# 109: Soft Skills, Hard Consequences — Solution-Oriented Communication
Story behind the Passage
Would it not be nice to go to an agency in your city, bring all your documents and get help with whatever you are there for? Sure — but it hardly ever happens. Well, of course, I am exaggerating. There have been many instances when I was really surprised about the service-oriented attitude of the employees there — not so today.
I am not going to go too much into the details about the issue. I do not want to do civil-servant bashing. There is no reason for this because I ended up getting what I was there for. I just want to write about the path to getting there and the things that could be improved. Obviously, as my headline reveals, communication plays a major part in this. This is why I have chosen Grimley’s book today. I have to admit, I have not read the whole thing but simply looked for an English book on NLP online (mine are German or I could not find any English ones that quickly — my (analog) book collection is a mess). Still, I found evidence for what I wanted to talk about.
“NLP is outcome-oriented like solution-focused approaches and also points very highly towards personal agency and our individual responsibility in making such outcomes appear.” My stress is on the issue of solution-orientation today. That is the most important thing that will be driving any organization in the future — be it in the private or public sector. It is not about sticking to rules anymore because someone wrote down these rules 20 years ago. It is about always approaching anything — any problem — with a solution-oriented mindset. Since mindsets themselves cannot speak and are therefore hard to understand for others, solution-orientation needs to find its way to the mouth and non-verbal gestures of people in order to be understood by others.
That does not always happen.
This was the case today. I simply got a “no, this does not work” answer, even though I had exactly followed the instructions another employee on the phone had given me before. “This was simply wrong, I am sorry, my colleague gave you the wrong information. We cannot do it this way.” Whenever conversations like this happen, I really love that I did so many further education programs and trainings to teach me about communication and coaching in so many different ways. All this has led to the brilliant fact that I do not worry for a second that I get what I want, even if someone with “official” authority tells me the something like this.
Eventually, it turned out exactly the way I had envisioned it. I immediately signaled that I am not going to leave with this “no” answer while at the same time staying completely calm and solution-focused. After two more “nos,” a call to the supervisor happened and within less than five minutes, I had the stamp on the document and everything was perfect. The employee followed the orders of his supervisor as if no “nos” had happened before and he did not say any word about his change of mind thereafter.
I did not either.
Still, I left the agency with a personal summary that went like this: “They need to train the service people here on solution-oriented communication.” What I mean by this is that the customer, in this case the citizen, at least needs to get the impression that the service person is doing everything in his/her power to work towards a solution. And a definite “no, no way” right at the beginning does not contribute to such an outcome. This is exactly where NLP (neurolinguistic programming) is helpful. Because of the outcome-oriented nature, it implies that solutions stand at the forefront.
This also means that each conversation partner signals that he/she is responsible and has the agency for bringing about positive results. For sure, it is not a “musical request program” (“Wunschkonzert”), as the Germans like to say, if there are rules that cannot be omited. But communication is everything — “It is not what you say but how you say it.” Just some slightly different formulations such as “let me see what we can do…” or “…this is not easy but maybe we can work out a solution together” makes such a tremendous difference. Even if no solution follows after this, I still gain the feeling that the agent really takes my need seriously, that he/she wants to help. If that does not happen, fine, but I would be a lot less likely to call the complaint office (which I did not, of course, but it can happen with some people).
The other alternative is, of course, that customers never even try to insist on a solution because they bow to the (supposed) authority. This happens a lot, especially with older and less educated people who think that they have no “right” to claim their right; who think they have no say in this society. I think this is so sad. Not only for the people, also and especially for the agency. Because one thing is clear: They will end up with MORE work. They spend MORE time on one issue and they might even end up with MORE conflicts that cost them MORE resources. All this is unnecessary but I really need to point out that this has hardcore business problems that make organizations inefficient.
Hence, the only practical thing I want to finish with today is a recommendation that public organizations pay attention to communication and the training that it takes to improve it. Nobody can expect any employee to know all this in the first place and to have the interpersonal skills to do what I have described above. But organizations have the responsibility to improve the efficiency of their processes. So, overall, this is a really nice example of how efficiency, a concept that tends to be viewed as a hard economic issue, is very much related to soft skills.
1) How do you define solution-oriented communication? How do you notice it in others?
2) What is your experience with the service orientation of the agencies in your city?
3) Did you ever break an official rule at work in order to help someone (e.g., colleague, client)?