(Curtis admits that he could be better at saying “no” to requests for his time, but it’s getting easier with success.)
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw
I’m not always a good communicator. Things that I think are straight-forward get bungled in the strangest ways sometimes. Part of my world-view comes from growing up in a German-speaking house-hold in Canada. I like to joke that I learned English off the TV. Me sharing this will probably upset my mother (yes my mother reads my blog, hi Mom!), but isn’t too far from the truth. I often had to translate, explain cultural context, or figure out even in my own head what was going on for my parents. You can imagine as a child I didn’t always get this right. It’s a common experience for first generation immigrant children.
Plus I’m also a bit left-brained, procedural, and rule-following. Again, I joke that with a German father and Swiss mother I had to have my room cleaned up on time. But this isn’t how everyone sees the world, so this also make for “translation” errors. You can imagine the knee-slapping adventures that ensue in a household where my partner and sweetie teaches creative design, my step-son is a professional musician, and his girlfriend is an animator. But they love the project manager me and even find me useful on occasion.
Painting a Picture
“People think people create stories. It’s the other way around.” — Terry Pratchett
The very best communicators tap our emotions this way. Think of the Churchill’s “we will fight on the beaches“, JFK’s “send a man safely to the moon“, or Martin Luther King’s “I have seen the promised land.” No matter what you think of them as historical figures, it is objectively demonstrable that their ability to tap into clear, simple, evocative language tapped into people’s motivations and affected how people behaved.
Why does the brain like pictures so much? We express our feelings or make decisions with words all the time, don’t we? Maybe not.
Depending on how you measure it, 30 percent of the brain is used or involved in visual processing (with 8 percent for touch and 4 percent for sound). The brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 9/10ths of the information the brain receives is visual.
In his seminal TED talk Simon Sinek talks about the golden circle (“How Great Leaders Inspire Action”) and how this golden circle corresponds to different parts of the brain. The newest parts of our evolved homo sapiens brain, the outer layer called the neocortex, is responsible for all our rational, analytical thought, and language.
Great leaders seek to motivate. They appeal to the emotional, the visual. This corresponds our limbic brains. Our limbic brains, in the centre and the oldest parts of our brains evolutionarily speaking, are responsible for all our feelings, emotions, and decision making. Our limbic brains have no capacity for language.
The part of us that makes decisions doesn’t use words.
The U.S. Army defines leadership as “…the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation….” You’ll probably notice that two if not all three of these factors are influences applied to peoples emotions, feelings, or even values and beliefs. Getting people to make the right decisions, act in a positive way, and commit to a particular outcome or goal (for whatever definition or “right”or “positive” you care to define) means making an appeal to their motivations.
The Army leadership manual goes on to talk about such airy-fairy leadership responsibilities such as developing future leaders, fostering trust, open communications, and earning respect.
So, providing clear, simple language means more than just using small words. It means understanding others’ motivations and applying influence. It means painting a picture of what the future looks like and why they should care. It means providing direction and purpose that appeals to people’s need to be part of something greater than themselves.
Clear communication means doing the work to be clear.
How about you?
What’s the worst miscommunication you ever had? How do you make sure you’re saying the same thing the listener is hearing? How well do you pay attention to other’s motivations?
[this is a summer report series repost]
We often feel as though things look like this: 360 degrees of choices. “What if I pick the wrong thing and then I’m headed in the wrong direction?”
But really, deciding where to start is the enemy of starting. The thing you pick doesn’t have to be the thing you do for the rest of your life. (Hint: it probably won’t be.) But you have no idea how the things you learn now will benefit what you end up doing in the future.
You can’t steer a parked car. Pivot as needed. Pick an option and go! Starting is progress. Indecision is the enemy.
— I’d love to know who wrote this. If you know the source please drop me a line and clue me in.
Good advice for millennials, good advice for everyone. It’s not good enough anymore to just be good at your job. The companies that succeed are the ones that figure out what collaboration really means.
Why are online games so addictive? And what can we learn about motivating people from them?
My niece, who I’m very proud of, recently completed her last year of gymnastics competition. She had a full-ride scholarship to the University of Illinois in Chicago. After winning her senior competition (and posting a personal best score), she went on to state championships (another personal best) and regional. All while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
I tell you this because I want you to imagine how successful she would have been if her coach had – instead of daily if not minute-by-minute feedback on the gym floor – given her quarterly or yearly performance reviews? How successful she would have been if her teachers hadn’t told her what her marks on her papers were until the end of the semester?
She had big goals (win competitions, keep a high GPA), broke them down into specific, actionable milestones (get better at balance beam so I can score well in the March competition for example), and worked hard every day with feedback from her coaches to improve.
I also know that every member of the team knew where they stood every day as far as their personal best score, and their rankings in the NCAA that week, and what their best routine was.
That kind of “track and post”, where progress towards a goal is posted and visible – whether it’s a personal goal, or a team environment – actually improves your chances of success. Of course if you have a goal, you are more likely to be successful at it. Of course if you get accurate, timely feedback, you’re going to get better.
But if you do both together, both set a goal and get accurate, timely feedback, you more than double your chance of reaching that goal.
And remember, when you’re the manager, the job of providing that accurate, timely feedback falls to you.
Part Three of Series that begins with Setting Your Intent and Deciding What You’re Not Going To Do
If we never started something knowing 100% how we were going to get it done, humankind wouldn’t have reached the moon, mapped the human genome, or climbed Mount Everest. Sometime the best way to do something is to just start and figure it out along the way. You might not be able to figure out the entire puzzle, but you can usually figure out where the next piece fits.
If you know what needs to be done next, even if that means ‘figure out how to do that part”, then that’s enough to get started.
Here’s the key: When I say “next step”, I mean what physical, tangible, visible action are you going to take? Are you going to pick up the phone and call somebody, or sketch out the design, or visualize what the deliverable / goal / accomplishment looks like and commit that paper? Are you going to cut, shape, fabricate a component? It’s shape model? A part? Are you going to have the contract reviewed by a lawyer, sign it, and hang your shingle out? Start a web page, order stock, arrange a photographer?
What are you going to do? What is the thing that is going to happen?
Here’s an exercise of for extra points: List your three biggest, or most important, projects. Then list the next step for each.
Next: Track and Post
The dread of doing a task uses up more time and energy than doing the task itself ~ Emmett’s Law
Think of all the years passed by in which you said to yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow,” and how the gods have again and again granted you periods of grace which you have not availed yourself. It is time to realize that you are a member of the Universe, that you are born of Nature itself, and to know that a limit has been set to your time