Outside-in Vs Inside-out Communication.

jefe-ordenes-770-istockAs we all know, in any work environment, things can, and do, go wrong to a greater or lesser degree. There are many ways to respond to these unexpected and often serious events. When it is a workmate who has made a mistake, as managers, we often respond in the manner which we think might be appropriate for this particular person. However, in many cases the instinctive response can be one of anger.
In addition, we often have a confirmation bias (C.B.) about how the person involved in this situation works in general so we tend to look for events that reinforce this bias. This can also effect the degree and “strength” of how we respond. If we have a confirmation bias (C.B.) that the person is “hard-working, honest, reliable, etc…, we would usually be more willing to discount any “evidence” that goes against this bias. However, if we have a C.B. that this person is, in general, “inept, careless, absent-minded, etc,” we would be more willing to accept information that reinforces this concept.

In this article, I would like to propose that there are basically two ways that we can respond to a workmate / employee who has made a mistake: one of them is known as “Communication from the Outside-in” and the alternative is “Communication from the Inside-out”.

Below, you will find details of a specific situation and I would like you to imagine that you are the Director involved. What would be your instinctive reaction if this occurred in your organization? Be honest with yourself and consider how you really would respond.

Then read the rest of the article.

You are the Managing Director of an important multinational company. Yesterday morning you asked your secretary to send an envelope to a very, very important client. You insisted that the envelope had to be sent that day because an important & valuable contract depended on the client receiving the document. You thought that everything had been taken care of properly and were waiting for a telephone call confirming acceptance of the contract. We can only imagine your surprise when, a minute ago, you spoke to the client by telephone and he was incandescent with rage because the envelope had not arrived. In addition, because of this mistake, the client has cancelled the contract which means a loss on many millions of euros for the company. In addition, the client had called you a liar and dishonourable.
You have just seen the envelope on your secretary’s desk!

How would you normally respond to this situation?

Possible answers below:




Option 1: Outside-in communication

Outside-in communication:
• Is usually based on statements.
Direct and definitive affirmations that leave no room for doubt – in the mind of the speaker. They can often be personal insults, negative comments, accusatory, rude or offensive, and hurtful.
• Often destroys relationships.
The interpersonal relationship between the actors can be seriously damaged and lead to further  negative events.
• Supposes that the basic idea is try to make the other person “wake up and be more alert / professional” while the person reprimanding them might be doing the exact opposite!
• Normally occurs when someone is angry, feels that they have been insulted, belittled or have not received the expected treatment from the other person.
• Often threats might be made or warnings given about the future behaviour of the person.

Sample “conversation” (actually overheard by the author):
“Why haven’t sent that envelope. What the **** have you done? I told you yesterday that that envelope had to go out by messenger and you told me it was going to go. Because of your inefficiency, we have lost an important client and an amazing amount of money. You are a total and complete idiot. You have to wake up and do your job. If you don’t we’ll take the appropriate & necessary steps. I have absolutely no idea what is going through your head these days but you appear to more and more stupid every day. I have no idea of what I am going to say to the Board of Directors. I don’t know what I am going to do. I suppose that I am going to have to crawl to the client on my hands and knees and beg him to come back to us, all because of your d**n inefficiency.
By the way, you will have do some overtime tonight and stay here until you finish that report for the meeting tomorrow.”

Please note the last two lines of the sample tirade above! I am sure many of us have seen or heard something similar!

Now let’s look at a better alternative which has been proven to produce much better results.


Option 2: Communication from the inside – out
This type of communication is much more effective because it is:
1. Designed to make the person introspect on their action.2. Based on questions.
3. Used to obtain information from the person.
4. The objective to find a way to solve the problem.
5. Find ways to avoid the same problem occurring in the future.
6. The objective is to maintain good working relations between the participants.

A practical example of the application of this technique:
(1) “María, Did you sent that envelope last night as I asked you?”
(2) “Remember what I told you yesterday about the importance of this envelope?”
(3) “What were your reasons for not sending it?”
(4) “Can you imagine what the consequences were of not sending the envelope?”
(5) “Do you know who I was talking to just now?”
(6) “Can you imagine the conversation?”
(7) “What do you think has been the result of this conversation?”.
(8) “How can WE resolve this problem?”
(9) “How can WE ensure that this never happens again?”

A line-by-line analysis of the language and structure used in this example:
(1) “María, Did you sent that envelope last night as I asked you?”
(1) We open the conversation with a simple “closed” (yes/no) question. This is designed to subconsciously prime the brain of the other person to expect communication about this topic. The emphasis is on an activity in the recent past

(2) “Remember what I told you yesterday about the importance of this envelope?”
(2) By using the “Remember” we are giving their subconscious mind permission to act in a specific way. By identifying the specific time in the past and the relevant and related activity, we are providing the mind with a strong prompt to remember both elements and, more importantly, we are using the concept of end-loading to ensure that the last element becomes salient in the subconscious mind of the person.

(3) “What were your reasons for not sending it?”
(3) By avoiding the use of why? We are ensuring that there is no negative or defensive response received from the other person. We are asking the person to introspect and identify the reasons behind their action and provide a rational response and, once again, we focussing on the “end-load.” We are still focussed on the past.

(4) “Can you imagine what the consequences were of not sending the envelope?”
(4) By asking the person to “imagine” something, we are giving the conscious and subconscious mind permission to act in agreement with our wishes. Frequently, people in this situation tend to imagine extremely bad consequences because the previous question has led them to realize that something serious has occurred. At this point we are now dealing with the present situation.
Usually, at this point in the conversation, the person is feeling guilty and this is often noticeable by some clear non-verbal indicators: hunched shoulders, downward gaze, watery eyes and other stress markers. All of this has been caused by their own introspection and thoughts.

(5) “Do you know who I was talking to just now?”
(5) This open question is designed to get the person linking the previous elements that have been dealt with and enable them to answer your question. They will usually respond with the most powerful person / people involved in this situation. There are often additional changes in their non-verbal communication.

(6) “Can you imagine the conversation?”
(6) Once again we are giving permission for the brain to function is a specific manner. The person’s imagination will often produce a more exaggerated image than the one that actually occurred which results in a deeper degree of regret in the person.

(7) “What do you think has been the result of this conversation?”.
(7) With this question, we are asking the person to consciously & subconsciously consider the results of the error and the magnitude of the effects. They will often give a detailed response to the question which might, or might not, be correct. Whether they are right or wrong does not matter, what does matter is that they are using their own brain to answer the question.

(8) “How can WE resolve this problem?”
Now we are in the resolution stage of the conversation. The use of the word “How” will usually provide an indicator to the preferred thinking style of the person. A visual will respond with words like; look, see, watch, etc. An Auditive will use words like: talk to, call, read, etc. A Kinesthetic tends to use words related to emotions, touch, taste and smell. The use of “WE” shows that whatever is going to be done will be a joint effort and that they will be working together with you (and maybe others) to provide the resolution. The present position now leading us into the future together.

(9) “How can WE ensure that this never happens again?”
(9) Once again, the use of “How” and “WE” are used to take the other person into the future to ensure that a similar situation will never occur again. Since the person has contributed to the possible solution, they are invested in it and will usually do their best to ensure that the correct steps are always taken – an possibly extrapolated to similar situations / tasks.

The way we respond to problems is an indicator of many key elements in our personality. As a manager we need to be continually behaving in a matter which we would like our employees to emulate on a daily basis.

Interestingly, the techniques indicated above also work within the family context. Try them… What have you got to lose?

If you have any questions, Please feel free to contact me.
All constructive feedback would be appreciated.

© Ian Brownlee, Madrid, Spain, February, 2018.

About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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