Something on Communication and Language at work

How do we like to be communicated with at work?

What catches our attention?

And sustains it?

When do we feel that we are having grown up dialogue?

What makes us feel that we are going to be heard?

How do we know we’ve heard the message the way it was intended and vice versa?

So very many questions I could ask in this vein…

I love words, their meanings and roots, and a lot of the stimulation for me to write comes from parts of conversations that for whatever reason, really resonate with me. I’ve blogged before on certain words, and this time, I’ve had blog ideas swirling around on how we put them together and how much difference this can make to ultimate meanings and interpretations.

Three conversations happened this week to spark the thoughts that follow. Two were face to face and one on Twitter. The latter was with David Hayden, who has just written a thoughtful blog on ‘hope’, ‘try’ and ‘should’ Should L&D Try and Abandon All Hope? (favourite word of HR Policies – but that’s another blog maybe.) David was kind enough to quote my blog on Pertinence. Anyway reading David’s words helped me to consolidate some thoughts I had been having on not just the words we choose, but the overall messages we put out.

Believe it or not, the other two conversations took place in relation to two often maligned areas of HR work – workforce planning and employee engagement! Don’t be put off, please.

In my new paid role, one of my priorities is strategic workforce planning. I’ve done this before, I’ve read the theory, I’ve tried the old templates, I’ve been completely turned off by new complex templates etc. etc. I was lucky that the CEO of another hospice, who has an HR/OD background and has cracked workforce planning, was willing to meet me to share her ideas and expertise. Exuding energy and enthusiasm she shared her approach, which was all about high engagement. One of my main questions had been how to engage others and gain ownership to what can be a very dull, dry and downright unrealistic exercise if done badly. Her approach had involved workshops, interactive process mapping etc. to get towards mutual understanding and agreed scenarios. The flip chart and post it note evidence was all around her office.

You can probably imagine, we went down a few cul-de-sacs and had to keep pulling the discussion back onto our main topic. One of these was MBTI and Feeling (F) v Thinking (T) preferences for communication. A sweeping generalisation – templates and a project plan for T’s versus workshops and conversations for F’s. Keep with me! I know it’s much more complex than that… It did get me thinking though, that my rather T-based planned approach (that’s 28 years of public sector management having a mega impact – despite being an F myself) just might not get the buy in this is going to need. I’m a J too… but anyway, enough of that. I was strongly reminded of the importance of never abandoning communication standards I’ve learned and that have usually worked for me over the years:
  • Always pay attention to ‘think’ and ‘feel’ when asking for opinions or views, or asking for something.



  • In longer communications, use a mix of these words for broad appeal.
  • Read prepared messages, especially those to groups of colleagues, or to all staff, again, then again before using them. What is the overall feel?



  • Never ‘tell people off’ in messages. Who wants to be hectored?
  • Be kind, but not condescending, if they may have missed an earlier message, send again. They are not going to trawl back through their old messages just for you.



  • Make responding easy.
  • Gently remind, but beware, the actual phrase is now a synonym for ‘make sure you do it’.
  • Respond constructively to feedback about the message.

(I’ve been on the receiving end of some awful communications, mainly during public sector change. I know how that has made me feel. Disengaged, annoyed, treated like a child, disrespected etc. I can’t help wondering if much of our corporate communication has been tainted by the preponderance of automated messages? These seems to fall into two broad categories to me; dry/cold and functional or ridiculously and inauthentically over-friendly. Pizza Hut, I’m damn certain that you were not ‘heartbroken’ when I unsubscribed from your e-mails on the 3rd attempt. In fact, I’m sure a human being was never anywhere near that communication exchange.)

The other conversation was with a medical consultant colleague at work. We have recently completed our staff survey and one of my tasks was to increase the response rate to over 65% (achieved by the way.) We have shift workers 24/7, community nurses, and several shops throughout our county, so this had to be by e-mail to reach everybody, supplemented by local managers’ cajolements in team meetings.

I’m going to blow my own trumpet here. My colleague said she had felt engaged with the survey for once due to the way I communicated it, and this had made her take part. This meant a lot to me. I had been very keen to get a representative sample from all job roles and locations, and to really encourage people to add their comments and suggestions. There was, and they did.


So, why had the ‘engagement’ with the process worked? One reason is that our clinical staff were, we think, very buoyed and rightly proud of the ‘Outstanding’ rating awarded by the Care Quality Commission, which was received whilst the survey was live. I have however, had a quick look back at my messages to see what prompted my colleague’s positive feedback. Looks like I stuck to my standards…

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