Focus on the Fundamentals of Effective Communication within an Organization
Part Two

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 12, Issue No. 5
August, 2013

By Dan Coughlin



(Author’s second note: This is part two of a three-part article. This was going to be a two-part article, but then I decided there really needs to be one more part to present this topic in a more comprehensive way.)

In Part One, I suggested that business performance could be explained using the following formula:

Talent + Energy + Time = Results

Consequently, communication approaches that ruin working relationships waste the time, energy, and talent in the organization. Conversely, communication approaches that strengthen working relationships optimize the talent, energy, and time in an organization toward improving results.

Communication Approaches that Strengthen Working Relationships
(the headline is “Respecting the other person.”)

At the heart of building a stronger relationship with another person is truly respecting that person. If you’re only working to build a stronger relationship with that person because your boss is making you do it, then you are unlikely to make any real progress.

Do you respect the person, even though you might disagree with some aspects about him or her? Why do you respect the person? What is it about him or her that you admire? If you can’t find something to base your respect upon, then you aren’t going to put in any real effort toward strengthening the relationship.

If you do respect the person, then here are ten approaches to consider in strengthening that relationship:

  1. Spending one-on-one time with the other person. (Recommendation: make a 10 Key People List, invest a minimum of ninety minutes once a quarter with each person, repeat quarter after quarter.)At the very minimum, I believe you need to spend 90 minutes of quality one-on-one time with the other person every three months. This could be at lunch or in a conference room or riding in a car or over the phone or on Skype. For those ninety minutes have no agenda and no interruptions. Turn off your cell phone and get away from your emails. Go away from your office where you won’t be tapped on the shoulder with constant requests. Ninety minutes four times a year might not seem like much, but I’ve been amazed to find out that sometimes people go a decade without ever having any quality one-on-one time with a key person in their part of an organization. And then they wonder why the relationship has never gotten very strong.

    I suggest you make a list of the Ten Key People you want to have a strong working relationship with, and then schedule ninety minutes with each of these individuals every quarter. If you are really faithful to that, I think you will find that your relationship with each of them is much stronger at the end of the year. Then continue to do that year after year.

  2. 360-Degree Respectfulness (to the person’s face, in side conversation, and behind the person’s back.)The ultimate relationship builder is on-going constant respectfulness to the other person. This includes to the person’s face, in side conversations when you bump into them at a conference or during a break at a meeting, and behind the person’s back when you are talking about him or her to another person. You demonstrate how much you respect the person by the comprehensive way in which you demonstrate that level of respect.
  3. The Enormous Power of the Handwritten NoteMy mom is in her mid-eighties now and she is just as strong as ever. My mom is a great leader. There are very, very few business people who know who my mom is, but trust me she’s a great leader. When I was twelve years old and I got $10 from my Aunt Helen, Mom said to me, “Danny (and by the way my mom is the only person allowed to call me Danny), you write a handwritten letter to Aunt Helen and thank her for that gift.” When I was eighteen years old and received a scholarship to go to college, my mom said, “Danny, now you write a handwritten letter thanking each of the committee members.” When I was twenty-two years old and I got my first job after college, my mom said to me, “Danny, you write your new boss a handwritten letter and thank him for that job.” A few weeks ago my mom said, “Danny, I see that your high school teacher’s father passed away. Now you write him a letter thanking him for all that he did for you.” I’ve been writing handwritten letters for the past forty years.

    Last year I shared this idea in a speech at Shell Oil. Two weeks later I received a handwritten letter thanking me for the idea from the North American Director of Operations for Shell Retail Marketing. He told me that he had just written a handwritten letter to eighty people across the North American organization.

    Handwritten letters are a powerful way of thanking people and letting them know that you are thinking about them. This is especially true in an electronic world of email, text, Skype, Twitter, teleseminars, video conferencing, and so on.

  4. Clarify and bring light to a situation (as opposed to keeping the other person in the dark.)Imagine you’re sitting in the back of a well-lit room. Your boss holds up a book and says, “Could you please come here and take this book back to your seat?” That’s a very simple thing to do. You just walk up, take the book, and go back to your seat. Now imagine the room is completely dark and you can’t see your boss or the book and she asks you to come to her and take the book, except this time she doesn’t have it in her hand. It’s placed somewhere along the wall in her briefcase. Now it’s a much more complicated situation. You are quite literally grasping in the dark for a book you’ve never seen before.

    That’s what it is like when a person gives very poor directions to another person. In the absence of any reasonable clarity it is very hard for the other person to be effective at all. Unfortunately, this happens a lot.

    To be an effective communicator, clarify what you want done and why it is so important. And then make sure that the environment is clear and well-explained so that the other person can move forward with a minimum of uncertainty. This isn’t always possible, but try to put as much light on the situation as you can by explaining items of importance to the other person.

  5. Understand what makes the other person feel important. (Dale Carnegie wrote the following in quoting two others: “The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important. The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” This is from the book, How To Win Friends and Influence People.)I first read, How to Win Friends and Influence People, in 1988. Those two sentences above have remained stuck in my brain ever since. Here’s another sample from that book: “If you tell me how you get your feeling of importance, I’ll tell you what you are.” I can’t encourage you enough to read this book. It is THE master class on effective communication.

    If you can understand what drives another person more than any other factor, then you will have an opportunity to communicate with that person in a way that matters the most to him or her. It takes time to understand what makes the person’s heart race faster and care to a greater extent. Once you know what that is for the person, you can gear your comments toward that nerve center in meaningful ways.

  6. Totally Listen (Consider what the other person is saying. Close the loop. Conversations are most effective when they go both ways.)The ultimate sign of respect is to totally listen to what the other person is saying. There is nothing greater than sincerely listening to what the person considers important at that moment. For five minutes really let go of everything else in your life and totally tune in to what the person is saying and how he or she is saying it. In general, people don’t listen very well to each other. I think that’s a fair statement to make after all these years of watching people interact with others. Letting go of life’s distractions and attentively and empathetically listening is a remarkable gift that you can give to another person.
  7. The Incredible Impact of Patience and CalmnessIt’s quite easy for people to get frazzled. There are a lot of things in life that can create tension both at home and at work. That tension can quickly escalate at work into very dramatic situations. The person who can stay calm and patient is the one who can maintain strong working relationships with a diverse set of people and help get the group from a state of tension to one of collaboration, problem-solving, and innovation.
  8. A Willingness to be In the Moment at a Moment’s Notice. (Can’t be every moment, can’t be never.)You show how much another person means to you by setting aside what you had planned for the day to be with that person. If that person is dealing with a crisis at home or at work and you let go of what you had on your agenda to step into his or her world, you are clearly saying, “You are more important to me than what I was doing.” Of course, you can’t do this every day for every person you know because you would no longer be getting any of your work done. However, when you do this it sends a very loud message about your priorities.
  9. Apologize. Really apologize with sincerity.We still are human and we still make mistakes.

    When you make a mistake, even if it you intentionally made that mistake, it’s rarely irreversible in terms of being unable to sincerely apologize for what you did. Go to the other person, look him or her in the eye, and say, “I’m sorry for what I did. It was the wrong thing to do, and I sincerely apologize.” Of course, your future actions have to support the sincerity of that apology. You can’t then go berate the person again behind his or her back.

  10. Walk a Day in the Other Person’s ShoesMost complaints about people in other departments are based on not really knowing what they are doing. People in marketing complain about people in operations and IT and strategy and vca-versa. The comments are constant and never-ending from organization to organization that I’ve worked in. It usually goes like this, “They have no idea how hard we are working and how many hours we are putting in. They don’t do anything in that department to really go the extra mile, and I’m sick of being taken advantage of.” I’ve now heard that comment from many, many people in operations, finance, marketing, human resources, sales, IT, event planning, research and development, and senior executives in charge of the whole organization.

    If people in every group feel that way, then there’s a very good chance that most people don’t understand what other people are going through. One way to make some progress toward resolving all the complaining is for people to spend time in each other’s roles. Then maybe the complaining will transform to greater understanding and appreciation of what other people do.

BONUS: Care about the other person’s success.

The icing on the cake of a great working relationship is truly caring about the other person’s success and genuinely congratulating him or her on that success. Teamwork happens when a group of people support one another toward achieving meaningful objectives and fulfilling a meaningful purpose. The success is not about just you as an individual. It’s about the success of other individuals and the group as a whole. Be just as excited for other people when they succeed as you are when you succeed.

Here are two questions I encourage you to think about:

Which of these approaches do you feel are the most useful to strengthening work relationships?

What other communication approaches have you found that are effective in strengthening work relationships?


Communication occurs in any organization with two or more employees. It’s very easy to fall into negative communication habits that drain the organization of its talent, energy, and time. By consciously working to communicate in effective ways, you are increasing the chances that more of the talent, energy, and time in your organization will go toward improving results.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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