Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 6;   February 6, 2008: Communication Templates: I

Communication Templates: I

by

Some communication patterns are so widely used that nearly everyone in a given cultural group knows them. These templates demand certain prescribed responses, and societal norms enforce them. In themselves, they're harmless, but there are risks.

In person-to-person communication, patterns of all kinds abound, but templates are special. They're widely used within the culture, and cultural norms re-enforce them. For instance, in my culture, when I hold out my right hand to someone and say, "Hello, I'm Rick Brenner," a very common response is to take my hand and say, "Hello, I'm George Bush." Well, only if George Bush is your actual name — otherwise most of us would expect to hear your name.

Rabin and Arafat shake hands

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Leader Yasser Arafat shake hands in Washington, on September 13, 1993, with U.S. President Bill Clinton looking on. Actually, President Clinton did much more than just look on, as is evident in videos depicting the event. Not all templates are purely conversational, as in the examples in this article. In the video, Clinton clearly establishes the handshake template by shaking hands first with Rabin, then with Arafat, and then gently nudging the two of them together until Arafat extends a hand to a somewhat reluctant Rabin. Did Clinton manipulate the two men? Judge for yourself. Photo courtesy Global Policy Forum.

Did you find the above example a wee bit humorous? If you did, perhaps you expected the person's actual name, not "George Bush." The strength of that expectation reflects the strength of this template.

Although templates aren't problematic in themselves, how we use them can be, if we use them to manipulate others, or if we reflexively adopt an offered template. In this Part I, I'll examine how we use templates to manipulate others. In Part II, we'll look into some more toxic examples.

In the workplace, some common manipulative uses of templates are persuasion, controlling others' emotions, and stifling criticism.

Persuasion: "You wouldn't want us to do that, now would you?"
This template makes objection difficult. It rests on a previously constructed patently unappealing scenario, which isn't usually what the anticipated objection was about.
To respond to this tactic, try replying in the form, "I certainly would not, but I think we have other options. I'd like to explore them."
Controlling others' emotions: "Now, now, no need to get so hot under the collar about this."
Although templates aren't
problematic in themselves,
how we use them can be
Here the manipulator tries to force a denial of the form "I am not angry," which usually makes the denier look foolish. Remaining cool at all times does help, but even that won't prevent some manipulators from using this template.
To respond, step out of the template. Humor is especially effective, because it demonstrates that your emotions are under control. For example, if you aren't wearing a collar, try, "But I'm not wearing a collar, or at least, I wasn't when I walked in here."
Stifling criticism: "Be reasonable; trust me on this."
In this template the manipulator attempts to equate disagreement with distrust. Since most of us are reluctant to express distrust, expressing disagreement is difficult within this template.
Reject the template: "I do trust you. I also disagree with you. It's because I trust you that I hope you'll want to explore our disagreement."

The strength, variety, and prevalence of templates vary with culture and microculture. Within cultures, there are variations with social status and gender. And although a template is present in your culture, you might not ever use it. Do you see any templates in use in your own life? Which ones do you use yourself? Go to top Top  Next issue: Communication Templates: II  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

For more on Communication Templates, including some that are even more problematic, see "Communication Templates: II," Point Lookout for February 13, 2008.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Effective Communication at Work:

Uphill trekSelling Uphill: Before and After
Whether you're a CEO appealing to your Board of Directors, your stockholders or regulators, or a project champion appealing to a senior manager, you have to "sell uphill" from time to time. Persuading decision makers who have some kind of power over us is a challenging task. How can we prepare the way for success now and in the future?
The rabbit that went down the rabbit holeOur Last Meeting Together
You can find lots of tips for making meetings more effective — many at my own Web site. Most are directed toward the chair, or the facilitator if you have one. Here are some suggestions for everybody.
Then-Capt. Elwood R. Quesada who became commanding general of the 9th Fighter Command in operation OverlordCommunication Refactoring in Organizations
Inadequate communication between units of large organizations is one factor that maintains the dysfunction of "silo" structures in large organizations, limiting their ability to act coherently. Communication refactoring can help large organizations to see themselves as wholes.
Two barnacles affixed to the shell of a green musselGetting Into the Conversation
In well-facilitated meetings, facilitators work hard to ensure that all participants have opportunities to contribute. The story is rather different for many meetings, where getting into the conversation can be challenging for some.
A foxhunt in VirginiaExasperation Generators: Opaque Metaphors
Most people don't mind going to meetings. They don't even mind coming back from them. It's being in meetings that can be so exasperating. What can we do about this?

See also Effective Communication at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Two bull elk sparring in Grand Teton National Park, WyomingComing February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
Stained Glass of William of Ockham in a church in Surrey, England, United KingdomAnd on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.