Communication is the cornerstone of human interaction, yet it’s often one of the most difficult things we do within our organizations.

Misunderstandings, assumptions, and misinterpretations can muddy the waters of even the simplest conversations if we’re not careful.

So how can we navigate these communication pitfalls effectively? We believe the answer lies in these 3 things:

  1. Developing self-awareness – observing and recognizing our own feelings and behaviours.
  2. Understanding communication dynamics – how and why people respond the way they do.
  3. Using an effective conversation framework – especially for more challenging conversations.

Let’s dive in.

Developing Self-Awareness

Good communication takes effort – and to make sure you’re putting the right effort into communicating with your team, it helps to start by taking a long, hard look at how you’re communicating with others.

Start by developing awareness and mindfulness of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.

Learn to recognize patterns in your perceptual reasoning: where are you making assumptions? What situations heighten your emotions?

From here, you can work to determine where your development opportunities are and how to increase your communication effectiveness.

Self-awareness allows us to recognize our biases, assumptions, and triggers, which allows us to approach communication with greater clarity and intentionality.

(For more information on developing self-awareness, download our Inclusive Culture Playbook.)

Understanding Communication Dynamics: The SCARF Model

To communicate more effectively, it helps to understand why people get defensive or triggered in the first place.

At Cinga, we use the SCARF model.

Developed by David Rock, the SCARF model identifies five domains of social experience that often influence our behavior in social situations. Here they are:

  • Status: Our perception of being valued or devalued.
  • Certainty: Our ability to predict the future.
  • Autonomy: The sense of control over our life.
  • Relatedness: The feeling of safety with others, of belonging.
  • Fairness: The perception of fair exchanges between people.

These factors play a crucial role in how we perceive and respond to communication in the workplace.

Threatening any domain can trigger a defensive reaction, blocking effective communication. As leaders, understanding and addressing these needs is crucial for effective communication.

Here’s a quick example: Imagine two employees, John and Sarah. John has been publicly praised by the boss, elevating his perceived status. Sarah, feeling undervalued, may experience a drop in her status, leading to potential disengagement or resentment.

As a leader, you can intentionally address status by consistently recognizing individual contributions, avoiding public reprimands, and fostering an environment in which each team member feels seen and valued.

Using an Effective Conversation Framework: the SBI Model

The Situation-Behavior-Impact model (SBI) is a framework that offers a structured approach to giving feedback.

It helps you hold back from telling yourself an inaccurate story when someone disappoints you or lets you down – taking this approach can lead to a much more productive conversation that preserves your relationship and lays the foundation for trust.

The SBI model helps you clarify others’ intent, while also offering you the opportunity to share the impact of their behavior.

Here’s an overview:

  • Situation: Describe the specific context or situation in which the behavior occurred. This sets the stage for understanding and avoids vague generalizations.
  • Behavior: Focus on observable actions or behaviors without injecting personal opinions or judgments – or assigning assumed motivation or intent. Stick to the facts to ensure clarity.
  • Impact: Articulate the impact of the behavior on you or others involved. Express your feelings or reactions honestly to create a deeper understanding of the consequences.

By sticking to the SBI model, leaders can bypass assumptions and address behaviors directly, paving the way for clearer communication and mutual understanding.

At Cinga, we typically focus on using the SBI model for providing feedback, but its application has potential for many different types of conversations.

For example, I recently used this model in a personal conversation with my spouse:

When you interrupt me during our conversations, it makes me feel unheard and unimportant. For instance, during dinner last night, when I was sharing my thoughts, your interruption disrupted my train of thought and left me feeling frustrated.”

Notice how I applied the SBI model to communicate my experience directly, focusing on the specific situation, behavior, and impact.

Try it!

Becoming a more effective communicator requires ongoing practice and reflection.

Try using the SBI model in your next conversation.

Whether it’s a challenging conversation with a partner, a parent, or a colleague – or even a non-confrontational discussion, the SBI framework can help you effectively articulate your thoughts and feelings.

By honing your self-awareness, understanding how others may respond, and mastering communication techniques like the SBI model, you can cultivate deeper connections, resolve conflicts, and create a more inclusive and supportive work environment.