One-Way Communication in Contrast to Two-Way Communication
Have you ever encountered this very interesting workplace situation: A decision doesn’t go the way an employee wants. His boss wants to turn this into a developmental experience for his employee. So when he gives the employee the bad news, he also tells him what his problem was, and what he needs to do to fix it so that next time things will go his way. Is the boss’ approach laudable or problematic? The answer, as we will see, has to do with whether he uses one-way or two-way communication.
As a vice president at a pharmaceutical company, Ted feels he is doing a good job as a manager.
One of his direct reports, Ben, is a very accomplished statistical analyst. He works hard and is an asset to any research team. At this company, becoming a project leader is a form of promotion and a reward for achievement. Ben is anxious to become project leader for a new research team, working on the early testing of a new pain medication.
However, Ted feels that Ben’s communication skills are lacking. While his reports are crystal clear, his interactions among team members are often stilted. When confronted by opposing opinions, Ben becomes frustrated easily. He then treats others in a condescending way, as if they are not smart enough to understand his brilliance.
Coaching and Feedback
Ted considers this kind of behavior unacceptable for a project leader. Therefore, he has scheduled a meeting with Ben to tell him that he will not be chosen for that position. To avoid demoralizing Ben, Ted also plans to tell Ben how he can fix his problem and get Ben to realize he needs to work on these skills. That way, Ben will be a candidate to lead a future project, and this will help overcome his letdown from being passed over.
Ted feels he has a strong plan for his meeting with Ben. What do you think?
Ted thinks his meeting plan with Ben will be effective. A boss’ job is to provide candid, constructive feedback, and that is exactly what Ted plans to do. He will be up front about the purpose, have an action plan for Ben, and state a benefit for following it. This is Q4 leadership, right?
Wrong. Ted is doing what managers often do when they want a meeting to go a certain way, especially if there is potential for a negative or emotional response. He wants to tell and control.
Ted has not given Ben a role in the meeting other than sitting and listening. How receptive will Ben be if the meeting is all tell, tell, tell — i.e., one way communication? How motivated will he be to carry out a plan if he has no input?
Judging on Intent Vs. Action
We tend to judge our actions by our intent. Ted’s intent is admirable, and, therefore, he thinks he is exhibiting Q4 leadership. However, others judge us by our action. Ted’s one-way communication is Q1, therefore that’s how others see him. So even though Ted thinks he acting admirably, he isn’t.
Knowing the Difference between Dialog and Monologue
Q4 leadership engages the other person in a two-way exchange. It is a dialog, not a monologue. Without realizing it, by planning more of a monologue, Ted is being Q1. This is likely to arouse Q1 anger and resentment from Ben, or Q2 retreat and passivity. If Ted wants commitment from Ben, he needs to have a Q4 interchange, not one-way communication.
Venting Negative Emotions
To ensure this dialogue goes well, Ted needs to let Ben vent his disappointment or anger after learning the bad news. This, in itself, can help make Ben more receptive.
After checking to see that Ben is ready to go on with discussion, Ted can move to the step in a Q4 meeting that he’s overlooked – probing to get the other person’s views before presenting his own.
Ted should explore Ben’s thinking. He should devise questions to get Ben talking about what he can do to succeed in the future. For instance, “Ben, what do you think it takes to be an effective project leader?” “How do you view your past performance working with others on the team?” and “What steps do you think would help you to become a project leader?”
These open kinds of questions usually lead to self-discovery, which is always a better way to gain insights than being force-fed ideas or lectured to.
Even if Ted disagrees with some of Ben’s thinking, they are now having a dialogue and collaborating on a plan of action. Ted may not be in complete control of the meeting or its outcome, but it’s worth it if he can involve Ben and get his buy-in to a plan Ben helped to develop. Two way communication generates commitment and outperforms autocratic, one way communication.
Beyond One-Way Communication – Your Next Steps
Ready for the next step in your leadership development? We have three recommendations for you.
If you want to read more leadership tips, see our Leadership Learning page where we have more than 40 challenging situations and suggestions on how to handle them. Be sure to take our Behavior Questionnaire where you can get actionable hints on dealing with a challenging person at work.
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