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?
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
We’ve all heard the phrase, “it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch,” and while much of the time this can ring true in an office environment, it really doesn’t have to.
If you have someone in your office that you feel has a “negative” attitude toward work, this is a huge red flag for you as a leader to look around and make sure that all of your employees are satisfied with their positions and the work environment. Chances are, the negativity or frustration is affecting more than one person. This is where relationship building comes in and the importance of actually getting to know your employees. Not just their names, but actually who they are.
Let me give you an example. Many moons ago I worked as a retail manager. While in this position I was transferred to a new store, a store that already had their own culture and employees who were used to a certain management style. Let’s just say that the change in management did not go over well with employees, because after all, adding someone new into the mix, especially a newly promoted manager, can be a hard thing to adjust to. Instead of letting the defiant attitudes get me down, what did I do? I got to know my employees. I learned about who they were, what they liked to do for fun outside of work, and most importantly what their aspirations were for their careers. I listened.
What I learned from all of that is that, like customers, frustrated employees simply want to be heard. They want to build that rapport with their managers so that they can go to them with any issue they may be facing, because they then know that their manager will look out for them and get things done. So while you must listen, you also must show that you follow through with your promises. Never make promises you can’t keep. This is what makes a good leader.
So here’s a list of some suggestions for how to become a better leader and cut out office negativity:
- Get to know your employees and build a lasting rapport with them.
- Listen to them. This is where that open door policy that everyone talks about comes in.
- Show them that you are a doer not a don’ter, because the minute you promise something to an employee and don’t follow through, you lose their trust.
- Finally, ensure that you are treating your employees as well as you treat your customers.
In my opinion, dedicating yourself to these steps will help to cut out any negativity that may invade the workplace. Treating your employees as well, if not better, than how you treat your customers will give them the motivation to succeed, contributing positively the organization’s goals.
That’s just my two cents. What are your thoughts?
I suspect I learned this especially from my graduate school days, in the writings of Kenneth Burke. Or maybe from my preaching days, and my intent to be true to the meaning of the Text I was preaching.
And, so, one of my complaints is the way we think it is better to abbreviate, or turn into acrostics, words and phrases that we need to linger over.
Take “Human Resources” for instance. Here are two definitions, both quickly lifted from the web:
the personnel of a business or organization, especially when regarded as a significant asset.
The company department charged with finding, screening, recruiting and training job applicants, as well as administering employee-benefit programs.
I like the first one much better, for the simple reason that it includes this phrase: “especially when regarded as a significant asset.”
After all, Human Resources should be all about resources that are human; i.e., unique to humans, and only available, only found, in real, live human beings.
So, when we reduce “Human Resources” to “HR,” and we don’t say the phrase with the honor it deserves and beckons forth, one flowing from this kind of sentiment — “we cherish our human resources more, much more, than any other resources in this company” – then “HR” loses it meaning. At least, that’s my view.
I thought of this as I read Rethinking Work by Barry Schwartz in the New York Times. Consider this sentence:
companies that placed a high value on human resources were almost 20 percent more likely to survive for at least five years than those that did not.
“A high value on human resources.” That is another way of saying “a high value on human beings.”
Such a view, and approach, and “culture,” strikes me as a good thing in and of itself (first), and a good business strategy (second).
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis