You speak You-ese and they speak another language . . . .
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
Marc, a talented young leader, asked me how it was possible that some people on his team saw him as intimidating or overbearing. I knew that Marc was bright, creative, futuristic, strategic and articulate. I knew he loved to lead brainstorming sessions in which he freely shared his own ideas and invited others to share theirs, and that he welcomed disagreement and even arguing about interesting issues. Yet, Marc wanted to expand his range of communication and make his way toward a higher level of leadership. This meant addressing the perception that he sometimes shut others down.
I think it’s a matter that we all deal with–being misunderstood by people who are very different from ourselves. Playing with ideas in a real-time social setting is fun and exciting to Marc, an extroverted “thinker” type, but to others on his team–more introverted and/or analytical and/or amiable styles– it felt like pressure to perform, without the cushion of time to think through the questions they were being asked. Some even felt it was a waste of precious team resources to be asked to sit for an hour and think out loud together.
Brainstorming is bliss for some and drudgery for others. One person’s excitement is pain for another. So how can you bridge the gap if you are the leader?
1. Start from the Premise that People Are Way Different
No matter what your style or preferred ways of doing things, there are people in your world who like the opposite. If you like detailed planning & preparation before a discussion, there will be the spontaneous types who are irritated by it. Marc took a look at who was on his team and for each one he reflected on their style and preferences. He realized that only 1 of the 7 other people in his meeting actually enjoyed spontaneous brainstorming and several were extreme introverts who felt stage fright about when asked their viewpoints on the fly. Five of the others were probably irritated by Marc’s love for blurting out new ideas. After asking for feedback from them individually, he learned that most just could’t figure out why they were doing this.
2. Explain Your Thinking
You know what is needed and where you are going, but almost no one else gets it. You are very safe making this assumption. So even though you feel you are being ridiculously obvious and repeating what they already know, explain everything anyway. Marc re-did the way he started meetings–with a clear (if obvious) explanation of what they needed to accomplish and the business conditions that called for it. “With this new customer population, we have to come up with more ways they can access customer service, and we need to a plan in place fast. Our standard service program is inaccessible for half of them. So let’s discuss these customer profiles then spend 30 minutes brainstorming new approaches. We need to generate a lot of ideas so let’s hear from everybody! Then we will analyze.”
3. Check for Their Reaction
Look around the room and note frowns, puzzled looks, or negative body language. For puzzled looks, stop the action and ask “Would it be helpful for me to summarize where we are going with this?” For negative body language ask for their involvement. “What are your perceptions about this problem we’re facing?” For doubters, make self-reflective jokes: “I know, I know, these blue-sky idea sessions drive some of you crazy, but will you indulge me for 30 minutes”?
The main thing is to realize is that You Speak You-ese, and they speak another language. To get to the next level of success, you will have to do some translating.