Did He Really Say THAT?
I attended a professional meeting recently. The audience consisted of Human Resource professionals, most of them in their 40s and 50s. The guest speaker was a bit younger. He was speaking on the subject of succession planning. He had some good ideas and made some interesting points. But no one at the meeting remembers them. This is what we remember him saying:
“How many of you have difficulty filling key roles? Who is hesitant to promote deserving employees because there is no one to replace them? Well, the reason you are having difficulty is this: You are looking in the wrong places. You are probably looking at candidates who are unemployed and actively searching for jobs. These are not good candidates – if they are not working, there must be a reason. And if they are working but looking for another position, that probably means that they are not considered to be “stars” at their current organization. And if they are Baby Boomers, they probably don’t have the energy and technical expertise necessary to stay ahead of the younger generations of employees. Baby Boomers are just not cutting-edge candidates for promotion.”
What? Members of the audience started glancing at each other, not really believing what they were hearing. A few whispered among themselves. Some probably even tweeted that they couldn’t believe their ears… And, of course, once he had put that message out there, the rest of his message was just “bla bla bla…”. But, as they were a polite group, they let him finish his presentation.
OK, maybe, as HR professionals, they were overly sensitive to the political incorrectness of his statements. And maybe the members of the audience who are in transition (this is the current term for people who are un- or under-employed) felt personally insulted. And maybe the Baby Boomers felt slammed at the implication that they were too old to be promoted. And you know what – they had every right to be! The speaker didn’t have a clue as to who his audience was. He certainly didn’t take the time to look at them and then to communicate his points in a way that would be well-received by his listeners.
Why is it so hard for most people to assess their audience and adjust their words accordingly? Why do so many people enter an interaction intent on getting their point across, only to come away disappointed? How many arguments occur because people fail to pay attention to how they are communicating their perspective to others? If people took a minute to consider if their personal opinions are distorting the clarity of their communications, they probably would quickly draft more effective and productive communications. Or if they stopped to review the vague words, jargon, or overly complex nature of their communications, they might opt for being simple, straightforward and specific. By attending to the specifics of communication, the speaker is more likely to actually be heard and understood by his listeners.
And why is it so hard for some people to view those in transition, and those actively seeking new opportunities, as a valuable pool of readily available talent? People become unemployed for many reasons, particularly in the current economic era. Many of them are eager to apply their experience and intelligence in a new position and organization. This may be particularly true of Baby Boomers (whether employed or unemployed), who typically hold significant business and social wisdom, as well as interpersonal skills that can only be gained through years of experience.
As to this particular speaker: After his speech, a member of the audience took him aside and told him how insulting his words were. And of course, he didn’t intend for that to happen. I bet he is much more careful in the future
And it’s a good thing he left before I got to speak with him. I would have told him that not only are most Baby Boomers the source of significant business and life wisdom, but we are pretty damn cool, too!
Maybe I’ll Facebook him about it!