How can we improve workplace communication?
October 15, 2019
Good communication makes teams work more efficiently Motivates employees and helps relations with customers and partners yet many organizations seem to have almost Institutionalized poor communication practices so how can managers communicate better? Welcome to the big question the monthly video series From Chicago booth review and how Weitzman are with me to discuss the issue in an expert panel I Yell at Fishbach is the Jeffrey Breckenridge keller professor of Behavioral science and marketing at Chicago booth Nicholas earthly is the John templeton Keller professor of Behavioral science at Chicago booth? he’s the author of mind wise how we understand what others think believe feel and want and Hella Caruso is an adjunct associate professor of Behavioral science at Chicago booth an Executive director of the center for Decision research panel welcome to the big question nick aptly let me start with you So many of us nowadays communicate so much by email yet. We know [that] email is terribly flawed easily misconstrued Would we be better off [picking] the phone arranging to meet people in person? How does the form of communication affect the results? So of course it depends a little bit on what it is that you’re trying to communicate and the problem with communication Media is that they’re simply tools for conveying ideas in my head to yours things and I know to you You can use those tools effectively or you can use them in effectively the big difference between these different Kinds and Media that we communicate through is whether they include certain kinds of cues so email for instance only includes? Text right only include Semantic content And so what it’s lacking is a lot of the tools that we have any interpersonal interactions for core Communicating thoughts and beliefs and attitudes and feelings namely paralinguistic use the problem is that those cues? What do you mean by paralinguistic sorry so things like intonation? So my voice goes up and down? Variants and pace it speeds up and slows blows down. You know I’m excited about an idea Because my voice kind of flutters up and down, and I speak louder or softer right so there’s a lot that Communicated not just in what we said by how we say it Text-based communication only includes what we say only the semantic content the very specific words and so a lot is missing the problem I think in communication is that when you are the person who is sending information? You have a hard time recognizing What’s missing on the recipients side so when I’m thinking of a joke to send to you? This is going to be so so funny How is going to love this I? Can hear the information in my head as I’m saying it I can hear the sarcasm In my voice when I’m sending you that funny note about your last big question video Right so I can imagine all that. I know I’m intending to your job You don’t have that information right and that can lead to a reliable bias where I think I’ve communicated to you more effectively? over information poor Communication Media than I actually have that’s a big problem Not recognizing when you’ve been clear, and when you’ve been unclear information rich environments when I’m talking to you, and I’m sitting with you face-To-face Allows for a bunch of things more information is exchanged you can ask me questions back those mediums enable understanding Mostly of what’s on another person’s mind Text-based communication however in other ways is great. If you’re going to send a spreadsheet, right? So it’s good for that kind of core content that doesn’t require communicating intentions or motives or desires But it’s awful in these other cases where you really want interpersonal understanding And you’ve actually done some research on the on how you know using your voice whether by phone or in person Makes a difference it turns out the voice we’re finding communicate more than you might imagine so as I mentioned there paralinguistic use Present in a voice which goes up and down most of this has to do with Variance in In these cues not just the core content of of what you’re saying and these communicate we find Kind of core elements of humanity what it means to be a person so your capacity to think or to reason or two to analyze something careful How do I know that your actual actually thoughtful that you’re a rational person that you thought carefully about this issue I can’t see [you’re] thinking I can’t see you engaging in rationality We find though that you can hear it and you could hear it in a person’s voice such that when you remove it so if we have people Listening to somebody who’s on the opposing side of the political spectrum from that then explaining. Why they voted for a particular candidate? people judge the person to be more reasonable more rational more just by hearing when they hear what they have to say compared to when they read the very same contact or When they read a written explanation that the person has put together that lacks those semantic use Essentially to mental life, and how do I know? That you that the lights are on inside. I can’t see it The paralinguistic hues and voice we find help to communicate some of that so there so there’s both the understanding element But they’re also the inferences that I form a form about you over these different medium And we find that people tend to think [that] others are a little less Mindful a little more mind less when they communicate or going to spend it doesn’t matter if it’s in person or by phone Well for these we so are our research on. This is limited at this point. So what we do is We compare context where I have audio visual cues I can see and hear you audio cues only where I’m just hearing the Content of what you’re having to say you’re giving an elevator pitch is an MBA student or you’re explaining Why you hold a belief that’s different from mine Or I just get the content in text. So that’s what we’ve that’s what we’ve communic What we haven’t done so far has had these repeated interactions where you’re actually face-to-face That’s harder to do for us a scientist because you can’t control the content as [well] But that’s where we’re moving so at this point It’s it would be premature to suggest stuff about face-to-face interaction because we’re not not quite there yet Okay, as it grew so negatively talked about people on different sides of the political spectrum I know you’re interested in this idea of why we might avoid certain kinds of conversations And gravitate towards others to tell us about that. Yeah So when you think it’s really interesting what you just building on this last question what you miss when [you] are communicating over these Sort of more impoverished Media and one of the [things] that you miss is any context for why it is you’re talking sometimes people just look launch into the middle of the conversation and State whatever it is they have on their mind and it’s not clear that you know why like what the motivation is for sharing that and so people lack of sort of sense of the goals of the comp the conversation they [can] lack a sense of the criteria [for] sort of introducing relevant information into the conversation And that can make that I think about going to common and either has a voice of the email Or is it more about how you introduce the subject if you gave all that context in writing? you might be able to set the conversation of better you can do a better job of this but again you run into some of These of Egocentrism are sort of self-centered Problems that nick is talking about where even as you’re describing the context the words that you use Make reference in [your] mind to certain meanings to certain other conversations to a certain history if you’re not elaborating all of that It’s not clear that other people are necessary necessarily going to get that and that of course is Exacerbated when the people that you’re talking to are from a different background if they have an actual different experiential history from you if they come from a context where Those words those goals of Criteria are by default different than those That you are familiar with then the assumptions. They’re going to make based on the fact that you’re having a conversation based on the articulation is just a few kind of keywords if those Words are articulated at all about you know what we’re here to do Those assumptions that they’re going to come to the conversation with aren’t necessarily going to be the same as yours So when we try to you know talk to people or advise or teach people about take group decision making? One of the things that’s really important is to set goals clearly upfront Consensually so you’re all there together you have this time and face-to-face context to go back and forth and to discuss exactly what that means and then to step forward with you sort of explicitly checked kind of confirmed Consensus on why we’re meeting what we’re supposed to be communicating and what is helpful information to introduce into the conversation So I think that nick will probably want to speak a little bit more to this in depth because I think this is some of the That his lab is going going towards exploring But I think the center in General is interested in promoting more of this kind of research and inquiry into What are the conditions under which people are going to actually launch into a face-to-face conversation with people especially when you are Coming from different backgrounds that can be a difficult thing to do when when the only option available is a face-To-face conversation when you anticipate that you’re going to be coming from at least an unfamiliar background that if not a kind of a Historically antagonistic background to the other person you might shy away from those kinds of conversations Because you anticipate that there’s basically going to be a fight right or that there’s going to be some moment of embarrassment And so we’re trying to move towards understanding what the conditions are under which you would be willing to Risk that kind of thing maybe for the sake of learning something Across those boundaries or collaborating and eventually coming to some shared kind of better Consensual reality is the sense there that these conversations often turn out to be less awkward than we Had thought they were going to be we find that in our research and you can make an important distinction between kind of two parts of a Conversation you can think first about engagement So do I actually sit down to talk with a yell at about an issue that we’re having in our Among our faculty for instance. How do I choose to engage with somebody in the Conversation and the other is enactment once we’re engaged once Al and I are talking about something How do I choose to talk about it and a lot psychologists study a lot the enactment part? How is it the conversation goes once you’re in it? But I think some of these bigger Questions here really take us a step back in the conversation stream stream to how do we choose to enact so if I’m anticipating having an awkward conversation with a yelling But I should probably be better for us to work out some differences or some challenges We might be having we actually talk to each other and an information-rich environment, but I’m anticipating an off for awkward conversation I might choose an information poor environment like email say which might actually? increase Misunderstanding rather than than reducing it so I think these issues of engagement When do we choose to engage with? somebody who thinks Differently than we do or who we anticipate an awkward conversation with and how do we overcome that is a really important thing For psychologists be working yeah I think one of the things that we are hoping to explore in particular is sort of is it is the preference for an information for environment because of Environments are often more kind of tractable I can write and pour over my word choice and I can prepare and I can kind of manage my anxiety in my Uncertainty is that part of what drives that choice for that is opposed to a face-to-face interaction where it’s a little bit more Unpredictable so some of these questions have to do with you know When you are entering a an engagement with somebody who’s familiar to you one of the things that’s nice about that is that you if we feel like you can predict their behavior a little bit better than you can predict the behavior of someone who’s very different from you, and so if that again is kind of a reflective of a tendency to want to Script the interaction, maybe what we can do is to find conditions under which people are more more comfortable with unscripted interactions more comfortable with risk-taking can find that kind of energizing and exciting in a way that makes the the awkwardness actually kind of part of the game part of the fun and that Might lower the barrier, but let me defend. Let’s let me defend that a cool environment man, I love reading books I Really love reading books And I think that’s being able to focus just on one medium and not being overwhelmed by their images and the phones and and just having this is often what creates art so just Let’s keep this in mind. Yes, there is less information But sometimes less is more Like this situation the crow, but I want to move to something different Which is that what you’re assuring so far too is we’re losing information So yes, there is a noise there is lots of information But there is another Problem that might be not less than even more serious which are biases in from you education so we might also want to to keep in mind that When I listen to nick I might hear what I want to hear, okay add This is one of their and they easiest to replicate biases inside One need to say something The Likelihood of me hearing it is much higher than if I don’t want to hear about it or if I don’t care about it in which case it’s completely a lost and one of the classic case a new classic Demonstrations of that is that with the gorilla in the room, okay this experiment in which There is a group of people that are passing balls and you need to count the number of times that the people with the white shirt to supposed to the people with the Blackshirts are passing bow and then while you are doing this someone is answering the world It’s a new person dress up like a gorilla and dancing in front of you. I mean, I think that in the original experiment most of the people More than fifty percent didn’t see that. Okay. Did not see a gorilla standing in stem and dancing now This is a very rich environment. Okay. We are hearing the sound they are seeing the picture This is as witches we can get a gorilla king stand in front of here And you will not notice it because you’re busy counting balls So we we might want to also think about what are they being what other biases, okay? It’s not just noise There are certain things that are easier to to see or hear them and people have it doesn’t mean you point that out We have a tendency to think if I put it in writing it cannot be missed but with those same biases apply to reading oh absolutely Yes, you can show it on every I Dimension you can just use Auditoria asking only and actually mix research is that Often using audit only similar were you you hear what you want real? You don’t hear other things you can just do it in Rare images Basically a visual illusions work on mannarkkad you see what you want to see there when you don’t see what? What I’m trying to hide or with you I? simply don’t Expect and see, so Yes, our expectations influence. What we see every medium This is sort of what we were talking about earlier with the the problem in groups and especially when they’re using these impoverished forms of communication where if you don’t tell people what it is you’re telling them this information for The presumption that they’re getting all of the information Is probably not a good one and that can transfer over into? in person Conversations as well where people are listening to you, but they may not be listening to everything that you’re saying Because they start to get a sense maybe in the first part of your your sentence or whatever it is You’re saying that oh, this is what they’re doing for and then they start to formulate a response so one of the interesting sets of dynamics that we’re Moving towards looking at has to do with that kind of dynamic and in-person interaction We’re actually doing this in partnership with the second city through a new initiative Improv Workshop here in Chicago XPs exactly so this Improvisational powerhouse that they’ve historically used improvisational exercises to generate comedy for their theater so show, but now they’re Partnering up with us to look at the improvisational elements of everyday life the things that you can’t predict or script but nevertheless need to go well and interpersonal Understanding is one of those things where I don’t know exactly what’s going to come out of the mouth [as] many of the speakers I’m going to interact with over the course of the day So I need to kind of figure that out as they’re talking and often that means I’m going to sort of I’m listening I’m listening as soon as I’ve got a hook and I kind of I understand that I think I know where they’re going At least the in practice at the second city they find that people Start to formulate a response right they want to they want to respond Sort of Halfway through a person Speaking to them and so they run these exercises where they have people listen, basically all the way to the end of a person’s Sentence or statement and people find that that’s harder than they expect But that when you do that You become much more conscious of that kind of to be interdependence between people who are speaking to one another and it Suggests that there’s room for developing listening skills that allow for a fuller understanding Of everything that a person is trying to get out and then do a lot of research to figure out. You know does that meaningfully improve the understanding that people are developing of one another does it improve Empathy and And the kind of smoothness of conversational back and forth and all that what? [should] be discovered Ayelet You mentioned biases that you know they forget regardless of the form there are biases that play into the interaction What are some of the you know for people who are not familiar with these behavioral science biases? What are some of the big ones that hamper communication or [the] come into play? [yeah], so we have briefly and mentioned The confirmation bias k or seeing information with you expect to see not seeing other information Related to eat these things things that fit within your schema Script for you, you know what is the normal course of events to give you an example? This is something that I do in class savory I present to people at least afford and I put [our] water she’s tired and night in bed and cushion, and then I ask them after reading the list did I mention the word sleep and Most of them say that I did although, I never mention it it kind of it’s fitting that it will be there so this is an example of Scripted schema that is activated it influences and what you see with you here another big one is What we call the omission in let they not noticing. What’s missing we know that most of the deception Communication is not in what you said is in what you kind of forgot to mention You kind of let me go with some assumptions and so even though. We know lies often goes through omission People often make the mistake to listen very carefully to what you did say need to see where there you were giving some Information they were not noticing not noticing. What’s Mr.. Evening will even listening well isn’t enough [you] got to listen to Paul isn’t there? yes, and you need to know what should have been said and What else are the big ones name well those are so those are the big ones the big ones in communicate our perspective gaps? So I know something that you don’t But I’m attending to something that you’re not attending to and some of these we’ve studied across different Media And we know how they respond differently across Media So take the one that you suggestion about omission neglect so here you can go from saying information poor Context like email, so I’m sending they yell at something Email versus I’m talking to her face-to-face where I’ve got an information-rich kind of environment It’s going to be hard for a yell at for any of us to Notice what’s missing in the tax that might be present in the voice, so in one of our studies from many years ago We had people communicate sarcasm or sincerity which of course depends on the tone you’re communicating? Because people weren’t sensitive to what was missing in text They were just as confident that they had interpreted it correctly as when they actually heard what the person said Even though they were much better at interpreting It accurately when they heard what the person said then when they read what the person said so some of these values we know We know how they vary across medium and like in the these cases They’re bigger when you’ve got text based information Because there’s more more stuff to miss there are more things you have to fill in with your expectations stereotypes for instance guide judgment more your expectancies guy judgment more When you are reading what somebody as I said and when you hear them just because it’s more poor than more gas tree filled in But other biases like the attentional bias ease right looking at something or attending to something Those often rely on visual information, so you know you’re more likely to look at a weapon in a room for instance But you’re probably not more likely to pay [attention] to the word gun in Text right. That’s a visual kind of bias so I mean we’re just that we’re at the early stages of understanding the richness of how these bosses play out across different media of community let’s turn it to a workplace environment What are some basic things that managers could do to improve? The listening will be one heather you mentioned what are some of the other? but more Kind of basic things you could do we all know we should listen and it’s hard to do as you say listen to the end of somebody’s thought yeah, I would you say yeah a perspective taking ok how do a Well at least fly ok often Even though you cannot do it. Well you can at least engage in the neck sir size of let’s predict What would be my view on this topic if I was managing this department by the other? Department and often just by doing this exercise you can pretty much January the arguments They are going to be facing by thinking What would I have faith if I will get person so it’s not perfect, but it gets you where as something other than prospective, they’re Taking [out] one thing that we often advise people is to just to have a very structured way of collecting information You need to know other the question that you’re going to ask you need to document the information that you are getting You need to know what’s missing which often you can get if you follow a very Structured way of collecting information if you just go with the conversation, and it’s there it’s easy to lose that I Can give one concrete example of how to do this in an interaction? Which is used in couples therapy. It’s used in Conflict ago She ation it’s known as the speaker listener technique, and it just encourages active listening so you can contrast say Perspective-taking where I imagine what you’re thinking or feeling or believing to? Prospective getting I actually get it from you directly and you can use the speaker listener and technique to do that It’s very simple I ask you a question, right? How did you think the latest big sink video went right and you can tell me so I [asked] you a question? You then respond to that? I then reiterate what I think you said well I think you thought it went well in this way and not in that way is that right and then you? Confirm whether that was right or not now that that helps to avoid a couple of devices of a yell at mentioned already number one, I’m not inferring what you’re Thinking I’ve asked you and you’re telling me in response Then I’m not misunderstanding what you’re telling me [because] I have to reiterate it to you in a way that you can either confirm or or Deny it’s also not perfect be cuz Sometimes I ask you bad questions that you can’t answer or we ask people things that they don’t know right, so it’s not perfect But what we try to do is psychologists say in the domain of communication You can’t make people birth perfect, but by identifying some of the places where they make mistakes We can help people do a little bit better speaker listener Technique is one example of how you might get better perspective taking in certain domains there’s one way which you might get a little better not perfect, but better and heather I know you just started your Improv Collaboration, but you have any thoughts about that flexibility that you talked about the ability to kind of think on your feet Yeah, no, I think part of that actually has to do again with this Sort of recognizing what can be left out or sometimes we’re concerned inserted into a conversation that doesn’t need to be there, so Sometimes just starting with asking people rather than thinking about what you need to communicate And we think about communication obviously often we think about what we [need] to tell other people And there’s some work that’s also coming out of the center now on the feedback [and] how sometimes feedback is unwanted And it’s it produces defensive reactions because you’re telling people stuff that they kind of already know especially if you’re talking about Negative performance Feedback, and you don’t anticipate that the person they know that they screwed up? and they know that mean that they’ve got to fix it when you come in and you tell them [that] they screw up and I’ve got to fix it, and they’re kind of feeling berated because they’re already kind of beating themselves up about it right, so That suggests there might be some benefits Walking in and just asking sort of where they stand how they think things are going if you find that out. You’re sort of more humble about the Communication episode you can say what needs to be said you can partner with that person in the conversation to communicate? What would actually? Help them move forward The most effectively rather than presuming you know that just entail Getting the other person to start the conversation yeah, I mean, and that’s an indication where you have to start by asking Sometimes to figure out what might be useful to do, right? Oh, you’ve actually that was a beautiful segue because you actually done some research on Feedback tell us about what you found So we were looking at how much people include positive versus negative But negative constructive feedback, sure hmm. We always look at that Feedback that is informative, okay? Not feedback that you actually don’t need because you you have the information and only fine is [that] you need to ask yourself whether that the recipient of this feedback is an expert versus another so whether Your relationship is closed with deeper versus third distant and the more the person is an expert The more they feel confident about something the more the relationship is established the more Negative see that will be effective now As much [as] the people will be more open to negative feedback is that it will be more effective that is it will motivate action and Basically we often look at feedback in a very simple forward because we want to study it in our experiment Should I tell you what you’ve done so far great que un? Videos so far. We are amazing or you are all the videos that you can still do in haven’t done yet, okay? So what’s going on? How? Should I highlight the completed or the missing a part and the mixing pot works better with experts with deeper? relationship that completed that part Makes that the novices that I feel that oh, I can do this like this is walking I feel Confident enough to develop father, okay border if you have to give unwelcome Feedback to the people in the first group that the novices well So you always there have both why to the extent that you are telling me something about my performance? And there’s always the good in the pair then to the expenditure decide to only mention one of them I know you are hiding some information, okay? So the question is how much do emphasize that? Sprang stairs or to sweeten system of the novice why would say using a great job? You could be even better if you did you get a second I think about it Just for the sake of the metaphor with a child like a child it is learning to say widest bike can you are? Not going to tell them that they’ll balance is not great because whatever okay, but wow look at you You can already do like 10 feet that’s amazing. Can you know there’s more confidence now? they’ll take the experiment a professional Biker well Here’s what’s missing? You know yet? How you can get even even better, so yes, there’s always both But you know the one of them will motivate action Right what about the other side though the person who’s receiving the cPAp also has that the bias we talked earlier were they they’re hearing? You can be that They’re fantastic may be missing the other part so that kind of thing well I would say that for the receiver though is the same effect which we docu- as that receivers would like to get More positive feedback if they are novices and ask for more ways to improve as they gain expertise also in close relationship people are asking for more negative feedback been in distance a relationship, so Receiver follow the same thing You know receivers might want to add to your positive things to feel great about themselves But that’s that’s off the point. You know whether those who are giving feedback anticipate these? Reactions correctly because I would imagine it could hypothesize that if I’m giving you feedback I might anticipate you’ll respond really well to positive feedback, and you’ll just crumble or be angry and response a negative feedback When in fact that’s not that’s often not how people take negative particularly constructive feedback people are wanting to improve So if I tell you how to get better at something or you tell me How to get better at [something] and I’m really trying to get better That’s a positive thing not a negative thing, but I’m wonder if if Feedback givers recognize that yes So if there was definitely some calibration in the sense that the receiver and the giver know that experience or relationship dePth walks in a certain direction so to the extent that we agree that our relationship is deep as I hope we Okay, then feel free to tell me everything I say a seven on the 10 points Yeah, so this is a problem now. Okay, because I feel our relationship is a 10 [so] [I] don’t have any problem Criticizing you okay, but you say hey, we are only at the seven. Why are you saying that? Now back to Ithaca being serious where we find it as often miss collaboration easy man I might think that you are the expert, but you feel more like an office So I feel that their [relationship] is Apparently with nick and I for the devil attention is deeper than it is and so so like old relationships It’s complicated and unfortunately on that on that note, and how time is up to my thanks very much to our panel, Ayelet fishbach Nicholas Eppley and Heather Caruso for more research and analysis and commentary visit us online at with you, Doc Chicago booth or Eu and join us again next time for another good question goodbye you