Speaking the Language That Lets You Be Heard

Do you ever wonder why some people respond better to your lead, suggestions, or personality than others? Well, everyone hears your language differently.  If you want someone to feel valued and respond favorably, you’ll need to understand his or her preferred language.  There is a terrific book called “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary D. Chapman.  It was written to help couples better understand each other’s needs. However, I have utilized it in the corporate world as well; especially since poor communication is a dominant complaint I hear voiced in almost every engagement I work.

The author explains that each of us has a different preference for how we would like to be shown we are needed and loved.  I contend that all employees, as well as managers, share the same desire–we want to be useful, valued, and appreciated.  Chapman goes into detail about the five main categories he believes people fall into and how we can utilize this theory to make sure we are “speaking” our mate’s language.

The five languages are: Time Together, Spoken Word, Acts of Service, Touch, and Gifts.  Each of these, are undoubtedly powerful ways to validate another. Imagine the impact of one or several of these “ways of speaking” when you have experienced them. 

If you think about your staff, you might recognize the person in your office who comes by your desk to chat or wants to go to lunch with you as one who values spending time together.  The one who always tells you how great they are, or maybe how great you are, appreciates the spoken word.  How about the employee who is always doing or offering to do things for you?  That person is motivated by acts of service.  Someone who puts their hand on your shoulder or arm as they speak with you is warmed by touch.  Lastly, some people are great at sending cards, finding just the right “tchotchke” or goodies they thought you’d like; gifts are their language.

Most people will naturally DO that which they want someone else to do for them.  This modeling doesn’t always work if the other person has little appreciation for that particular language.  However, it does help you identify what their language is!  For example, if your language is the spoken word, but a key staff member prefers acts of service, s/he will appreciate it more if you offer to collaborate on the required report instead of suggesting you both go for a drink and a chat when it is done.  On the other hand, s/he may get more from you if they were to tell you that you are a consummate presenter than, if they asked to co-lead your next session.

Try to pay attention to such preferences in your workplace in the coming weeks.  Additionally, I recommend you read the book, you will find it fascinating and the concepts easy to transfer to your work environment.  Finally, I hope you become fluent in the language your employees require to confirm their value to your organization!

Calculated Neglect: The Cure for Your Occupational Hobbies

Believe it or not, bad behavior in the office is often caused by our inability to let go of the work that we find so enjoyable, and often feel no one can do as well.  As a Leader, I try to remind myself of this; so allow me to nudge you as well:  that with such behavior we may be shooting ourselves in the foot!  Failure to allow our employees to take responsibility and learn by trial and error will undoubtedly limit them and, consequently, our organizations.

Now, I know what you may be thinking, “I don’t have the time to let my employee[s] cut their teeth on this one!” Well you may be right on some occasions, but more often than not, we could practice what I call “calculated neglect.”  And in so doing, we find that if we delegate and use a little coaching, we will move our employees and organization forward a bit faster.

Imagine you are the coach of your favorite sports team:  your job is to give your players the training and guidance they need to produce on the court or field.  It’s game time, and the other team is ahead; instead of coaching you run on the field and take over the position of one of your star players.  S/he is now left on the sideline with nothing to do but lick their wounds and watch you.  You could be calling a new play or devising a way to bring the team to success.  But, you can’t.  You can’t because you’re too busy playing the game, not coaching it.

An employee, who is not allowed to take responsibility for his/her work, is sure to become disgruntled.  Disgruntled staff leads to apathy, and apathy is very contagious.  If we are not careful, the behavior we model sets the norm that everyone starts to follow.  In this case, it is a norm that does not encourage risk taking, innovation, or pride in one’s work and accomplishments.

So, where am I going with all of this you ask?  I say we should frequently take stock of our occupational hobbies – the things we love to do, or think we do better than those we have hired. Let’s all work a little harder at becoming more conscious of them… and then – let’s push ourselves to let them go!  You can inquire, coach, empower and guide in helping move the task forward, but your employee has to be allowed to run with the ball.

If the shoe is on the other foot, and you are the one whose job is being undermined:  meet with your Up-line to explain that with their support you can succeed and are not only capable, but want the chance to do your own work.  Make an agreement with him/her that allows you to gently remind them if they overstep their boundaries and start running onto your playing field again.  If they are smart, they will thank you for this nudge!

Office Politics & Sibling Rivalry:  How Leaders may Inadvertently Encourage such Bad Behavior

Have you ever noticed how your staff may, at times, seem to act like children?  Bickering, sniping, and ignoring each other, all in an effort to out-do the other and demonstrate their dominance or value in the pecking order.  I have often observed this behavior and have heard countless managers complain about the same.  When this happens, our first tendency might be to blame the employee for their bad behavior.  However, if we were to pause for a moment and consider the dynamics, we would probably find that we are more to blame then they.

“No way” you say!  Take a moment and think it through with me.  What type of culture have you established in your organization?  Everyone knows, and is duty bound to accept, that you are the boss!  But do you reinforce this by always having the best idea, the most thoughtful insights, and the right and timely innovative solutions?  I am reminded of a recent consulting assignment where the CEO would readily boasted of his empowering and collaborative style.  However, when he sat at the conference table, he would inevitably hijack every meeting he attended, regardless of whom he might have put on point to head the effort.

Staff reported that they understood the dynamics – it was his vision or no vision at all!  As a result, whether the CEO was present or not, everyone would defer decisions to his ultimate judgment.  When they were in his presence, they would fiercely compete with each other and work hard to distinguish themselves, trying to anticipate his lead and prove they shared the same ground.

I contend that our employees are our most valued assets.  They want to make a contribution beyond mirroring our every thought and whim.  They want to feel needed, included, and useful, maybe get a little praise, and, at times, even a share of the limelight.  Over the years, I have found that there is usually more than one good way to do just about everything.  If we never allow our staff to spread their wings, I would venture to say, our organizations will never progress farther than we can literally push them.  Successful managers will work to develop a workforce that perpetuates the genius of its leaders.  And, the only way we can nurture and encourage this type of norm is to strategically stand down and wisely use our position to empower greatness in others.

My parting point and encouragement, is for you to have belief in people, guide them in a manner consistent with your belief in them, and they will live up to your expectations.  Ultimately, you will lead your staff to “responsible and mature adulthood” if you treat them like an equal.

Middle Managers: Responsibility Without Commensurate Authority

I was recently contacted by an organization with a need for my services.  The manager with whom I met was able to give me the details of what they sought.  However, when I submitted a proposal, she had to check with her up-line for approval.  The process of initiating this contract was slowed down immensely by the lack of authority vested in the initiating manager.

Sadly, this is not an isolated instance.  I also worked with an organization that recently launched a new business strategy designed to empower middle managers with decision-making authority.  The CEO boasted that this would allow his staff to use their judgment and thus free him up to do more important things. However, in my interactions with them, I found this to be an often expressed new direction that was rarely actualized.

Beyond adding to low morale, the above scenarios are sure-fire ways to slow down any progress your organization may be making.  In addition, those who are in the top positions are now backlogged with decisions that should really be made at the level they began.  Closely holding decision authority may feed some leaders’ need to be continually affirmed as the ultimate authority, however, it takes time away from other critical business requirements that are best lead by executive leaders.

An organization with a lot of red tape is certain to miss opportunity, and could possibly be rendered extinct if it is not careful.  If your managers are not allowed to take responsibility for their decisions, they well may leave you, become passive-aggressive, undermine that which they do not have control over, or give up and stop trying.  Want to kill a leader’s ability to lead?  It can easily be accomplished by withholding making-decisions authority.

For those of you on the short end of this stick, it may feel like a vicious cycle, but you can gain back your authority.  It must be handled with a bit of tact so that upper management feels comfortable with the transition of authority.  When your Up-line gives you the next task for which he would likely want to retain the final say-so, try the following approach:  “I know that you have a lot on your plate, and clear ideas about what you want from this contract.  I would like to have your delegated authority to assess this opportunity and make a decision based on the criteria we have discussed?”  This approach requires that you ask enough questions to know exactly what matters in your up-line’s opinion, and that you communicate well and reconcile your prospective if it differs. Both you and your up-line may find this exchange the most beneficial exercise you could ever experience.