At Prosolve Consulting Ltd, David Hall, Founder, will often repeat that 80% of quality management involves communication. In this post, I outline Effective Communication Techniques suggested in three books which, when taken in combination, can greatly enhance communication in the workplace:

The discussed books are: Leader Effectiveness Training(1) (Thomas Gordon), Fearless Leadership: How to Overcome Behavioural Blind Spots and Transform Your Organization(2) (Loretta A. Malandro), and Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High(3) (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler). As Malandro says, “Behaviour drives results”. The best way to improve behaviour is to hold people accountable for it.

If your management team is struggling with peer-to-peer communication and you believe your company will benefit by raising the standard for healthy dialogue, I heartily endorse all three of these books.

In his book, Leader Effectiveness Training, Thomas Gordon illustrated his  effective communication technique for addressing behaviour, which has come to be known as the “Gordon Model”. Thomas Gordon suggests that before we can address problem behaviour in the workplace, we need to know who owns the behaviour and who owns the problem that the behaviour creates. Even If the owner of the behaviour is also the only one impacted by it, you can still help, but likely not in the way you think.  Gordon points out more than a dozen common responses that are not helpful, including, believe it or not, giving advice.  The best way to help a co-worker whose behaviour is interfering with their success in the workplace is simply to listen.  Let them talk it out and work it out.  After all, they own the behaviour and the problem. But what if they own the behaviour and you are the one impacted negatively by it?  In this case, avoid language that leads to confrontation.  Especially, avoid using the word “You”.  Instead, deliver an “I” message – i) describe the behaviour clearly, simply, and factually, ii) state the effect of the behaviour without exaggerating, and then iii) express your feelings on the issue in a respectful, yet assertive way and ask the other person for help in arriving at a solution that will work for both of you. On rare occasions, the behaviour is so serious (like lying, cheating, or stealing, behaviours that can seriously jeopardize the company) that additional resources are needed. “I” messages can still be helpful as a first step; however, Thomas Gordon stresses that if the behaviour is this serious, then get help from your management.

In her book Fearless Leadership: How to Overcome Behavioural Blind Spots and Transform Your Organization, Loretta A. Malandro explains that workplace behaviour is the greatest influencer of workplace productivity. She makes the case that before you can solve the problems that prevent your company or team from achieving optimal performance, you need to fully understand the underlying behaviours that block sustainable organizational change, efficiency and effectiveness.  Malandro describes 10 common behaviours, or blind spots, among leaders in an organization – aptly named because “the challenge with blind spots is that you can readily see them in others, but you cannot see them in yourself.”  Malandro calls on all leaders to establish a high standard for acceptable behaviour in the workplace and offers a series of techniques for maintaining that high standard.  Milandro maintains that there should be an expectation that each employee take 100% accountability for business results and their individual impact on others.  I find this book is extremely useful in constructing a workplace code of conduct.

The final book which I want to introduce to you is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. The book recognizes the difficulty in maintaining dialogue between employees in the workplace. The authors state that; “When conversations matter the most (when opinions vary, the stakes are high and emotions are running strong) we are generally on our worst behaviour” and offer a set of effective strategies for i) analyzing the source of our own emotions and our interpretation of the events that brought about those emotions, ii) creating a safe environment for both parties to engage in dialogue, and ii) encouraging others to share their stories even as they are trying to withdraw from the conversation, or are lashing out in anger. The authors offer a simple metaphor for dialogue as a pool of shared meaning, and a straightforward method for encouraging others to engage in dialogue to “fill the pool”.  If all you get from this book is the awareness to recognize when the conversation becomes crucial, the courage to interrupt the behaviour that is feeding the emotional fire, and the desire to re-establish a safe environment where dialogue can resume, you and your organization will be well served.

Using the categorization of behaviours from Leader Effectiveness Training, the behavioural standards set out by Fearless Leadership, and the conversation tools and techniques outlined in Crucial Conversations, your organization will transform into the high-performance team you need to deliver the level of quality that your customers demand.

  1.  T. Gordon, Leader Effectiveness Training, Revised Edition, Tarcher Perigree, 2001
  2.  L. Milandro,  Fearless Leadership: How to Overcome Behavioural Blind Spots and Transform Your Organization, McGraw-Hill Education, 2009
  3.  K. Patterson et al., Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, 2nd ed, McGraw-Hill Education, 2011


Martin Rybiak is a professional engineer and management consultant, with thirty years of operations experience. He is the founder of OPTIMUM Process Solutions, an Edmonton based management consulting practice that focuses on helping small to medium sized enterprises improve business and operations processes, and create the cultural transformation necessary to make those improvements stick.

Contact Martin Rybiak P.Eng., Certified Management Consultant for a free consultation:
Phone: (780) 405-9417