Productive communication styles are problem oriented, descriptive and require active listening.
Productive communication is problem-oriented, not person oriented. Person-oriented communication focuses on the characteristics of the individual, not the event, and it communicates the impression that the individual is inadequate. One problem with person-oriented communication is that, while most people can change their behavior, few can change their basic personalities. Because nothing can generally be done to accommodate person-oriented communication, it leads to a deterioration in the relationship rather than to problem solving.
Problem-oriented communication focuses on the problem and its solution rather than on personal traits. It is useful even when personal appraisals are called for, since it focuses on behaviors and events. Statements such as “You are an autocrat” and “You are insensitive” are person-oriented, for example, while “I seldom meet with you to help make decisions” and “Our relationship is deteriorating” are more descriptive of problems. Imputing motives to an individual is person-oriented (e.g., “It’s because you want to control other people”), whereas expressing concern about overt manifestations of behavior is problem-oriented (e.g., “You made several sarcastic comments in the meeting today”).
Productive communication is descriptive, not evaluative. When individuals use evaluative communication, they make a judgment or place a label on other individuals or on their behavior: “You are bad,” “You are doing it wrong,” “You are incompetent.” This evaluation generally makes the other person feel under attack and respond defensively. Probable responses are, “No, I’m not bad.” “I’m not doing it wrong.” “I am as competent as you are.” Arguments, bad feelings, and a weakening of the interpersonal relationship result.
An alternative to evaluation is the use of descriptive communication. Because is it difficult to avoid evaluating other people without some alternative strategy, the use of descriptive communication helps eliminate the tendency to evaluate or to perpetuate a defensive interaction.
Descriptive communication involves three steps :
First, describe as objectively as possible the event that occurred or the behavior that needs to be modified. This description should be objective in that it relies on elements of the behavior that could be confirmed by another person. Describing a behavior, as opposed to evaluating a behavior, is relatively neutral.
Second, describe reactions to the behavior or its consequences. Rather than projecting onto another person the cause of the problem, the focus should be on the reactions or consequences the behavior has produced. Describing feelings or consequences also lessens the likelihood of defensiveness since the problem is framed in the context of the communicator’s feelings or objective consequences, not attributes of the subordinate.
Third, suggest more acceptable alternative. This helps the other person save face and feel valued by separating the individual from the behavior. The self-esteem of the person is preserved; it is just the behavior that should be modified.
Productive communication requires listening, not one-way message delivery. The previous seven attributes of supportive communication all focus on message delivery, where a message is initiated by the coach or counselor. But another aspect of supportive communication is at least as important as delivering supportive messages, and that is listening and responding effectively to someone else’s statements. As Maier, Solem, and Maier (1973, p. 311) stated: “In any conversation, the person who talks the most is the one who learns the least about the other person. The good supervisor therefore must become a good listener.”