Most retailers would be aware of the importance of strong communication skills in their industry — they talk to consumers as part of their job every day. But how many retailers focus on communication skills within their own staff team? 

Sales training coach and director of Changing Tools, Trevor Ambrose, has worked with the likes of Qantas and ANZ to develop staff communication skills and build stronger workplaces. Here he offers his tips on what makes for a good workplace communicator, and how to solve problems that arise when staff members clash.

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What are the main communication problems within a team or organisation?

Most people do not know how to communicate because they were not formally trained in communication skills. They are scared to talk to people and struggle to articulate themselves.

Within a team or organisation most people make the common mistake of expressing only their own ideas and thoughts by using the word I, I, I continuously in their sentences. This prohibits two way communication. Along with this they tend to try and make a point or an argument with statements from only their point of view. This causes conflict within the team or organisation.

What are the main archetypes of workplace troublemakers?

Troublemakers can easily be identified by their overall negative behaviours within the team or organisation. They love to stir, gossip, spread rumours and talk about the reasons why things can’t be done. They are good at twisting the intended message.

It’s important to note though that not all troublemakers are active, you also find troublemakers with passive aggressive behaviours within teams. This means that some troublemakers will purposely delay outcomes or avoid co-operation.

How do you manage these personality types?

One of the best ways to manage these personality types is to ‘talk to the sceptics before they talk to you’. Some of troublemakers might think the project or change is going to be too hard, take too long or require too much work. If you’re the boss, you have to talk to the entire team about the problem areas and have possible answers before the troublemaker brings it up.

It’s necessary to have an understanding of the different personality types and what’s important to them. You won’t be able to get through to other personality types by trying to change them to conform to your personality type. For example, if they are a direct personality type and you are an amiable personality type, you need to keep your conversations short and talk about the results.

Can you give me an example of how a negative situation (workplace conflict) has been turned around for a positive outcome?

There was a situation in an expanding company where they were hiring new staff. The existing staff felt that the new staff was brought in to take some of their responsibilities away from them, as they didn’t do a good enough job. The case was simply that they had too many responsibilities and not coping. This created an office conflict and some of the troublemakers started to display passive aggressive actions.

One of the new staff had been trained in communication skills and noticed this situation unfolding. Instead of talking to the rest of the team members about it and trying to spread rumours about the behaviour of the troublemakers, she decided to meet with the team members involved. She used the techniques of a good communicator to listen, understand and positively convey the message. Because she was able to avoid communicating out of her emotions, not attacking the other team member and not using negative language, the two team members were able to resolve the office conflict.

What advice would you give a team member who is struggling with a difficult boss?

If the boss is really difficult, try to understand the work pressure from his / her perspective. They might have deadlines, or other pressures the team member might not be aware of. It’s good to go and talk to your boss, instead of e-mailing him / her or talking to other team members about the problem or issue.

I would suggest that they find some alone time with their boss and start to talk about one or two positive points before they bring up the issues that bothers them. It’s not wise for them to attack their boss or tell him / her how difficult they are. Rather say something to the sounds of, ‘I know we are on a deadline and there are pressure to complete the job on time, but it feels like you micromanage me when you keep telling me how I should do my job. I would appreciate it if you could give me more space to complete the phases of the job without micro managing me’.

What advice would you give a boss who is struggling with a difficult team member?

A couple of points that a boss struggling with a difficult team member should definitely focus on are:

– Don’t ignore the team member, as the problem will not go away. Find a time and opportunity to have a private conversation with the team member and don’t talk to other team members about the difficult team member in their absence.

– Start the conversation and mention some positive points about him/her. This opens the conversation and makes it easy to revert back to positive points if the difficult team member feels that you only see his or her negative points.

– Talk about the bigger picture and communicate your expectation. Explain to the difficult team member that there are some gaps caused by his or her actions you are not happy about and give them a good reason why. You can ask him/her to explain their actions. It is important to listen to their viewpoint, without interrupting them.

– Clearly explain to the difficult team member your expectations and remember to take the emotion out of your conversation and focus on the issue.

Is there a point when you should pull the pin? Say, if the situation is impossible to resolve?

Absolutely, as a boss you won’t always be able to resolve all situations. This is why you have a HR department who will be able to give a legal perspective and unbiased input.

When the situation between the boss and employee becomes very personal and you cannot resolve the issue, pull the pin and end the meeting. Rather reschedule the meeting and bring a HR member into meeting to chair the meeting. This way the HR person will be able to suggest alternative outcomes.

What are some of the golden rules of being a top communicator in a team environment?

– Learn to listen first before you speak. The more you can be informed by asking the right questions the better your response will be.

– Use simple English words that will not discombobulate, sorry, confuse your audience. Clear communication is essential to ensure everyone understands exactly what you are saying.

– When you want to explain something more complex it is vital to use an analogy that everyone understands to help them relate to what you are trying to say.

– Do not let your team members come to their own conclusion of the message you’re trying to convey. A great technique to help you explain yourself clearly is to make a point and then to say, ‘which means…’. This will help you avoid any confusion.

And how can you get your point across even when you’re dealing with difficult people?

Most people feel that the person talking does not understand their problems, frustrations and what is important to them. So, if you want to get your point across, even when dealing with difficult people, start talking from your audience’s perspective.

Another sure method is to state facts that they cannot argue. People who have their facts straight are more convincing, persuasive and overall influential. When you state facts, a good method to use is to make a point and then to give a reason. Remember that if you don’t give a reason after you state a fact, then you are merely having an opinion, not a valid point.

Trevor Ambrose will be a speaker at Sydney Peak Performance Business Conference on March 27. This post originally appeared on Spice News.