Friday, May 24, 2013

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.”  — George Bernard Shaw
My days are spent talking. Either I’m standing in front of a group giving a speech or workshop (as is the case this week) or I’m speaking in a small group or with an individual. Basically I get paid to speak. It’s not a bad gig and I enjoy it. Yet listening to the leaders in this current workshop you’d think talking was a lost art form. They bemoan the fact that they believe they communicate well, but find out that they’ve barely been heard, and not understood, or they’ve not been heard at all. One of the leaders in the workshop shared with us the George Bernard Shaw quote that “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.”
I’ve always found it amusing that communication is referred to as a “soft” skill. Of course this actually reflects that its well nigh impossible to calibrate communication, compared to a skill such as accounting where there is clear definition. Yet too often, people refer to these “soft” skills as though communication is easy or it doesn’t matter as much. It is very difficult to do it properly. That is why, when communication is done effectively it is so obvious.
Interestingly enough, we live in an age were there is the illusion of constant communication. Cell phones are glued to people’s ears. Fingers are toughened through constant tapping on screens. We have facebook, twitter, IM, Skype, Oovoo, and a myriad of devices to communicate. And yet so often people complain about not knowing what is going on, or they have misunderstood some form of electronic communication and had to apologize.
Let’s face it. The most powerful and clear form of communication is face to face communication. We can hear the person, watch their gestures, listen to their tone and get the message. Nothing can replicate face to face dialogue. And even then, I often think I’ve explained something very clearly only to find my listener received a totally different message.
Technology is great for many things, but getting a message across about business, politics, religion, opinion or love is best done so you can look into people’s eyes. Even then, we all need work on how to be concise and clear. Want to know how good you are? Ask someone to summarize something you spoke about. You will find very quickly if your communication is real or an illusion.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fly the Skies: Friendly or Not

At Newark Airport yesterday morning a group of us stepped up to the TSA pre-screened line. Having done the extra paperwork and having allowed the extra scrutiny by the government, I look forward to the shorter line. Yet, I noticed the agent turning away many of those who approached her. Confident that I had been vetted, I approached the agent and she scanned my ticket. “Nope” she cheerfully said, “you don’t have access.” Determinedly I scanned my boarding pass again, but did not hear the usual three beeps allowing access to the shorter line. As she pointed her finger to show me the way, I joined the other, much longer, line. Apparently the TSA occasionally refuses even those who are validly pre-screened as part of their security procedure. Yet what fascinated me was the palpable glee on the agent’s face as she denied access to many fliers. Most of the time she wouldn’t even look at them while she pointed to the end of the other line. As I watched she would sometimes wag her finger in the faces of some of the fliers telling them they were refused and their wait was about to become much longer.

Yesterday Newark Airport was a laboratory of emotion, self-esteem and personal interaction. Like most days for each of us, it offered the possibility of acceptance and rejection, success and failure, and control along with lack of control. But even more powerful was the glimpse into how most people are treated in life and how depersonalizing that is.

Watching the faces of individuals in the airport I saw anger, despair, helplessness and frustration. Rarely did I encounter people smiling or walking confidently. Yet as I thought about it, it is natural to react to what has become a threatening environment. Long lines are exacerbated by agents telling you very little news and yet demanding you stay in them. Everyone tries moving as efficiently as possible and become irritated when someone in front of them is too slow. And of course, there is the strip search.

What struck me is that, despite some excellent TSA agents (aside from the one at the pre-screen line) who were trying to help people and keep a smile on their face, the situation and the necessary security treats people in a very inhumane way. When that happens, people respond to the feeling of threat by fighting, fleeing or freezing.

What we need in life to make us feel human and special is easy.

·         Use names. Remember the sweetest sound to the human ear is the sound of their own name.

·         Smile occasionally. We live in a world where people smile less frequently, especially in new situations. We need others to smile and allow us to relax.

·         Create eye contact. There is nothing better for the soul than to know you’ve been acknowledged.

·         Treat others with respect. We are working our way through this world like everyone else. Give others the respect you deserve.

I’ve flown over a million miles and that is just on one airline. Traveling can be challenging, and it’s the perfect analogy for life. We are all going some destination. Either we can be concerned only about ourselves, or we can realize that everyone else is a traveler too. The traveling is much better when we all respect each other, mount the challenges together and then enjoy the ride.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

STAY In Your Comfort Zone

We live in a world where change seems constant. Technology outpaces our ability to utilize it and to monitor the improper use of it. Corporations radically restructure their infrastructure, platforms and products. Even the pace of inter-generational gaps accelerates dramatically leaving us befuddled in our family or social communication. Yet, this does not mean that we, as individuals or even businesses, have to embrace the same mindset of constant change.

We hear mantras like "change or die," "think outside the box," and "get out of your comfort zone." The challenge is that these concepts are essential to technology businesses and much of the competitive core that makes us our economy. Organizations and corporations need to create, innovate and examine opportunities and weaknesses on a regular basis. Some have gone overboard and waste precious time and energy with constant hierarchical restructuring, but that is a thought for another blog. The challenge is that this "constant change" thinking affects and infects how individuals think about themselves and their work.

If something is working. If your life is going well. If you enjoy what you do and are doing it well. LEAVE IT ALONE! Yes, you continue to work on your skills or relationships to improve them, but you don't need to put change in your life for change sake. Constant change activates the emotional brain into a fight-flight-freeze response and that is the sure-fire way to kill success.

Athletes have known this for decades. When they are in the zone, when everything is going right, they don't change a thing. They use the same rituals to prepare, eat the same food, go through the same game-day routines and ride the wave of success. It is when they suspect they could improve an element of their game, or they feel something going wrong that they move to change it.

So when things at work or at home are going well; when what occupies our time also fills our soul, we need to enjoy it. That's why they call it a "comfort zone." Allowing these moments in our lives give us the energy to continue the journey and eventually reenter the maelstrom of change.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Having Integrity

It's election day in my town. Working with one of the parties, I arrived at 5:00 AM to help with the day's events. Our immediate task was "challenges." Challenges are the procedural way to examine who used mail-in ballots and to see if there are any irregularities. Any party can use them. For example, we found fourteen voters who supposedly lived at the same address. By the way, the number on the address was "0." Really? Yet in the midst of our work, someone asked the question, "couldn't you challenge anybody's vote? Couldn't you challenge a whole district you thought wasn't voting for your ticket?" The answer was yes. You can challenge anything. But as our campaign manager wisely said "That's not what our candidates want to do. At the end of the day, they want to wake up after the election with their integrity intact."

We live in a world of challenges, achievement, success and position. Moving through that morass can be confusing at times and tempting at others. Our headlines are strewn with the wrecked careers of men and women who stepped over the line to achieve something and were caught. They hang their heads and move on. But what was missing?

Ethics and integrity are some of the key characteristics of greatness. Yes, people can achieve amazing things through cheating or enhancing their performance. Of course, they have to live with themselves. If each of us doesn't have a crystal clear distinction of right and wrong, we are vulnerable to the temptations for the easy ride, or the short cut.

In reality there are those who have not been caught. They've cheated the system, perhaps cheated you and me. But how worthwhile is an achievement that has been captured falsely? Can you really enjoy the moment if you've succeeded under false pretenses. I know I couldn't.

I was proud of the team this morning and it was a good reminder for me. Everyday shortcuts and backdoors are offered in various ways. The first step is always small. Yet, standing by your beliefs and knowing what is right and wrong is a powerful foundation. With your ethics and integrity intact you can take on the world knowing that even if you lose, you did what was right.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Make Molehills Out of Mountains

Just for a second, pick up an object and hold it very closely in front of your face. Now, ask yourself what you see. Most likely, if you are holding the object close enough you probably don't see anything but the object. It looks enormous. Now, take the same object and place it across the room, sit down and look at it. Doesn't it have a totally different perspective? You've just made a molehill out of a mountain. 

We live in a society where everything seems to loom over us. Our 24/7 news screams at us constantly about the latest threat. There is always "breaking news." For many of us our workplaces have taken on this magnification. Everything is "urgent" and "immediate." If we ask for some priority we are told that it is "all important." And so we attempt to accomplish everything by putting our heads down and diving in.

Though I've long employed the strategy of attacking everything, I'm learning that I need perspective. When I'm task driven everything is right in front of my face and sometimes I can't judge how much emphasis to place on it. In other words, something more important might need to be done, or there is a different way to handle what I'm looking at.

I just learned this important lesson, so I hope some of you have your own ideas how to place things in perspective. Two strategies work for me. The first is taking a step back. This means putting down my pen, or pushing back from the computer and looking objectively at what I need to accomplish and how vital it is to life, business, the world, my survival, (you get the picture). Most of the time I find I've placed too much emphasis on the task and I've found I can finish it much quicker because I've placed it in perspective. The second strategy I use is asking someone else for their perspective on the task or issue. Many times others have great insights into what I'm trying to do and I'm learning to value their opinion. Sometimes they can see beyond what I'm holding right in front of my face.

Our world seemingly insists that everything is important. That is not true. Stepping back, or gaining the perspective of someone else allows you to move forward much more rapidly and accomplish tasks or overcome challenges. The key is challenging the idea that everything is a mountain. Most of them really are molehills that are right in front of our face.