I was facilitating a workshop on the three keys to communication success. We were talking about the need to consider the style and preference of the audience in shaping our communication approach when a participant spoke up.
“I hate when people do this. When my manager comes to talk to me and starts beating around the bush and giving me positive comments, I always get real skeptical and feel like there must be something bad or something more coming. I just want to tell him, “just come out with it! Give it to me straight!”.”
A few others chimed in with agreement.
He was feeling like he was being ‘techniqued’. Like it was disingenuous.
Like he was being ‘gamed’.
We don’t want to seem fake
I get it.
When someone tries to do something that seems out of character, it can feel like they’re faking it.
We can all smell fake from a mile away.
And this concerned him because he didn’t like being on the receiving end, and he didn’t feel like trying the approach that I was teaching because he feared that he would have the same effect on others – that he was fake.
Here’s the thing: I think there’s a thin line between ‘faking it till you make it’ because you’re trying on new communication behavior that is not yet your habit and ‘being fake’ by using a behavior you’re ‘supposed’ to use that you don’t really feel like using and don’t believe in.
The big difference is your intention.
If you intend to take on a new behavior that you believe will be more effective, people may sense your initial awkwardness with it but I believe they’ll also sense your sincerity.
If you intend to ‘look’ like you’re doing the right thing because you’re only thinking about appearances and not the actual reason behind the behavior, your insincerity will come across.
If you’re feigning interest, empathy, or concern in order to appear to care, you’re gaming people. That’s not cool.
But if you’re truly interested in their needs and trying your best to adapt to them, you’re being genuine. Even if your execution is still not smooth.
Be authentic and keep practicing.
But always check yourself: what’s your intention?
The Golden Rule is insufficient
Also, different people have different preferences for how they like to be treated.
We’re not all the same. Which means that you need to start with a general approach you know to be effective for most people, but always seek to learn more about the specific preferences of the people you work with and then adapt to their needs.
As I like to say, instead of the Golden Rule (“treat others as you would like to be treated”), use the Platinum Rule (“treat others as THEY would like to be treated”). It’s much better.
So this guy who hated it when his boss ‘beat around the bush’, and who said that it caused him to immediately tune out, needs to be communicated with in a much more direct way. He prefers it.
But he, himself, needs to beware of being direct like that in all his communications with others just because he personally prefers it. Many other people will find him too abrasive and will be turned off quickly. He needs to be able to adapt his style to the RECEIVER of his message. He can’t pull the old “that’s just not me” excuse.
Become multi-lingual to be a better communicator
A metaphor I used in class with these learners was that of language. If you are a native speaker of English, but you are communicating with someone who doesn’t speak the language, and you want to communicate with her successfully, you must be aware of this gap in language and make an effort to speak to her in HER preferred language.
You can’t just say “that’s not my language” and insist on speaking to her in English. How’s that gonna work for you in terms of getting your message across and gaining her commitment? Good luck... You’ll just sound like you’re making a bunch of sounds, but nothing meaningful will come of it.
So you learn to speak French and do your best.
Hopefully she’ll make a similar effort to come toward you and learn English. But if you focus on the goal of communication (reaching shared meaning), you’ll see why adapting and translating your message from YOUR preferred language/style/approach to THEIR preferred language/style/approach would be in YOUR own best interest, not just theirs.
- There’s a thin line between practicing a new skill and it feeling awkward and unnatural and being fake to put on airs. It’s all in your intention.
- The Golden Rule is insufficient; use the Platinum Rule instead to communicate with people in a way that is tailored to their preferences.
- And by making an effort to translate to their language, you’re giving your communication a fighting chance. Otherwise, it’s all ‘blah blah blah’.
What do you think? How have you seen this play out in your world? Chime in in the comments below!
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