Effectively Communicating with a Diverse Team by Zemira Jones

If you’re a leader in your organization, you’ve likely experienced the exhilaration of having some on your team eager to respond to your slightest wish while others impulsively push back on your most deliberate command. In short, you experience an emotional connection with some on your team and others fight you at every turn, or at least resort to contrarian opinions every chance they get. Why is it? And what can be done about it?

If this is your question, you must believe there’s a real answer. You’ve seen skilled communicators reduce diverse audiences into warm putty in their hands just by how they address the group. How do they do it?  Is it charisma or an innate gift?  Fortunately, it’s neither. It’s the ability to elegantly and efficiently connect with your employee’s emotional needs. The ability to invite yourself into another person’s private conversation; the conversation that is going on in his or her head 24 hours a day.

It’s the language we speak to ourselves about our deeply set emotional needs. These are needs that are hard-wired to our psychological programming. Part of it we were born with and the rest we acquired through conditioning. The combination forms our personal archetype, the personal story of our lives. We spend every waking hour of our day playing out that story in order to satisfy the six emotional needs fundamental to our existence and that must be fulfilled by everyone we encounter or we will reject them to some degree. We will do anything to achieve that emotional fulfillment. This is the secret to deep connection or rejection.

So why are these needs so powerful? They’re powerful because we take in our entire life experience through their lens. They’re universal to us as humans, and our personality and how we see the world is based on the priority we put on them. Of the six, we all have a top-priority need. It’s the one we were born with as our driving need and the one we will have all our lives. The others tend to fall in line based on our life experience. This is why most of us end up with a primary and a secondary need that shapes who we are.

And what are these needs? They are  1) Certainty 2) Variety or Uncertainty 3) Significance 4) Connection 5) Growth 6) Self-Esteem.

These are the six things we all crave, and one of them is your master need. We all need certainty in our lives.Who would what to live in a house if there was even a 10% chance that the roof would fall in due to faulty construction? If that were the case, you wouldn’t think of staying there until it was fixed, and even then you might question the decision to go back. We also all need uncertainty or variety. Try eating the same food day after day or hearing the same sounds over and over. It would drive you crazy. There is so much variety built into our environment we take its deep-set need for granted. But without it, we would self-destruct.

So where does that leave us? With four emotional needs that literarily shape our personality, how we think, talk, act, and interact with the world, including our co-workers, bosses, and subordinates. It determines who helps make us feel good about ourselves and who doesn’t , and why we perform well for some and not others. The remaining four, significance, connection, growth, and self-esteem are the drivers that shape our actions. We need to satisfy all four, but one is innate to us and requires no effort to operate out of. I call it our home neighborhood. When all of your social defenses are at rest, this is the personality that emerges. Your top emotional desire shapes the personality that has the best chance of satisfying your priority need. You will do anything within your personal moral boundaries to satisfy this need, including agreeing or fighting with your boss.

Don’t get me wrong; we’re not one-trick ponies when it comes to personality styles. From infancy we’ve learned that, by exerting a little effort, we can operate out of other personality styles, or neighborhoods, that are driven by the other three emotional needs. We learned to do this because we discovered that by exerting a little effort to behave out of a different neighborhood, we achieved what we wanted a little and sometimes a lot faster. Therefore, we developed these behavioral muscles to get want we want from others. But it takes effort.

Unfortunately, many of us aren’t very good at making this type of move, and when we do, the shift isn’t done consciously. This is the difference between an effective leader or communicator that connects with many different types of people on purpose and with ease and the rest of us. It is the difference between the Gettysburg Address and an awkward toast at a wedding. One nails all four emotional needs within a few words and the latter manages to insult the needs of almost everyone at the same time.

A skilled leader is born to operate out of one of the four neighborhoods, as we all are, but he or she knows how to discern which neighborhood is your home and consciously  communicates with you solely within the confines of it. Therefore, you connect with them with the least amount of emotional effort, and you feel great about it. When he or she says jump, you and how high. At least that’s the feeling you have at the moment.

So what is the key to deep connection with a diverse team? Meet them at home. Connect with them in their own emotional neighborhood, the place where they have to exert the least amount of effort to operate from. They will love you for it and want to align with you  emotionally even if they intellectually disagree with you. The opposite is also true. If you’re not helping your subordinates reach their core need and it becomes a habitual thing, they will find ways to work against you or at least become resistant to your directives.

There is a fair amount of science behind this, but let me boil it down this way: How quickly we take in the world and which part of it do we prefer to focus on first? Some of us prefer to tell the world first and then ask for forgiveness, while others prefer to ask first and get permission. This is all operating at the DNA level of our psyche. The other core component is where we focus first. Some reach for the task at hand first and are driven by achievement while others are much more concerned about the feelings and acceptance of others. This matrix of priorities captures all personalities and their core needs.

When you combine the preferences in people, what emerges are the four emotional needs we all have. The employee who’s a significance person is driven by the need for control, power, winning, and saving time. The self-esteem driven employee thrives on recognition, being liked, and saving effort. The growth oriented person lives for respect, being right in the eye of his peers, and saving face. The connection employee is consistently looking for the approval of others, trust in the workplace, and rich relationships. There is a unique language preferred by each of these people. To enter the conversation, you must speak it. This is where deep-set connections with your team truly begins.


Zemira Jones is president of All American Management Group Inc. in Leesburg, VA.

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