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You Don’t Know Me

Airports. It’s not fun, particularly, if your work requires you to travel regularly. But imagine living in the airport. Of course, there are delays long enough to bring this possibility into fearful reality. However, for Tom Hanks in The Terminal, it was all too real. Without giving it all away (stream this movie!), language and communication move front and center in this film about separation, tragedy, love and humor. Viktor (Hanks) has us follow him through this journey, exposing us to the perspectives of others along the way.

Communication is pivotal for success at any organization. Nothing new here, but what kind of communication is where things get tricky. In a recent chat, an employee shared that she couldn’t understand why people didn’t respond like she did. She understood that “everyone is different but come on.” She couldn’t understand the differences in social norms and in what she termed “basic respect.” What does it mean to be different in this context?

Two areas of concern and consideration present themselves: Bias and Expectation. When we deal with others who are not like us, by heritage, socioeconomic, educational or geographic considerations, we are confronted with a varied approach to values and their application. Those who were raised in the same neighborhood, with similar experiences, money, family constructs, etc. will likely be easier to work with because of an obvious understanding. Clearly, our world does not operate in such a small nucleus any longer. We are working with people from different backgrounds. To maintain a negative view of these folks due to their “not getting it,” may be a disturbingly deep bias with which to contend.

And lest you think line-level staff are the only ones who may struggle here, fear not. This type of bias crosses job roles and position. Are those who are promoted, paid more, etc., more like those in charge of making those decisions? Look at it. While it might not rise to the “ist” language (racist, sexist and the like), this bias should not remain unconscious. Bring it to the light and converse about how it ever took a hold. Familiarity can be just as divisive as it can be comforting.

Know the audience you’re speaking to, as best as you can. Find out what communication styles will work for each person.  Who prefers written rather than verbal communication? Who prefers situational examples rather than a purely definitional approach?  Look at personalities. Understand trigger points as presented. For all staff, it’s wiser to work to be heard and to be received well than to just get the message out. How can this be received in the best way? Set up the communication for success.

Conversation can open the door to understanding and expectation. Alignment around expectations can lay the groundwork for a relational foundation based on trust and grace. We are more apt to give someone the benefit of the doubt if there are some relational deposits made. The “Listen to Me” approach is not something that most people find inviting if not mixed with reciprocity. Our viewpoint can be solid, but it does not need to be exclusive. We can engage in dialogue to understand and to appreciate another view.

Healthy communication is not about someone winning, but rather, it’s about each having a voice. Do decisions have to be made? Absolutely, but if the process is setup as a win/loss then no one wins long-term. We have undone trust and replaced it with fear, frustration and a lack of involvement.

Instead, look to make clear all points, collaborate effectively, make decisions as a result and work through the plan for follow up (expectations). By addressing bias, particularly in the first part of this process, we can better connect through our differences rather than in spite of our differences. Embrace them and lead the charge on their application. Growing out of our bias in communication, both in receptivity and in offering, will allow a progressive and effective path to be forged. And all of it can happen without sleeping in the airport.

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