How To Stop Sounding Like An Alien To Your Team

Movie still from Arrival

Movie still from Arrival

This past weekend I watched the science fiction movie Arrival. While it’s one of those movies I need to watch a second time to really appreciate all the plot twists, there is a powerful "teachable" moment in the movie when the main character, Louise, is asked by the military commander about her methods to try and communicate with the aliens who have landed on earth. He wanted her to immediately ask them “What is your purpose?” Louise explains that until she can understand their language, asking that question is pointless.

As a leader, it’s so easy to want to spend most of your time in complex discussions about work strategy or goals without stopping to assess whether you are speaking a language that is meaningful to those around you. How proficient are you in understanding the motivation, circumstances, and perspectives of those who you are leading? And do you take that into consideration when crafting your comments to them?

If you want to make sure your message is received as clearly by others as it starts out in your head, ask yourself these three questions more often:

Do you know 2-3 “out of work” interests of each member of your team?
More importantly, do you connect with them about those interests in conversations? Knowing their personal interests helps you connect with them on a more human level. Don’t be surprised to find that you use those interests in work-related discussions to help get your points across more clearly.

Do you have a basic understanding of the language of different generations on your team?Another great moment in Arrival comes where there is a concern over the word weapon. When the aliens use it, many international leaders immediately think that they are about to be attacked. Louise, however, reminds them that the word weapon can also be translated as “tool.”

Knowing the words or phrases that appeal to (or repel) your team members is critical. Even words like “collaboration” or “deep dive” can confuse people as to the actual action you plan to take with an initiative, challenge, or new idea.

Do you check for understanding instead of assuming your message was received with its original intent?
Unlike the task of “complete monthly report” that you can forget about after it is done, effective communication requires that you invest the time to assess if your team members are actually talking and working differently after the initial discussion or directive. If not, you may need to change the language you are using.

If you want more on how to communicate more clearly as a leader, check out these articles:

Eight Questions To Ask Before Asking Others To Change

Seven Questions To Ask About Your Team

And if you're looking for an even more powerful resource for leadership development, check out my new book, Always Growing!