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"More" vs. "More effective" Communication

by Jen Mueller | Mar 02, 2016
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More is better. That’s what we’ve been trained to believe in business. Have a problem? Throw more at it until it’s fixed. More time. More money. More resources.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that most business professionals assume “more” improves communication too. They use more words, spend more time talking and engage in more conversations all in an effort to become better communicators. Those tactics rarely work.

Recall the last time you were trapped in a long conversation at a networking event. How much time did you actually spend listening versus planning your getaway? Think about the long email that recently landed in your inbox. How long did it take for you to figure out what it actually said? Finally, what about the colleague who finds it necessary to go over the details of the upcoming project multiple times? At what point do you get tired of having the same conversation over and over and start avoiding him?

More isn’t always better and most of us don’t have time to fit anything more into our schedules. It would be far easier to utilize the conversations that already take place and learn to read between the lines of what your colleagues are actually saying – particularly if they’re talking sports.

It’s tempting to write off sports conversations as a waste of time at work. After all, shouldn’t your colleagues be spending more time concentrating on the upcoming deadline and less time talking about their favorite player or ranting about a costly coaching decision? Maybe but consider this, every conversation about a team, a player or a game opens a window to their personalities and communication styles.  

Knowing what makes your colleagues tick allows you to strategize more effective conversations. You’ll be able to position your ideas and messages in ways that get heard and acted on. You’ll get more out of conversations and the entire staff will work better together. This can be done without scheduling more meetings or engaging in more conversations. 

All you have to do is be willing to let your colleagues talk sports. Yearly polls show that more than half of all Americans are sports fans. Based on the numbers, there’s a good chance you work with a few of them. In addition, sports talk extends beyond the final score of the game or statistics. It opens the door to a number of conversation topics and connection points that are important in developing relationships. Lastly, sports fans talk to other sports fans regardless of title, age or work experience. This means it’s just as likely that an executive would talk sports with a recent college graduate as with another executive. Key influencers and decision makers become more accessible when you can use sports as a conversation starter.

With that in mind, sports conversations become a key tool in developing business relationships, as well as improving communication. Here are five things you can learn from sports conversations at work: 

1. Are they team players? Fans who loyally wear jerseys or team gear enjoy being part of a community, part of “the team.” They likely thrive in group settings and appreciate the camaraderie and the connection that comes from being a part of a team. This could mean they are good at collaboration and will do better working with others rather than on their own. Use this information to determine how to best work with your colleagues. Is it side-by-side on a project from start to finish, or separately until the final steps?

2. What characteristics or values do they prize? Ask a colleague about his or her favorite player and pay attention to the description. The on-field ability and stats are only part of the attraction. For example, you might hear about Russell Wilson’s poise and leadership, Richard Sherman’s confidence and trash talk, or Marshawn Lynch’s hard-nosed “Beast Mode” running style. If they find those qualities attractive in the Seahawks, they will find them attractive in people they work with and may seek to emulate the traits themselves. This can be particularly helpful in knowing how best to compliment a colleague.

3. How do they respond to a win or a loss? Listening to the way fans talk about the outcome of the game can give you insight into their ability to handle success and failure. Are they gracious winners? Sore losers? Do they blame officials? True colors come through when people talk about a game. Their reaction to wins and losses at work will be similar to how they express their fandom. Consider the timing of your conversation with a colleague who has a strong reaction to success or failure.

4. Are they Monday morning quarterbacks? Second-guessing and criticizing a coaching decision a day or two after the game seems like just part of being a fan, but it is another aspect of behavior that is tied to personality traits. A colleague who consistently second guesses a coach is more likely to challenge or question authority, which — depending on your organization and the degree to which the person does this — can be seen as a good or bad trait. It’s not something to be taken personally if you and a colleague don’t see eye-to-eye on decision making and authority.

5. What are their preferred communication styles? People have different styles, which can be demonstrated by the way each person describes a game. Some people focus on the stats and numbers involved. That communication style usually prefers short, information driven conversations. Others include more details and will talk about the overall game atmosphere, food and entertainment. This style typically lends itself to longer exchanges. Neither is right or wrong, but recognizing the difference allows you to tailor your message and accommodate different communication styles.  

There’s a lot you can learn about your colleagues from their sports talk. Give them a reason to talk and they’ll give you clues on how to get on the same page, reduce miscommunication, eliminate frustrating conversations and increase productivity without doing anything “more.” 

Jen Mueller headshotJen Mueller, America’s Expert Talker, pursued a career in sports broadcasting after repeated comments of “talks too much” from teachers and family members. Jen currently serves as a member of the Seattle Mariners television broadcast team and the radio sideline reporter for the Seattle Seahawks. She founded Talk Sporty to Me in 2009 and is the author of two books. Contact her at jen@talksportytome.com

*Image via ©iStock by Getty Images/Zager

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