Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 15-03-2013
Have you ever felt like an outsider in a conversation, when it seemed as if the others in your circle spoke in what seemed a different language – one that left you struggling to keep up? They may have been using English words, but the phrases, acronyms and technical references peppered throughout the back-and-forth left you floundering.
What are they talking about? Not wishing to appear foolish, you likely react by tuning them off and simply standing there as a silent listener – or walking off.
Examples of this experience abound. The circle could be doctors, lawyers, bankers, IT professionals – almost any specialty or interest group that has devised its own short-cut proprietary language. For example, if you sat with a group of bankers for more than 15 minutes, see if you aren’t befuddled and “zoning out,” or checking your watch for an early exit.
Now flip the coin. What if you were one of those from the “inner circle,” someone already comfortable with the specialized jargon, and you were trying to explain an important point to someone not native to your group? If you’re not careful, while the manner in which you communicate might have the others in your circle nodding their heads in understanding, the object of your discourse could simply stare back at you with a blank look – not following along at all.
If your intent is to reach out to someone, to have them understand what you’re saying, you need to speak the same language. And that language should be that which is understood by the listener, not the speaker. Such a concept of effective communications is the root cause of how the message so often goes awry when managers talk to employees.
When I lived in England my British colleagues would often say, “we speak the same language, yet still don’t understand each other.”
Talking isn’t communicating
Perhaps that’s a radical thought, but if your audience doesn’t understand you, then in effect you’re talking to yourself – to an audience of one. Your message will bounce, not resonate. But most of us have a default button when it comes to communicating; we automatically talk or write the way we think, the way we are accustomed to conversing within our niche group. We use the same specialized terms, acronyms and short cut phrases of the group-think. Have you ever listened to a group of doctors? For compensation practitioners the sample list of terms could include median, compa-ratio, present value, percentiles, STI, red circles and any of a host of technical terms or “inside” phraseology.
We should remember though, that we’re talking to a potentially uninformed audience whom we need to connect with. Even if the meanings of our terms are understood, the why they are important can be lost amidst generic corporate-speak language of such throwaway phrases like employee engagement, shareholder value, mission statements and earnings-per-share analysis. When you’re huffing and puffing about rewards your employees can easily and quickly become cynical. Doesn’t everyone think that the company is out to save money at the employees’ expense?
So what happens to your audience when they don’t understand you?
- They stop listening. That comes first; the glazed look, the befuddled grasp at understanding, and then finally the tune off. They start checking their emails, watching the clock or simply staring off into space.
- They revert to preconceived notions. Because they haven’t heard you, in terms of comprehension, they’ll likely not change their behavior or their practices. They’ll carry on as usual, regardless of your message – because whatever you said simply bounced off without impact.
- They start to mistrust the messenger. Perhaps the most damaging reaction of all is that your audience can become antagonized by your efforts. They can feel that they’re being spoken down to, treated by management as poor cousins, and in general become skeptical of the message that you’re trying to sell.
All of which damages the credibility of the message as it becomes lost amidst the distraction over how that message was conveyed.
If your audience doesn’t understand what you’re trying to tell them they aren’t going to respond in the manner you intended.
What are you trying to achieve?
When preparing to deliver a speech the common advice one is usually given is to tailor how the message is delivered in order to suit the audience. That’s how you keep them engaged, never mind dosing off, tuning off or watching the clock while you’re talking to yourself.
If your audience doesn’t understand your message, or if it doesn’t have credibility, you really haven’t communicated – no matter how much effort you’ve put into it. It’s like sending out a memo that no one reads.
The more technical the topic, or controversial, or even boring the more important it becomes to find a way to reach a connection with those you hope to educate, persuade or simply inform.
How can you test that your message was received and understood? Have you asked anyone to repeat what you said? To show that they “got it”? Try it some time. You can also test the message with an informal focus group of employees who are outside your specialty circle.
And don’t talk at your employees but to them. Dumb down the language to common terms if you have to; use pictures, stick figures or colorful designs to illustrate examples and key learning points. Be a little bit creative, as you have to do whatever it takes to make sure that your audience understands what you are trying to tell them. Otherwise you’re wasting your time.
Otherwise your employees will feel like outsiders in their own organization.