Much attention has been paid to the detrimental impacts of emotional outbursts or aggressive communication. The attention is appropriate. Leaders should as Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, points out “take responsibility for their emotional wake.”
And what about the flip side? What is our responsibility if we are on the receiving end or witnessing unconstructive communication behaviors? One leader admitted to me he will go into “auto-avoidance.” Other leaders I know who are the guilty party will then become the object of destructive gossip as the incident is told and retold around the office.
While the onus is on the offending party that initiated the poor display of communication acumen, the rest of the team has a responsibility to choose a constructive response. Gossip, blaming, vilifying, avoiding and otherwise bemoaning are NOT constructive responses.
Here are a few constructive approaches that can be employed depending on the context…
Point to values. Shared, defined values are an essential part of any organization. If the communication is in conflict with a value it should be noted.
Point to team agreements. If values have not been defined or if none of the values apply to constructive communication (I would be surprised if at least one would not relate in some way), then highlight how the communication is not in line with the way the team has decided to work together. Team agreements can be very practical and can speak to both attitudes (like respect) and behaviors (like letting people complete their sentences).
Point to the behavior. Be specific about what behavior was not appropriate. There are a surprising number of people in the workplace that are not aware of what they do.
Point to the domino. Be specific about the impact of the communication behavior. What was the result of the behavior on the organization, you, effectiveness with others, etc.
And finally there is one “don’t” to consider. Don’t point at the person or their character. The feedback should focus of the behavior and the impact of others. Personal attacks, while they may feel good in the moment to deliver, promote defensiveness and are a waste of time.
And who should do the pointing? The answer will depend on the context, but if there are established values or team agreements it paves the way for that feedback to come from any seat. The key point is that everyone is responsible for constructive communication.