IT’S IMPOSSIBLE for an important message to enter your mind through an open, biased mouth. This statement rings true in this cute story: There was a little boy who heard the phone ring. He ran to the phone, picked it up and answered it. The caller was a telemarketer, with the following conversation ensuing:
“Is your mother home?”
“Nope,” the boy replied. “Then is your father home?”
“Sorry, he’s out for work.” “Aside from you, is there anyone I can speak to?” the telemarketer insisted.
“Yep, my sister is here.” “May I speak to her, please?”
“OK.” The telemarketer waited for a long time. Finally the boy returned: “I’m back. Sorry, but I can’t lift her out of the playpen.”
Do you have the same type of miscommunication happening in your organization? The answer must be a big “YES.” The situation may vary, but just the same — one thing is clear — it’s difficult to communicate successfully, because you’re also trying to jump to a conclusion. Sometimes, disagreements happen on the real problem or its causes. To avoid such trigger-happy miscommunication, here are the four basic approaches that you can use:
1. Know exactly your objective.
2. Identify the recipients of your message.
3. Show conviction and confidence in your message.
4. Have an open mind to other objective options.
HEYWOOD BROUN (1888-1939), the New York sportswriter, columnist, and editor who founded the American newspaper “Guild,” was leaving the theatre after a Broadway opening and met the producer at the lobby. The latter took one look at Broun’s suit, which was rumpled as usual, and said with some annoyance: “That’s a fine way to dress for my gala night. Your suit looks as if it had been slept in.”
“Since you mentioned it,” replied Broun, “Yes, I just woke up.”
How would you define the opportunity or opportunities in that situation? If you’re Broun or the producer, what would you do? The answer depends on where you are seated (or have slept). As one popular adage keeps reminding us — “opportunities come in work clothes.” They can’t be seen or if seen, you can’t appreciate it because they’re couched in the negative tense. They are undercover. But that’s normal. You can’t simply appreciate complaints, issues, or problems from customers, much more from bystanders. That’s the challenge. Fortunately, that’s where the fun lies.
Retired professional boxer Sugar Ray Leonard (b. 1956) was quoted in a speaking engagement at Harvard: “I consider myself blessed. I consider you blessed. We’ve all been blessed with God-given talents. Mine just happens to be beatin’ people up.” Taking it off from Leonard, what could be your talent? Or to put it more clearly — what’s your number one God-given talent?
As a business journalist and kaizen advocate, I often find myself criticizing many acts or omissions of people and organizations. I can’t help but to say my piece no matter who gets hurt. This often contradicts what we learned from our parents — “If you have nothing good to say about others, say nothing at all.” If we heed our parents, then that would be catastrophic to many of us sitting in silence while suffering and revolting inside. If you’re like me who hates mediocrity and dishonesty (among others) being done in the workplace, then what would you do?
Rolf Dobelli, in “The Art of Thinking” (2013) has the best answer: “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” In psychology, this technique is called “framing.” Dobelli illustrates “framing” in the case of a group of researchers presenting a group of consumers with two kinds of meat. One meat is branded as “99 percent fat free,” and the other kind of meat as “1 per cent fat.”
Which type of meat was chosen by the respondents? The first kind — “99 percent fat free” was chosen over “1 percent fat” despite the fact that they mean the same thing. It’s funny, isn’t it?
But that’s what we’re also doing in management consulting. We often refer to problems as “opportunities” or “challenges” rather than something that is too negative for many of us to avoid it like a plague.
2015 is an exciting year for many us to start using “framing.” I’m sure it will be fun and relaxing to think of all the good things in work and family life. If you’re looking for ways to rekindle your relationship with your colleagues and family members, let’s share our talents to others. Then, let them figure out by reading between the lines.
Incidentally, that needs special talent too.