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The Best Communicators Follow These 3 Rules When Talking to Those in Authority Here's to turn a communication mishap into a powerful communication framework.When you are clear about the kind of communication you need, it's easier for people to say the right things and take the right actions.

By Darian Shimy Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • These three modes can help improve your conversations with the people who oversee key activities and personnel at your organization.
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Having the right framework is essential when communicating with managers. It allows you to establish clear boundaries and expectations, which improves your ability to advocate for what you need and often leads to better outcomes.

The best frameworks are simple but effective. You need something people can internalize, memorize and repeat. I know this because I've developed one of my own: a three-mode scale that I've passed on to countless colleagues in the years since. Nearly everyone I've shared this framework with says it's been extremely useful for them.

I call it The Three Modes of Communication for Managers. Here's how it can help improve your conversations with the people who oversee key activities and personnel at your organization.

Unclear communication leads to unfavorable outcomes

This idea originated from personal experience. Years ago, I was reporting to the CEO of a startup and mentioned some frustration I had with another team member. After I told my boss, he proceeded to talk to the team member in question about it — something I had neither expected nor explicitly asked him to do.

I was immediately embarrassed when news of this eventually got back to me. I felt that my confidence had been violated, and I became upset. The next time I talked with my manager, I asked him why he had talked to the team member in question.

"Well, you told me about it," he replied.

I was upset, but later, I realized that I shouldn't have been. The action my manager had taken wasn't what I wanted, but I had been ambiguous about what I was telling him and what direction I expected from him.

Based on that incident, I devised three simple rules for streamlining communication with managers. These rules are extremely simple, but they work at virtually every level of management in any organization.

Related: Why Middle Managers Are a Company's Hidden Superpower

The three modes of communication for managers

The next time I spoke with my manager, I explained that I had developed three distinct modes to help categorize the experiences I shared with him. I also explained that I would frame future conversations by identifying what mode I wanted him to apply in advance.

The three modes are as follows:

  • Mode One: I want you to listen but not do or say anything. You're just hearing me vent. I will tell you about something probably difficult that happened, and I need you to stay quiet. This allows me to verbalize my feelings while helping you understand my challenges and ensuring confidentiality.
  • Mode Two: I want you to listen and give me your opinion without doing anything. I'll probably explain what happened to me and how I feel about it. I might even ask for advice or feedback, but I don't want you to take action on my behalf. This allows me to grow by solving my own problems and promotes resourcefulness, which is a key predictor of entrepreneurial success.
  • Mode Three: I want you to listen, and I want you to act. In my experience, this mode is rarely used — I reserve it for situations where I know that a problem is beyond my ability to resolve alone.

This last mode is the inverse of delegating a task to an employee. Instead, you are appealing to your manager for aid. It can be even more difficult, but it's just as important.

Related: 5 Delegation Strategies To Help You Flourish With Less Stress

Clear communication requires courage

When using this framework, the most important thing you can do as an employee is figure out what problems require mode three. When you have a problem you can't handle and need assistance, it takes humility and skill to recognize it. This can save a company — and I don't say that lightly.

Knowing when to "share up" and ask for help is an art form. When I worked at Square, 180 people reported to me. I didn't have time to read every line of code they wrote, but I did need to understand if there was an issue with the coding and who was on top of the fix.

It was important for the people who reported to me to take inventory of their problems and make sound judgment calls about which problems required my attention. It's like knowing when to see a doctor or a lawyer — you have to know when to seek professional help.

Related: How to Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable, No Matter Your Age — Lessons for Entrepreneurs

When you're working at a senior management level, almost everyone has an ego, so this is even more difficult to do. But setting aside your pride takes courage, and I have always believed that venturing beyond your comfort zone is essential for personal growth.

Remember: when you can be clear about the kind of communication you need, it's easier for people to say the right things and take the right actions. I've provided you with one possible framework for having these conversations — now it's up to you to put it into practice.

Darian Shimy

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder and CEO of FutureFund

Darian Shimy is the founder and CEO of FutureFund Technology, a fundraising and selling platform for K-12 school groups. He has 25+ years in web-based technologies and managing engineering teams.

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