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Communicating with staff: are you talking the same language or is there a complete mismatch?

Communication – that glaring word which is often highlighted as an ‘area for improvement’ in the annual employee survey, the thing that requires time and effort and, in a period where unemployment is at an all time high and the job market has apparently collapsed, is the number one complaint from those who are employed in the retail, service and hospitality sectors.

'The Big C', (as Jane Sunley, CEO of Learnpurple calls it) is the stumbling block to running effective operations. As a learning and development specialist I regularly facilitate sessions with front line managers, as well as their teams and their senior managers. Time and time again, across the board, the lack of clear communication is resulting in de-motivated individuals, limited cooperation between teams and an obvious impact on the bottom line.

I am sure time pressures and lack of clarity in our own minds due to ever increasing workloads plays a key part in this, however, I believe the issue lies with something far more deeply rooted than simply 'communication'. Think about your business, how many times could an HR issue have been resolved quickly and easily if there was not only a clear use of communication; there was also a much better understanding by both parties about what was actually going on?

The only way you can do this is by looking at what communication means for each individual. Your workplace is probably filled with different generations ranging from 'Y' who have been brought up communicating with technology from the moment they started playing with their parents' smartphones and iPads; through to the 'baby boomers' (often the managers) who are used to communicating in a formal style. And therein lies our first stumbling block - the business world is now talking two different languages and the new language is here to stay. It is no longer about being a wordsmith or the correct use of language. Instead it's all about ideas, brevity and debate - a deeper understanding of the audience, and then speaking in 'their language' with as few words (and even vowels) as possible.

Secondly taking time to understand what's important to others and how they like to be communicated with has become even more of a challenge. If we are only communicating by text speak, how do we really listen and observe what's important to others? It's vital, however, that we find the time to do this. It is this style of communication which is being demanded and is one of the most effective ways to work with others; ensuring you get the very best out of them.

Using the idea of different styles of communication to really understand others isn't anything new, however Elias Porter's findings based on the work of the social psychologist Erich Fromm gives us a great approach to do just this. The ideas mapped out in Porter's Strengths Deployment Inventory,(SDI), tells us that we all have key motivators which drive our behaviour. Again you may think this is nothing new however, what is great about SDI is that it gives teams and managers a simple, pragmatic approach to understanding the behaviour of others.

Through a straightforward questionnaire we discover there are four key personality 'types' represented by the colours red, blue and green as well as a combination of the three, hub. Whilst this is not about recruiting people or putting them into boxes, it's about understanding, seeing people from the other's perspective and getting to know what's important to them. In basic terms, the blues are all about people and nurturing, the reds are results driven, always striving forward, the greens want to get the process in place and the hubs, well the hubs can do all of it!

Understanding this and being able to take a step back; realising what's really going on in the individual's world is a powerful tool. Watching and listening to everyday conversations and language gives us a great indication of what's important to others, whether colleagues or customers, and allows us to adapt to them; ensuring we are matching their personality type and style, and having rich and robust conversations which lead to maximum productivity.

So the next time you're faced with a challenging situation simply ask yourself 'are we talking the same language or is there a complete mis-match?' Is it the people stuff? Not enough process? Or even too much detail?

Stephen Yates (pictured) is a Learnpurple associate specialising in SDI and Myers Briggs