We first encountered Nigel Risner – motivational and inspirational speaker – at an SBM conference organised by the South Yorkshire School Business Leaders group; before he finished his first sentence he had his audience captivated. Not long thereafter, a room full of business leaders had turned into a zoo – packed with lions, elephants, dolphins and monkeys. “It’s a zoo around here,” he says, laying out new rules for better communication. Here he shares the secrets of becoming an effective ‘zoo keeper’
There are no difficult staff members or parents, there are just different types: lions, dolphins, elephants and monkeys – it sounds like a zoo, doesn’t it? It is – a communication zoo!
Having worked with more than a million people over the last 20 years one of the biggest problems I have encountered is people who have done personality profiling. The reason is this; while we often find out who we are, unless we talk to ourselves, we have not really discovered very much.
Our job is to discover the traits and personalities of the people we are talking to so we all communicate phenomenally well. Below are some traits to look out for to make you and your school more effective when communicating.
Assessing who’s in your zoo…we mean school!
With everyone trying to communicate in their own style and language I came up with a theory of zoo keeping – using the zoo as an analogy for your school. It’s imperative, especially in a demanding world, that we fully understand the personal needs of the individual information is intended for. Whether by email, letter, or face-to-face, 75% of all the people we meet are what I would describe as a different ‘animal’ from the person conversing with.
Zoo keeping can be fun if done correctly
For example, most headteachers, chairs of governors and company directors will often display the traits of a lion. They are task-orientated and want things done their way. They can appear arrogant, stubborn and patronising because, to them, their agenda is more important than anyone else’s. If you can be straight, honest and direct with your lions they can be putty in your hands.
Most support staff, nurses and, often, worried parents – particularly first-timers – will display the traits of a dolphin. They can appear emotional, sensitive and quite vulnerable. This is because they care so much about the child that, very often, they won’t say very much and will be very upset if their needs are not met.
Second-time parents, or people involved in sales and marketing, will show definite traits of being a monkey and will appear very friendly, not too concerned and often late for meetings. If everything seems to be OK that will be good enough for them – but don’t expect much support in return.
Last, but not least, you have a set of people who are accountants, surveyors and history and geography teachers, who will want detailed and accurate information, everything in writing and will probably ask you questions that they already know the answer to. They are elephants.
Your job to all the above is to make sure that you understand how they want to be communicated with so that everyone leaves with all their needs met. Zoo keeping can be fun if done correctly. Done badly it will feel like hyenas are running amok.
This article featured in the April issue of Education Executive. Subscribe now to keep up-to-date with the latest in school business management and leadership.