Film: A Bug’s Life
Release Date: November 25, 1998
Scenario: Flik the ant goes in search of tough bugs to fight off Hopper and his gang in order to save his colony from bullying and potential starvation. After traveling to “the city,” he enters a bar that serves a rough clientele and stumbles upon a rag-tag group of insects fighting off some muscular flies. Not realizing these are circus bugs who are putting on a Robin Hood act to get themselves out of a jam, Flik mistakes them for the warriors he has been searching for and recruits their help through some miscommunication on both parts.
Probably my favorite characters in the film are the twin Hungarian Pill Bugs, Tuck and Roll. They are the acrobats of the circus troupe, and speak very little English. Unfortunately, none of their companions speak their language, either. This causes some headaches for the bugs and some laughs for the audience, but it also provides a great lesson.
Leadership Lesson: Know how to effectively communicate with each individual on your team.
Some of us may never face the challenge of a genuine language barrier, but there is a lot more to communication than what language we speak. Each individual has their own unique style of giving and receiving information that works best for them. By understanding an individual’s preferences, we can maximize the effectiveness of the message we want to get across.
The easy part of this is determining the preferred communication medium. Some people prefer to have written communication, whether in memo or email format. This could be so that the have the ability to go back and review the information as needed, or so that they can focus on one part of the communication at a time as needed. Others would opt for in-person delivery, for reasons such as the ability to immediately seek clarification or ask additional questions about the message, or being able to take their own notes in their own words for later review.
We will not always be able to make this an option, of course. Team meetings will have to be in-person (or virtual if our team is spread across long distances), but we can help our memophiles by sending out notes or minutes shortly after the meeting adjourns. Some communication will need to be in email format, but we can help our oral communicators by doing everything we can to make ourselves available for in-person questions shortly after sending.
Beyond the medium we use to convey our message, things get a little (or a lot) tougher. We as individuals have already established our personalities and how we present ourselves to others, and therefore have our own unique conversation style. While it is important that our teams learn about how we deliver information in order to adapt and understand as best as possible, it is unfair to make this a one-way street. We need to observe the way they speak to us and others, and sometimes even ask outright for details on how to reach them more effectively.
According to Mark Murphy in his August 15, 2015 article on Forbes.com, there are 4 communication styles that we all fall in to. You can find the details of these styles here, and even find a link to assess your own style if you’re unsure. We’re not going to delve in to detail here since Mr. Murphy has already provided great information on the subject. However, let’s look at some of the more high-level attributes he discusses early-on.
One thing that can have a huge impact on how well our message is received by others is to what extent we choose data over emotion, or vice versa. Some people on our teams would prefer to know the hard facts: numbers, percentages, deadlines, etc. This give them concrete information that satisfies their analytical thinking. They’re not terribly concerned with how these numbers make us feel because they know it’s either good or bad and can make adjustments accordingly either way. Other associates place much more value on emotion and feeling. To them, numbers can be cold and uncertain: is a 3.2% rise in productivity good? These individuals prefer to know how we, the company, or the client(s)/customer(s) feel about subject. Rather than numbers, they want to hear things like, “I’m not completely satisfied with where we are on our year-to-date revenue,” or “The company is thrilled with the amazing work you’ve all done on the implementation project.”
Using the wrong style with the wrong person can have some bad consequences, so it’s very important to figure out who is who and start practicing how we will communicate with them. The more analytic members of our team may become bored, uncomfortable, or even resentful if we put too much emotion in our communication to them. They may feel like emotion doesn’t really belong in business, and that you are being condescending by being too “touchy-feely.” Those who prefer the more personal touch may feel that we are cold and unfeeling if all we talk about is numbers and data. They may feel like they have done something wrong, or that we just don’t like them.
The important thing to remember in all of this is balance. When communicating to our team as a whole, we need to try to blend our message as much as possible to reach everyone: part oral, part written; part data, part emotion. If you think about it in reference to baking, the ingredients have to be right in order to produce the cookies or cake that everyone can eat, even if it’s no their favorite. However, when communicating with team members individually, we should try to bring their favorite cookies to them every time.
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”