I am not talking about if they all speak Spanish, French or English (although that is very helpful). I am talking about how words are actually used; how inflection, body language and tone change the meaning of a word. If your team is cross generational you may even have to worry about words not translating at all.
An example -
I was brought in to work with a team who was high on conflict, low on resolution. I started out by interviewing the leaders. When I asked how they communicated their expectations I was handed a code of conduct. The following are a few of the expected behaviors:
- In meetings eye contact should be maintained with the speaker at all times
- Eating in meetings is not permitted
- Leaving a team meeting before the end is not permitted (Leave time to use the bathroom before you come)
- All emails must be responded to within X timeframe (Sorry guys, I don’t remember exactly what the time was. I think it was four hours.)
- All text or phone messages require an in kind response indicating you received and understand the message. Email is not an appropriate response to text/phone messages
The list of similar instructions went on for about a page and a half. This was a team of adults. I was shocked to see a list of such detailed behaviors. I wondered how the team felt and it didn’t take me long to find out.
After meeting with the leaders I met with the team. The leaders came in to introduce me and while they were there the energy in the room was very tense. Members of the team responded only when questions where directed to an individual. Open ended, general questions where left hanging in the silence.
When the leaders left, I explained who I was and that anything they said to me was confidential. I held up the code of conduct and asked them to tell me about it. It didn’t take very long for the floodgate of pent up emotion to fly open. The team felt like they were being treated like children. Words like “insulting”, “rude”, “disrespectful” where used. One person said, “She wants us to respect her but doesn’t respect us at all.” There was the crux of the issue. Respect is one of those words that means different things to different people.
In this case the solution we created had three parts. One – I sat down with the leaders and worked through why they thought they needed such a stringent list, what incident or series of incidents spawned it, how they felt it was working for them and if they were open to other options. Two – I worked with the team to create a code of conduct they thought was more fitting and met the needs of the team. Finally, all of us worked together to define ‘respect’ and create an agreed upon code of conduct. At the end of the process the team was happier and the leaders felt much more respected. They all wanted the same thing. They just weren’t able to communicate it effectively.
The bottom line – look at the rules, guidelines and unwritten norms with your team. Why are they in place? Are they working? Could they be changed or edited to make more sense in your environment? Are those expectations being communicated clearly? If someone doesn’t follow them, are the consequences clear and consistent? Take the time to make sure what is being said and what is being heard are the same and your team will function smoothly.
Do you have an example of a miscommunication based on how words were used? We would love to hear about it!
Did you miss last weeks topic about creating a useful chain of command? Read it here.
On a personal side note – It was reported this week that “Snooki” from Jersey Shore was paid $32,000 to speak at Rutgers University. Among her great advice, “Study hard, party harder.” As a college speaker I am fanatical about providing pertinent, relevant information in an interesting way that students can apply to make their lives better. I find it absolutely deplorable that mandatory student fees where used to supply useless and even detrimental “entertainment”. I hope the parents and students who are going into debt to receive preparation for the real world complain.
Tags :Champion Performance Development, common language, communication, Doc Robyn, effective communication, miscommunication, office politics, Robyn Odegaard, team building, team development, teamwork, understanding