Lead with the positive: Four tips for communicating with your colleagues – and pretty much everyone else

Lilja Communications is a public relations firm in Minneapolis, MN specializing in internal communications, media relations, and family and business memoirs.

The art of attacking others with words is a useful skill for litigators, but it does not carry much value outside the courtroom. Adlerian psychologists will tell you we all have feelings of inferiority, and people thrive where they feel a sense of belonging and contributing. They also say the most productive environments are those in which people work together in cooperation and mutual respect.

Regardless of the size of your business, the same rule rings true when communicating with colleagues: Lead with the positive, even if you need to deliver critical feedback. Your colleagues – and pretty much everyone else – will hear and accept your message better if they feel you value them and their contributions.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

When delivering a critique, always start by pointing out the good. Find things to compliment that were good or at least on the right track. Even if all you can say is that you appreciate their effort – start there. The smallest appreciation will create a positive connection and enable your colleague to be more receptive to what comes next. And then don’t beat around the bush. Be clear and direct with your feedback.

Be careful with your choice of words. It really doesn’t help to lead with, “This is wrong” or “You made a mistake,” especially if they did the best they could with the information they had. A better approach might be to say, “Let’s talk about this. Where did you get the information?”

Take responsibility for your role. Better to say, “I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear when we first talked about this, but…” than to leave your colleague feeling like you’ve thrown him or her under the bus. Make it about working together to improve, and the recipient might be less defensive.

Express appreciation – often. Last, but not least, don’t forget the value of frequent appreciations for things well done. Everyone feels better when they hear, “Nice job!”


Posted by: Linda Tedford