How do you address each other? A situational communication model

In most professions the quality of work performance depends mainly on human actions. In this human action, not only technical knowledge and skills are important, but also cooperation and communication skills. Collaboration is often important because people are usually responsible for achieving results together. They have to inform each other, support each other, teach each other things and clarify expectations. The situational communication model below can help you determine how to communicate effectively in different situations.

Four problem situations

The model contains four types of situations in which something goes wrong and in which effective communication is required. The four situations are: 

  1. your colleague lacks knowledge or skills
  2. you need help from your colleague
  3. your colleague makes an undesirable request
  4. your colleague does not communicate clearly.

Situational communication model

The model below shows the above four situations and the four ways in which you can communicate effectively.

The four ways of communicating

Below is a brief description of the four ways of communicating that fit the four problem situations mentioned.

  1. Make a suggestion: if your colleague still lacks the knowledge or skills to properly perform certain tasks, it can be helpful if you give the person suggestions. This works best if it is clear that you are a more experienced employee yourself and especially if you have a guiding or managerial role. When you want to make a suggestion, it is often wise to ask for a mandate first. People are generally more receptive to suggestions if you ask them for a mandate first. When giving a suggestion it often works well if you a) state what you already think is good, b) your suggestion clearly indicates how the behavior of the other person can be improved, c) your suggestion is based on a clear performance standard, d) the suggestion is given in person (instead of by e-mail).
  2. Make a request: If you need help from a colleague or a supervisor, it may be wise to ask for help directly. For example, you may lack certain information, resources or knowledge to do your job properly. You may also want your colleague to support you in something, to be a sounding board for you or to give you feedback on something. It often works well to think carefully in advance what exactly you expect from the other person and why this is important to you and then ask directly. The vast majority of people are happy to help colleagues, but usually do not do this because they do not know how and with what they can help. If you make this clear to them, chances are they will be happy to help you.
  3. Explore expectations: It is common for people to be unclear about what they expect from others. This is because they only formulate their expectation negatively (you may know what they don't want but not what they do want). Or it's because they are too vague about exactly what they expect from you. Or maybe it is because they do not express their expectation at all (perhaps out of fear they will encounter resistance from the other person). If the other person is communicating with you unclearly or negatively, it can be helpful to find out exactly what the person expects from you. In this research you can memorize the words what, why and how. First you ask what the person would like you to do. Then you ask his or her reason for expecting this from you (how would it help if you did?). Finally, you ask how exactly the other person would like you to meet their expectations.
  4. Say no: It often happens that people make requests to each other that are undesirable or inappropriate. This certainly does not always arise from bad intentions. But there may be times when someone makes you a request to which you want to say "no" because you don't have time or because it hurts some interest of yours. In such situations, it is important to be able to say "no" in a way that is clear to the other person and that also maintains a good relationship with that person. The 'positive no' method is such an approach. In this approach you explain why you should say no and then make an alternative suggestion.