Saturday, May 29, 2010

Silence Speaks Loudly

Silence as a communications vehicle?  Has Jack gone off the deep end on us?

Think back… Mom or Dad greeted you at the door, arms crossed, standing bolt upright and silent as the granite cliffs.  You heard loud and clear that you did something and you were out of favor (to understate the obvious).  Silence communicates disappointment and anger.

How about when having an uncomfortable conversation seeking compromise or restitution on your part and the speaker drops a solution with 2 or more horrible (your view) choices and then clams up.  Without prospect of additional information or an opportunity to move the conversation to a more neutral point, the impact of the silence becomes all too apparent in a matter of seconds – pressure.  Silence communicates persuasion.

Or when being interviewed for a job and the interviewer asks an open-ended question and just listens – actively but noncommittally.  As the silence embraces you after your initial answer, you feel compelled to offer more to your answer. [You can have fun with politicians by going silent after asking a pointed question – many can’t help themselves from expanding the response beyond the usual talking points]  Silence yields more informative communications.

I was at a meeting of the Reston Leadership Breakfast yesterday – the Friday before Memorial Day and the sponsor of the meeting was given an opportunity to tell the attendees about the services offered by his firm (a benefit of sponsorship) but instead asked the group to share a moment of silence in recognition of the women and men in the service of our country who have given their life to establish and preserve our freedom.  Through this simple action of calling for silence, Mike Megless (Narrow Door Consulting), clearly communicated his sincerity and integrity while leaving the audience with a richer sense of what his firm brings to the table that is more memorable than if he had given a 30-minute presentation.  Silence communicates values.

Silence communicates thankfulness and heartfelt gratitude.

As we observe this Memorial Day holiday, please join me in offering a few minutes of silence in tribute to all the individuals serving our country in whatever capacity to protect us and guard our freedom, and in memory of the others who have perished to secure and continue our freedom. Bless you!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It’s Scary to Listen to Me!

Well, not really, but sometimes it is truly amazing what comes out of someone’s mouth.

Communications can be derailed by unintended comments.

For example, picture a person in a persuasive conversation with another individual to change their mind or sell them a project; the speaker leans in – inspiring sincerity – and says “to tell the truth…” This may be used as a transition term with an intent to demonstrate trustworthiness (if any thought was given) – however now the listener is on alert, thinking – ‘if this is labeled as truth, what about all the other stuff I’ve heard.’ Flash freeze on changing a mind now.

What about someone who is telling you about the scope of services and launches into a story recounting a number of customers who deliver complex jobs at the 11th hour and want it delivered in record time? The speaker is demonstrating what?: top notch customer service, going the extra mile, working miracles? Sally Strackbein points out in her communications training “don’t talk about what you don’t want!” What does the listener take away from the Super-Services delivery: I can use these folks for last minute panic stuff. Is this the intent of the message?

How about a presenter who speaks in acronyms? Or in the slang of the industry? Or is so busy dropping names that the point of the discourse is lost? It’s pretty hard to recapture the attention of a listener who has checked out. But wait, there’s still more ways that speakers can torpedo their conversations.

Is it effective to drop the phrase ‘to kill two birds with one stone’ when speaking with the Audubon Society, or to try to sound more impressive by using unfamiliar words – e.g., ‘forget the guy! Just illiterate him from your memory’. [obliterate] At best this confuses the communications as the listener reacts to personal sensibilities.

Yogi Berra is famous for butchering the language (also for being a Hall of Fame catcher too). Folks hang on his every word, chuckling with delight when he launched another Yogi-ism. He entertains. He does not persuade or sell with his banter. Relive some of the classics: “It’s so crowded, nobody goes there.” “The little things are big.” “The future ain’t what it used to be.” You’d say HUH?, smile a little, and move on. No effect on your view of Yogi’s professional activities as a catcher for the Yankees; right?

Unfortunately, as professionals, we are expected to be clear in our communications and articulate our thoughts to lead, persuade, sell, educate and direct. When we miss the mark by uttering something unintended, our goal is now harder to achieve. Communicate simply, and give care to what you are saying. We are not infallible and will make mistakes – unavoidable to be sure – but being aware will help to minimize the frequency.

Let’s give Yogi the last word on the subject:

“I really didn’t say everything I said!” Don’t we wish!!!

Does it make sense to not say wrong things? Your thoughts and stories?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What You Do IS What You Are

What you do speaks volumes about you. The adage “Actions speak louder than words” is true but does it have relevance in social settings? Do actions project information – do actions of others present information?

In the 1950’s, published as an article in The Economist (which grew into a book called “Parkinson’s Law”), C. Northcote Parkinson wrote about his observations of people and dubbed the consistent, predictable actions as Parkinson’s Law. The ‘Cocktail Formula’ is about people in a social setting. Relative importance of the attendees can be gleaned by watching them move about the room.

Here’s some of the results from a social gathering:

· There is a clockwise flow of people around the room – when entering through the doorway, folks jump into the current by going to their left
· This current flow is well away from the walls, but does not extend into the center of the room
· The “most important” people will move with the flow until they reach the far right of the room (relative to the doorway) and set up camp there without moving from the current (so the flow now goes to both sides of them)
· What about the rest of the people? Here’s what Parkinson says:
o All along the walls are lengthy deep conversations by the “nobodies”
o Pressing back into the corners of the room are the “timid and feeble”
o In the center of the room are the “eccentric & silly”
· The “most important” people arrive at the event once enough people are present to observe their arrival and leave early for the same effect.

Have some fun next time you are at a cocktail party and check it out.

What does this have to do with us and how can we benefit from it? Using a networking meeting (without a specific program or presentation) as an example, here’s some thoughts:

  • Arrival: Never come early (unless you are supporting the host); get there after the start time when a number of others are already present – then you have some folks to chat up (and you do not seem compulsive or needy)
  • Circulation: Have a good balance between moving around and staying in place. When you are planted for a long time, you appear to be ‘holding court’; but if you are constantly on the move, folks wanting to speak with you can’t find you easily
  • Departure: Don’t be the one turning out the lights (again – unless you are supporting the host) – leave while there are folks still around but the crowd is thinning. Leave too late and you look like you have nothing to so; leave too early and you look like a mercenary just working a room.

Do you see how you can apply these observations ‘read’ others?
Does this information have value?
Will its awareness help you avoid unintended ‘action’ communications?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Articulate Non-Communications

Do you ‘listen’ to what others actually say? Is the ‘message’ really what they intend to deliver?

As a leader one of our strongest tools is communication. For presentations we concentrate on every word to convey just the right message and seek the best media to do so. What about the other times?

Here’s a few examples of Articulate Non-Communications:

* Here’s the voicemail message of a sales executive: “This is B.G. Seller – I can’t take your call right now, BUT it is important to me – please leave your name, phone number and a brief message and I will call you back at my earliest convenience.”

Real Message: Be concise and I’ll call when I feel like it.

* Your cable company phone is answered by an automated switchboard - the message says: “Sorry all our Customer Care Staff are helping other customers – your call is very important to us, please hold for the next available CC Staff.” Then an automatic message says ‘the wait time is 15 minutes – please remain on the line.’

Real Message: We do not value your time and are understaffed. Your call is not important to us.

* An executive calls the key staff together for a brainstorming session on a vexing problem and offers an example of a solution to the problem to help ‘clarify’ the issue.

Real Message: I have come up with THE solution and this exercise is a waste of your time.

* The meeting organizer comes late to the meeting – or delays the start of the meeting until the stragglers arrive.

Real Message: I do not value your time.

These real messages are NOT positive! Be sure the message is consistent with the intent. If not, change it to convey what’s intended.

Do you have examples of Articulate Non-Communications?