Common Language, Common Ground: Improving Team Communication
Responsibility for communication falls to the leader, and often requires getting out of your comfort zone, to where one must attempt to speak in a language that is understood.
Credit: Yeydi Jimenez, Crossroads Community Church
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If You Can’t Understand It, You Probably Can’t Speak It
An absolute must read for leaders is “The Five Love Languages,” by Gary Chapman. There’s quite a bit written on this concept, so just to touch on it quickly, Chapman says there are five ways to communicate love – “Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch.” He goes on to assert that everyone has a love language they prefer, and if you can figure out which a person prefers by watching and talking with them, you can build deeper connection with better communication.
But as important as it is to try to have a common language with your team, no one is fluent in all languages. Practically speaking, my church held up the handwritten thank you note as the single most important form of appreciation for a great effort for several years. It was considered to be a way to show that I as a leader took time away from everything else, and personally wrote a message away from my computer.
But I just didn’t get it. I don’t value cards. I always pitch any card in the trash as soon as the giver turns their head a moment. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, I definitely do. I don’t understand, though, what to do with a card. It’s a language I don’t speak well.
Perhaps as a result, I always found it difficult to write these notes. It was a thing I’d just put off and would forget to do. But the worst part was, since this was the appreciation system, I just wasn’t showing any appreciation for great effort at all, beyond a thank you.
As a result, I changed the system for my team. We created three major moments to recognize individuals and tried to diversify the love languages used. First, every year around Thanksgiving, I send a personal text to all team members to thank them. For some reason, if I can type it, it gets done. My other rules for these messages are they must never use boiler plate and must be embarrassingly honest. The message is just for that one person and I have to recognize something about either their contribution or our relationship. It affirms I see what they are doing.
Second, we hold a team awards ceremony. This gives us a way to publicly appreciate everyone. We recognize everyone’s years of service. We give out T-shirts and awards like “Most Improved” or “Volunteer of the Year,” and speak lovingly of each other, as we celebrate our achievements.
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