What sort of person are you?

I enjoy going on courses; they’re (usually) fascinating, an opportunity to take on new skills and improve yourself, and a chance to network with like-minded people.

I organised a couple of courses recently, and during lunch, I popped out my office to check on how everyone was getting on; I like to make sure everyone’s happy, or at least content. If people aren’t comfortable about something, I like to know about it, so I won’t get bitten on the backside later.

However, it all seemed to be going well; everyone seemed perfectly content, so I decided to sneak quietly away. But there are occasions where I struggle to do that. Today, I fell into a twenty minute conversation with one of the delegates and could have easily spoken for longer.

We were talking about people and psychology; how they interact on a personal and professional basis and what motivates them. Neither of us in the discussion are anything more than amateurs in the field, but both of us are genuine observers of behaviour.

My fellow debater works with a large, ever-changing group of people, from trainees to senior managers. During his long career, he had learnt to separate people into three categories; people who have to be told, people who could be asked, and people who don’t fall into either of those two.

People who have to be told, he argued, were perfectly fine workers; preferring to be directed on particular tasks, they might not take too much initiative, but were creative once they had work to do.

People who need to be asked are often creative in finding jobs to do, so can be asked to complete something within their daily schedule but might not need to be given intricate direction as to when.

Then, he indicates, there are those who would very much struggle to be told – resenting an authority presence over them – and, whilst they might welcome being asked, could often misinterpret it as a request amongst equals and put the task on the back-burner in order to prioritise other things they think are important. They’re the hardest people to manage at work, and that’s certainly no different to the rest of life as well.

We meet people from a range of backgrounds in our lives, and we encounter difficulties when we struggle to communicate. There’s so much opportunity for us to be talking at each other rather than to each other; or even to be having a conversation that could mean we agree with each other if only we were both pitching our language at the same level.

However, our language is separated into different classes; management speak, for example, and slang dividing people by a common language. I’ve sat in meetings where corporate-speak is nothing but a confusing slew of five syllable words that don’t actually mean anything, or could easily be simplified into a far smaller collection of sentences that get to the bloody point. When people don’t pitch to their audience, you wonder if they actually have any awareness of the people around them – that not everyone receives information in the same way, and deserves the chance to understand what the hell is being talked about.

George Orwell’s eponymous book 1984 created an entirely new language called Newspeak. It was designed to train people into using fewer and fewer words – to the point, they hoped, where people wouldn’t be able to have a single heretical thought because the words simply weren’t there. Newspeak was meant to streamline thought and communication as English was acknowledged to be a complex, confusing language.

This is true; when you have multiple meanings for the same concept, allowing people who view things in different ways to completely misunderstand what the next person is saying, even if they’re trying to say the same thing. Jargon and technically-specialist language that’s crept into the everyday vernacular frustrates some, terrifies others, and leaves some people struggling to even pronounce the words – splitting people into feel superior or stupid as a result.

But it creates conflict too; they hear things differently, absorbing and remembering different parts of the information, and so you need to adjust your radar to match. Easier to do when you know the person, but when it’s the first time you’ve ever encountered them, or they’re a passing acquaintance who you don’t spend much time with, you still have to act. If you can’t describe a concept in at least a couple of different ways, then are you really able to understand it yourself?

Be open to new ways of talking; just because you think a particular sentence makes you seem overly intelligent, if no-one understands you, then who are you selling that message to? Rather be known as an effective communicator, surely, than a turgid speaker?

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