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Communication. A fundamental, unavoidable element of any leader’s day and yet something that so infrequently occurs in the way we think. A leader says one thing. An employee hears another. There’s no absence of hearing, but a questionable presence of listening. There’s no absence of saying what one means, but a question of clarity for the other party. Why is communication such a conundrum in the first place? Well, for a number of reasons, three of which are listed in today’s Monday Moment. Of course, as an added giggle, if you’ve also heard me mention the difference between fascination and frustration in a Make Difficult People Disappear keynote or training… you’ll be in the know in my use of the word FASCINATING to describe them.
How many times have you mentioned a TV program, commercial, or famous figure reference only to be met with a blank stare by someone much younger than your frame of reference? How often do you say “then again, he’s a millennial”? Trust me, the millennials are saying the same about boomers and Gen Xers and yet, the generation gap in organizations wreaks humorous havoc on communication. Not only are the values different, from which we communicate priorities, but the references and examples are different from which we share analogies to foster learning. A twenty year old doesn’t get “I’m a comin’ Weezie. I’m a comin’” when compared to their own dramatic actions. A fifty year old doesn’t immediately think to hop on Instagram to see the latest competitor product offerings. Generations are different. No kidding. But how much time do you spend in closing that gap with a little research and pop culture investigation. Maybe it’s time to connect on their level instead of consistently being frustrated at the fact that they are using examples you’ve only heard your kids discuss and then dismissed.
Whether we refer to them as personalities, preferences, behavior trait sets, or just plain ole labels, there is no shortage of information and data on Emotional Intelligence available. The challenge is in knowing how to use it. Much like generational differences, we can’t know what we’ve not been exposed to and in the case of personalities, we can’t know what another person needs and values if it is foreign to us or worse, the exact opposite of what we value. A different preference does not equal a difficult preference, when it comes to personality. Heck, we complain about our opposites at work, but then we go and marry them in life. Take the time to uncover who the people are that you have the privilege of leading. Take the time to practice meeting their specific needs and remember to focus on what they need in your communication, particularly in delicate situations. It takes conscious thought, but leadership is not a skill done best on auto pilot.
My soon to be brother-in-law is French. My sister-in- law speaks a great deal more English, but he speaks only about five words of my native language. The standing joke when we are trying to communicate is for everyone to say loudly “GOOGLE”! Then we both promptly whip out our phones and become reacquainted with Google Translate. A flight attendant on my last flight apologized for her delay with my coffee because she was using Google to help a Portuguese passenger understand his connection in his own language. The access to information, whether language, or well…anything… is astounding. Use it to your advantage in leadership. If you don’t understand a reference, look it up. If you don’t get the needs of their personality, look it up or call us for help. If you don’t know how to handle a situation, conduct coaching, transition from buddy to boss, or what questions HR will kill you for asking in an interview, look it up. You don’t have to only communicate with what you know when knowing more is at the click of key on your keyboard.
So often, coaching clients tell me they spend a large chunk of time in repairing or fixing the damage from things they wish they hadn’t said or should have said differently. Communication sounds simple, but it isn’t and there are many more factors that impact the way in which our words, which deeply matter, land on those we have the privilege of leading. At least these three fascinating factors are relatively easy to improve.
Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist who coaches, consults with, and speaks to leaders of all levels, building their skills, emotional intelligence and authenticity. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.