Simply Said
Simply Said
Simply Said is the essential handbook for business communication.

Taming the Talented But Tactless Executive


Every organization has its "problem children". They are the ones who are stellar at what they do but not as successful when it comes to communicating effectively with others. Ironically, they often are major contributors to a company's success but also hurt the company by driving away other talented people who can't deal with their idiosyncrasies.

One common type of negative behavior is embodied in the manager who does not give others enough "air time". Typically, this type of manager focuses only on getting information out-barking orders, dismissing fellow employees with curt remarks or endlessly lecturing people in long, unfocused monologues. For them, a conversation is in reality a one-sided dissemination of information with little thought as to how the recipient of this information reacts or processes it.

"Many well intentioned managers simply don't understand the negative effects their behavior has on others," comments Merna Skinner of Exec-Comm LLC, a New York communications and training consulting firm that coaches executives to be better communicators. She adds, "In an effort to get the job done quickly, they alienate and frustrate those that work with them with their unintentionally insensitive behavior. Its only when these managers actually see how they are really behaving that they can begin to make positive changes."

Bringing in an outside consultant is in many cases the most efficient and tactful way to help these individuals. An objective third party can frankly and directly tell the manager things about their management style that direct reports or colleagues may be reticent to discuss. Similarly, the manager is usually more willing to open up and speak honestly about their weaknesses with someone outside the company. Skinner adds, "when the manager is relaxed and not threatened by internal politics, they can quickly focus in on what needs the most attention."

In most cases it doesn't take long to affect noticeable behavior changes. Within two half-day sessions, an executive can quickly identify the specific behaviors they use which adversely impact others and acquire new skills and strategies to effectively work with others. "Managerial personalities don't change overnight," says Skinner but "the way they interact with others can quickly improve."

Skinner offers these guidelines for developing an effective and results-driven executive development program:

  • Have the managers re-enact an actual interchange: Ask the executive to select a real world example in which they must interact with a member of their staff about a business situation. The actual outcome of the conversation isn't as important as the way the manager gives and receives information. "Managers who talk at people and not with them or who do not actively listen are very quickly identified," contends Skinner.
  • Videotape the role-play: Record the interchange that features the manager acting in their typical role and the consultant in the role of the staff member. Having concrete visual and auditory proof is invaluable to identifying specific problem areas and future solutions.
  • Ask the participants for a self-evaluation: Help the executive observe what they are and aren't doing. Skinner adds, "Through self-discovery comes change, helping them figure it out for themselves is the basis for future growth."
  • Guide the manager to their own conclusions: Asking open-ended questions like, "what kind of reaction did you just have?" or "how do you think you came across there?" will help the manager focus on their developmental needs. Particular attention should be paid to body language, word choice, tone of voice and conversational pacing.
  • Select and prioritize key skills to work on: Improvement in communication is an ongoing process. Pick skills to work on one at a time. Once a manger has mastered one set of behaviors, build upon this learning by shifting the focus to new skills.
  • Gauge progress with follow-up: Make sure that new behaviors are maintained over time by scheduling a follow-up session with managers at key intervals. These sessions also serve the dual purpose of determining if any new behaviors need to be addressed.

Contact: Bradford Agry
(212) 501-8045

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