Getting coffee when all you want is tea – the importance of effective communication in the workplace.

assortment of tea and coffee on a table

You ask for a cup of tea and all you seem to get is coffee!

We’ve all been there. No matter how many times you think you’re being clear and spell out – “T. E. A.” – you keep getting the stuff you don’t want.

You’ve been clear. You’ve been direct. Right? Well, maybe not!

Sometimes communicating is just a little more challenging than expected.

Today I was with the owners of a thriving business in Perth, chewing the fat over a cup of tea (yes, I got tea!), when the subject of employees came up. One of the owners rolled her eyes and shared the challenge of communicating with one employee in particular.

“He never seems to be able to follow instructions. You spell it out – steps 1 through 7- in detail, and he misses out step 4. And then when we get the outcome, he’s missed step 4 and argues that I never went through it with him”.

When we communicate in the workplace – or anywhere for that matter, we make assumptions along the way. We assume we are communicating clearly (I understood what I was saying), we assume the message has “landed,” has been heard, and interpreted correctly, in the way we intended.

Lots of assumptions, lots of filters for the communication to go through along the way. Coffee instead of tea.

So how do we ensure we are communicating effectively?

Step 1 – Awareness: Become aware of your differing style and language when communicating. Some people prefer to give and receive the Detail (“I spelt out steps 1-7…”), and expect others to hear it and process it literally, when in fact the recipient may not ‘process’ the world in the same way.

Others may give and receive their communication in a more Interpretive style – using more visual or illustrative language to deliver their message. You’ll typically hear these people tell stories or ‘walk through’ a scenario as an experience rather than as a list of steps to follow.

And others prefer a more concise way of communicating. They want the Gist. They don’t need/want the detail, assuming the recipient doesn’t either, and expect the other party to fill in the blanks. They tend to get that ‘eyes glazed over’ look a few short minutes into a conversation. They’re onto the next topic already!

We all have and use each of the above ‘styles’ to differing levels, tending to prefer one over the other in different situations.

Are you aware of how this is playing out in your workplace? Build awareness at work by having this conversation with your work mates. How do they prefer to give and receive their communication?

Step 2 – Choice: Once we are aware of how we communicate, we can make choices. We can choose to change how we deliver a message, depending on the varying styles of those receiving it. If we know how other people receive and process a communication, we can choose to tailor the message accordingly.

We can also choose to receive communication, ‘open’ to the style it is being delivered in.

Step 3 – Action: Manage the moment. Ask for feedback there and then. Did the other party receive the communication as intended? How did they hear it? Ask them to feed it back to you.

Does it come back as tea or coffee?

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Leadership – When ‘rolling up your sleeves’ can send the wrong message

Oil pump at sunset

The business of oil and gas is, arguably, one of the most complex environments to operate in. The challenging global economic and market situation, together with having to maintain safety, drive cost efficient operations, and focus on innovation puts more demands on leaders than ever before. With all of these internal and external factors happening faster than ever, it can be difficult for the modern leader to not act reactively to what is going on.

To meet these complex challenges head on, the majority of leaders look to build their capability by amassing more ‘tools’ and ‘skills.’ Ironically there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the evolution of leadership lies on focusing ‘internally’ rather than on externally. To go within and explore the realm of ‘mindset.’

The theory goes that leaders need to understand more fully their own internal ‘operating system’ and how this system shapes the view of the world they live and work in. To use an analogy, it has been likened to equating the complexity of the industry to the full functionality of the latest Microsoft program being run with the skill-set of the leader running a DOS based operating system. You just cannot run today’s applications on old operating systems.

So to ‘upgrade’ the leadership operating system, one has to take a deep dive, and upgrade what lies within. Most importantly, that deep dive needs to focus on a leader’s awareness of themselves, their behaviours and the language that they use and bring into work every day.

Aware leaders know that it is the ‘small things’ they do which creates the climate and culture of an organisation. They also know that it is what is NOT done or said that gets noticed.

Self-aware leaders know that the standard they ‘walk by’ becomes the new standard. For example, we know that safety is a core value and focus within the industry. Let’s say that the safety rule on-site is to work with ‘sleeves rolled down and buttoned’ and the leader (unconsciously) appears on site – even for a moment – with sleeves rolled up. It can send the wrong message that it is ‘ok’ to be relaxed on that rule.

The need for this level of awareness requires a conscious and mindful commitment by the leader to act, talk, and behave in the same way that he or she expects everyone around them to.

Armed with a deeper understanding of self, the leader is able to use his or her energy to create a climate for staff to excel and to be connected to the vision and outcomes of the business. And that builds a culture of engagement, success and innovation.

The links between a leader’s mindset, culture and overall employee engagement (engagement being defined by the Corporate Leadership Council as ‘the extent to which employees commit both rationally and emotionally to something or someone in their organisation’ – i.e. discretionary effort), is the focus of a five year longitudinal research project in Australia and New Zealand. The “Thank God it’s Monday” Project measures the links between “employee engagement scores” and the capabilities of the management and leadership within organisations. The research seeks to find the answer to two questions: “What organisational capability reinforces a highly engaged workforce?” and “What role does the leadership team play in determining engagement?”

Given that recent Gallup research in the USA found that only 30% of workers and 35% of managers considered themselves engaged (all this despite the fact that the annual spend on traditional employee engagement initiatives tops $1 Billion in the USA alone), the research set out to identify what was missing.

Year – on – year the research results show conclusively that leader behaviours and the belief in the leadership team makes a huge difference in employee engagement.

Leadership mindset matters. Where leaders were perceived to be ‘reactive,’ less than 10% of employees were highly engaged. Conversely where leaders were perceived as being ‘connected to purpose,’ effective, and more fully aware of their impact, 72% of employees were highly engaged.

And the Number ONE capability that highly engaged organisations focus on to gain and maintain high engagement? – ‘Culture and Values.’ Importantly the research also reveals that this only occurs where engagement, culture and ‘living the values’ strategies are owned by the leadership team and not outsourced to HR to ‘fix.’

In the trying times that face the oil and gas industry, the challenge for leaders is to broaden their understanding of ‘self’ and how their personal awareness can profoundly impact commercial outcomes. Today, ‘mindset’ needs to be added to the mix in order to augment the ‘tool-set’ and ‘skill-set’ that any great leader brings to the industry.

The aware leader consciously and mindfully knows when to roll their sleeves up and when to keep them firmly buttoned down.

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Family Time – Business Time

Friends and family sitting down for a rowdy lunch

It’s dinner time. The TV is off, food is on. The family gathers.

But it’s more than just eating. Meal time is a time for the family to come together after our respective busy days. It is a time to connect, tell the stories of the day, and share our thoughts feelings and experiences. It is a ritual and rhythm.

Some years ago, I took a lesson from my business and brought it home. What I knew in business was that – to communicate well – I had to have a process and a regular way in which to disseminate the information that needed to go up and down the line. This meant having simple tools like 1- regular times scheduled to convene and share, 2- agendas to guide our conversations, 3 – the right people in attendance and 4 – a time limit to the meeting.

Basically, we had a rhythm and flow – we all knew when we met, who was meeting and for what purpose.

Taking that ‘board room discipline’ home has been a fantastic and enriching experience for all of us in the family.

It began some years ago with my wife and I having a set of 4 questions. We asked these questions to each member of the family, and each answer opened up a wealth of sharing, stories, life lessons and laughter.

We originally felt concerned that the kids and my good wife would think it rather odd, stilted and contrived. Yes it certainly felt that way at first but, over time, this changed.

As the questions became ingrained into our nightly family dinner ritual and rhythm, what we noticed was that it felt natural – for all of us. So on the nights I was feeling tired, another member of the family would automatically initiate the conversation by asking the questions. Even more impressive was when my teenagers had friends over for dinner, they included their mates in the questions and conversations – without feeling embarrassed by it all.

So the transformation that occurred sounded like the difference between a monosyllabic “good” when asked how the day had been, to a fully rich conversation about aspects of the day that mattered the most to each member of the family.

The questions?

  1. Tell me about the best part of your day
  2. What was the most challenging part of your day?
  3. What did you learn from that? About the situation? Yourself?
  4. What or who are you most grateful for today?

So, could you ask these or similar questions in your businesses too? And if we are not getting the right answers from our staff and managers, perhaps we need to change the questions.

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