Here are articles on communication

Two language tricks that mean they’re b.s.ing you

Two language tricks that mean they’re b.s.ing you

One of the most valuable distinctions you can make about language is to develop insight into active and passive voice. “Mistakes were made” is passive voice. It doesn’t say by whom those mistakes were made. People use passive voice to avoid acknowledging responsibility.

People also deflect responsibility by using words that sound like they refer to something real, but which refer to abstract concepts. Then they talk as if those abstract concepts are somehow active agents.

“Competition increased this year.” No, it didn’t. Customers purchased from other companies, instead of yours. It’s customers where the action lies. When you put the action where it belongs, you can start to gain insight into how you can investigate further. In this case, by calling up a bunch of customers buyers and asking, “why did you buy from Those Other Guys, Inc. instead of us?”

My favorite deceptive language of the day is that “wages aren’t going up as much as expected, given the economy.” But … wages don’t go up or down. Wages just are. The proper formulation is, “managers and employers are not raising wages.” That puts the action (and the responsibility) squarely where it belongs.

Learn to listen carefully to language. You’ll quickly start to realize how much people use it to avoid addressing the real problems they’re dealing with.

Leading by Example: Walking Your Talk … Under a Magnifying Glass

Why don’t my people just do what I say?

It’s a common refrain among my executive clients. Life at the top would be so much easier, if only “they” would “get it.”

In fact, your employees probably _are _doing what you say. You just may be saying things you don’t intend. It’s often not your broad proclamations that give direction; it’s the little things you do that have the biggest impact.

Your actions encourage and discourage behavior

Remember when you were a front-line employee. Executives’ actions were relentlessly scrutinized. A late arrival, a smile, or a nod could introduce chaos. A CEO I worked with was looking over his marketing department’s latest campaign. He frowned at a storyboard before strolling away.

Unknown to him, the team saw the frown, scrapped the campaign, and spent the weekend reworking everything from the ground up. When he found out, he was flabbergasted. He never thought a simple frown would change the team’s direction.

Your reactions to employees and their work will send signals. Remember this! If you notice yourself frowning or smiling, nodding or shaking your head when it may send the wrong message, stop. Think about the message you may have sent, and say or do whatever it takes to make sure your audience knows your intent.

Watch your words, too. A joke may not be a joke. A consulting firm’s Managing Director smiled and quipped “Remember, if you’re not here Sunday, don’t bother coming in Monday.” He was smiling. Everyone knew he was joking. And as one team member later told me, “I felt like I had to come in Sunday. Sure, he was joking. But he’s the Managing Director. Maybe it’s not 100% a joke.”

You lead by demonstration

Of course, the Managing Director was there Sunday, thus insuring everyone would know weekend appearances are mandatory. Your actions will, by demonstration, always be the most significant way you communicate standards of behavior and priorities to your company. The Managing Director cared deeply that his people have an outside life, and said so on many occasions. But his coming in on weekends spoke louder than his words in signaling acceptable behavior.

What you don’t do also matters

What you don’t say out loud, the actions you don’t acknowledge, and the signs you don’t show send powerful messages, as well. The messages sent by omission are harder to detect. After all, there‘s nothing there to examine! But there are things your employees might expect that aren’t forthcoming.

If you don’t acknowledge people, it can send a message that you don’t value their contribution. Different people need different acknowledgment. For some, it’s public recognition. For others, it may simply be mentioning “Hey, you did a really great job.”

If you don’t give feedback when someone does a poor job, you send the message that their performance is fine. If someone is screwing up, they deserve to know as early as possible. Otherwise, they’ll walk away with a message that does neither of you any good.

Common courtesy is increasingly rare, and its absence communicates a subtle lack of respect or lack of individual concern. A simple “Please,” or “Thank you” with a smile and direct eye contact takes only a couple of seconds. If you don’t have time even for that, then people will (rightly!) conclude they aren’t important enough to warrant your attention.

Making decisions in isolation quickly lets people know you don’t trust them. I have worked with companies in which the senior managers are very open with their big decisions, and other companies in which “we can’t tell them that” is a common refrain. As far as I can tell, involvement signals faith that your employees have something of value to contribute. When that involvement is missing, the message of distrust is loud and clear.

Not sharing bad news sends the message that everything is fine. It’s easy to keep bad news quiet, for fear of hurting morale. But framing bad news as a reason to rally builds a team instead of breaking it down. Shared challenge is the stuff of bonding. Use it!

A Great Business Leader Knows His Impact

Matsushita, one of history’s most successful businessmen, knew the impact he had on everyone around him. As this story shows1, he even appreciated the messages conveyed by what he didn’t do.

The father of $75 billion empire, Matsushita was revered in Japan with nearly as much respect and reverence as was the Emperor. And he was just as busy.

One day, Matsushita was to eat lunch with his executives at a local Osaka restaurant (Matsushita Leadership by John Kotter). Upon his entrance, people stopped to bow and acknowledge this great man. Matsushita honored the welcome and sat at a table selected by the manager.

Matsushita ate only half of his meal. He asked for the chef, who appeared in an instant, shaken and upset. The Great One nodded and spoke: “I felt that if you saw I had only eaten half of my meal, you would think I did not like the food or its preparation. Nothing could be less true. The food and your preparation of it were excellent. I am just old and can not eat as much as I used to. I wanted you to know that and to thank you personally.”

Concrete next steps

If you find yourself under the magnifying glass, here are ways of mastering the situation.

  1. Don’t get caught off guard. Schedule five minutes at the end of the day to review your day, note who you came in contact with, and simply ask yourself what messages you sent.

  2. Use the magnifying glass deliberately. At the start of the week, choose a message you want to communicate by example. Spend a moment or two identifying exactly where you can send the message, and how you have to behave to send it. Then do it.

  3. Check for messages of omission. During your daily review, ask yourself who you didn’t contact, but who might have expected it (you may not know who at first, but over time, you’ll learn). What message does the lack of contact send? What message will rumors of what you did do send to those who didn’t see/talk to you?

  4. Review company systems. To make sure you’re sending the same message as your company, review the systems once a year or so. Review your compensation plan: what does it communicate about company goals? What behavior does it encourage? Discourage? Review your decision making and feedback processes. Ask yourself if you’re omitting anyone or anything in those areas.

Communicate well!

  1. Matsushita story excerpted from Dr. Mark S. Albion’s Making-a-Life, Making-a-Living ML2 E-Newsletter #56. Free subscriptions and information on his New York Times Best Selling new book can be found at http://www.makingalife.com. ↩

How would you know if you’re evil?

It’s almost Halloween, which means it’s time to confront our fears…

The Evil Queen stood in the doorway. The terrifying thing wasn’t the smoke rising from her hair, the sinister red glow emanating from her fingertips, or the half-eaten apple rolling on the ground beside the body of Snow White in the background; it was the look of naked vulnerability on her normally regal face. The source? The crumpled paper clutched in her right hand: the results of her 360-degree evaluation.

The Evil Queen doesn’t think of herself as evil. Neither does the Tasteless In-Law. They may always show up with the best of intentions, but they just don’t seem to “get” that bringing fireworks for the kids’ birthdays is just awkward. Or how about that yearly impression at the Thanksgiving dinner table that, in the words of Avenue Q, is “just a little bit racist?” They can’t fathom that some things are just … inappropriate.

Unfortunately, there are times in our lives where we’re probably the ones with cringe-worthy conversation, only everyone’s too polite to tell us. After all, those fireworks seemed like a perfectly appropriate gift for little 7-year-old Sydney. There’s one way to know if we’re That Inappropriate Person, however, and it’s the scariest thing we can do: ask.

Approach a friend, family member, or colleague. Simple ask, “I want to be the best friend possible. Can you tell me how I’m doing? Please be honest. What can I do better?” If they have hard feedback to hear, it’s probably just as hard for them to say, so take it well! Write it down, smile, and say “Thank you.”

Realize that other people see us differently than we see ourselves. You may think you’re a Superhero fighting for Good, but the people around you find you a bit more of a Monarch of Evil. By finding and closing the gap, you can bring yourself closer to making the outside you match the Superhero You.

So get moving! Use the answers! Read over the list of feedback. Choose one thing to change, and for 90 days, change that one thing. Then when you’ve mastered it, go on to the next thing (trying to accomplish all the goals on the list at once is just too much). Then ask again, to find out if you’ve made the change.

This even works for the Evil Queen. She’s learning. She’s decided to lay off the poison apples and put her efforts into doing good deeds, like finding homes for orphans. She says there’s a gingerbread house just beyond the stream that is happy to take as many orphans as she can send over. It isn’t perfect, but it’s progress.

Google apps are free. Not!

I posted a comment about the new Gmail interface on a social media site. One responder said, “you get what you pay for. Gmail is free.”

Reading that, I realized that the “Google is free” argument used to work for me, but it no longer does. Google apps are not free at all. You’re paying in the currency of giving them complete access to everything you work on, so they can analyze it and target ads. If someone were to make that explicit and ask me, “How much would you charge to give someone the right to scour every email you send and receive and every document you compose so they can build a profile on you for targetting ads?” I would name a figure far, far, FAR in excess of what I’ve paid for desktop software in my lifetime. In terms of my own value system, I’m only now realizing that Google Apps may be the most expensive software I’ve ever used.

What do you think? What would you charge to give someone the right to analyze all your email and documents to build a profile of you? What would you expect in return?

Make It Easy To Communicate

If you’re a businessperson, relationships and partnerships are a key part of getting things done. Communication is one of the most important components of successful working relationships. Yet all the communication technology we’ve invented has actually made it harder to communicate. We have so many options, we don’t know how to connect.

A friend and I decided to schedule a meeting recently. He has three phone numbers, four IM accounts, three email addresses, a Skype account, a Facebook, and a Google Plus account. It took an entire conversation using two forms of email to decide which medium to use for our real conversation next week. Too much choice is making it harder and harder to reach each other. This is not progress.

If you want to spend your time forging relationships and getting work done with other people, choose a single email address, a single phone number, and a single IM account, and give those out as your contact information. Of those ways of contact, decide which one you prefer and let people know. You can even put it on your business card: “Email preferred” or “Please text me” or “Voice is best.” That way, when people need to reach you, they know exactly where and how to do it. It also means you know where to go to process your inbox, rather than having to check a dozen different places.

1 Step To Start Regaining Control Of Your Inbox

I spent a couple of hours today methodically unsubscribing from several years’ worth of newsletters, subscriptions, etc. It’s amazing how freeing it feels to see browser window after browser window saying, “Thank you, you will no longer receive these emails.”

I didn’t do this randomly, however!

Before beginning, I set out the objective criteria I would use: if I haven’t read an email from that list in over a year, I would unsubscribe. Period. I subscribe to many friends’ email lists. When considered one-by-one, I would never unsubscribe because it would feel like somehow weakening the bond between me and my friend. But make no mistake: there is no bond between me and my friend if I’m never reading their email. (And besides, if their email is mainly business, and we’re personal friends, a marketing email doesn’t keep me feeling a personal connection.) Using objective, pre-determined criteria let me make the decision quickly and cleanly.

And by the way–I kept the list of names of people whose unsubscribes felt personal. I’m going to call them, instead. On the phone. And establish a real connection, not the electronic fantasy of one.

An NLP hint on writing and emotion

NLP has taught me a lot about how people experience words. By carefully considering your words, you can change the whole mood that people get left with.

I recently posted a Facebook update: For those that missed it, here’s my popular ‘Modern Vacation’ video spot (don’t worry – just 36 seconds!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gt0Bs0frEnM

Once I’d posted it, I re-read it and realized it used language poorly. The evocative words in the post are:

  • popular
  • worry
  • just 36 seconds

As people read each word, they access the meaning of that word and any associated feelings unconsciously. What then comes to mind is a gestalt of those meanings and feelings. How’d I do?

  • popular – evokes ideas of something desirable
  • worry – evokes the sense that something’s wrong
  • just 36 seconds – implies that it’s fortunate that there’s not much of it

Once through the reflection process, it makes sense to ask what feelings I’d like to leave the reader with. Excitement, curiousity, and a desire to see the video would be a better frame of mind for the reader. Here’s my rewrite:

For those that missed it, here’s my popular ‘Modern Vacation’ video spot (the best 36 seconds you’ll have all day): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gt0Bs0frEnM

Try reading both versions back-to-back and notice which images and feelings each one leaves you with. It’s subtle, but it has an impact. When you’re writing a longer piece of writing (like a podcast episode or an article), what you write will move people through a series of images and feelings. Think carefully about the sequence! The emotions you evoke may be positive (desire) or negative (fear), but if it’s negative, you probably want to lead somewhere else, like hope or resolution. The feelings people have when reading your material get connected to their concept of you. That’s called branding.

Go forth. Write with emotion. And make sure the emotions leave people in a good place. Giving people nice emotions is good for them, and you’ll find it’s good for you, as well.

My psyche was just hijacked by a sweet sounding, marketing demoness!

I just received a voicemail from an amazingly sincere, genuine-sounding coaching “guru.” She went on and on about how she wants to give back to me and show her tremendous appreciation. All I have to do is visit her web page for details.

I visited. It turned out to be a long-form sales letter. You know the type: they mix testimonials with sincere-sounding stories and revelations of how the writer was poor, destitute, and reduced to eating their own belt in an attempt to find protein as they lived out of their car. Then suddenly they discovered the secret to everything and now you can have a little bit of their juicy goodness by attending their wonderful seminar for just $X hundred dollars. (Even though they’ve enjoyed a seven figure income for years, they are charging you for the information for your own good, of course.)

Halfway through reading her site, I began to feel the urge to attend the seminar. I realized that I’ve never made seven figures a year. Looking at all the pictures of the people who have attended and now blow their nose into genuine, gold leaf toilet paper made my knees quiver with a mixture of jealousy and painful feelings of inadequacy.

Then I noticed what I was feeling. I noticed the longing to attend her seminar. I noticed the inappropriately intense emotional reaction I was having. I closed the page, added her phone number to my voicemail spam box, and am adding her email newsletter to my spam filter list as well.

Psychologically manipulative long-form sales letters work really well. I highly recommend developing a knee-jerk reaction to them: delete them and consider the seller totally and completely discredited in your mind. If someone has something of value to offer, refuse to listen until they show you in a non-manipulative way. Ask for a sample. Ask for statistics. “How many of your students are now enjoying a 7-figure income? How long did it take them?” Ask for references. “Please give me their phone#s so I may call and verify.”

Anyone who claims to be a multi-gazillionaire who is generously helping you out if you pay them just a few hundred dollars is a scam artist. If you’re rich and want to give back, give. Don’t sell, give. You don’t have to do it as formal philanthropy, just offer your stuff for free. Coach Marshall Goldsmith, one of the most successful and highly paid coaches in the world, gives away everything he does for free at http://www.MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com. As he once told me, “I have more money than I could ever spend, why should I charge people when what I care about is helping them?”

If you’re using long-form sales letters in your own business, try seeing if you can resort to selling your product on its own merits. If the answer is “No,” improve your product until you can.

It’s important to note, however, that if I send a long form sales letter, you must buy my products, make me a billionaire, pay for mansions for me, lots of  Rolls Royces, and scantily clad models on both arms. I may be outraged, but I’m not stupid…

Giving feedback: is the “sandwich” valuable, or trite and ineffective?

Conventional wisdom has it that you should sandwich negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback. You can read about “the hamburger method” here.

Shelle Rose Charvet points out that most people already know the method. Now, when they hear positive feedback, they simply bypass it and wait fo the shoe to drop (then they ignore the final piece of positive feedback, which is obviously just there to soften the negative feedback). She advocates giving feedback in a way that avoids direct negative statements yet still accomplishes the goal, to stimulate behavior change. You can read Shelle Rose Charvet’s “The Feedback Sandwich is Out to Lunch.”

What do you think? If I were to include a “giving feedback” method in the Get-it-Done Guy book, which do you think would be best to include?