When Emails and Meetings Don’t Work

When Emails And Big Meetings Don’t Work Anymore…

By Michelle Toney

We’ve tried them, right? We’ve tried putting smiley faces and being passive-aggressive with the emails. Rolling our eyes and biting our tongue as we type out a decent response so that the project can go on. And inside we are seething, irritated that who we are or what we have done has not been properly acknowledged.

And then company meetings. I like them, usually. They make me feel more informed and like I am part of a team. But big meetings don’t fix problems between just a few people. They just don’t. Sometimes they make them worse.

Because of years of being in HR, I often see how things fracture. When people get irritated, hurt, or consistently (and sometimes by accident) overlooked, the system eventually breaks down. There are always people who want to ignore it and go on, to sweep it under the rug because so far it has worked. Well, I see when it can’t. The breaking point. The fracture. The point of no return.

Two things that could happen at this point to fix it, if you find yourself involved in a situation like this. When all normal communication patterns just don’t work anymore. The first is really drastic, but it works. You can find another job. You can get so miserable that you decide you have to go. Sometimes, other people are hoping you choose this option. This may make you mad, and you may want to stay around to prove them wrong. In that case, the only thing left to do is to make a movement.

A what? A movement. You are physically going to have to get up and move. Or, if you are across the country, pick up the phone and set up a video or Skype conference. You are going to have to make a movement toward doing a very uncomfortable thing. You see, who you are when it is easy to talk to someone doesn’t reveal how good you are at communication. It reveals what you know about the latest movies, music, or the weather. Talking to them when things are strained, now that is when you can showcase your great communication.

But walking down the hall, around the corner, and into someone’s office and saying simply, “I am hoping you have a few minutes, could we talk?” in such a way that the other person does not feel cornered, intimidated, or fearful takes some real talent. It means you are open to finding out — without anger or reaction — where the other person is. To ask them how they like to be communicated with and what you can do to change. It means listening quietly until they are done. And then taking a deep breath. And if you need to, admit that you had no idea they felt that way. Tell them the best things you see about how they do their job. Tell them you will make specific changes. If, at that point you aren’t worked up, ask them if you can tell them things about how you like to communicate. And tell them why you are that way.

I’ve never left a meeting like that where I haven’t learned something. Unless I was angry and argumentative and not really open to change. People can tell when you aren’t open to change, and the meeting will go very, very wrong. And then there will be nothing left to say.

Or they can tell when you are ready to see the best of them. Even if they aren’t just like you. And the bigger conversation will be just beginning. It will be awkward and not perfect. But the movement will have been started.

This article originally appeared on the Cascade Employers Association blog. Reprinted with permission.