African Business School ~ Here’s 5 ways to perfect the art of speaking to difficult people so that they get it!

What you say and what people choose to hear are two different things and it is important to distinguish between the two. Our Elders say, “You can learn from hard knocks just as well as you can learn from soft touches”. Notably when you speak to a group of people they all listen individually and their take out from the message can and will be different. Recall that difficult sibling when growing up. No matter how much he/she got yelled at they simply didn’t get it and went on to do the dumbest things that got you all into a whole lot of trouble. Our Elders often quip “Don’t tell the child the pot is hot. The pot will tell the child”.

In today’s world of social media, the lesson is so often lost with millennials as they go from page to page berating at random with irresponsible comments and reckless character assassination and social suicide. It gets even more challenging when the generation gap between the leaders of an organization and its youngest and brightest employees is so diverse that what looks like common sense is seen as awkward mumbo jumbo to these millennials. Unless you’re naturally “hip” or “dope” like Sir Richard Branson and speak millennial with credibility you’re going to need to go back to the basics of persuasion and communication.

Today’s employee doesn’t do things because they have to, they execute because they want to. How then does one deal with this dichotomy of diversity and still remain sane after the encounter. Here’s 5 ways to do exactly that.

1. Be objective. Straight talk is your best friend when communicating with Millennials and is often the only way to get some form reasonable response out of them. Do this by presenting objective facts which quickly depict the true situation and reality becomes clear and undeniable. By doing this you define the problem or the situation is such a way that working out the next steps to resolve are easy. More often than not Millennials live in the virtual world and their definition of reality is often blurred. The sooner they get the problem the quicker they find a solution. “If your pockets are empty ask your hands why”~ African proverb. Simply put be blunt. It works.

2. Use examples. Nothing beats bringing to the table everyday examples from the home into the work place. For example, “If this was your money would you do the same thing?”. “If this was your mother and someone spoke to her the way you did would you be happy about it?”. “If your father spoke to your mother like that would you be proud of it?”. Such personification and bringing home behavior to people close to them helps. Be careful to choose your examples wisely as some of the behavior emanates from a poorly parented environment. Our Elders chide “If you thing everyone is good, then you have not met everyone”. Dig deeply into your own personal experiences and tell an everyday story to bring about the desired behavior.

3. Be accurate. This is a must to establish trust respect and goodwill. Heed Our Elders warning “One rotten ground nut makes you spit out many good ones.” When doing so avoid unnecessarily formal language. It can sound unduly angry, cold, or alienating. Regardless of whether you’re having a formal or informal discussion, always be pin point accurate by addressing these 4 often asked questions:

a) How often did it occur?

b) How can you measure them?

c) Did you or anyone else confront this problem before?

d) When and how often?

Always keep your tone neutral or, if you dare, friendly. Most importantly develop a reputation for being clinically factual in your communication with as little poetry or subjectivity as possible.

4. Use your home ground. Choose the medium you are most comfortable in engaging in. Not all forms of communicating are equal. Millennials retain considerably more of the written word than the spoken word, that’s if they actually take time to read it. For me the best is still face-to-face discussions over everything. In today’s world video calls where you can get cues to help refine or otherwise reposition your message, whether a strange expression, a smile, or a “whatever motion gesture” from your respondent all helps in getting the through. Often, I find Millennials avoiding this direct confrontational approach and hiding behind the veil of a pseudo Social Media account rattling all sorts of profanities from the comfort of their keyboards. “No matter how long a log remains in the water, it can never become a crocodile”~ African proverb. Nothing beats a good old fashioned one on one. Take control of the environment around you, give the impression of power, sit at the head of the table. If you want to appear relaxed and conciliatory, then sit at a seat across the table or a conference room or a neutral space. Always remember the power belongs to the person in whose office you’re in.

5. Keep records. In the era of electronic pads, notes curation of facts is easy and referencing them even easier. Be known for writing things down and seeking public verification of the documented incidents and refer to them often. At my morning Daily Call to Action (DCTA) meetings I note and miss very little when it comes to performance management. I read and use Individual Performance Assessment (IPA) records of every person who attends these meetings so that I have a first-hand view of what their managers or evaluators think of them. This way you are never meeting or addressing anyone cold for the first time. You always have a view of a recent IPA in mind. Backed with such information communication is customized for each recipient in a large gathering. It also allows you to bunch up common traits or patterns and amend you talking style and choice of words to be most appropriate to the crowd. Our Elders quip “Quietness spread the mat for hunger to lie on”.Always share records of fact, you will be respected for it.

Use these five pointers as a sailor uses the wind, adjusting and trimming to get the desired result. Be mindful as Millennials hear what they want, not what you say.

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