Clarify boundaries

Often confusion arises because there is a lack of clarity about who is responsible for what. The more pressurized the situation is, the more likely this problem is to occur. This confusion can breed anxiety and that anxiety, in turn, can lead to fuzzy thinking which then contributes to confusion about boundaries. There is therefore much to be gained from being clear about where the boundaries lie. It is important to be clear about what you are personally responsible for in any given situation. But it is also important to be clear about what part you play in any shared responsibility. Are the others who share that responsibility clear about their contribution and are you all clear about how you are going to exercise your shared responsibility? Are you also clear about what is not your responsibility so that you can avoid stressing yourself out by worrying about matters that are someone else’s responsibility? Establishing clarity about boundaries not only makes our own position easier to manage, it also provides a much firmer basis for working in partnership.



Choose the right communication method

Email has proven to be a very effective communication tool, saving a great deal of time, money and effort compared with the pre-email days. However, email has also brought problems, not least the well-documented ‘flame wars’ where miscommunication upon miscommunication has produced a series of heated interchanges that would probably have never happened in face-to-face circumstances. One problem that has received far less attention is the tendency to overuse email, to use it as the tool of communication, rather than one amongst many. For example, some matters can be much better dealt with by a telephone conversation or even a face-to-face meeting. And, while email has replaced letters in many situations, there remain many circumstances where a letter is a better solution – for example, where an extra degree of formality is called for or in responding to serious concerns. So, while email is an excellent tool, we need to make sure that we don’t allow it to take over and leave no room for other methods of getting our message across.

Say thank you

Saying please and thank you is a basic part of what we are taught as children. But saying thank you is more than just good manners. It is a way of showing appreciation and of cementing cooperative working relations. While it is certainly not uncommon for people to say thank you to one another in the appropriate circumstances, there are also very many occasions when it is not said and when it could have been very helpful to do so. There are also many times when it is said in a curt or routine way that does not really convey appreciation – it comes across as just a social ritual, rather than a meaningful (and effective) communication. Try two things as an exercise. First, watch carefully as people interact (whether in real life or on TV or in films) and note how often thank you is not said (or not said convincingly) and consider how different the interaction might have been if a genuine thank you had been said. Second, try saying thank you meaningfully whenever the opportunity arises (without going overboard!) and see what response you get from people.