The scene: Josey and his injured young rebel friend furtively approach a river crossing. There they meet three very interesting people – the boatman, Sim Carstairs, who ferries people across the river, Granny Hawkins, who provides supplies and “poultices” to travelers, and a fastidious carpetbagger, wearing a white suit, selling bottles of a cure-all elixir. It is these new characters, not Josey, that teach us a few interesting leadership and communication lessons.
Depending on your point of view, Sim is either a brilliant businessman or a snake in the grass. He tells a carpetbagger who is waiting to cross the river, “In my line of work you got to be able to whistle either the Battle Hymn of the Republic or Dixie with equal enthusiasm, depending upon present company.” Which would you think he is?
Lesson 6: Communication is Received Best When You Talk to People in THEIR Language.
You see these issues every day when you talk with specialists: physicians, auto mechanics, even software professionals, and others. For example, “You really need a new transaflange for your negative pressure compensator on the universal nutation assembly.” But I came in for an oil change! When communicating, it’s not enough to just “know your audience”. You need to be able to talk in their domain language in order to build credibility. Once you are seen as credible, the discussions that follow are accepted more readily.
As an aside, the above is referring to the specific domain language of the people you are talking to. With regard to an audience’s native language, if you are not multi-lingual, there is an effective technique you can apply. When I was traveling on a world tour speaking to various technical groups, I learned enough of the country’s native language to greet the audience, introduce myself and my colleagues, and then apologize for my limited skills in their language. The audience’s faces lit up with surprise and approval (and sometimes even applause broke out) because they were appreciative of the effort I went through to speak, however briefly, in their native language. The key here is this must be done humbly and you must speak correctly. If you are not exactly sure of what you are saying, don’t attempt this. You may end up a topic of urban legend by referring yourself as a “jelly doughnut” or something similar (interested students can research U.S. Presidential legends).
Lesson 7: Beware of People Who Speak Situationally.
This is the negative side of Sim’s behavior. He changes songs depending on what he thinks his prospects want to hear. As a Project Manager approaching a release date, have you ever been blindsided by a technical lead that suddenly reveals there have been major problems with one component of your project – and this is the first you have heard of it? Is your communication open and honest or are the bearers of bad news punished? Such behavior is often driven by fear; sometimes with malice aforethought.
How can you detect this behavior? You need other reference points. Body language can give you clues. This may be the only way to know when dealing with people who are unfamiliar to you. Sim’s trembling, quavering voice, and nervousness clearly signaled he’s not to be fully trusted.
With the people you live or work around there can be more reliable indicators. Be interested in people. Get to know them. “Your” people and those you work with are not just “resources”. They are real flesh and blood people with behaviors, habits, principles, and values. Is what they are saying inconsistent with who you know them to be? Does what they are doing go contrary to their values? Are they quiet when they are typically garrulous? These may be indicators that something is amiss. But you will only know if you know them.
Such techniques may not be foolproof, but the may be the only indicators you have to know if you are dealing with a snake or a savvy communicator.
Next installment – the carpetbagger and my favorite character Granny Hawkins.