Most of our communication becomes a story. This may not be intentional at our end, but often the recipient creates a story out of what we’re telling her.
Imagine that someone in your team comes to you with an idea, and you say “Listen, this is a great idea, but I don’t think it’ll work right now because we don’t have the budget or the network to execute it, although I’m not saying I’m not open to hearing more if you can elaborate further.”
This is a clear message: concise and polite.
However, somewhere in his mind your co-worker is thinking“Here we go again. He doesn’t like my idea. Every single time I come up with a suggestion I get the same kind of comment. He never takes my feedback on board. I’m not sure what I’m doing here – I should find another job.”
Let’s add a story to your initial feedback and see what’s happening.
“Listen, this is a great idea but I don’t think it’ll work right now because we don’t have the budget or the network to execute it. I know you might feel disappointed. Back when I was working at X we had a team leader who crushed all our ideas. It was discouraging. He’d review our proposals using a red marker. Everything we wrote had to go through him. The day he retired we bought him a set of ten red markers. No thank you note, no “we’re going to miss you” card, nothing, zero. I think he got the message. That’s why you won’t see me using red markers here. If you still think your idea is feasible, let me know how we can get over the budget restrictions and the lack of network. I’d be happy to hear more.”
Stories help people to understand what you really mean, not just what you want to say. Don’t just aim for clear communication: make it meaningful too.