Communicating with Diverse groups
I’m going to approach communication styles for different corporate cultures in a little different way than most. My background is not working in corporate, or big business. However, it has been full of communicating with multiple diverse groups and organizations, including artists, actors, financial personnel, bankers, technology and others. Their communication styles may be a little different, but their emotional messaging is similar.
Communication has never been more important. Many people don’t feel understood, cared for or respected. Finding a way to cut through preconceived ideas and judgements with confidence, kindness and even boldness works wonders. As examples, I’ll use both musicals and food to illustrate. Even though there are a multitude of methods and strategies, there are three communication styles we’ll cover here: Inspiration, Language and Firmness.
Communication Style One: Give them Inspiration
When I had seven members of a musical cast all threaten to quit a production because they had a hard time working with a director with script choices that weren’t working, I had to step in. First of all, I was the writer and producer. If they quit, I’d lose a lot of my investment if they walked out. So I first approached the issue with honesty, then inspiration.
I told them I understood how they felt and I would commit to having the script changes ready before each rehearsal, which was every day at that point. (This is fairly common) Then, I said I would personally be opening up each day’s rehearsal with a couple of inspiring words. I wanted them all there on time and to stay with me at least another week. Then I brought in the illustration of the Kevin Costner baseball movie, For the Love of the Game.
One of the scenes highlights a moment when the pitcher is on the mound, focused so intently on pitching that the cheering crowd in the stands grows completely silent in his mind. His major responsibility right at that moment was to pitch that leather-stitched round object called a baseball to the batter in the box. This type of focus is a term I coined as major on the majors. I soon started every rehearsal with that phrase, major on the majors, and that gave the actors and even the crew the inspiration needed to take us through the rest of the union-imposed 6-week rehearsal process. We then had a full 12-week successful performance run, not without a few more bumps, but with a commitment from all parties to complete the job. (see Stiltz the Musical)
Communication Style Two: Give them Language They'll Understand
There are two members of my immediate family who are gluten-free. My sister and my daughter-in-law. I had heard that taking gluten out of a diet could really made a difference for some people, but I wasn’t sure why. Didn’t God make wheat, and haven’t we been eating delicious homemade bread for centuries with seemingly very few issues?
I started to look for gluten-free foods and desserts to serve each of them when we were together because I knew they would then be able to eat without worry. I also communicated that I was actively doing so. One year, I made our traditional Christmas morning Belgian Waffles with gluten-free flour. I was a bit nervous about the outcome, but they turned out mouth-watering wonderful. (see recipe) The true test was from the rest of the family, who quickly devoured them with plenty of strawberries and fresh whipped cream.
I also found some wonderful gluten-free muffins to make for my sister. The moment she sees the message gluten-free, I see the smile on her face. As a professional violinist, her arms and shoulders quit aching after taking gluten out of her diet. She could also move her hands even more freely on the strings of her instrument, which were starting to freeze from the effects of gluten. By giving both Sandy and Jessica what they needed in a language they could understand, I actually started understanding their issues even more so I could serve them.
Communication Style 3: Give them Firmness When Needed
Another musical production of mine held more challenges, but in a different way. This work was larger and managing a very large young cast, hiring directors, costumers, etc… was a huge undertaking. But nothing as serious as discovering my name was not on the script (book) after one of the re-writes.
I had hired an outside writer to help me “bump up” the script. Once again, we were in the six-week window to rehearse the cast, per union contracts. After auditioning the actors, I found the script needed work. This is a normal part of the process—ask any writer! The writer I hired was very talented and a good friend of the directors. I trusted all parties involved, but was mortified to find this this writer’s name on the front of the script with mine nowhere in sight after one of the re-writes! Apparently this writer thought he changed enough of the script to now claim ownership as the main writer of the book. Realize these were ideas I was paying for, and no formalized script changes were approved by me at this point.
What do you do, especially when you want to keep a cast, crew and directors working? Especially the directors that knew this writer! I knew I needed a firm way to communicate, yet carried out in a very discreet way. Fortunately, the evening I discovered the other name on the script, a good friend of mine came to dinner who was fairly networked. When I shared my dilemma, she was mortified and immediately called her attorney. (It helps to have good friends with great connections!) That attorney knew the top Los Angeles theatrical attorney that worked specifically on music theatre contracts. I then decided to kept my mouth shut, not speaking with the directors about anything until I met with the attorney that week.
After meeting, the theatrical attorney assured me he could lock my contract up tight, retaining all my intellectual property, He even offered to draw up additional contracts for the directors with a fair limit on their future production rights to my work. I willingly handed over my credit card. He closed up all deals with a firm but kind hand, communicating on my behalf with all parties. I then moved forward, with a bit more firmness than before. I was able to not only keep my directors, but the good writing ideas I had gained, paying the writer fairly, as well as my full cast and crew. I then hired another writer I knew personally who helped me with tweaks and I stayed up many nights making the changes myself. (see Tsarina the Musical)
Summing up Communication Styles
To communicate effectively takes commitment, listening and definitely perseverance. That applies to groups of all levels of focus, whether a sole proprietor, a large corporation or even a colleague. There is no easy back door to walk through in communicating with those different than you. But the commitment to work through tough issues with some sort of resolution is a quality that is extremely valuable and timeless, especially today.
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