an interaction is effective comes down to its ability to meet two kinds of needs: practical needs—the objectives that must be accomplished through an interaction, and personal needs—the human “needs” everyone brings to every interaction. Before leaders can develop any other of the skills needed for specific business-related situations, they must be competent and confident in meeting both practical and personal needs.

This is why Key Principles and Interaction Guidelines have been at the heart of our leadership development systems, and we have proof that mastering them helps springboard performance in critical leadership skills.

How to make your leaders better

While it’s helpful to understand the behaviors your managers need to be the best and the importance of getting them up to speed on communicating effectively, you may be wondering how else to get your leaders the core leadership skills they need to be successful in every minute, every day, and every month of their careers. Learn how to make every moment of leadership count.

Many thanks to DDI Canada’s Diana Pantchev for the idea for this blog post!

Discover Leadership 480SM, DDI’s strategic framework to help you hire, promote, and develop exceptional leaders who maximize their effectiveness in every minute, every day, and every month of their careers.

carly barry imageCarly Barry is a writer for DDI’s Marketing Communications team. When she’s not working on articles, Carly can be found chasing—her two young sons and the finish line for several local 5ks and half marathons.

Posted: 26 Jun, 2019,
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