We are all familiar with the character Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’ famous novella, A Christmas Carol. This character is depicted, as a surly, cold-hearted businessman who hates Christmas, spends his life hoarding his wealth and forces his employees to work long, grueling hours for little pay. Scrooge is basically everyone’s worst nightmare when it comes to a manager. However, as we learn more about Scrooge through his journey with the ghosts of Christmas past, we find that he actually is a victim of circumstance. His childhood experiences, misfortune in love, and depression overcome him, not allowing him to re-frame his perspective to understand how he, as a manager, needs to communicate with his employees.
In communications, this is called understanding your frame of reference, or how individuals assess information. This can be based upon an individuals education, background, personal values, experiences, cultural differences and more, having a large influence on how information flows from or to us. The greater the overlap in frame of reference between two people, or the greater the similarities in individual’s backgrounds, the higher the likelihood that communication will be successful.
In the case of Scrooge, due to his lack of willingness to open up to his employees and allow them to understand his background, employees as well as others, simply assume that he is crotchety and cold-hearted. Therefore, any message that he sends to an intended audience will misconstrued, and may be dismissed due to the disrespect that the intended receiver may have for the sender. However, if the intended receiver of the message understands Scrooge’s background, they may be more willing to understand his situation and receive the message without the attachment of bias.
So, what can be done to fix these communication issues?
In order to fix this communication barrier, managers must do a bit of re-framing. Meaning that as leaders, we must seek to look at things in a different way and seek to understand the other person’s frame of reference. The following can assist with this process:
- Take the time to get to know your employees. Learn their personalities and interact with them regularly so that you not only build a trusting relationship with them, but you also learn how they communicate. Doing this will help to improve the likelihood of successful communication.
- Let your employees learn about you. Communication is a two-way street, unless, of course, you want to talk to yourself. Managers need to ensure that they share their best practices for communicating, including their favorite way to deliver messages and feedback. Allowing for face-to-face time to get to know each others personalities is key as well, as this is the time that you will learn how to interpret each others non-verbal cues.
- When communicating to the outside public, know your audience. Do your research. Learn about the background of your intended audience and speak to that. Although you can’t get to know everyone you are speaking to at a conference, classroom or otherwise, you can speak to their general experiences and speak to them through that perspective.
My advice to you is, don’t be a Scrooge. Teach yourself to look at things from a different perspective; learn your audience and communicate in a clear, concise manner, giving feedback as necessary to improve internal and external communication within your organization.
What are some of techniques or methods that you use to help improve communication?
If a similar thought has not gone through your mind lately, then clearly, you have been sleeping through the evening news. There is not a week that goes by that some new video surfaces where someone is claiming police mistreated them. And clearly some were. But is this something new that has happened, some new change in police procedure or are our police departments just hiring a bunch of brutal racists?
You may now think “I’ve always supported law enforcement, I’ve always respected police officers, but now I am not so sure…” Historically, the police of the last century were used as a means of oppression for minority groups. It has been a long process of change since the 1960s for both the police and our country. Because of this past, and in some cases more recent events like Rodney King and now Michael Brown, support for law enforcement is not always prevalent in all communities.
I have spent my life as a police officer and worked at all levels within police agencies, including as a Chief of Police. And even Police Chiefs are shocked at some of the incidents that have occurred. So why is this happening? We are now in a media age where every person has the ability to instantly publish video of an incident to the entire world. And since the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, the news media is alert and anxious to publish any inappropriate police action.
Police Officers have an awesome responsibility. They can legally stop you, take away your freedom (arrest) and even use force, up to and including deadly force in some circumstances. So how do Police Departments make sure their officers do the right thing? They basically use four methods. First they hire the best people they can find. They train them to the best of their ability. Then they supervise them. And since most officers work alone, the ability of a Sergeant to watch their every move is limited, so most supervision is done through policy. In other words, the department writes policy on how situations should be handled. If an officer violates policy, they use a disciplinary system to modify behavior or remove the officer.
So, why is this happening now? Well, we are now getting better video proof, but the truth is, it has been happening much longer. The Justice Department has conducted over 20 investigations over the last 20 years, into Police Departments that use excessive force. It is my belief that we, Police Chiefs and City Governments, have failed our Police Officers and our communities. We have failed to see these issues and improve our policies and training. We have failed to properly supervise our officers and hold them accountable for their actions. And we have failed to engage all segments of our community in an open dialog to bring understanding. Some chiefs and some cities have done a much better job of this than others, and we need to learn from each other.
I have assisted SGR in the development of a new seminar called The Future of Policing for City Managers and Police Chiefs to discuss these issues and develop specific plans for their community and department. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but together, we can examine our operations, our policies, and our training; and learn new ways to engage our communities.
The men and women that I know in law enforcement are certainly not brutal racists. They literally put their lives on the line every day. But they are human beings and are subject to the same human emotions and frailties as the next person, and they do make mistakes – even with all the training they have had. They deserve better from us and so do our communities. They deserve our very best efforts.
Senior Vice President, Executive Search
Good question. Let’s start with a very brief definition of Employee Assessments. Employee Assessments are products that evaluate employee behavior, typically by asking respondents to answer questions about how they perceive themselves at work. There are several very effective products available on the market today, both in paper and online formats.
Now…why bother? Can’t we just assign employees the work and expect them to get it done? Sure, you could try that. Another idea is to discover more about the behavior styles of your individual employees, and maximize the positive behavior traits of each individual employee.
For example, say you have an employee named Sally. Sally works in your finance department. Say that Sally exemplifies the classic introverted personality style. Sally appears painfully shy, is often soft-spoken, and prefers to work solo rather than in a team environment. She is a number cruncher, a paperwork guru, and a powerhouse auditor.
Now, let’s pretend the City Council has requested an oral presentation of the recently completed fiscal audit. Did I also mention that City Council meetings are televised and broadcast over and over again on the City TV channel! Would Sally be your first choice in conducting that presentation?
I’d guess not.
Sure, Sally knows the material inside and out, she was involved in every aspect of the audit and knows the findings, but is that the only consideration in deciding who should present the findings? Would Sally even WANT to do that presentation? Would she freeze like a deer in the headlights in front of the dais? Would she embarrass herself? The department? How would the Council Members perceive the audit itself if the presenter of the material isn’t able to clearly and concisely articulate the findings? Can’t you see Sally up there, stammering and red-faced, uncomfortable and sweating under the lights and the cameras? Not a good look.
Another idea would be to capitalize on Sally’s expertise more effectively by having her prepare the presentation to the Council. She could write the talking points. She could prepare handouts and documentation to support the findings. She could also spend time discussing the audit report with the selected presenter beforehand so that the presenter is fully versed in the material. Sally could play a vital role in the presentation while being behind the scenes.
Spending time to learn about your employees and their behavior styles gives you the opportunity to learn what their comfort zones are. It allows the employees to learn more about themselves, more about their co-workers, more about how they interact with each other. Assessing employee behavior also provides a common language for all employees to speak, teaches respectful ways to communicate with each other. Assessing employee behavior styles also gives leaders a clear understanding of how they can better plan work assignments.
Assessing employee behavior can lead to increased employee retention, improved relationships, and an overall more successful work group. All of these things open up the lines of communication between you and each of your employees and that’s ALWAYS a good thing!
Participants of the upcoming Parks and Recreation Leadership Summit in Albuquerque, New Mexico, can learn more about Assessments during my session “Understanding Personality Styles”. Now…who’s ready to go on camera?
Member Collaboration Manager, Central & SE Texas Region
Like many American’s I am pretty much obsessed with the confident television phenomenon that is Scandal’s Olivia Pope. As a communication’s professional, it’s hard for me to not want to be her. She’s confident, she’s smart, and she’s basically everything that you would want in a crisis management professional. So instead of ranting about how great the show is, I’ve opted for informing you on some of the things that I’ve learned from Scandal that directly translate to real-life communications situations.
- Never Tell a Lie
This is probably the most important one, especially for government employees. In government as well as the business world, it is vital that you maintain transparency with your public. The days where “no comment” would suffice are no longer here. “No comment” has warped from a way to avoid responding to a topic to a term that evokes wrongdoing and gives your public the impression that you are hiding something. So, don’t ever use that. Instead, stick with the truth. Don’t make anything up, don’t stretch the truth, simply state the facts that you do know. And if you don’t know how to answer a question, it’s perfectly OK to respond to someone by telling them that you will get back to them. But, let me emphasize that you MUST get back to them. You can’t leave them hanging.
- Always Have A Backup Plan
Another important thing that Olivia Pope does is that she develops multiple plans. It is vital for organizations to formulate crisis plans so that they are prepared to respond to just about any scenario that they may come across. If your organization does not already have a crisis plan in place, say something. Lead your organization in the development of a plan, the creation of a crisis team, and acquire or reach out to obtain the necessary resources that are necessary in implementing something of this magnitude. It is far easier to respond to a crisis when there are already steps outlined on how to respond. If you have no plan in place, you are relying on your reactions and emotions to formulate a plan at the last-minute, and this has the potential to add to the crisis rather than help to solve it.
- Confidence is Key
I feel like that phrase is strong enough to use on its own, however I will elaborate a bit so you see where I’m coming from. In a crisis scenario it is vital that you choose a confident spokesperson to respond to the community about what is not only happening, but also what is being done to solve the problem at hand. The spokesperson needs to not only believe what they are saying, but they need to be empathetic with their audience, letting them know that the situation is being handled and that there is nothing to worry about. Sometimes all it takes is a little confidence to reassure the public that they are in good hands. There’s nothing worse than having an unconfident spokesperson, as their lack in confidence in themselves translates to the community as untrustworthy and creates panic and worry in a crisis scenario. Both things that you do not want proliferate.
- No One Is Perfect
Always remember, no one is perfect. Not even Olivia Pope or Mary Poppins (who was only practically perfect). We all have our faults and we all make bad decisions every once in a while. It’s how you respond to these bad choices that makes you a good leader.
- Be a Gladiator
Finally, this is my favorite take-away from Scandal, “be a gladiator.” Get out there and be a leader. If you see something wrong within your organization or if you have an idea on how to improve something, be a gladiator and take the necessary steps to lead your organization down the right path.
Along with major events, the developments in technology have impacted us enormously. The influences technological advancements have had on our lives have been huge. Each generation has had a vastly different experience because of the developments in technology that have occurred at certain ages. Technology, perhaps foremost, has impacted the way we communicate so significantly. The way people of each generation communicate has one of the greatest impacts in the workplace. We constantly hear grumblings from Silents, Boomers, and even X-ers towards Millennials and the Homeland Generation because of their ability to “communicate appropriately”. Where older generations will prefer to physically speak to another person, Millennials and the Homeland Generation will send a text, or send an email, or some sort of electronic messaging. It is faster, more efficient and less invasive than demanding someone’s attention at that very moment. The way Millennials and the Homeland Generation communicate has developed from what we were taught in school when we were growing up. We were taught to use technology, and it is what is socially acceptable among our peers. Using technology to communicate is something we have learned, just as much as the way the Silent and G.I. Generations learned to communicate by writing hand written letters and having meetings. What we have to remember, particularly in the workplace, is that each generation has its own way of communicating. Neither is necessarily better than the other. There is a time and a place for verbal, in person communication, and there is a time and a place for electronic communication. We need to teach each other the skill of communication. One thing is for sure about Boomers, X-ers, and Millennials – we are all learners. We all love to learn. But, we are also great teachers.
One thing that we sometimes lack is the patience to understand one another, and to slow down and take the time to remember why it is we communicate a little differently. Understanding this, will help reduce frustration and increase our ability to understand one another.
The importance of strong communication and empathy in the workplace really cannot be understated. We are now living in a time where we have up to four generations in the workplace. Understanding and appreciating how each person functions and communicates can greatly reduce frustration and lead to a much more understanding and successful environment. Understanding this about communication is more important for those in leadership positions, perhaps more than ever before. Having empathy, as a leader, is so vital in today’s work environment. Ask yourself, when you were twenty-something, were you an expert communicator, or an expert in your field? I am one of these twenty-somethings in the workplace that we are speaking of, and I confess, I still have a LOT to learn… and I’ll thank you for being patient and remembering this fact. For all the Millennials out there, when your parents and grandparents ask you how to use a computer, I always keep in mind that these are the people taught you how to use a spoon…
We all have differences and we all have similarities, but one thing that we know for sure – we were all twenty-somethings at one point, and the older generation felt we were all frustrating, immature and lacking basic life skills… this is not something that is new, or particular to a specific generation. A wise woman once said about the generation that succeeded hers –
“Annoying? Yes. Dangerous? No. They were simply our youthful doppelgangers who need our compassion more than anything.” – Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City.
Member Collaboration Manager
In case you missed part one of Generations with a Twist, you can read it here.
Having said all this about generations not being as different and defined in characteristics as people think, it is important to remember that…
generations are heavily influenced by their environment and the events that they have lived through. What goes on around us vastly impacts our perceptions, decisions, understanding, and our culture.
We all have that parent or grandparent who has lived through war and as a result has a heightened sensitivity to not wasting food or who never takes having enough food for granted. For those of us who have lived through economic downturn or times of great economic prosperity – this will influence our behavior and outlook. The Boomer Generation grew up through a time of great economic prosperity, which contributed significantly to the beginning of the “credit obsessed” trend in the U.S. The Boomers became well-known for being highly focused on pursuing material possessions because of the economic prosperity they experienced for much of their lives, at least until 2008.
If we think about other major events in American history – the various wars (WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf, the Middle East, etc.), man landing on the moon, Pearl Harbor, the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Death of JFK, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, etc. – the events that we have lived through have and will continue to impact us all differently, depending on the age that we were when the event occurred. There are people reading this blog post who were young teens when 9/11 occurred, and there are people reading this who were in their 40s. We will have been affected by this event differently because of our age and capacity to comprehend events. The age we are when an event occurs, along with our ability to comprehend such events, shapes our opinions of the world, it shapes our culture, our views on religion, the way we view and understand international affairs and global organizations, our ability to understand alliances, our views on gender equality, etc. Regardless of when we were born, we are all products of our environments and the effects major events have on our lives and on our societies.
In an attempt to consolidate my point above, I am going to tell you the story of where I was when 9/11 occurred. I was actually eleven years old, about three months shy of my twelfth birthday. Being an Australian, I was living in a small seaside town about one and a half hours outside of Melbourne. I remember waking up in the morning (because of the time difference between our two countries, the planes hitting the World Trade Center actually occurred over night for us Down Under) and walking into my Mom’s room to say goodbye before I headed off to school. She was sitting at her computer (something she never did this this early in the morning). She called me over to show me footage of the planes hitting the towers. I didn’t think much of it at the time, I thought it looked like a scene from another action movie about hit the cinemas. I think my response to my Mom went something like this “OK. Thanks for showing me. I’m off to school.” Ten years down the road, I was now at university. Being a student of international relations and politics, all of my university text books were defined in eras. This is pretty normal as international relations and politics are closely tied to history. All of my books referred to the “pre-9/11 era” and the “post-9/11 era”. As a young adult, I was finally able to understand the gravity of what happened that day back in 2001. This event changed the world. It changed the trajectory of international affairs and foreign policy. It changed the lives of everyone, all over the world. But on the day it happened, I was eleven years old and had no idea. But at the same time, how do we expect an eleven year old to understand an event like this when the biggest thing on our minds is “am I going to pass my math test tomorrow?”
To understand one another, it is vitally important to remember age. Our age, more often than not, defines our ability to understand and comprehend things. If we defined generations by the characteristics they display as children, we would all be one giant generation of sociopaths that completely lack the ability to rationalize. Now, I’m not saying we need to go out and start treating the twenty-somethings of the workplace like children, but the next time you find yourself unable to understand someone from another generation, whether older or younger, remind yourself of their age and their experience and how best to communicate.
Check the 16% on Saturday for the final part of this three-part series!
Member Collaboration Manager
The topic of generational differences has been a hot one for quite some time. However, in this three-part series, we will take a slightly different approach to the topic. Understanding generations is now more important than ever as we currently have as many as four generations being represented in the workplace. As we look at this new perspective on the generational divide, we are going to explore the concept that generational differences are not actually as heavily based on the generation you were born in, as has originally been suggested. We are going to argue that each generation actually felt the same way about the generation that followed it, no matter which decade they were born in (or what fashion trends they embraced at the time). Each generation felt that the one that succeeded it was a generation of narcissistic, self-centered, unfocused rebels, irrespective of whether you were born in the early 1900s or if you were born in the 80s or 90s. The fact of the matter is, it’s all about the stage of life we are in. To be successful in the workplace we need to understand particular things about the different generations and learn how to communicate across the generational divide.
Before we begin, I want to add in a little disclaimer. When we talk about generations, we are talking in extreme generalizations. We are going to focus on the overall so-called “trends” of generations. So, please do not freak out or look for the exits if one of the trends that we discuss for your generation does not reflect you.
We have all had moments where we felt that younger generations are borderline sociopath. Common, admit it. The older and thus more mature generations in the workforce will always see the younger employees as immature and inexperienced. But, what do you expect? Of course those twenty-somethings are not going to have 10 years of experience, or any significant exposure to the workplace. We cannot expect the twenty somethings of the workforce to be expert communicators, or to have a strong sense of emotional intelligence, because these are skills that are learned over time.
We always feel that the youngest generation will fail to grow up. They will become the generation that failed to mature, that failed to understand what is important, and who simply do not have the ability to get their priorities straight. We are constantly gasping at the next generation’s sheer audacity and what they can get away with. But guess what? This was your generation once, and it was the generation before yours, as well. No one ever says that the youngest generation of the time will grow up to be put-together, well-rounded, worldly leaders with great communication skills. Think about it. This is what the generation before yours said about you, and I’ll put any money down to say that you have thought the same about the generation following yours.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that have been said about generations:
- “The Now Generation has become the Me Generation,”
- “The Video Generation. There they are, those preening narcissists who have to document every banal moment with their cutting-edge communications technology.”
- “…was a bunch of screw-ups: “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder… They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial… They postpone marriage because they dread divorce.”
- “…self-centered, fickle and impractical.”
- “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders, and love chatter in places of exercise. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
Now, I know what you are all thinking. Surely these must pertain to the Millennial and the Homeland Generation! Believe it or not, none of these quotes were written about the Millennials. In fact, quote number four was what Generation X said about the Boomers. Quote number five is actually from Socrates back in Ancient Greece. Let that sink in for a moment… does it really sound all that different from what we are currently saying about the most recent generations? We are all the same. What it ultimately comes down to is the stage of life we are all in and the priorities that are common to each age group. We often forget that we were there once. It’s easy to look at the younger generation and think, “what were you thinking?” “Why are you wearing that?” But remember, you were this person once!
Check the 16% on Tuesday for part two of this three-part series!
Member Collaboration Manager