One of my favourite tools for working with people to improve their communication is the understanding of the number of hats required in your collection. The hats are a metaphor for who you need to be, or when to switch modes. This does not mean you need to change who you are, it simply requires you (to make your communication more productive) to be clear on both what you and the person you’re conversing with intend and require as an outcome of a conversation, and how to navigate it appropriately. Understanding who you need to ‘be’ in a multitude of situations requires skills in empathy, presence and adaptability.
Knowing who you need to be
Do you ever find yourself driving on autopilot? You click yourself out of a daze and realise you can’t recall the past few minutes of road passed? Entering into conversations can be the same. Especially with people or meetings we become familiar with or in situations where we’re feeling out of our depth. We will move into a sense of being unconscious, not focused on outcomes, and have no intention – we’re either checked out, trying to keep up, or foggy. A great practice to get used to, in each encounter you have is to ask yourself, “who do I need to be in this situation?”
Be clear on the hat you’re wearing
Knowing this is critical. You may be hired for your technical expertise, but in truth a typical day requires far more skills and modes of behaviour beyond this. We may start as a ‘Motivator’ in a team meeting, become ‘Technical Expert’ in a client phone call, switch to ‘Counsellor’ for a 1:1, morph into ‘Educator’ for an induction booklet you’re writing, an ‘Advisor’ over a coffee, or ‘Diplomat’ when stepping in to mediate a team outburst, then ‘Strategist’ during a peer group email, and it’s not even lunchtime yet!
Being capable at using a sizeable hat collection means you know how to incorporate the language, the attitude and the manner that you’re a) comfortable with, and b) is suitable to that hat. Be genuine and clear of the hat you’re wearing – even if it means asking the other/s you’re with, “what do they need from you in this conversation” to get the clarity.
It’s important to know when to switch hats
I’m certain that a high percentage of meetings we attend are assumed for one purpose and we experience it being derailed, the same with phone calls and coffees catch-ups. Feeling out of control in a conversation can be unsettling and difficult to navigate back on track. I don’t encourage people to be robots or get textbook on the top 10 ways to be an ‘X’ hat, rather, hone your ability to notice what is needed in the moment and be flexible enough to shift gears from your current hat. Ask the person/ people you’re with if you can all pause for a moment to re-calibrate or confirm the focus, and actually check in on what they need if the energy and purpose have shifted. Don’t be hesitant to confront an elephant in the room, or highlight that the intention of the meeting has gone wayward from what was agreed.
Experiment a little…
- List out the ‘hats’ you all wear for your current role. You can even amalgamate these with your personal hats, for example, how you parent can often be transferrable to your leadership approach.
- Consider when you need to quickly switch hats – document what works (or doesn’t!) and notice what techniques you use to navigate this effectively (or not!)
- Consider also, a hat you may not be as familiar with but want to improve. When are there opportunities to use this hat, what would be the language, attitude and manner you can adopt, and who are the appropriate audience to practice on?
Knowing the appropriate hat to wear in any situation will make your conversations valuable, relationships better, and way of doing business more effective.