If you’ve ever been in a country where you don’t speak the language, you know it’s both exhilarating and maddening. Sounds a little like HR, doesn’t it?
You can probably relate to the feeling you get when you have been heard — it’s wonderful. It’s a great moment in HR when we know that our point was clearly articulated and that we’ve been understood. Unfortunately, we’re often met with blank stares, pushback that doesn’t seem to make sense, or someone talking over and around us, just as if we were speaking in a foreign language.
Recently, I’ve experienced many of the latter forms of communication. Or perhaps I should say, miscommunications. That is, there are words coming out in English, and apparently, somewhere mid-air, they’re being translated into another language. Oh, and it seems like in that language, “I’m sorry,” means, “Go suck eggs.”
It’s not just our words that are confusing, by the way. HR has a great deal of jargon and legal-ease that we haven’t shared with the rest of the world yet somehow expect everyone to know. Also, for some odd reason, many of us talk insanely fast, so please keep up. Then there are those of us who don’t think our words make the point clearly enough, so we engage body parts. Here come our hands and arms to join the conversation! If the conversation warrants, we might even start to walk around the room just to drive that point home. So, here we are, speaking a language most don’t understand — insanely fast — and waving our hands and arms while you’re trying to follow us around the room.
My point is, it’s not your fault that you don’t understand us. In reality, we are the ones speaking the foreign language.
The best thing HR can do if they want a good outcome is meet people where they are at. If you’ve ever been to a foreign country where you didn’t speak the language yet had a good experience, my guess is it was because you encountered people willing to meet you where you were. You tried a little, they tried a little, and together, they got you to the bathroom before something terribly embarrassing happened.
Bringing those you are talking to along at their pace when it relates to HR issues will only be positive. Our jobs are to educate, train, advise, and guide. We can’t do any of that if the people we’re talking to have no idea what we’re saying.
Four keys to help the HR language gap: Know your audience, their knowledge level, their time limit, and their attention span.
Don’t put yourself in the dreadful position of droning on to an audience you lost 15 minutes ago. And for the love of everything HR, don’t do it in a language they don’t understand.