Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Audience Doesn't Understand Me

My brother-in-law has been staying with us. He's a priest in a remote Australian country town. One morning at breakfast we were discussing the respective challenges we were dealing with in our work. We both concluded with some version of "My audience doesn't understand me". Of course, that's not where we started. We both lamented the fact that the people we are talking to don't have the same kind of background, education, perspectives or priorities as we do. So we are wanting to provide one thing and and they are wanting something different.

Our second conclusion was "Well, that's the challenge". The challenge is to take this group of people with diverse views, wants and needs, and find ways to connect what we have to say with what they understand.

I think this is also a key to breaking through a career plateau. People develop and progress in the early part of their career, then they hit a plateau beyond which it is difficult to move. There is quite a bottleneck of senior people all trying to become company directors, magistrates, politicians or something else beyond the ordinary. What will propel you to greater heights? Relationships are one factor. Communication skills are another. This is where though leadership holds a key for those wanting to move up to a higher echelon.

Resumes often include a list of generic competencies, including some version of "Able to communicate with people at all levels and from diverse backgrounds." The applicant might believe it to be true, but it can sound very glib. It may mean only that you were flung together with these people and had to make the best of your situation.

There is a lot of attention placed on being able to communicate with people who have noticeable "differences" - for example, they are from a different ethnic or socio-economic background. When you deal with such people, you are conscious of the need to adapt what you say and how you say it. But when we are dealing with people who seem similar to us, it's easy to assume that they will think the same way we do. But when we make this assumption we are sadly deluded.

The ability to get your point across to others who have different priorities or viewpoints is a vital career skill, not just for thought leaders but for everyone, particularly those who want to keep progressing past the plateau. Learn to communicate for hidden diversity.

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