Creating a Lean Culture: Communicating with HeaRT

Creating a lean culture sometimes requires participating in difficult conversations. Perhaps someone is not meeting their commitments, or maybe they're not fully present in meetings where their input is critical to the success of the project. How do you communicate with them in a way that doesn't tear them down yet gets results?

This puzzled me for a long time. I work with people who have a knack for this kind of communication - they can address a problem with someone, leave them encouraged as opposed to discouraged, and still make progress in overcoming the problem. So I began watching and listening to find their secrets, and I discovered an acronym to remember the basics.

This kind of communication is always Honest, Respectful, and Timely. It always has "heart".

Honest, Respectful, and Timely. Note that having just one or two of these elements included in a conversation is not enough. Think about it. You have to have all three at the same time! For example, I can be honest with someone and communicate in a time-appropriate fashion, but if I'm not respectful it's all wasted. I've made a problem worse and perhaps damaged a relationship with a valuable team member.

Let's look at each component

When these leaders address a problem, they are always Honest. They get to the point in a clear and concise way, saying what they mean and meaning what they say.

They are always Respectful. They don't tear people down - they recognize that most people have pride in their work and want to behave in a professional manner. They don't attack someone if there is a problem - rather they ask a lot of questions and offer even more support. They never EVER blame or shame. Their communication is always Timely. If a problem comes up they address it right away, before it gets worse or swept under the rug. Problems usually don't get better with time.

Sure this sounds easy. I know it's not. It's often easy to do one and ignore the other two. But if you put all three of them together, the results are nothing less than spectacular. This is also something that improves with practice. It's a skill, with perhaps a bit of art thrown in - but not much. Like any skill it can be learned and we can coach people around the finer points.

If we lead by demonstrating "HRT" in our communications, others will follow when they see that it works (assuming they get some coaching as needed). And if all the communication on a project happens this way, people grow and projects succeed. What more could you ask for!

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