The Ultimate Communication Multi-tool

Apr 12, 2023

 Blog 8 – The Ultimate Communication Multi-tool

Remember the Swiss Army Knife? Not just a knife. It’s a knife-based multi-tool. You can cut, saw, uncork, pop, tweezer, and a lot more with one tool. Leatherman is a pliers-based multi-tool that does even more. The real value of a multi-tool is that you need just one tool for basic repairs. Makes for a much smaller toolbox - less to learn, fewer lost tools, and faster fixes. I like that.

Years ago, I borrowed from basic communication theory and designed a communication multi-tool. If you only want one tool in your communication toolbox, this might be worth considering. Whether you’re solving problems, reinforcing the right performance, innovating, collaborating, making decisions, addressing performance issues, or virtually any other leadership task, this communication multi-tool will come in handy.  Here it is:

 Identify & Ask, Mirror, Explore, Reinforce/Refocus

 Alone, each part of the multi-tool is useful, but not dynamic. The combination of these in one discussion is what makes it so powerful. Here is each element broken down.

 Identify & Ask

Every situation has something that stands out, whether someone did a great job, failed miserably, is trying to solve a problem, or you notice something about their behavior or tone of voice that’s worth exploring. “Identify & Ask” is exactly what it sounds like. You see something and you want to explore it. “Kaj, your presentation today was very persuasive. What was your planning process?” “Ellen, you seem to be struggling with how to complete the project. Do I read that correctly?” “Drew, is there something about the assignment that is unclear?” “Team, let’s identify what we did great on this project and what we need to improve for next week.”  There are so many ways to use Identify and Ask. Not only does it target something specific you want to explore, but it also communicates you are paying attention, value the person and their input, and support their success. 


The classic communication tool – mirror – communicates back to the person what you heard them say. “Kaj, so you organized the presentation using catch & keep. You thought first about what would catch their interest and then organized the rest of the presentation to keep them interested.” Mirroring back what someone said serves two important functions.  First, it allows the person to confirm what you are seeing or hearing. This communicates that you are listening, and you care. Second, if you are not accurate in your observation, it gives the person an opportunity to correct you. This correction is important for 2 reasons – it helps you better understand, and it opens the door to deeper understanding. For example: if you said to Ellen, “You seem to be struggling with how to complete the project. Do I read that correctly?” and she says, “No, I’m fine,” then you can follow that with, “Can you explain to me why…” This helps you better understand what is really happening.


Once you and the person have connected using “mirror,” use open-ended questions to explore deeper anything that would be useful to explore. Remember, open-ended questions start with “What, Why, or How.” “How did you identify those specific needs?” “If you were struggling, did you get other team members involved?” “If the assignment was clear, why is the timeline for completion way off?”

Reinforce or Refocus

The final step is to either reinforce the right thinking and actions or refocus the person to create future success. “Kaj, you did a great job. How are you applying this same process for next week’s presentation?” “Drew, how can you prioritize your time differently next week to ensure adequate planning time for this project?”  

“Identify & ask, mirror, explore, reinforce/refocus” is the ultimate communication tool for one reason.

Who do you want driving growth?

 If you want your team driving growth, you need them to be critical thinkers, great problem solvers, and adaptive innovators. These skills must be developed in most people. The foundation is probably there, but few people have developed them to the level you need.  

One last plus about the Ultimate Communication Multi-tool. With this tool, you are teaching without it looking like you are teaching. You are just asking questions and exploring. The best teaching is usually when people discover the answers for themselves. 

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