Communication is so much more than words

August 18, 2008

I’ll admit it. I’m sort of addicted to the Olympics — but not for the reasons you’d expect. Sure, it’s always impressive to see what the human body can do. It can be fun to get into the spirit of the competition. But the thing that fascinates me is watching the faces of the athletes.

Sitting on my couch at home, all I can HEAR is the commentators. But when I pay attention to the faces of the athletes, they communicate so much more! For example, think about the parade of nations during that opening ceremony. Some of the athletes were clearly thrilled to participate in such a huge spectacle — big gleaming smiles. Some of them were nervous or perhaps a little overwhelmed — wide, searching eyes. Some of them felt the honor and the pageantry of the ceremony — serious expressions, just a hint of pride.

Forget the language barrier. They don’t have to speak. It’s all there, in their expressions and mannerisms.

And it got me thinking that this might be a useful practice for managers and leaders. Next time you’re sitting in a meeting, take a look around. Watch people. I mean, don’t stare, of course. But watch. If you tune in to the subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints that humans drop with their facial expressions, you might learn valuable secrets that will help you become a better leader.


How to reveal your personality?

August 4, 2008
Revealing your personality is the key.

Revealing your personality is the key.

For the past three posts I’ve been talking about why you should reveal your personality when you talk with your constituents. Check out the reasons here, here and here. So now we’ve got the reasons down… we know why it makes good business sense. Let’s come up with ideas for exactly HOW to inject a little personality into your communications. To get us started:

  • Do your friends have a “typical you” story about you? Something that demonstrates how or why you are the way you are? For instance, my parents like to tell people that my first grade teacher called me a “little Hitler.” No, this is not really about facial hair… it’s more about the fact that I was a know-it-all bossy-pants who tried to run everything during playtime. (Well, and all the time really.) Sometimes I tell this story when my bossiness tries to rear its ugly head. It’s like a warning and a cry for help all in one: I’m about to get all dictatorial, but knowing I’m like that, help me reign it in, will ya? My point (I do have one): Learn how to tell that story about you well enough that you could rattle it right off, because it makes you human and shows you have enough of a sense of humor that you can poke a little fun at yourself.
  • What does your spouse (or maybe your assistant?) tease you about? Are you always losing your keys? Do you practice your backswing when you think no one’s watching? Did they catch you humming a Barry Manilow tune? Whatever it is, sharing it with people is similar to the story-sharing above. It helps people relate to you as a person and not just as “my manager” or “the CEO.”

What other ideas do you have? Managers and leaders, what are you doing to reveal your personality at work?


Why simple conversations are worth your time

July 24, 2008

Conversations by Louisa Bufardeci

Last week, my co-worker who leads our manager development program made the case that managers should invest their time initiating and continuing conversations with their team members, both as a team and as individuals. More than just chit-chat (although that’s important, too), he advocated enlightening conversations because managers have a chance to:

  • find and answer questions
  • clarify ambiguity
  • provide important detail
  • help advance projects and meet deadlines
  • ensure your team is moving toward the same goals

Of course, because conversation is a two-way exchange, there are benefits for the employees on your team as well. They will appreciate the opportunity to:

  • ask questions
  • share their insights and concerns
  • help improve how your team completes its work

Enabling these critical conversations is one of a leader’s greatest responsibilities. Because, if you think about it, most problems can be resolved through effective communication, and most innovations begin with conversation. The key is always keeping in mind the two-way exchange: both talking and actively listening.


Ask a different question.

July 14, 2008

Another lightbulb moment to report, courtesy of the Heath brothers. I’m reading their chapter in Made to Stick about making your ideas unexpected. And then they go and shift my paradigm with this:

“To make our communications more effective, we need to shift our thinking from “What information do I need to convey?” to “What questions do I want my audience to ask?” [p. 88]

The main differences in these questions, of course, are that:

  • the first focuses on the monologue, the blah-blah-blah.
  • and the second seeks dialogue. Conversation, that is — interaction.

Everyone’s asking why employees aren’t engaged — isn’t it possible they’re not engaged because we’re not engaging them? We’re not giving them the chance to ask the questions they want to ask, directly and free from unnecessary filters. Everyone’s asking how to fight the grapevine — isn’t it possible the best way to fight rumors and gossip is with facts? Why aren’t we talking with employees? Why aren’t we being more serious about this?

As a communicator it’s often frustrating that I can’t personally do more to affect employee engagement. But this new question to ask myself may be the way I can contribute: What questions do I want my audience to ask? I might have to approach my writing and communications planning in a whole different way.


Why should managers and leaders care about communicating?

July 9, 2008

Whatever else you thought your job was about, chances are it involves a lot more writing than you ever imagined — through just email alone! But if you’re a supervisor or program manager, communication takes an even more prominent role in your work… or it should. Here’s why:

  • Someone wants to know what’s happening in your department. It might be your supervisor. It might be an auditor. It might be an HR person. Whatever the case, are you prepared to talk about how your team is performing?
  • Your project or program requires that you create messages to employees or customers, whether the messages are emails or brochures or fliers or web content or some other swanky medium. Do you know where to start?
  • Undoubtedly your department or project team has a list of goals to accomplish, all on different timelines. To accomplish these goals, your team has to be humming along at a pretty good clip, right? How can your team be the efficient “machine” it needs to be if the team members aren’t talking?
  • More than that, as a manager or team leader or project lead or whatever you want to call yourself, you have a unique opportunity to influence the lives of the people you’re working with. Their interaction with you can be positive or negative. To use a lovely boating metaphor: Think about the wake you’re leaving.
  • OK, now hold on while I get a little deep. Remember those department or project goals you had? What happens if you miss? What happens to the company goals or business strategy? This stuff matters. It matters if you’re a public company with obligations to shareholders. It matters if you work in a private company in an economy like this. It certainly matters if you’re in the nonprofit world. So, connecting the dots, if your team can achieve its goals by communicating better, couldn’t the organization achieve its goals if every department were communicating better?

It sounds a little cheesy, but I have this vision that we might actually be able to improve not only our happiness at work but also the way our organizations perform, if we — as leaders — get better at communicating. This doesn’t have to be hard or painful or embarassing. Just talking. Just thinking about things a little differently maybe, or being open to new ideas. Whaddaya think? Can we fix anything just by talking about it?


Start at the beginning…

June 30, 2008

Let’s start by honoring a guy who knew how to communicate in a clear, direct and entertaining way — in such a way that you can still recite to this day: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.” Of course those are the immortal words of Dr. Suess’s 1968 book Horton Hatches the Egg, a book that still teaches responsibility and integrity 40 years later.

But it was the part about saying what you mean and meaning what you say that always captured my imagination. How often do we see THAT happen? I know a guy who says that 80 percent of the time, we leave a conversation either misunderstanding the other person or being misunderstood by them. We can’t affort a statistic like that. We can’t afford to be missing connections that often.

So that’s why I’m here. Despite being a professional communicator for more than 10 years, I learn something new about it every single day. I want to share what I’m learning, and I hope you’ll share too. Maybe if we’re all talking about it… practicing!… we can get better at this together.