With some people, you just “click.” With others, every conversation feels like hitting a wall or speaking a different language.

What’s not working?

Pesos won’t buy you coffee in NYC, and differing currencies of communication create similar break downs.

We recently worked with an attorney on the cusp of quitting her job. Jan* was a high achiever, but her tense relationship with her boss was undermining her performance, image, and daily life.

When she considered the currencies between her and her boss, Jan realized she values efficiency. She capitalizes upon her expertise to quickly identify issues meriting attention and dismisses the others. This directly conflicts with her boss’s value of safety; he fixates on every detail to prepare for worst case scenarios. 

Jan communicates with a currency of efficiency while her boss listens for the currency of safety. This is inefficient and harmful to the workplace, creating frustration and unnecessary tension. 

Just as the dollar is the obvious currency in America, our assumptions about what’s important in conversation are so obvious to us that it’s difficult to recognize anything else. And for the other person, their currency of communication is the one that matters. 

When something isn’t working, it's tempting to repeat yourself, asserting your own currency, but it’s not useful. Instead, Jan completely shifted the dynamic with her boss when she began to frame her reports through a lens of safety. She increased her level of detail and justified shortcuts as safer because it allowed her to focus on high priority situations. The result— her boss eased up and Jan was able to excel in her role. 

The next time you’re annoyed with a co-worker or client, identify their underlying currency. What are they most concerned with? How can you translate your point of view into a currency they will accept?

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