Clean Communication™ is the ability to make it a habit to check things out, normalizing a meta form of communication – where we want to know what’s happening while it’s happening. Something to keep in mind: part of the culture of a learning organization is checking things out with curiosity.
Checking something out is a very specific action; you’re unclear about something in particular, which is leading you to make an assumption, and you want to know the reason behind what you’re observing.
In this protocol, you’re sharing what you’re observing and asking for more information. You’re not checking out the story (“the story I make up is you don’t care”), as that could be activating or triggering. Instead, you’re gathering data that will hopefully clear up that story.
Margaux was running the in-person portion of a remote training and therefore was accountable for logistics. Unfortunately, the hotel had a poor wifi connection, which left Margaux scrambling for a last-minute solution, which she found -- a co-working space nearby.
Use this when:
You notice something that feels “off” or out of the ordinary and you want to understand what's going on
You’re making up a story about what’s happening with someone else, and you want to check out whether that’s accurate (and you’re not fully in the throes of a reaction)
You see something you’re concerned about and want to address it in the moment. This also works when you’re no longer in the moment – say, if you’ve reflected on something you’ve seen or experienced and you want to gain clarity.
You disagree with someone and you want to understand the thought process behind their decision. Warning: If you have an agenda “this person must agree with me!” you’re not ready to check it out. Only use this if you’re curious and you want to understand the other person.
You haven’t heard from someone in a brainstorm and you want to know why -- and probably you're hoping they'll contribute something!
To understand whether you’re dealing with a conflict or not. For instance, let’s say you have an agreement to capture everything within a company. When an engineer starts a sprint demo, you express your enthusiasm about capturing it, but from what you see and hear, you understand the engineer isn’t open to it to capturing it. Because you realize you may be mistaken, you say, “My understanding is that you don’t want us to capture this, is that right?” If it turns out there’s a misunderstanding, (i.e. .the engineer does want to capture it), there’s no conflict and you can proceed as planned. If your understanding was accurate, you would move into the conflict process.
Don’t use this when:
You’re just curious about something – that wouldn’t require this process. Questions like “How is your day going? How was your trip?” would just be normal conversation, not “check it out” territory.
You’re feeling activated in any way. How do you know you’re not in a big reaction? You still have choice; the feelings you’re having are not driving “the bus.” Another way to say this is that you feel calm and content, with no tight grip on your body or your psyche.
Communication pathway: Synchronous, over video or in person. Don't do this asynchronously, or over text, SMS, chat or Slack.
Mindset: Warmth and genuine curiosity
Here's an example of this process from a virtual training
Step 1: Observe
You notice something that you’re curious about. For instance, perhaps someone in your meeting appears to be distracted
Step 2: Acknowledge what you’re doing
Begin by getting the other person’s consent or simply stating what you’re about to do. You could say, “Name, can I check something out with you?” or “I’d like to check something out.”
Are they open? Great! Proceed to Step 3. If not ask, “Could we revisit this later?” and agree on a time.
If they're not open at any point, you may have to let it go. If you feel it's really important, you'll want to bring this to your Clean Communication facilitator to determine how to proceed.
If you want to use Clean Communication at your company, you'll need everyone to agree to being open to checking things out as a general principle, though everyone has autonomy to decide on a time that works for all parties.
Step 3: Gain clarity
Use I statements
State the data around what you’re seeing in the moment, such as, “I see you yawning and looking away, and I'd like to know how you're feeling?"
You could also check in around something you've seen over a period of time. For example, you might say, “I haven’t seen your contributions on our project this week. Did I miss something?” If yes, you’ll want to determine where the communication mixup happened to avoid that in future. If no, “Can you tell me what happened?” Here you’ll be addressing both the lack of communication and the missing deliverable (in the following steps).
Step 4: Listen up
Use active listening to make sure you understand the response. This would look like, "What I am hearing is that you understood the deadline for this project was next Wednesday, is that right?" Then you'll want to investigate -- together -- where the misunderstanding happened.
Step 5: Take action – together
Does something need to be done to address the situation? For example, maybe the yawning person needs coffee. Or maybe the person who’s not making progress is stuck on a particular aspect of the project.
Collaborate to come up with a solution -- consider whether this solution is a one-off or if you want to make a group decision or shared agreement of some kind.
Essentially, you can think of “checking it out” as a way to address elephants in the room as long as you don’t feel activated by the issue yourself. Why is that? Because if you’re actively upset, you’re far less likely to arrive at the desired outcome: clarity and resolution.