Why is it that our peers react differently to the same message? There are a number of responses to this question. Regardless of how you answered, there are three key considerations we need to make when working within our teams.

Working with others can be challenging. We all bring different perspectives and experiences. While this can be a benefit for team growth, this can also create negative conflict that can cause damage to our team relationships.

I like to ask the following question when working with teams: If there is one thing we can improve on within our team, what would that be?

What was your first thought? I have heard answers like respect, getting along, everyone contributing, having fun, and so on. However, there is one answer that is given the majority of the time. When asked what a team can improve on, I almost always hear communication.

I have come to find that communication is the easiest to identify as a development element, yet it is the hardest to fix. Why?

For a long time, I would attribute the roadblock to differences in personalities or other factors, but I recently came across a tool that I feel provides an answer on how to help our communication practices within our teams.

Author Joseph Ravick leverages a model in conflict management that he calls “Not letting the APES get you” Simply, he identifies the impact assumptions, perceptions, and expectations has on people. In his conflict management lens, he defines the ‘S’ as solutions.

So, how does this help teams improve their communication? Let’s walk through each of the elements:

1. Assumptions

Assumptions are those things we assume to be true. How often do you make assumptions? All the time! When we communicate with those around us, we are assuming they know the language we are using and we assume they are understanding the message we are sending. Assumptions can get us in relational trouble if we are not able to be self-aware enough to check those emotions.

For example, if I provided an announcement to my team that there was a major change coming. You reacted as one might expect. Calm and collected. You have questions but are holding judgement until you have more information. Your co-worker immediately becomes upset and storms out of the meeting room. What assumptions are you making when you process what happened? Honestly, it doesn’t matter what we think. We don’t know. To check our assumptions in this scenario, we have the opportunity to go and speak with that employee so we can understand the why behind their actions. If they don’t want to speak with us about their response, then we need to respect that and reserve our assumptions about that co-worker.

2. Perceptions

Where do we get our perceptions from? Our experiences. We all bring a different perspective to life. Because of this, we need to understand that our perspective is unique to us and we should not expect others to view things the same way we do. At the same time, others should not expect us to see things exactly as they do. In teams, we have the opportunity to express our perspectives to each other.

For example, look at the picture below. What is the first thing that stood out to you?

Cedar Lake, Grand Rapids, Ontario, Canada / Photo by Jason Weber (2018)

Some common responses may be water, the rocks, the sun, trees, etc. While each of these answers is different, none of them are wrong. When we are collaborating as a team, it is important for us to seek other perspectives to ensure we are seeing the situation from all possible angles.

3. Expectations

Expectations are just that. Things we expect. If I am delegating a project and I have an end result in mind, then I need to share that with you. If I don’t share the expectations I have with others, then the burden falls on me.

Have you ever had a project assigned to you only to have your finished project be sent back because it wasn’t what the requester wanted? If you have, you know the feelings that are associated with that. Frustration, disappointment, and possibly anger will emerge. Each of these feelings will change how you interact with that person in the future. To prevent these emotions, commit to spending some time discussing the project or expectations with your team before you delegate or assign work. Make sure everyone is on the same page with the end result. By doing this, you are taking out the guesswork we all dread. The more clarity we can provide, the more likely we are to find success as a team the first time.

Learning from mistakes

Working within teams is a dynamic, ever-changing experience. We can do ourselves a favour by learning from past mistakes. Being intentional with our communication will support the growth and relationship development within your team. Remember, the more we can take the guesswork out of the relationship, the easier it will be to develop confident and satisfied employees.

Throughout my career, I have been involved in a variety of people development roles. From being a field trainer to a training and development executive, my passion has been to figure out the challenges we currently face in the training and development field. My areas of interest revolve around team dynamics, team effectiveness, accountability, servant leadership, leadership development, and a number of other people development topics.