STEVE FLINDERS: Learning to speak the same language
Once upon a time not so long ago, there was a major food company with a communication problem between its scientists and its marketers. Scientists were presenting new tastes to the marketing people who were ceasing to pay attention after a few minutes. The scientists couldn’t see that the reams of technical data that were so exciting to them were a complete turn-off to the people looking for new product possibilities. Both groups were siloed. The waste was huge.
Why is internal corporate communication so often so poor? In the UK, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of management communication. Many managers I talk to say, resignedly, that they waste up to one day per working week in meetings. Boring business presentations frequently provide the wrong information and add to the frustration. Emails and written reports lack concision.
All of these miseries can be easily rectified. We can all learn to write and present better, through training and also by giving each other quick feedback. This week I worked on presentation skills with some accountants from a household-name insurance company and discovered that their default PowerPoint font size was so small as to render their slides almost illegible: bizarre, but easily fixed.
Agreeing on rules for the conduct of meetings, and spending a few minutes at the end of each one resolving how to do better next time, can have a positive incremental impact on meeting efficiency and effectiveness.
Understanding our own style of communication and those of others is also helpful. If you and I can identify the differences between my preferred style and yours, then we can try to negotiate a middle way that suits us both; and we can check on how we are doing from time to time.
Our communication style can also be influenced by our national, corporate and professional cultures, and we should not underestimate the importance of the last factor here: HR doesn’t necessarily communicate in the same way as finance, so both need to learn to speak each other’s language to harness joint strengths.
In the case of the food company, we delivered some training that helped R&D and Marketing to understand each other’s expectations and to find a common language. Relations improved, respect developed, synergy occurred.
So take time to think about how you and your colleagues communicate and try nudging your habits and theirs in a better direction – continually.
TEXT & PHOTO: STEVE FLINDERS
Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally:
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