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Remember who you are talking to

April 1, 2009

Remember who you are talking to

In the military, it is important that you style your communication appropriately for the target audience. Now I’m sure that this is important in every job, but there are some things you just have take a bit more seriously in a military environment. For example, you can go to jail for insubordination (rarely would you, but it is possible), they use equipment designed to extinguish life and you must accept that in theory, every staff member can be sacrificed for the greater good of the nation. The three key components are style, tone and level.

Style is the language you use. Are you talking to a fifth grader or the company director, are they a novice or an expert returning after a hiatus or lengthy period? The difference can mean jumping straight to the point, laying down some background knowledge first or deciding to garnish up the bad news with a bowl of great, but potentially irrelevant news.

Tone is the direction and emotion that put into the meaning. Are you asking or telling, directing or berating, rewarding or condescending? What is your intent; fear, intimidation, guidance, assistance or just information? What is your mood? Our words are influenced by our emotion and although you are saying one thing, the underlying message or what is written between the lines may contradict your intent (unless that is your intent anyway).

Level is targeting the actual words that you use at the audience. Do they know the jargon? If they don’t, you won’t impress them with your vocational verbiage and if they do, you can come off sounding inexperienced. Do you know the technical terms? Bluffing will make it far worse and credibility in communication is essential if the listener is going to be swayed by your argument.

How does this work in training?

I overheard some training yesterday in a role that I’m familiar with The student fell into one of those ‘traps for young players’ and the trainer handled it rather ineffectively, requiring them to get things ‘back on track’ later on in the training.

The trainer gave the student feedback with one of the following statements;

  1. “You did it wrong again”
  2. “Don’t do that again”
  3. “If you do that again we are finished here”
  4. “When you do that, it sounds like we are finished with the customer – they may hang up prematurely and we don’t want that to happen”

Each statement suggests that they alter their behaviour. Each uses a different style and tone (level is about the same). Now your next question may be; well how far are they through the training and what do they respond better to?

Very valid questions because communication is about the audience. In this case, the student was still early in the training, day two of sixteen and customer control is what you would consider one of the advance topics because the student was still learning the system i.e. how to serve the customer.

My point is that when we are in a training environment, our responsibilities differ in such that:

  • We aren’t the boss, even though we may be in charge.
  • We do not know everything, even though we know more about this than the student.
  • They do not know nothing, even though they do not know enough about this.
  • They are human, even though we may feel like we are ‘deities’ in this role.

I’ve seen student’s treated like idiots, enemies or with complete indifference. Remember, these are our future co-workers and team members. Your performance may end up in their hands further down the track and if you choose use your position to bolster your confidence, authority or agenda, you may just find yourself working for them one day.

You can probably guess from my angst that the trainer had chosen number three.


Download my free e-book “THE WORKPLACE TRAINER’S TOOLKIT” Eight models for effective on the job training.

New e-book coming soon: “IMPROVE YOUR TRAINING FROM WITHIN”Using the ‘hot wash’ to refine your training program.

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