Maintaining Your “Landing Gear”

We all have been on the receiving end of comments, feedback and even jokes that don’t “land” well. They miss the intended effect by an inch or a mile – generating annoyance instead of appreciation, defensiveness instead of learning, and confusion or even offense instead of amusement.

Similarly, everything that comes out of our own mouths “lands” somewhere. We owe it to those around us to try for smooth landings. Here are a few client examples of how greater awareness about your communications can improve your work relationships and impact.

— A senior executive I coach often forgets, in the heat of the moment, that the team that supports him (where all his requests and demands “land”) is as important as the steady stream of ideas and projects he generates. Andy sometimes sounds condescending or annoyed such that his ideas and requests are not willingly embraced. He is now experimenting successfully with ways to communicate in a more collaborative, respectful and less frenetic tone. Andy now better explains his thought process, expresses more genuine appreciation, and tailors his approach for different personalities.

— A young client I’ve coached had a very different problem. Her messages never left the ground. Claire was so tentative and unsure of herself that she envisioned all of the potentially valuable suggestions and requests that she could initiate as likely “crash landings.” She simply couldn’t see past her extreme discomfort asserting herself to believe that her input might be well received. Her remedy has simply been to practice. She’s made great progress by starting with modest opportunities to interject her ideas and by running through those conversations in advance. The result is usually win/win with mutual understanding and no strain on her work relationships (sometimes there is a net gain!).

— A third client is a strong communicator who executes perfect “landings” on all her usual communication routes – with the stakeholders who know her best. But in order to advance to the C level, this executive needed top leaders who did not see her regularly to have a better impression of her effectiveness; they were not giving her the benefit of the doubt via the early impressions and little exposure they had. Her no-nonsense, direct style were misinterpreted as cold until one saw what a loyal (and fun) colleague and supportive manager she was. So we co-invented some types of interactions to address this perception gap and demonstrate certain attributes more explicitly.

What types of landings do you experience most frequently? Can you check out how your communications are received by your most important target audiences? If you slow down and look, you may find clues. Do the responses you get “match” your intentions? The foolproof tactic is simply to ask folks to paraphrase back to you their understanding of what you’ve conveyed, and listen for and correct any misunderstandings and unwanted emotional reactions.

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