There’s many things I do that get accolades for that, sometimes, I start to think I can’t do anything wrong.


Usually that’s when reality kicks in. It can feel harsh or just disappointing but it’s the type of thing that brings me back to reality, even if I didn’t actually make any mistakes.

A friend of my wife’s once asked me to design some wedding invitations for her, which was a strange request since I’m not close to being a designer. Yet my mind said “you’ve seen wedding invitations; how hard could it be?”

I sat at my desk for a few hours putting something together that I thought was pretty nice. I showed it to my wife, and said she thought it was perfect. I figured that was that.

That is, until the following afternoon, when her friend came over. I showed her the design and she said “I hate it.” Plain and simple. I was stunned; I don’t hear that often. I asked her what she hated and she said the front design; she thought it was hokey. She loved what I wrote inside, but absolutely hated the cover.

The next hour was frustrating, as she tried to explain what it was she wanted and I kept trying to get it to her satisfaction. It’s hard to communicate well when neither party is familiar with the terms they’re using. Words like “dookickey” and “swirlies” just don’t translate well because they mean different things to each person.

We finally found a term we both liked, “pencil sketch”, and within minutes found something she felt would work for her. I finished the card, saved it, put it on a CD and off she went, happy as could be. Even though I was happy we finally got it right, I felt really frustrated with the whole thing, knowing I’d never try doing anything like that again.

I go through my life feeling like I’m a pretty good communicator, and I’ve had a lot of experiences that bring me to that belief. Yet I’d be lying if I said it’s always been perfect or that it’s always been easy.

I’ve started to realize that it’s not always about the words one uses that can impede communications. It often comes down to background, behavior, intent and education… on both sides.

For instance, there are terms that I used to use when I was in my teens that don’t have the same meaning as they did back then. I have no idea when they changed but obviously they did. I also hear words today that make no sense to me, and I find myself looking them up on search engines and not only being amazed at their meaning but wondering how and when they became words.


Sometimes that’s just how it works in the world, and it’s a pretty common event these days. There are many words in our lexicon, but sometimes there’s just no known or specific word at the time that everyone’s ready to understand at that particular moment. It can take time before two individuals can come to an understanding of what the other is trying to say; but how often are both parties willing and ready to take the time to communicate properly with each other?

Since I can’t solve the problems of the world, I’m going to go at this from a leadership perspective. I’m also going to come at it from four different directions. I’m also going to borrow something indirectly from a presentation I went to see conducted by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Someone in the audience asked him what could be done to help today’s scientists and teachers learn how to communicate their findings and what they’re trying to teach in language that’s not too difficult for their students and others to comprehend. His response was that it takes both the willingness to figure out simpler terms as well as the teachers and speakers being willing to take the time to learn how to do it.

When you’re in a leadership position you’re basically tasked with being able to communicate concepts and information to three distinct groups of people.

The first group are new employees that might not have any experience in what you have to try to teach them. This is the most complicated group you’re going to work with because you can only simplify things so much, especially if there are specific technical terms and processes you need them to understand. Over the years I learned that this was an assignment I had to give to supervisors to start with because I would overwhelm new employees, scaring some of them that they didn’t come back after lunch on day one. Hey, we all have limitations. 🙂

teaching
Barbara Krawcowicz via Compfight

The second group are your actual employees; this is a group I excelled with. If you’re lucky you’ve trained them pretty well to the extent that most of what you have to do is tweak the information here and there. Of course you also have to be vigilant in making sure they always know what you’re talking about, but they’re easier to teach because they already understand the foundations.

The third group are your peers and, sometimes, upper management. This can be precarious because you need to work hard to be understood while sticking with industry and business terminology that you know they’re probably going to hear again. I did well with this group as well because I had the time to work with them to help them understand concepts I needed them to know so they could succeed in what they had to do that impacted what I had to do. When you have the time to work with people it makes everything easier, even if you have to find ways to make the time.

The fourth group, which not everyone has to deal with, are your customers or consumers. I excelled with this group as well because, unlike the other groups, they didn’t need to know all the technical terms so I could break it into easy to understand concepts that served their specific needs. What you find with customers is that they just want you to solve their problems without having a need to know every facet of the issue. If more customer service centers understood this concept there would be fewer angry consumers griping about them on Twitter.

My hope with the above examples is that I was able to communicate the four different sets of people in business that one might end up encountering from a leadership perspective by telling my own brief tales. Without a give and take with an audience I will only know for sure based on feedback that might come my way later on. This is a much different venture than engaging someone sitting right in front of you; how comfortable are you in working your way through what might not always be an easy conversation?

Every person deserves understanding. With patience and a little bit of determination, the results can be pleasing. As long as you realize when you can take the time and when it’s crucial to push a bit, you’ll end up having more success than failure in communicating with others.
 

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