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Lost in Translation:  Communication Techniques for Middle Managers post image

You know your boss cares deeply about customers, employees, and doing the right thing for your business. And you’ve built a passionate team of customer advocates, who want to make a good living and feel good about coming to work every day.

And yet here you are, precariously squashed amidst the intensity of all this passion and good intentions.

At the core, everyone wants similar outcomes…you get it. But the cacophony of misunderstanding and misinterpretation can be deafening.

“Why don’t they understand why this is so important?”

“Why would she do THAT if she really cared about employees?”

“How can they be so out of touch with reality?”

“These executives don’t have a clue how annoyed our customers are about this decision.”

“This is just another sign the frontline is disengaged.”

Chances are no one put “translator” on your job description. But trust me, the managers with the best outcomes are masters of translation.

Great Managers are Translators

The very best managers are leaders with a keen ability translate:

Industry dynamics into pragmatic straight talk

They listen closely to what’s happen with competitors and strategic partners. They’re intrigued by the dynamics, and help their team to better understand their company’s proactive approaches and responses.

Organizational vision into meaningful work

They work hard to understand the big picture and have a keen ability to explain articulate specifically how the work their team is doing makes an impact on customers and to the world.

Executive urgency into tangible action

They don’t let stress roll downhill. They buffer negative executive emotion and translate the meaning into specific behaviors for the team to implement.

Questions into dialogue

They listen carefully to questions from executives, bosses, peers, and direct reports, to understand the deeper concern. They proactively work to bring the right people together to have meaningful conversation.

Employee angst into reasonable requests

They empathize with the stress and concerns of their team. They help employees frame their needs so they can be heard and addressed to get the resources and support they need.

Great middle managers take time to learn the languages of those around them, and listen well to hear the truths from multiple perspectives. Translating well saves time and is a vital step toward achieving breakthrough results.

Your turn. What would you add. How can a leader become a great translator?
Filed Under:   Communication, confident humility, Energy & Engagement
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers, AMA's 50 Leaders to Watch in 2015, & Top Thought Leader in Trust by Trust Across America. She’s the author of 2 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss.
 

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What People Are Saying

Steve Borek   |   08 June 2015   |   Reply

I might sound like a broken record but great leaders/managers model the way.

It takes as much effort to be a great translator as it does to be a poor one.

You simply have to focus on it doing it better, each and every day. Consistency.

Karin Hurt   |   08 June 2015   |   Reply

Steve, I’m so with you… there’s effort either way, either up front, or in trying to recover from all the damage.

Terri Klass   |   08 June 2015   |   Reply

Fantastic post, Karin!

Yes, when managers can provide translations about what is really going on around the team, they become true leaders. I worked with one manager who literally had to talk his teammates off a ledge to not become so angry with another department’s comments. When leaders can help their teams gain perspective and empower their troops to see another department’s reasoning, that is making a difference.

Thanks Karin!

Karin Hurt   |   08 June 2015   |   Reply

Terri, Thanks so much. Great add about perspective. It’s sometimes hard to see when folks are so close.

LaRae Quy   |   08 June 2015   |   Reply

Your posts are always full of great wisdom, and this one is no exception.

My favorite: “They don’t let stress roll downhill. They buffer negative executive emotion and translate the meaning into specific behaviors for the team to implement.”

It takes a special talent and attention to detail to break down a “message from top management” into specific behaviors for the team. Often this is because the team leader doesn’t understand the message from above all that well themselves! Permission to query for details and ask enough questions until the message is clearly understood both up and down the command chain is essential!

Karin Hurt   |   08 June 2015   |   Reply

LaRae, Thanks as always. You raise a great point. The first step is to truly understand the message yourself.

Alli Polin   |   09 June 2015   |   Reply

Excellent! I’m reminded of a friend who struggled to protect her team from the intense pressure she was getting from above. Instead of completely shieling them, and without passing on her stress, she ultimately learned to help them understand the nature of the business and the focus of senior leadership so they could work together to design and implement aggressive solutions instead of putting it all on her shoulders. She was (and still is) an exceptional leader. She understood that she could freak out with her friends and then bring her composed and honest leadership to her team when they needed it most.

Karin Hurt   |   10 June 2015   |   Reply

Alli, Great example. Thanks so much. I’ve been in a similiar position as your friend. Helping folks understand the intensity of the situation without scaring them is tricky, but impoortant.

James McKey (@jmckey)   |   11 June 2015   |   Reply

Your article titles are always so great. A skill I’m sure you’ve honed over time. I wish managers (and employees) always paid the same quality attention to the titles of their emails as well. I often waste time reading through emails twice trying to get the context and importance and a succinct/accurate title would have saved me time and decision energy.

Karin Hurt   |   11 June 2015   |   Reply

Thanks, James. That’s an important part of translation! In my last gig we actually came up with an email titling coding system.

URGENT: Action Required
FYI ONLY
THOUGHT YOU MIGHT ENJOY

etc.

That way it was easy to sort.

Jayne McPhillimy   |   15 June 2015   |   Reply

Thanks for a great article Karin – like and agree with all the points you make. I would also add in the role of the Manager in translating back to Senior Managers to help them also understand more about the impact of their actions, the challenges faced at the ‘front end’ and the successes that they could recognise.

Zhaoru(Aluna) Wang   |   21 July 2015   |   Reply

I like this article a lot, especially the five aspects of translators at the end. For me, translator is the most fundamental role of a leader (compared to the other six vital leadership roles we discussed in class), because translating well makes it much easier for a leader to galvanize, connect, build and accelerate. After reading this article, I can think of three critical words for a translator—Information, Assurance and Empathy.
• Information: a good translator is an information powerhouse. He/she constantly gathers information pertinent to the business and conducts thorough assessment and analysis in order to stay on top of industry and competitive trends.
• Assurance: a good translator is a mission assurer. We all know that to lead in to “organize and motivate a group people to achieve a common goal”. A good translator unites the team by making sure the messages are heard and understood and everybody knows “why”, “how” and “what” to do.
• Empathy: people often miss this aspect addressed at the very end of the article. As a matter of fact, good translators always strive to be empathetic listeners. Only when a leader truly listens and empathizes, he/she can understand the requests, needs and motives of employees; and only when he/she truly understands and takes them seriously, he /she gets to know how to galvanize employees well. In this regard, to translate with empathy improve the efficiency of galvanizing. Actually, the leader I interviewed this week considers himself a good translator because he did very well in “Information” and “Assurance”. However, he suffered from being a “not-so-effective” galvanizer at the beginning of his career due to his lack of empathy. Perhaps, empathy plays an even more important role in galvanizing.

Lun Mai   |   21 July 2015   |   Reply

I strongly believe that a good leader should be a good translator.
Especially for middle level managers, they have upper manager, same level peers and lower employees. In order to get a job done, he/she need to fully understand what the upper level manager’s requirements, effectively communicate with peers to make work plans, and clearly allocated the tasks to lower level stuffs. Those people all have different education, work experience and ability of understanding. So to be an effective translator, middle level manager sometime need to improve their communications skill by using different ways of language, words or techniques.

SHUXIN MAI   |   21 July 2015   |   Reply

I agreed that great managers are translators. In my opinion, there are two kinds of translating. One is to translate to his/her team. Other one is to translate to other departments.

As a team leader, manager should understand the industry trend and give clear direction to his/her team. If he/she cannot follow up the industry trend, it is easy to lose company’s competitiveness. He/she should very familiar with the big picture of the company and translate it to his/her team. A good translator should be a good communicator too. Manger should abstract the key information and use simple word to convey to his/her team. He/she should help his/her team understand why they work and how to work.

Also, when working with other departments, he /she should let other departments know what they do. For example, different departments have different function. They are familiar with their own work, but sometimes they don’t know other department’s function. If you are the leader of a supporting department, you should let others know your team’s function and how can you support them. As a good translator, he/she can improve the collaboration with other departments.