Set The Course

In last week’s post, I asked the question “Where are you Growing?” At the end of that post, I started writing about setting a personal growth course. I talked about deciding which area of life you wanted to improve, setting a destination (goal), finding a way to measure progress, laying out steps, and then starting. At the very end, I promised to give some examples this week. This post is me fulfilling that promise. I want to write about two kinds of improvement areas.

Concrete Areas

These are areas that are easier to measure and therefore easier to track. The components of these areas are concrete and easily countable.

My youngest daughter, Janessa, came home from school for the long 4th of July weekend. Janessa is a certified personal trainer and is doing that on the side while in school in Arizona. On the way home from the airport, she told us about a client she’s working with. She talked about why this client hired her, what her goals are, and what Janessa is doing to help her reach those goals. Weights and reps and speed on the treadmill, things like that are very easy to measure so goals and progress are also easy to measure.

Weight goals are like that. Say you weigh XX pounds and want to lose 10 pounds. There’s your ready-made destination. It is important to add a by when to that goal.  So, in this example, you want to lose 10 pounds by the end of the month (say that’s 4 weeks away). There’s your area of life (weight/health), your destination (a certain amount by a certain time), and your measurement (pounds and weeks).

Now you need steps. For example, you might decide to cut artificial sugar and saturated fat out of your diet. You might also decide not to eat anything past 7:00 in the evening. Finally, you may want to increase your exercise level. Let’s say you decide to walk 6,000 steps every day. That one would require a pedometer or similar app on your phone, or access to a treadmill that might measure it in distance rather than steps. Another idea is simply to walk for half an hour every day. Simple, right? Now for the important step… start.

Abstract Areas

These are areas like interpersonal skills and relationships. It’s much harder to measure these “soft” skills than it is the more concrete things. But, they are often more important to us than many of those concrete things. If I had to choose between losing 10 pounds and improving a relationship, I’d choose the relationship. But how do you measure “improving a relationship?”

One way to measure relationships is by feedback. Do you have an old friendship, for example, that you wish were closer but the only time you reach out to that person is when you want or need something? Maybe they’ve said that to you or you may just feel that way, but that’s the feedback. So, in this case, the area to improve is that friendship. The destination is feedback something like, “I’m glad we’re back in contact.” What measurement would you use? For this example, you could use the number of contacts per month. Your steps would be to put it on your calendar to call that person two times per month just to say hello and catch up.

What about improving an interpersonal skill like listening? That’s your area. What’s your destination? Maybe it’s feedback like, “Yes! that’s exactly what I mean” more often than not. Or, it could be simply hearing people say, “Thank you for listening,” or, “You’re a good listener.” What do you measure that will get you there? That depends on what your barriers to good listening are.

Three weeks ago I wrote a post called “Who’s Story Is it?” Is one of your barriers to good listening that you interrupt people with your story? If so, you could measure that on your way to improved listening. Ask yourself, “How many times today did I insert my story into someone else’s?” Keep track of that measurement until you consistently reach zero and see how that impacts your listening.

Just like with the concrete areas, the most important step in either of these examples is to start. Take action. You can plot the best course possible but if you don’t put the car in drive or hoist the sails you won’t go anywhere. Someone has said, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Let’s get growing.

Where Are You Growing?

I’ve quoted Daniel Pink a few times in my writings. He’s the one who wrote Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He identifies three intrinsic motivators, three things that motivate us from the inside because they are their own reward. One of those is something he calls “mastery,” the desire to get better at stuff.  He points out that people will buy equipment, take lessons, and practice golf or a musical instrument even though they will never earn a dime doing it. The motivation is simply to get better at it.

Both of those examples, golf and a musical instrument, as well as the word motivation signal the point of this post. Growth, personal development, getting better at stuff, doesn’t happen automatically. We get older automatically but we don’t get better automatically. We have to grow on purpose. Think about this, if experience were the best teacher, if time on the job meant someone gets better, then everyone who is older would be better than anyone who is younger. Is that reality? Or, do we all know people with far less “experience” who excel at what they do even over some who’ve been doing it longer? Sure we do. So getting better isn’t automatic. Growth has to be on purpose.

What Part of Your Life?

One way of understanding the question in my title, “Where Are You Growing,” is in what part of your life are you intentionally growing?

Three years ago I took some time to reflect on what I came to call “connecting points” in my life. A connecting point is where my life connects to the world in some way. I identified these:

  • Follower – My connection to Jesus
  • Husband – My connection to Suzi
  • Father – My connection to My Children and Children-in-law
  • Son – My connection to Dad and Mom
  • Brother – My connection to My Siblings and Siblings-in-Law
  • Friend – My connection to (List)
  • Steward – My connection to Wealth
  • Colleague – My connection to Workmates
  • Neighbor – My connection to Community (larger or smaller)

Each point of connection also has a description of what I want the nature of that connection to be. For example, one part of the nature of my connection to wealth is “as a conduit” with a brief description of what that looks like.  I then went on In this exercise to list several actions I want to take to be intentional about growing in each point. One example is “initiate contact.” That one showed up under several of my connection points. Most of my friends and all of my extended family live more than a day’s drive away. I think about them all quite often. But I’m really bad at picking up the phone and giving one of them a call to catch up and let them know I’m thinking about them.

This is just an example from my life. As I look at it, I’ve still got work to do! What areas of your life could use some intentional attention?

In What Direction?

If I were to ask you, “Where are you going,” you would answer with a destination or at least a direction. That’s another way of looking at my question, “Where are you growing?” What direction is your growth taking you, to what destination?

We’re talking about intentionality. Let’s switch the metaphor for a minute. Have you ever planted a garden? What happens if you leave it alone for any length of time? You get weeds. Weeds will grow and crowd out your plants, take their nutrients from the soil, block the sun, and consume the water intended for your plants. That’s what happens when you do nothing intentional about your garden. Stuff is always growing but it’s not always the stuff you want.

If you’re an athlete and your technique is wrong on a certain skill, you will continue to reinforce the wrong technique unless you do something intentional to change it and develop the muscle memory in the right direction. So, in a sense, you’re growing in the wrong direction if you do nothing. The same is true of personal growth in any area. If we do nothing, we’re growing in the wrong direction.

Set The Course

So, let’s get intentional about growing in the right direction. Pick an area where you want to see yourself get better. Find a way to measure it. If you can’t measure it you won’t know if you’re getting any better. Determine your destination. When will you arrive at “improved?” What’s the goal? Then decide what steps you’ll take to improve. Finally, begin. That’s the most important step!

Next week I’ll give a few examples.

That’s A Good Question

I attended a business conference last week where one of the plenary session speakers was a retired Navy officer. He made the assertion that your most powerful tool as a leader is questions. He talked specifically about what he called, “Depth-Charge Questions.” During World Wars I and II, a depth charge was a type of bomb that was dropped into the sea and exploded when it reached a certain depth. It’s purpose was to damage enemy submarines causing them to surface so you could capture or destroy them.

That’s a perfect analogy for a retired Navy officer. The depth-charge question, then, is one designed to surface things that could be potentially dangerous to your organization. He went on to quote Voltaire who said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” John Maxwell (who was the keynote speaker at the same conference) said, “you can tell the size of a leader by the questions they ask.”

The Question Behind The Question

What makes a good question? That’s a good question! If you Google it, you’ll find 35 great questions for this and 101 questions for that, and even 1,001 questions for something else. So, it depends on the conversation and the purpose. I sometimes like to ask, “What’s the question behind the question?”

People will often ask a timid question as a way of putting their toe in the water to test the temperature of the topic. “Who did this task?” They may ask. If I ask what the question behind the question is, I may learn they are really concerned about the training program. That’s what we need to talk about. Good questions probe reality. They dig beyond the surface to discover motives, issues, genuine concerns, etc.

QBQ – The Question Behind The Question

John G. Miller wrote a book entitled, QBQ – The Question Behind The Question: Practicing Personal Accountability in Work and Life.  A second sub-title is, “What to Really Ask Yourself to Eliminate Blame, Victim Thinking, Complaining, and Procrastination.” Someone recommended this book to me years ago. I read it and, admittedly, borrowed and slightly re-interpreted the title for my approach in the last section. But, I highly recommend the book.

Personal accountability is a growing deficit in life and work. More and more, people are living and working below the line of accountability and engaging in the victim cycle. They play the blame game, they pretend they don’t understand, they CYA, they avoid responsibility, etc. Miller suggests that if we ask different questions we can turn that around.

One of his chapters is called “A Poor Sailor Blames the Wind.” Bingo! That about says it all. The first chapter is an amazing account of someone who took personal responsibility to the next level. I’ll leave it to you to get the book and read it. Hint: if you follow the link I provided it will take you to a Nook sample of the book and you can read the story there.

Good Questions Have an “I” In Them

Don’t ask this kind of “Why” question:

  • “Why is this happening to me?”
  • “Why do we have to change?”
  • “Why don’t they communicate better?”

Don’t ask these other kinds of questions:

  • “Who dropped the ball?”
  • “When will we get what we need?”
  • “When will leadership walk their talk?”

You get the idea. Good questions have an “I” in them:

  • “What part of this [problem or solution] did I contribute to?”
  • “What can I do to make things better?”
  • “Who can I help today?”

There are literally thousands of other examples of good and bad questions. Here’s my question for myself, “Am I asking the right questions?” Here’s my question for you, “Are you?”

Whose Story Is It?

I got a win the other day. I started last week’s post with an epic fail so I decided to start this week off with a win. Also, it’s newsworthy for me to get a win on this topic because I struggle with this one as much as I do with last week’s. After a meeting, an older gentleman came up and began to tell me his life story. It was very interesting. He had wanted to design and built boats but wound up in law enforcement for 35 years. After that, he ran a homeless shelter for 15 years during which time he went to seminary and became an ordained minister. He currently serves as an associate pastor and often sings on the worship team.

Where’s the win? The win is that I got to hear his story because I kept mine out of the conversation. Most people love to talk about themselves. I have a friend who likes to joke, “Enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?” That line is funny because it’s true. We want to talk about ourselves. I started this post with a story about me. Yikes! I didn’t even think about that correlation until now.

Other people’s stories enrich us. In her TED Talk on how to have a good conversation, NPR radio host, Celeste Headlee says, “Be interested in other people. I grew up assuming everyone has some hidden amazing thing about them. I’m a better host because I keep my mouth shut as often as possible, I keep my mind open, and I’m constantly prepared to be amazed. And I’m never disappointed.”

Be Proportional

We have two ears and one mouth. When we interact with people, we should listen at least twice as much as we talk. I’m as guilty as the next person of jumping into someone else’s story to share part of mine. Our minds process what we hear by searching our memory files for similar information or experiences to help us understand and relate. When we find such an experience our tendency, or at least my tendency, is to share it. My intention is to relate with the other person. But, it doesn’t come across that way usually. Usually, it derails the other person. The story isn’t about me, it’s about them and when I jump in with my story it’s more of an interruption than an aid to the conversation.

We relate better by listening than by talking. Listening says, “I’m interested in you.” Talking says, “you should be interested in me.” Next time you’re in a conversation, try holding back, resisting the urge to share your story, and see how it goes. You might get a win like I did.

Be Inquisitive

I’m not suggesting we don’t speak at all during a conversation. In fact, someone has described a good conversation as being like a game of catch. It goes back and forth. The purpose of the conversation will determine how much back and forth is best. Right now I’m talking about a specific kind of conversation, one where you want to hear the details of what the other person is saying. It may be an interview or an investigation. It could be a get-to-know-you conversation of any kind or it may simply be an honorable way to ask, “how was your weekend?”

I wrote a post almost exactly a year ago called “Listen with your mouth.” The most effective use of our mouth in this kind of conversation is to ask questions. Good questions show you’re interested in what the other person is saying. They also help you guide the conversation into what interests you most or what you most need to know. In the conversation I started this post with, I asked that gentleman a couple of probing questions about what he learned from his work with homeless families. It was very enlightening. He eagerly offered his observations and it was information I was interested in. It was also a conscious choice I made when the urge to interject my story came up.

I was recently asked to be part of a mediation conversation between an employee and a manager. On several occasions during that conversation, I asked one or the other, “A moment ago you said … this. Would you explain a little more for me what you meant by that?” Those questions helped guide the conversation to a favorable resolution.

I’m interested in people. I like to hear their stories. When someone is sharing their story with me I’m going to remember whose story it is and be proportional and inquisitive rather than constantly interjecting my story.

“Hello? Are You There?”

I heard a version of that question from Suzi just the other night. We were watching the news on TV. She had her tablet. I had my laptop open and two cellphones (personal and work) on the arm of the sofa next to me. She had said something to me right when the anchor was making an important point in his story and my personal phone signaled I had received an email. Here’s the thing, I couldn’t tell you right now the important point the anchor made (or even what the story was about), the email turned out to be junk that I deleted, and, worst of all, I didn’t get what Suzi had said. “Hello, are you there?” I was 0 for 3.

How To Multitask Effectively

You Can’t. (vocalize that punctuation mark, “period”) I know you disagree with me because multitasking one of your special skills. But, the truth of the matter is that “multitasking” is about computers running multiple programs at the same time. We are not wired like that. We can only give our attention to one thing at a time. We can switch back and forth rather quickly, but one thing at a time. Rapid switching actually produces a kind of brain chemical high that can become addictive. That brain chemical high makes it understandable that people like to believe they are multitasking.

The sad truth is that the same brain chemical high also reduces cognitive function, attention, clarity of thinking, and decision-making proficiency. That means we miss more when we’re “multitasking.” We miss important details that can lead to mistakes of all kinds. What’s possibly even worse, we miss what people are saying to us.

How To Converse Effectively

Be Present. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the car alone with one of my children (all over 20) sitting next to me and they’re on their phone. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: “Where are you?”
My child: (pause)  “Huh?”
Me: “Where are you?”
My child: “I’m right here” in a what-do-you-mean? tone of voice.
Me: “We’re here together in the car but, your mind is wherever that person you’re texting or that video you’re watching is .”
My child: “But dad, it was important. OK. I’m done.”
Me: “Hello, nice to see you.”

Yes. I’ve really had that conversation. The point is, you can be present physically and literally a thousand miles away in your mind. That does not make for good conversation. What opportunities are we wasting when we are not present?

Jim Elliot (if you don’t know who he was, Google him and the movie “End of the Spear”) said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” I want to do a better job of taking that advice. That means I’ll have to put down (and probably silence) my phone(s), physically turn my body toward what- or who-ever I’m being present for, and consciously travel back in my mind to where my body is.

Be Focused. Getting present is one thing. Staying present is a matter of focus. When you adjust the focus on your camera, the image you see through your lens comes into clear view. Our phone cameras have autofocus, our brains don’t. We have to consciously, intentionally put our sustained attention on what we’re doing. Studies show that our attention spans are shrinking because of all the information available to us. I’m so bad. In many conversations, someone will bring up a question or something we don’t know and I’m quick to grab my phone and say, “Hey Google, What’s …?” The answer is right there. Maybe it’s better to live in the question for a while.

Let me recommend an exercise that has proven to increase presence and improve our ability to focus. Call it whatever you want but try it. Set aside 2 – 5 minutes every day, step away from all the distractions. Leave your phone on silent in another room. Don’t be near your computer or TV or radio. Close your eyes and be silent. Practice paying attention. You can focus on your breathing, or the thoughts that come to your mind (just notice them, don’t follow them), or the sounds you hear around you. You can even mull over a meaningful quote.

Like physical exercise, repeating that exercise daily will strengthen our ability to make ourselves present and to focus. Let’s find out what we’ve been missing!

Send, Dial, or Walk?

I just devoted three posts to the importance and content of good “Company Communication.” Now I would like to talk about the mode of that communication. Communication, especially effective communication, most often involves dialog or conversation rather than a monologue. What difference does the mode make?

I’ve participated in many interview panels for management-level candidates where one of the questions was, “How do you prefer to communicate with your employees?” 100% of the time the answer includes the phrase, “face-to-face” or “in-person” or “one-on-one.” No one has yet preferred a phone call or text message.  Why? Again, what difference does the mode make?

Send

Even the word “Send” seems to imply distance. I send a package to someone or I send a letter. These days we send emails and text messages. Written communication has an important place in our lives. For example, Suzi found all the love letters her father had sent to her mother before they were married. She displays them in a 3-foot high apothecary jar. It’s quite beautiful to look at especially when you consider all the love that’s memorialized in those words. She treasures them especially now that both her parents have passed away.

Written communication is important when we want to memorialize a conversation for future reference or for legal or sentimental reasons. Writing also gives us the chance to consider our words before delivering them. We can be more clear and organized in our communication when we write it. Written responses also allow us to pause, if need be, before responding to someone. Sometimes that pause can save a relationship.

But writing is less personal. What we email, text, or post on social media happens mostly inside our own heads without the benefit of the other person’s presence to help us form our communication appropriately. That can be impersonal at best and dangerous at worst.

Dial

When I hear the word conversation, I think of hearing someone else’s voice and talking. That leads me to the next consideration for the mode of conversation. Dial. I used to have a bunch of people’s phone numbers memorized. Not any more. Now I just press the speed dial button on my office phone or say, “Hey Google, Call Suzi on mobile” and within seconds I’m talking to her.

That’s the key for this mode. We get to talk to the other person. I get to hear the inflections in their voice, their pauses. Emotion comes through. Their level of interest or understanding comes through much more clearly in a voice conversation. The conversation is also much more immediate. It’s in the moment which is important when what you want or need is urgent. Dial when you don’t have time to wait for the other person to formulate their response or just get around to checking their email or texts. That makes the words, “You’ve reached my voicemail …” very aggravating. Voicemail ranks lower on my list of preferred modes of communication than snail mail, and that’s pretty low.  Are they away from their phone or just screening?

My side of the family lives in Minnesota and I live in California. That’s another huge value to dial technology. It shrinks the world so you can talk to people you can’t be with. Zoom, Skype, and other platforms have made that even more personal with video calling. My Dad and brothers and I get together periodically on a “Thomason Boys” Zoom call. I treasure the chance to see their faces and hear what’s going on in their lives.

Walk

I said walk, but it could be drive or even fly. Face-to-face, in-person communication takes effort but it’s worth it. The difference in value between “dial” and “send” is huge. But the difference in value of in-person conversation over the others is like a race between tennis shoes and a motorbike. There is no comparison.  The clarity of the visual, the audio quality, and the 3-D effect, you don’t even need 3-D glasses!

Okay, I’m being silly, but you get what I mean. There is nothing like an in-person conversation. Just ask a teacher. Our daughter-in-law who is a 5th-grade teacher was able to join Suzi and me for dinner while our son was at an event the other evening. We talked about the difference she feels between online learning and in-person education. Just the ability to move around in each other’s space, to physically go to a student who may need a little help is exponentially more valuable than any online platform.

So, I say send when it’s necessary. Dial when you can. But, by all means, whenever it’s an option, walk.

Six “Cs” of Company Communication – Part 3

This is the final installment of a 3-part series on company communication. So far we’ve discussed four “Cs” that make communication more effective. We said communication should be Clear and Concrete, Concise and Complete. I didn’t realize until I finished the last post that those rhyme. That may help you remember the first four. Sorry to say, though, the rhyme ends there. Though the next two don’t rhyme, they are equally as important as the last four in conducting effective company communication.

Collaborative

Collaboration literally means “co-laboring,” working together. We’ve all heard the saying “Teamwork makes the Dream Work.” On the other hand, have you heard the saying, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee?” Both can be true and often the difference is communication. The team that realized the dream most likely had much better collaboration than the committee that somehow put a hump on the back of a horse!

Celeste Headlee, NPR radio host and author, listed the following 10 pieces of advice in her TEDx talk on how to have a good conversation. Good conversations is how collaboration happens.

  1. Don’t multitask – be present in that moment, all in
  2. Don’t pontificate – enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn. Bill Nigh said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t”
  3. Use open-ended questions – Who? What? Etc. not yes or no questions
  4. Go with the flow – thoughts and stories will come to mind while someone is talking. Let them flow right out. Let the conversation be about the other person.
  5. If you don’t know, say you don’t know
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs. Conversations are not promotional opportunities
  7. Do not repeat yourself – It’s condescending and boring
  8. Stay out of the weeds – no one cares about the names and dates you’re trying to recall.
  9. Listen – the most important skill you can develop. Buddha said, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning? Calvin Coolidge said, “No man ever listened his way out of a job.”
  10. Be Brief – “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, long enough to cover the subject.”

I think we would agree that most great work is accomplished in teams. Following Celeste’s advice on good conversations will help your team avoid the hump and achieve the dream.

Contributive

My late father-in-law had a way of telling the truth about food he didn’t like without hurting the feelings of the person who had prepared it and asked, “How do you like it?” He would say it was “tasty.” That was true. It definitely had taste. Everything we say should be true, but not everything true should be said.

Effective communication should help in some way. It should add value to the person or to the conversation. Some people speak seemingly just to hear the sound of their voice. Their comments are irrelevant or counterproductive. Don’t be that person. The value you add may indeed be constructive criticism but the key word there is “constructive.” Our communication should aim to build up the other person or the group. In the wise words of one ancient ambassador, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” He was saying you will be prepared to respond to anyone appropriately if your words are always gracious and salty.

Gracious Words – our words should be courteous, kind, and pleasant. The “grace” in gracious implies we behave this way especially if the other person isn’t or doesn’t seem to deserve kindness. Some people refer to this as being professional.

Salty Words – (not the cussing-like-a-sailor kind of salty) Salt does several things. First, salt preserves food. Second, it enhances the flavor of food. Third, salt makes you thirsty. Salty words preserve relationships regardless of the content of the communication. Salty words are delicious, people desire them.  I remember a man coming out of my Dad’s office and saying to me, “Man, that’s the first time I’ve ever been reprimanded where I actually enjoyed the conversation.” I’m sure he was ready to hear whatever my Dad had to say to him after that. Finally, have you ever heard someone say, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”? The follow-up to that saying is, “No, but you can feed him salt!” Our words can and should invite people to ask questions, explore, grow and contribute. Our words should make people thirsty for more.

The Six “Cs” of Company Communication are Clear, Concrete, Concise, Complete, Collaborative, and Contributive. If you master those, you may be on your way to the “C-Suite.”

Six “Cs” of Company Communication – Part 2

Last week I started this series on company communication with some definitions (imagine that!). I shared the definitions of the words “company,” “communicate,” and “Inform(ation).” I also pointed out that the “company” for which these “Cs” are relevant is any group of people. These are just principles of good communication.

When I arrived at my last job I interviewed each of the leaders on my team with the same questions. One of those questions was “what one thing could we improve that would make the biggest difference.” People gave several answers to that question, but the number one answer was “communication.” That would be the answer in many organizations.

Research shows that time spent on calls, emails, and meetings has increased by 25 percent to 50 percent in the last two decades. It also reveals that while companies host an average of 61 meetings per month, an estimated $37 billion is wasted annually due to employee misunderstanding (including actions or errors of omission by employees who have misunderstood or were misinformed about company policies, business processes, job function or a combination of the three) in … corporations in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Last week we talked about good communication is clear and concrete. This week we look at two more Cs of good communication.

Concise

The definition of “Concise” is – “giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words.” In fact “Clear and Concise” are often used together. Clear speaks to how understandable the communication is while concise is about how long it is.

Summarize your point. Provide background or additional information upon request.  One communication technique I learned in healthcare is the SBAR. That stands for

  • Situation – a brief statement of the problem
  • Background – pertinent information about the development of the problem
  • Assessment – analysis and consideration of options (what you found or think)
  • Recommendation/Request – action you want taken

That’s one guide to help you organize your thoughts. Organized thinking is easier to make concise. I found a writing guide put out by Stanford University that offers great tips for writing clearly and concisely. It’s geared toward technical writing which is often the most unclear so it’s helpful for those of us trying to communicate non-technical information. Some of their tips, to whet your appetite, include:

  1. Avoid unnecessary fancy words; use straight-forward words
  2. Replace vague words with specific ones
  3. Eliminate unnecessary words
  4. Replace multiple negatives with affirmatives
  5. Use active voice construction when appropriate

There are more tips and they all have examples. I downloaded the paper and plan to use it as a reference in the future. You’ll have to let me know if my writing improves!

Complete

This might sound like a contradiction. I just suggested using as few words as possible to be concise. Now I’m suggesting you leave nothing out. Which is it? Well, it’s both.  the definition of “Concise” was “to give a lot of information . . . in a few words.” Complete communication is about what you choose to include.

We sometimes skew information by leaving parts out. When we do that our communication is biased in favor of our point of view or of what we want. Biased communication is often detectable and diminishes trust. You may have heard the term “fake news.” That’s what people will think of you if your communication is found to be incomplete, especially if your omissions tend to alter the hearer’s perception of reality.

Concise is about sharing as much as you can in as few words as possible. Complete is about making your communication as real as possible. The more accurately your communication reflects reality, especially if it doesn’t put you in the best light, the more people will trust what you say.

Be clear. Be Concrete. Be Concise. Be Complete. Next week we’ll finish out this series with the final two Cs of Company Communication.

Six “Cs” of Company Communication – Part 1

This post is the first in a 3-part series on “Company Communication.” If you’ve read my blog or know me, you know I’m a word nerd. I like to look up the definitions of specific words to help me grasp larger concepts. Well, I’m going full-on word nerd right now. To frame this series I want to define three terms.

The first is “company.” Here’s the definition right from the web.

  1. a commercial business.
    “a shipping company”
  2. the fact or condition of being with another or others, especially in a way that provides friendship and enjoyment.
    “I could do with some company”

I chose to call this series “Company Communication” because of the larger meaning of the word Company. The “Cs” I want to talk about apply to all communication, not just corporate or organizational communication. They apply in whatever company we keep.

The next definition is of “Communicate.” Here’s the web definition summarized;

to convey, share, transmit, impart, pass on information. It comes from the Latin Communis meaning common or shared. Communication has happened when two or more people share a common mind about a subject.

Finally, I find the definition of “Inform” fascinating which, in turn, makes the noun form “information” equally interesting:

“Inform” comes from two Latin words in – into and forma – shape and means “to form or shape the mind.” “Information” is that which shapes or forms the mind. 

So, this series is about how a company of people can arrive at a shared understanding of something. It’s about how one person’s or group’s understanding, needs, point of view, expectation, etc. can be duplicated in the mind of another person or group. This could be fun!

Here are two of the six “Cs” of Company Communication:

Clear

Why would anyone want to let you form their mind? When put like that it sounds ominous. Be clear about your purpose. Are you reporting facts? Are you wanting to ask for something? Are you preparing  to set an expectation?  People are much more willing to respond to your “what” when they understand your “why.”  Good communication begins with understanding what you’re trying to accomplish with it.

Being clear also means being direct.  I mean direct in the sense of the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Some people use “direct” to mean blunt or as an excuse for being discourteous. I just mean don’t meander about when you’re communicating.  Trying to cover too much or going on tangents is confusing.

My wife, Suzi,  has accused me of going to Genesis to provide the context for anything. She means I talk too much. I try to provide too much information and it can become confusing. So this is a lesson I’m learning. For me it requires a little planning. When I want to communicate, I need to think through the clearest way to do it.

Concrete

Concrete is solid and hard and holds up under weight. Concrete communication is not soft or fluffy or vague. It avoids words like “always” and “never.”  Concrete communication doesn’t talk about “everyone” or “nobody.” It is specific and factual. Concrete communication is based on observations and understanding, not hunches and feelings. When you use vague generalizations like “always” and “never” you are usually automatically wrong because someone will be able to point out an exception.

Which of these statements is more concrete? “You never take out the garbage.” Or, “I’ve noticed that you didn’t take the garbage out three times this month.” Well, if I took the garbage out once then “never” is wrong. It’s only an emotional accusation. But, three times out of four weeks is a 75% failure rate. The first statement feels more like an insult and I may become defensive and argumentative in response to it. The second is a statement of fact with actionable data. It provides a baseline for measuring improvement and I’m less likely to argue with facts. (NOTE: this story is fictional. Any similarity to actual situations is purely coincidental.)

Company Communication that is clear and concrete is far more useful than meandering or vague communication. Next week we’ll talk about two more “Cs” of Company Communication.

Connecting Requires Credibility

This morning I got up to do my regular weekday morning routine.  I made coffee, took the dog out, read for half an hour, then grabbed my laptop to start writing. I had plugged it in yesterday because the battery was low so I unplugged the charger from the laptop and pushed the button to turn it on … nothing. “What in the world,” I wondered. I looked at the charger and followed the cord to the wall socket. It was not plugged in at the wall.  No wonder. By all appearances my laptop should have been charged up and ready to go. But, the reality was there was no juice going to it to charge it up. There it is. The difference between appearances and reality is what we call credibility. When appearances and reality align there is credibility. When they are different there is a credibility gap. Connecting with people requires credibility. Here are several questions to help measure our credibility.

Have I connected with myself?

Integrity means, in its second definition, the state of being whole and undivided. It comes from the Latin word integer meaning “In tact.” The English word “Integer” means a whole number that is not a fraction. One way I think of integrity is being the same on the outside as you are on the inside. Whether you are or you’re not, people know it.

Have I made right my wrongs?

Imagine yourself talking to a group of people about the importance of collaboration and teamwork. Now imagine seeing, in the group, the face of a person you had wronged in some way and never corrected the wrong. That uncomfortable feeling is the gap between the words you are saying (appearance) and what you had done (reality). That feeling is your credibility gap. Often when we right our wrongs it not only repairs our credibility, it improves our credibility.

Am I accountable?

I like to ask the question, “What does accountability mean to you?” when I’m interviewing someone for a job. I am looking for people who answer that question first by talking about being accountable, not about how they hold others accountable. When you make a commitment you create hope. When you keep a commitment you create trust. Being accountable is how you create trust.

Do I lead like I live?

This is the outflow of integrity. If I’m the same on the inside as I am on the outside then I will lead like I live. I cannot give to others what I do not have.

Do I tell the truth?

This seems like a no-brainer. How can you have credibility if you lie? Notice, I did not ask, “Do I not lie?” I asked, “Do I tell the truth?” There is an ancient proverb that says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” I once attended a meeting of division presidents held by the company’s CEO. I was amazed as I watched everyone around the table nod at everything the CEO said like bobble-heads, except one guy. He spoke up and voiced disagreement when he didn’t like what he heard. Later, I wasn’t surprised to learn that guy had become a close adviser to the CEO. Because he had credibility the others lacked. He told the truth.

Am I vulnerable?

This is just another way of telling the truth. Parker Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach, says, “We all know that perfection is a mask. So we don’t trust the people behind know-it-all masks. They’re not being honest with us. The people with whom we have deepest connection are those who acknowledge their weaknesses.”

Do I follow the “Golden Rule?”

This is not the version that says, “He who has the gold, makes the rules.” This is the true version that says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” What would happen to families, to communities, to countries, to the world if everyone treated others the way they wanted to be treated? Imagine! The interesting thing about the Golden Rule is that it’s not something you wait for others to do.

Do I deliver Results?

Am I a charger plugged into a device but not plugged into the wall or do I really bring the juice? People usually want to learn from someone who has something to show for their efforts. Here’s another way of looking at it. When we interview someone for a leadership position we ask them questions to determine whether or not they will be a good fit. We are better off asking questions about what they’ve done rather than what they would do. For example, “Could you tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry customer?” is a better question than, “What would you do if you discovered your customer was angry?” The reason it’s better is that it asks for results the candidate can point to as a way of demonstrating how they might bring the juice in the future.

No one wants to connect with a fake, a blow-hard, a know-it-all, or someone who appears hollow. These are all the opposite of credibility. Connection requires credibility. Credibility means “the quality of being trusted and believed in.” Let’s work toward being credible.