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Tag Archives | communication

The Monodimension Of Absolutes

Here are a few phrases that I’ve heard thrown about lately:
Billy is an absolute ass…he’s always out for himself.
Stan never does his job right…I’m always having to pick up the slack for him.
I can’t stand Beth…every time I need something she’s too busy to help.

Note some of the common language used here – always, every, never. These are the kind of absolutes that get in the way of an open perspective and honest dialogue. They position our own thinking about people toward an extreme edge that most folks rarely occupy. Do we really believe that those around us are so one dimensional, so monochromatic? It certainly makes it easier to pin labels on them and make snap judgments.

Since people rarely exist at these extreme fringes, we need to stop trying to force them there. Whenever we think of a person in a very limited way – he’s just this way or she’s just that way – it’s time to think in a more extra-dimensional way. We can’t let laziness or a perceived lack of time get in the way of how we perceive other folks. If we commit to building a more well-rounded, and therefore more human, story about individuals around us we’ll immediately see that they have a rich personality that isn’t so easily pegged by one limiting label.

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Giving A Bad Relationship A Fresh Start

Thom Singer wrote a thoughtful post on how to revive a relationship that’s gone sour. He writes:

Sometimes it is easy when you have a large circle of friends and professional contacts to place the blame on the other person. Obviously the issue cannot be you, as there are many examples of folks who adore you….so the problem must rest with the other person. I disagree, as to have a positive relationship takes the effort of both people. Besides, taking responsibility to fix a bad connection is not the same as admitting guilt. Instead it shows you really care about your networking and are willing to give folks a second chance.

What I really like is the part where he says, “…taking responsibility to fix a bad connection is not the same as admitting guilt.” I think this is where we get hung up so many times. We hold on to the notion that in order to salvage a relationship, we always need to have an intense dialogue where we confess our past sins and then hope the other party does the same. In some cases, this course of action is unavoidable but I’d argue that its only for the most exceptional cases where feelings have been deeply hurt. For most of our relationships – particularly professional relationships – asking for a clean slate offers some strong advantages. Here’s how Thom cleans the slate:

I take a moment to let them know where I was disappointed in the past, but also own the fact that I cannot really know their situation, and that I do not need an explanation or apology, but instead I would just like to start over.

The greatest advantage of this path is that we’re way more likely to engage in this type of dialogue than we are if we choose to go into full confessional mode whenever a conflict arises in a relationship. Not only is the latter time consuming, it’s painful…and most of us want to avoid painful interpersonal encounters.

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If Leadership Was A Punctuation Mark, What Would It Be?

Ever work for someone who thought leadership was defined by an exclamation point? Ever get confused by your own leadership style and whether you should get folks to follow you through a series of statements ending with periods? Is there a reason I’m beginning this post using only question marks? Hmmm?

We can get caught up in the notion that a leader has to be commanding…commanding in a sense where you’re slinging around words, phrases, and sentences ending with an exclamation point (my daughter likes to call them “shoutty marks”). It might sound something like this:

“Bailey! Come here! And explain to me why Johnson is pissed off!!!”

Or perhaps, more often, we simply issue those commands with a bit more subtlety. Something like:

“Chris. Please come to my office and tell me what’s going on with Johnson.”

Another option? Yep. How about using that wonderful creation, the question mark?

“Chris? What happened to make Johnson so angry? And what’s your plan for making this right?

The first option isn’t going to win you any leader-of-the-year awards while the second might get you an honorable mention. The third one, though, leads to the gold medal round. The key is to get curious, which isn’t always easy or even the first thing we think of doing when something important is on the line.

Ask: is there something to learn here? And not just for you, but the folks you lead. By asking questions, you’re helping them learn from their own experiences. What may seem like an initial failure can turn into new opportunities. Use open questions (those that don’t lead directly to a “yes” or “no” answer).

Finally, all of this isn’t to say there are not times when every leader must emphasize their words with an exclamation point or nudge folks with a period. It’s just important to remember that questions are an essential part of a leader’s repertoire.

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Watch Your Language

We all know what language we can and can’t use in civilized society. For instance, most of us know that it’s unacceptable to pepper our department reports with profanities at the staff meeting and to tell an unforgiving or pushy customer to go #$&@! themselves when they get abusive. It’s generally recognized that it’s simply not how things are done in business. Yet, this language is relatively mild compared to other words that we tend to use loosely and without thought on a daily basis.

So while George Carlin has his infamous seven dirty words, Bill Werst at Growth Associates has his ten dirty words that interfere with successful communication, motivation, and personal success:

  1. TRY
  2. CAN’T
  3. IF
  4. FAIR
  5. THEY
  6. WHY
  7. SHOULD (OUGHT)
  8. UNDERSTAND
  9. BUT (HOWEVER)
  10. RIGHT

Not so dirty, but we do tend to use them innocently enough in our daily communication. Bill offers more detailed explanations for each word and its misuse and then some more powerful alternatives.

Anyone who knows me quickly learns that I have a major problem with #9 – But (However). Nothing peeves me more than having someone tell me how interesting, resourceful, fantastic, etc. an idea is only to completely negate everything with a BUT. The problem is that we’re taught to start criticism with a positive before we get into errors or other stuff that really should have been done (which is #7 on the list – see, these words can be compounded for maximum ineffectiveness).

This week, watch your language. Just as you won’t tell an employee that they really f’ed up this time, don’t tell them that they should be a more responsible worker. And help your staff mind their words as well. It could be the difference between okay customer service and WOW-inspiring customer service.

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