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Just the Facts, Ma’am

As communication becomes more casual, it’s important to remember that when chatting with a colleague over coffee one still needs to remain professional at all times.

Business Insider has published an excerpt from Powered by Storytelling: Excavate, Craft and Present Stories to Transform Business Communication by Murray Nossel, Ph.D., in which the author recommends using the “What happened?” method to ensure clear and effective business communication.

“The ‘What happened?’ method is a tool that assists us in doing exactly that — it helps us to remove everything from our communication except what we could have observed with the five senses,” writes Nossel. “You say what happened, not what you thought or felt about what happened, or your opinion, either. If you can’t hear it, taste it, smell it, touch it and/or see it, then it didn’t happen.”

For example, in a performance review, don’t interpret the facts, simply present them without drawing conclusions. In a meeting in which there is tension, “What happened?” can distill the situation into its basic elements. Other opportunities to use this method to clarify things include:

  • “When you find yourself stuck in front of a blank page or don’t know where to go next in a conversation with someone, say what happened next… and you will move forward.”
  • A leader can use “What happened?” to explain layoffs and management changes, “being specific about what is changing and what impact it will have on the company. Telling what happened is about facing facts and not straying from them, which is critical when navigating change.”
  • “Use ‘What happened?’ as a way to move away from the dryness of the features of the products you’re selling.”

Over time, “What happened?” reminds us to keep things simple and to stick to the facts. More than anything else, it familiarizes us with our tendency toward judgment, opinion and commentary.

For more information, please read “How You Speak to Co-workers Should be Different from How You Speak to Friends, and that Difference Boils Down to a Simple Question.”

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