I just tell it like it is!

April 6, 2010

Really? Somewhere along our human evolutionary process some of us swapped the concept of speaking one’s mind with being careless about the impact or effectiveness of our words. The message became the focus rather than the impact of the message.

To be clear, I am a staunch advocate for clarity in communications. It is this clarity that creates effective communication which is in turn is one of the most basic interpersonal skills that are greatly sought after by employers of all kids.

Is it possible then to “just tell it like it is” without breaking our cultural norms for polite conversation? Absolutely! Let’s break down what is at the core of wanting to speak one’s mind:

  1. I want to be true to my convictions
  2. I have an important message to deliver
  3. I refuse to be a “me too” person and just go with the flow
  4. I take pride in my preparations, assessments, and when I am asked for my opinion… Well, they’re going to get it.

Well, that’s admirable!

So, if you resemble those four remarks, then what is truly important to you is for your hard earned information to be delivered untainted, un-adulterated, un-biased. You want your message to be your message and not some redacted version of it. You want to deliver the message you have and not necessarily the message someone else wants to hear… right? You want your message to hit the mark! (right! you say)

Before I share my suggestions, let me get a little Dr. Phil on you: “How’s that working out for you?

Let’s consider the process of conversation from a psychological point for just a minute. A conversation’s flow is made up of the sender and the receiver interaction – independent of the topic and method of delivery. Whether you like it or not, having only one telephone will not get you communicating with anyone unless there is a receiver on the other end. You have to dial their number, find the other person available, and then engage them in conversation. Human conversations in person work the same way.

Besides the common courtesies of our society (which vary from culture to culture), there is a fundamental process that has to take place for a conversation to flow. This is called looping. According to Daniel Goleman in his book “Social Intelligence” (Random House, Inc., 2006), “looping lets feelings, thoughts, and actions synchronize.” You’ve seen extreme examples of looping between a mother and child cooing, between dancers, between a conductor and the orchestra.

Visualize a line of communications flowing from you to the other person and back from them to you. When we converse with another human, we are sending and receiving a tremendous amount of information below the conscious mind for better or worse. If we’re happy we’re transmitting positive and even tender feelings. If we’re not, we may be sending signals of tension or rancor that subconsciously drive the other person away – without them or us even realizing why.

It is widely accepted that only about 7% of the communication of a message is conveyed in the words we use. That message you want to “just tell it like it is” is only 7% words. Your tone during the conversation will convey about 38% of the message.

What do you believe if 7% of a person is telling you “yes”, but 38% of the same person is telling you “no”? But wait, there is more… those two percentages only add up to 45%. We’re not even half-way yet… Your facial expression and body language will deliver the other 55% of the message! If you think I’m pulling your leg, then Google the terms: “Nonverbal communication” and read any of the over a million hits if you want to check my facts.

But let’s get back to “wanting to tell it like it is.” Can we deliver the message effectively without compromising it? Yes, we can. Remember what you say verbally is only a small portion of the conversation. It will hardly be effective if you miss on the other 93%…

So, what can be done about this? How can you just tell it like it is?

Let’s determine first what you are trying to accomplish by delivering your message. Are you looking to persuade the other person? If so, you will have to ask questions first. You will need to fully understand their point of view and their emotional ties to it before you can present your own argument – your 7% of the message. Without this knowledge, you’d be showing up to play a game with a bat not knowing your opponent is playing tennis.

Perhaps, you’re trying to educate? If so, it would be very helpful to understand where the other person’s level of knowledge is, don’t you think? Once again, you find yourself asking questions to determine how in depth your delivery should be so it does not go over the other person’s head. Do you have to establish a base of knowledge for the other person to understand and relate to that 7% of the message? Do you have a dissertation prepared and all you needed were brief summary with bullets?

Maybe all you are doing is reporting back after an assignment. You might like to be a little like Sergeant Joe Friday in DRAGNET and deliver “just the facts, Ma’am.” However, we now know that there is much more to delivering your report if your intent is for it to be understood and acted upon. You have to consider the soil in which your seeds of wisdom will be planted. Sometimes, we have to prepare the soil first and not to carry the metaphor to far… fertilize it.

So the message here is one of encouragement. There is no sacrifice of self when we take the time to learn about the person to whom we will deliver a message. Be honest with yourself, do you just want to throw up information and turn around satisfied or do you care if there is someone there to catch it?

In my practice, I work with professionals of all walks of life that are learning how to employ new knowledge to be applied to their business. Such includes emotional intelligence (awareness of your own emotions and those of others), reading body language and facial expressions, and learning about how differently others think. This effort and education is highly prized in business to improve effective communications because it deals directly with 93% of that communication. It is especially useful for many technical subject matter experts who are less adroit in customer facing situations who need to provide pre-sales consulting to drive more revenue home.

Let me ask you, how do you want an itch scratched? You want it the way you like it, right? We all do. The rub (pardon the pun) is that we are all different. If you want to be effective, you first have to learn how the other person likes their itch scratched or you will only enjoy a hollow victory of delivering your 7% of the message your way and missing the mark on the other 93% of the communications exchange.

Let’s engage in communications!

Let me hear your opinion or experiences in communications. Send me a message if you know a business owner who would benefit from my working with his/her staff along the lines of this posting.


Design is business & Business is Design

October 13, 2009

“I just need the bare-bones for now… We’re on a time-line crunch, so I don’t have time for pretty.” (Business Owner, June 2009)

That is a direct quote overheard while I was waiting for my mocha latte at Starbucks a few weeks ago. It could have come from anyone given the sentiments behind the statement are very common:  function is more important than form & time or money is tight.

The business analyst on the receiving end of that quote is a friend and I later heard the rest of the story involving an important custom program being written to improve operations for a medium size company.  A smart implementation of such a system could potentially add an additional 20% profits to their bottom line.

“Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation” (Steve Jobs, Apple, Inc.)

Well, a lot of people would concede that design is hugely important for a company like Apple. After all they compete with the best all over the world, right? What about smaller companies? What if they don’t design technical gadgets? Surely, design is more of a luxury then…

“Design has become a professional obsession. I simply believe that design per se is the principal reason for emotional attachment (or detachment) relative to a product or service or experience. Design, as I see it, is arguably the #1 determinant of whether a product-service-experience stands out… or doesn’t. Furthermore, it’s another “one of those things” that damn few companies put – consistently – on the front burner.” (Tom Peters, Management Guru)

Hmmm… If you don’t know of Tom (www.tompeters.com), his company website will keep you hooked reading all kinds of interesting business material for hours. He’s been dispensing business advice since the early 80s and he’s NOT a designer – he is one of the best business consultants in the world.

I maintain that “design” is broader in scope than aesthetics (pretty fonts and colors) and it is far too important to be an afterthought. Design is about business and about creating purposeful change for the better. Don’t take my word for it, read Marty Neumeier’s book – The Designful Company)

I think that for design to be effective one must have a clear set of goals – outcomes. While consulting with clients regarding a custom software application or e-Commerce website, I argue that the ultimate goal for the project is sustainable business through long term profits. The best way to get there is to place the end user at the center of the design and try to look through his/her eyes.

Good design is the first step in the following domino effect: Design drives innovation (read cost savings and efficiency); innovation powers brand development; brand builds loyalty (having met your clients goals better than others); and loyalty results in profits.

Let me ask you two questions:

1. Have you ever taken notice of good design? I know you’ve noticed poor design… We all do.

2. How beneficial to your business would it be if you did something about the poor design around you?

The Rules of an Entrepreneur (or a student or a newbie or…)

September 10, 2009

A dear friend Nicholas Holland shared a tinyURL to this article earlier today. It turned out to be a re-post by a techie named Scott on http://www.spoiledtechie.com/post/The-Rules-of-an-Entrepreneur.aspx about Robert Parsons’ work (founder of Parsons Technology).

Scott re-posted what follows to expose the material to a different audience from the original (like my friend Nick and I). It is in the same spirit I’d like to share this 16 points of wisdom because they apply equally well to business leaders, consultants, newly minted grads, students, etc.

Some of this advice may seem familiar, probably because influential people in our lives and around us have over time shared it. It is likely we were not open to such wisdom at times or simply failed to make it part of our daily plan. I intend to print these nuggets of wisdom and post them in my office so I can see them daily. Perhaps, that constant exposure will help me put them into practice more consistently.

What could you do? Add one to the list! Let’s compile solid advice and share it. I believe that not one of us is as smart as all of us, so let’s all of us collaborate. Read on…

1. Get and stay out of your comfort zone.
I believe that not much happens of any significance when we’re in our comfort zone. I hear people say, “But I’m concerned about security.” My response to that is simple: “Security is for cadavers.”

2. Never give up.
Almost nothing works the first time it’s attempted. Just because what you’re doing does not seem to be working, doesn’t mean it won’t work. It just means that it might not work the way you’re doing it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn’t have an opportunity.

3. When you’re ready to quit, you’re closer than you think.
There’s an old Chinese saying that I just love, and I believe it is so true. It goes like this: “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.”

4. With regard to whatever worries you, not only accept the worst thing that could happen, but make it a point to quantify what the worst thing could be.
Very seldom will the worst consequence be anywhere near as bad as a cloud of “undefined consequences.” My father would tell me early on, when I was struggling and losing my shirt trying to get Parsons Technology going, “Well, Robert, if it doesn’t work, they can’t eat you.”

5. Focus on what you want to have happen.
Remember that old saying, “As you think, so shall you be.”

6. Take things a day at a time.
No matter how difficult your situation is, you can get through it if you don’t look too far into the future, and focus on the present moment. You can get through anything one day at a time.

7. Always be moving forward.
Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.

8. Be quick to decide.
Remember what General George S. Patton said: “A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”

9. Measure everything of significance.
I swear this is true. Anything that is measured and watched, improves.

10. Anything that is not managed will deteriorate.
If you want to uncover problems you don’t know about, take a few moments and look closely at the areas you haven’t examined for a while. I guarantee you problems will be there.

11. Pay attention to your competitors, but pay more attention to what you’re doing.
When you look at your competitors, remember that everything looks perfect at a distance. Even the planet Earth, if you get far enough into space, looks like a peaceful place.

12. Never let anybody push you around.
In our society, with our laws and even playing field, you have just as much right to what you’re doing as anyone else, provided that what you’re doing is legal.  If the law is unfair to you and others, you should do everything in your power to see that doesn’t happen anymore going along with not allowing anyone to push you around. Imagine if Rosa Parks would have obeyed the laws!

13. Never expect life to be fair.
Life isn’t fair. You make your own breaks. You’ll be doing good if the only meaning fair has to you, is something that you pay when you get on a bus (i.e., fare).

14. Solve your own problems.
You’ll find that by coming up with your own solutions, you’ll develop a competitive edge. Masura Ibuka, the co-founder of SONY, said it best: “You never succeed in technology, business, or anything by following the others.” There’s also an old Asian saying that I remind myself of frequently. It goes like this: “A wise man keeps his own counsel.”

15. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Lighten up. Often, at least half of what we accomplish is due to luck. None of us are in control as much as we like to think we are.

16. There’s always a reason to smile.
Find it. After all, you’re really lucky just to be alive. Life is short. More and more, I agree with my little brother. He always reminds me: “We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time!”

I look forward to reading your contributions…

Survival was last year, now let’s help one another spark growth.

September 10, 2009

If I were having the top management of my companies’ clients over for lunch, I bet the conversations around the table would quickly drift towards the performance of their respective businesses.  Soon after that, some of them would be cautiously probing hoping to find ways to do business together.

Being in the last quarter of 2009, this scenario would play out even faster than usual. Why is that?

I propose it is because we’ve read, heard, and come to realize that surviving the economic downturn was our mission, but not anymore. We can get back to growing our businesses, albeit with an eye to the economic indicators to make sure there are no aftershocks. It’s ok to be a bit skittish… just a bit.

So, let’s collectively wipe our brow and say “Whew, we made it!” Now, we start by surveying the damage inflicted on our company resources, employees morale, customer base. What can we expect to find? I believe we’ll find less people working for us, tighter budgets, less resources, and the overwhelming need to spark growth.

So I propose we help one another. We’ll go first! My colleagues at bytes of knowledge (where I work) and I will write blogs, articles, and hold meetings with small and medium size businesses to pool our collective knowledge on how to leverage the use of technology to save money and increase the profitability of our clients. We hope our help will spark growth, that growth will bring additional opportunities for us to help others, and by sharing our expertise we in turn grow with them.

What can you do to be a part of this?

Contribute! Find how you can help those businesses and individuals around the edges of your business and likewise help them. Tell them about what we’re doing, why we do it,  and recruit them to join this “sparking growth” movement. Before we know it, we will be making a real difference in our community and more.

There are those who think this is not feasible or too hard or too “different” and that’s OK, this post is not for them. Just know that by the time those naysayers get their heads out of the ground to realize the worst of the recession is past, we will have created momentum and will be expanding right into their customer base.

Are you ready to spark some growth? Let me read your thoughts…