What can the giraffe teach us about improving leadership communication?

How to improve leadership communication?

Well, it turns out – quite a lot!

The atmosphere at work is not always good. Competition, different attitudes or bad manners challenge people’s patience. Other behaviours that create a negative workplace include distrust and resistance to change. However, the heart of the issue often stems from a lack of leadership from the top.

How can we strengthen relationships instead of disconnecting and ignoring the needs of others? A mix of effective leadership communication and Nonviolent Communication (NVC) will show how to communicate respectfully and help find solutions before situations escalate.

When looking at how to improve leadership communication, we first need to look at effective leadership communication skills. These should include the ability to show emotional intelligence, to understand and manage emotions in a positive way, effectively communicate, empathise with others, show compassion, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.

But we all know these skills do not often come naturally in some difficult situations – and this is where the giraffe comes in – with the biggest heart of any land animal (up to 40lbs!), it is seen as a symbol for compassionate communication.

And with the help of the giraffe, we are going to look at Nonviolent Communication as a simple model to improve leadership conflict-resolution, by outlining the two possible languages you can use:

  • Jackal language is judging, criticising, analysing, moralising and accusing. (We are all hard-wired to judge so this is the common go-to)
  • Giraffe language is heart-centred, compassionate and caring about the other person’s needs

We can use the way the Jackal and Giraffe communicate

Avoid going ‘jackal’. If you feel speaking your mind, no matter what the situation, does a good duty to yourself and others around you, think again – even if you expect others to do the same to you.

You need to consider your effect on others because coming across as blunt, criticising and borderline rude is not the best way forward. ‘Why? I was just being honest’. Remember, quite often the form of delivery is more important than the content or the intention. Tough conversations will not be made easier with this method.

So, if you are planning a difficult work conversation, go ‘giraffe’ and use this useful NVC four-step process:

  1. Observe what is happening and describe the situation without judgement: I see … / I hear … / the situation is …
  2. Identify/express your feelings: Then I feel …
  3. Find the need behind your feeling: My need is … / because I would like … / I desire … / I need …
  4. Formulate a clear, positive, do-able request: Next time / Please will you … / are you willing to do this …?

Jackal talk is when we manipulate others and make them feel guilty for making us feel the way we do. Instead, the Giraffe would build trust and say without criticism ‘When you do that, I feel that… because…

We can use the way the Jackal and Giraffe listen too

  1. Pause – when you see poor behaviour or feel defensive, when your ‘hardwiring’ to blame or be defensive kicks in, and
  2. Choose – to hear through Giraffe ears and be generous in how you view others and their intent when observing their behaviours and actions

When giving feedback, effective leaders will work through difficult conversations with their Giraffe ears on, moving from judging Jackal (we are hardwired to blame) to the generous Giraffe (big heart, high/far vision).

Jackals Ears are when we are being judgmental, unconscious (which increases defensiveness and resistance in the other and ourselves):

  • Ears out: “It’s your fault” we blame or criticise others, attacking
  • Ears in: “It’s my fault” we blame or criticise ourselves, submitting

Giraffe Ears are when we are being generous, holding that people have the best intentions, empathy, compassion, sensing, being conscious:

  • Ears out: Noticing how they are feeling and what might be going on for them, what might they need?
  • Ears in: Noticing how you are feeling and what might be going on for you, what do you need?

When handling difficult conversations, adjust your communication style, create a relaxed environment, think about the different team members involved, what are their strengths-problem solving, good leader, active listening – focus on these as well as the more difficult message you need to give.

Do you avoid difficult conversations? Do you need leadership development? Had a difficult conversation recently? How giraffe or jackal are you…

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