When you communicate with someone, what are you thinking about? Are you thinking about what you want to say or the impact you want to have? You may feel confident about your message, but will the delivery be received in the manner intended? Have you considered who your audience is – employees, managers, friends, or family? How they are interpreting what you’re saying or if they have ability to interpret it? Do you adapt your communication style to your audience? Too many times, we fail to think about who we are speaking to and how we may need to adapt our style to gain better results.
While I have put thought into this subject, I’ve never had to incorporate it to the extent that I do as an Alzheimer’s caregiver. It’s not something I’ve practiced much, but in combining what I’m learning as an Alzheimer’s caregiver with my desire to constantly improve my leadership skills, I’m starting to realize the critical importance of communication and the perception of what is being communicated. Even more important, I have to really take that extra step to listen – and not just to what is being said, but what someone really wants.
Patients with dementia may be communicating something out of fear or not feeling safe, but do not know how to articulate that. An employee might be fearful in communicating candidly or honestly due to your position in a company and how they may be perceived or the repercussions for what they say. To alleviate these fears, you must understand that person, their personality, and their motivators. You often need to adapt to show more patience, encouragement or acceptance. What motivates me might be very different from a co-worker bu if we are collaborating on a project and are not on the same page, we need to communicate our needs, desires, and goals so that we can align. We must understand each other and our expectations in order to succeed.
With over 5 million Alzheimer’s patients in the US, I think about how many caregivers there are and how many of them are small business owners like me. In 2010, there were almost 29 million small businesses in the US, with over 18,000 having 500 employees or more. Take a moment to think about how much information is shared every day amongst people. It’s almost unfathomable to adapt your communication to every person and style.
While communication skills with co-workers hopefully improve with time, it is the opposite as a caregiver. As the disease progresses, communication is stripped of many things. However, both reflect the need to constantly evaluate the audience, what they are capable of absorbing, for how long, etc. And ultimately, what worked yesterday might not work today. It is exhausting and daunting, but if it is embraced as an opportunity to learn, to improve skills – such as patience, listening, and responsiveness – it can be incredibly empowering. Life presents many challenges but it is from these moments we are given the opportunity to grow and flourish.
It’s timely that this blog reflects what I learned about communication from last month’s blog. I perceived it as a bit of a failure, and I do believe in part because the word leadership was in the title. While very aware of my intentions and how I wanted to impact people, I was selfish in that approach. I did not consider how the title could be perceived as a deterrent. If you are not in a leadership role, why would you want to read about the Reflections on Leadership? My assumption…who doesn’t want to improve? Especially in my industry of recruiting, where effective communication is critical to our success and sometimes being human means making mistakes and growing from them. It’s hard to work on yourself but for me, that’s what life is about, trying to be a better person and better leader every day. Next month I’ll continue to share my thoughts on leadership.