Browsing: Communication

Word Geek

I’m a bit of a word geek.  I got it from my mom, who loved the English language, and probably could have been an English Teacher, if she had wanted to.  We often played word games when I was growing up, and the most fun ones were full of puns and intentionally twisting words into new meanings.  In her honor, I try not to become a word snob, but I do have the habit of noticing incorrect usage in conversation or in writing.  I’m still amused by misplaced apostrophes and commas, and yes, I do enjoy Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

When I was younger, I used to think that it was my responsibility to point out to everyone where they were wrong, but eventually I realized that just derailed the conversation and made me out to be someone hard to work with.  So now, I usually just keep it to myself, note the correction in my head and try to focus on the point that the other person is trying to make.

Now, I’m not going to get caught up in the finer points of sit/set, lie/lay, or even there/their/they’re.  But some mistakes just seem to be popping up a lot lately, and then they get stuck in my head and bug me until I share them with someone, so this time I’ll share them here.

Then / Than

“I like chocolate ice cream better then vanilla.”  ACK!  You mean you like chocolate ice cream better than vanilla.  Then, you might want to buy some.  Than, with an A is used for comparison (better THAN, more THAN, etc.).  Then, with an E is time related (First this THEN that) or causal (Because of this THEN that).  Maybe it’s just a typo…the letters are fairly close on the keyboard, and Spell Check will do you no good here, but for some reason this just stands out to me and I see it all the time.

Flush Out / Flesh Out

I have to really stop myself from snickering when I hear someone say that they want to “flush out the project plan”.  Sure, I’d like to get rid of the project too; I have too many already.  But I think what you meant was that you want to FLESH out the plan, but you may want to FLUSH out the bad taste in your mouth.  The easy way to remember this is what the two words normally mean…FLESH is part of your body that attaches to your bones…to flesh out an idea is to give body to the skeletal outline you are starting with.  Whereas FLUSH means to purge or do away with, like flushing the toilet…you want the stuff to go away.

OK, that’s enough for now.  Carry on smartly, as my dad would say.

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This is How Networks REALLY Work

Networking is a misnomer. It leads people to think that all you do is go out somewhere, make contact with other people, and then transactions will start to flow, and you’ll be in business!

Have you ever been to a “networking event”?  Did you find that you readily met people who needed exactly the goods or service that you were offering, and they were just waiting for you to show up so they could give you all of their business?  Yeah, probably not.  Because this is not how networks work. The real verb should not be “Networking” it should be Relationship-Building.  And like all relationships, they take time and effort.

Let me give you an example.  I recently came across a great quote, “Talk to yourself, don’t listen to yourself.”  There is a ton of wisdom in those few words.  I found this quote on an episode of the Success Champions podcast with Jon Gordon.  I really enjoy this podcast and it’s becoming one of my regulars, but how did I come across it, and this great quote?  Well, it goes something like this:

  1. The host of the Success Champions podcast is a guy named Donnie Boivin down in Dallas, Texas (I’m from the Seattle area).
  2. I met Donnie several months ago (May, 2019) when we were both guest panelists on a video panel discussion done in the UNleashed and UNlimited Facebook group.
  3. That group was created by a guy named Brad A Milford who I got to know pretty well in the first half of this year (2019) as I hired Brad to coach me through some business topics.
  4. I first met Brad in the Spring of 2018, through my friend Melahni Qualls Ake (from Indianapolis) who was also a member of Brad’s Facebook group. Melahni had come out to the Seattle area for a work trip, and we met up for dinner with another contact in the area that she knew.
  5. I met Melahni one evening in a restaurant and bar down in Orlando, Florida at the end of the February, 2018 International Maxwell Certification event. Melahni just happened to be in town and was meeting with other friends who were attending the IMC like I was, and we all happened to recognize each other in the restaurant. Melahni had talked about her new podcast, Everyday Leaders and so after the event, I checked it out and connected with Melahni through social media.
  6. The reason that I was in Orlando is that the IMC was a key event for me, the culmination of several months of study, as part of the John Maxwell Team.
  7. I had joined the John Maxwell Team in May of 2017 as part of my own personal growth plan, because I loved his books, live talks, and overall teaching approach on the topic of Leadership.

I could go on, tracing my introduction to John Maxwell back more than a decade, and all of the improbably links that got me to that point. But the main point here is that the above was the evolution of relationships over the course of years. Not some 2-minute introduction in the speed-round of a “professional networking event”. Real connections that pay off take time and effort.

Am I against networking events? Not at all! I encourage you to go to different events; to get out of the office (especially you who work from home) and get around other people that you don’t know.  But don’t come in with the expectation that you’re going to meet your next great client and 30 days from now you’ll be rolling in the dough.  Don’t focus on what YOU want or hope to get out of the event. In fact, try not to think about yourself or your business at all.

Instead, come in with the attitude of “who can I help here?”  As you meet people, find out about what THEY are looking for, what they are interested in, or what their ideal client looks like.  Maybe you know someone who needs what they have to offer.  But more likely, maybe somewhere down the road, you’ll bump into someone who knows someone who needs what they have to offer, and at that point, you can make a referral. But your referral is only good if you got to know the person that you are referring, and what they do, and maybe you can speak appropriately about them, because you stayed in contact with them and built a relationship where you could honestly vouch for them.  Because few people are so desperate to find a service provider that they will just take any name that you find in your giant stack of business cards that you collected at some networking event that you can’t even remember.  That is no more valuable to them, and perhaps even less so, than doing a Google search.  At least with a Google search you have a decent chance of finding some reviews to go along with the name.

So, YES, get out, go meet new people, start building relationships…it WILL pay off, but probably not right away, nor in the way you can predict right now. But it will be worth it.

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We Are Really Bad at Reading Minds

The other day I noticed that my son was unusually quiet after baseball practice. This has been an up and down year. At the beginning of Spring, for the first time, he experienced tryouts and player evaluations. The league he was trying out for did player drafts to put together the teams, and they had several different levels of teams. Ben was drafted down a level below what he could have qualified for by age. I chalked it up to us not knowing the procedures and necessarily being 100% ready from the start. But rather than focus on that, we took it as a great opportunity to learn, practice, and have a good time. And what a great time it turned out to be. Ben did GREAT and his team took first place in their division. Ben played catcher and first base, and he did so well that he was asked to try out for the Summer tournament team at the next level up. We were on a high…so excited that he was now being asked to play up.

But then we got to tryouts and practice for the Summer team and realized (of course) that everyone there was playing at a high level, and we had just entered a new level of competition. Ben made the team and went to the practices, adapting to the differences in rules between the different levels of play, but the competition was tough, and the coaching style was very different (a topic for a different post). Ben got edged out of the positions that he had loved playing during the Spring and assigned to less familiar positions and fewer innings of playing time. This was frustrating for him. He felt that he was better at catcher than some of the kids who were getting to play there, and he couldn’t understand why the coaches let the other players play that position but not him.

And thus began our lesson in non-verbal communication. I tried to share with him, in a loving-father, non-preachy sort of way, some of the things that I saw him do and how the coaches might interpret those actions. It was definitely stretching him to think about several different ways that actions or behaviors can be interpreted when you don’t have the context of what someone is thinking. For example, if you are not hustling during practice, does that mean that you are tired or bored or just think practice isn’t as important as a game? He said he was tired, but I would guess the coaches read it another way. Many people say you play like you practice so you should practice like it’s the real thing, and I tend to agree with that, but this was new thinking to him because in his mind practice is practice, nobody is keeping score and games are different. But there is a lot to be said for the power of habit. We went through a few other examples where he thought his behavior was clearly saying one thing and I shared other ways it might be interpreted that were less positive.

It got him thinking…and it got me thinking…what do I do at work or at home where others are reading my actions and they may be interpreting those actions to mean something completely different than I intended. Bosses and spouses, coworkers and friends, everyone makes assumptions based on what they see and what they think that means. For example, someone says something to you as they pass by and you don’t respond…are you mad…are you deep in thought…did you just not hear them? Maybe you’re on a video conference and you’re scowling at the camera…are you upset about what the other person is saying? Or did you just notice that you have a hair out of place and wish it would behave?

Non-verbal communication is all around us and we all engage in it, both sending and receiving. And it colors all of our actions and thoughts. Perhaps now is a good time to think about how others might be misinterpreting you, and how you may have misinterpreted them.

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OVER-Communicate, Please

What is the best way to kill the rumor mill?  Over-Communicate!

Don’t confuse that with “talk too much”.  I’m saying to communicate with your team more than you think you need to.  Remember, as a manager or other leader, you are in a privileged position to know things that your employees or teammates do not know; you have context to make sense of things that appear arbitrary or senseless to your team…help them by telling them as much as you can.

Rumors get started because people are trying to make sense out of something they don’t understand, so they come up with explanations that fit the facts as they know them.  But you know that they don’t know all the facts.  Suppose your company has just decided to expand into a new state, and build a new set of offices from the ground up.  Why does that make sense?  Why would they spend money on that and not on a new coat of paint for the building you’re in, for example?  Help people to understand how decisions are made in business.

Sometimes people are just trying to explain why some action hasn’t been taken yet, which seems obvious to them.  Share some context.  Maybe there is a legal concern that is blocking action right now.  You don’t have to give specifics, but you could say that something is hung up in legal.  Or, maybe there is counter-acting information that makes what would appear to be an obvious choice not so obvious.  Or maybe you don’t know either.  Tell them that, too.  They’ll respect you for your honesty, and trust you even more.

By communicating frequently and with as much open honesty as you can, you will build trust in your employees.  I understand, there are some things you can’t talk about.  And guess what?  Your team understands that, too.  You have a responsibility to keep certain information confidential.  But in my experience, most of the time, there is a lot of information that you can share without violating your fiduciary responsibilities.  Share as much as you can.  And when you can’t try sharing that, too.  There are times when I have had to tell my team, “I know from your point of view this action we are doing does not appear to make sense.  Right now I can’t tell you any of the details behind the scenes, but trust me that it will make sense when it all comes out.”  That’s tough because people will want to ask questions, but it’s a lot easier if you have established a reputation for sharing what you can, when you can.

Another key is to share information more than once.  You can’t assume that just because you told your team what was going on once that it was sufficient.  That would be like saying to your spouse, “I told you I loved you when I married you, if that changes, I’ll let you know.”  Tell them again.  (Tell your spouse every day and even more.)  Keep an open flow of communication with your team.  As time passes, people forget.  And sometimes things change with the passage of time as well.  One simple example would be decisions may be made seasonally.  Where I work, the summer is the busy season, and January is typically much slower.  We may postpone a project to the slow season so that we have the time to put on it.  On the other hand, we may postpone something to another period where cash flow is better.  There are lots of reasons why things may happen; and if you’re not filling in the gaps for people, they will make up their own answers to fill them in themselves.

True over-communication is rarely a problem.  This is a similar concept to the experience of time for a public speaker.  When speaking in public, it is important to slow yourself down and to force yourself to take pauses that seem like an eternity to you, the speaker, but to your audience are very brief moments in time.  Your experience of the passage of time as the speaker is far different from your audience’s experience.  And your experience of the amount of communication you do as the leader is far different from your team’s experience.  They are thirsting for information…share it.

It’s amazing what can happen when you treat people like responsible, trustworthy adults.

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