While talking with many HR and DE&I leaders, I’m hearing a reoccurring theme: You’re tired and frustrated because the leaders and managers (internal customers) you serve are not buying in to your initiatives. You mumble frustrations to yourself like, “They don’t take this work seriously,” or “They don’t invite me to any of their meetings,” or “They just don’t get it!”
From your perspective, what you are asking of your internal customers does not warrant a rebuttal. You and your team are very clear on your rationale for why they need to take the action you’re recommending, yet it’s almost as if you’re speaking another language. They just don’t seem to be listening!
Is it possible that they’re not listening to you because you’re not speaking their language?
Being multilingual is understanding and communicating in the language of the internal customers you serve!
Do you know their language? In other words, do you know what is most important for their team’s success? Not from your vantage point, but from theirs. Consider the following questions to determine if you are speaking their language:
- Can you articulate what keeps them up at night?
- Do you know how their performance is measured?
- Are you clear on their business objectives and priorities?
- What’s the potential risk for them if they implement what you are recommending?
If you lack clear answers to these questions, it’s likely that you don’t know the language of your internal customers. When we don’t speak their language, they don’t feel a compelling reason to act on our recommendations. To them, it’s just additional noise for them to navigate, and most do not have time for that!
The Power of Learning the Language of Others
I remember a time when I was responsible for a business unit. I was constantly bombarded with what I needed to do for my team from HR, training, IT, marketing, and others. Because of my very busy schedule, I was quick to tune out anyone who did not take time to get to know my business. In other words, I was less likely to take action on what mattered to them when they failed to take time to understand what mattered to me as a customer – my language!
I did not tune everyone out. I remember a sales trainer who wanted my team to embrace a new training initiative. Rather than sending me emails or setting up meetings with me to pitch his recommendation, he took a different approach. This individual asked to sit in on some of my manager team meetings to learn. He also went on sales calls with my employees, learning from them and their customers. He also constantly asked questions to understand the nuances of our business. As the late Steven Covey suggested, he took the time to “understand vs. being understood.”
You can figure out the rest of this story. Because this trainer took the time to learn our language, he was able to engage us in a manner that helped us solve problems, address underperformance, increase sales, and improve client satisfaction. We also put all of our salespeople through his training! So, why did I listen to this individual? You know the answer – he spoke our language!
How to Learn the Language of Your Internal Customer
So, you view business leaders as customers, you want to better speak their language, and now you’re wondering what to do. Consider getting time with your internal customers and asking them the following questions:
- What does success look like for your team?
- What is getting in the way of success?
- What are you most concerned about?
- If you could solve one problem to improve the performance of your team, what would that be?
- What do you hope to gain from someone in my role?
This list is certainly not complete, yet it’s a place to start. But please, don’t rush to send an email blast with these questions! You will be waiting a long time for no response, just like you are with many of your other emails.
Ask anyone who has learned a new language, and they will tell you that the fastest way to do so is to get immersed in the culture of the people whose language you are trying to learn. In other words, you must spend time with them! Here are some dos and don’ts to learning, and speaking, your internal customers’ language:
- Schedule field visits. If that is not an option, consider virtual meetings.
- Learn as much as you can prior to a visit
- Ask if you can sit in on meetings
- Get as close to the work as you can with front line employees
- Build relationships
- Be willing to realign your recommendations with newfound knowledge
- Send out a survey – it’s hard to learn a language this way
- Email your questions
- Promote your language before understanding theirs
- Hesitate to get in the field or on the phone to learn their language
- Ask for a seat at the table (put in the work to earn it)
Putting in the Effort is Worth Your Time
Learning a new language is hard, and it will take time. But if you put in the effort to learn and speak your internal customer’s language, they will recognize your effort and become more open to your recommendations. Just be sure that your recommendations help them achieve their business imperatives. When you accomplish this, you can be assured of your fluency in their language!