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Monday, June 24, 2013

"I Don't Know What You Just Said"

     I had the opportunity this weekend to watch a movie called "The Dilemma" with Vince Vaughn and Kevin James.  It was an entertaining way to tackle the topics of honesty, fidelity and friendship when all of those have been compromised.  One scene in particular that caught my attention involved Vince and Kevin's characters engaging in a very confusing conversation.  Since communications training is what I do and effective communications is what this blog is all about, I couldn't resist bringing to your attention what a lack of clarity in communications looks like.  If you get the chance to watch the movie (you can online), pay close attention to when Kevin's character Nick tries to explain to Vince's character Ronny, some hypothetical situation about overcoming Ronny's fear of getting married.  It had something to do with ice cream, running over citizens on a sidewalk, and one percent.  Ronny's response after a perplexed look:  "I don't think I'm understanding what you're trying to say to me."  Ever felt that way?  Somebody's just shared some long scenario about what you think you were discussing with them, and you don't have a clue what they just said.
     Without clarity in communications, you completely miss your mark with the listener.  Imagine if the listener is a key person in referring you to a new client, closing a deal you've been working on for a while or deciding to hire you.  You may have just blown your chance at getting what you want.  So how do you speak with clarity?  How do you offer clear communications that leave no room for speculation or confusion?  Try these three things:
  1. If the topic is important or sensitive or urgent, make sure you plan what you will say first.  If you have to write it down, do so.  Practice it out loud.  Make note of how it sounds in your ears.  Would you be able to understand your point.  Is it clear?
  2. Get to the point.  Sometimes too much insignificant detail is added to an explanation, and the real message gets lost in all the minutiae.  Be direct and share information that adds to the clarity of the communication.
  3. Provide enough detail.  I know I just said get to the point and leave out the extraneous stuff, but in getting to the point, don't be so laser-like that you leave out important details.  Sometimes we think that in the course of our communications, we are telling the listener what we're thinking.  However, on many occasions, we may be saying it in our heads, but it's not coming out of our mouths.  Make sure the two coincide so that what you're thinking (that matters to the conversation) is actually being verbalized, and all of the dots are connected.
     With these three simple points, you can make your communications clearer and leave little room for miscommunication and misunderstanding.  Remember ABC: Always. Be. Clear.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Does Articulate = Intelligent?

    For some reason, being called articulate in the black community has become synonymous with being called idiotic.  Black people have often gotten offended when someone white says "He speaks so well" or "She's very articulate".  Remember the hubbub when it was said about President Obama the first time he ran for office?  Such an observation has been frowned upon because of the way it's been said in the past.  It sounds to black folks like the person saying it is surprised that a black person can put two sentences together and actually make sense.  For black people (who care), speaking well should not be treated as if it's a phenomenon in the African American culture.
     With that said, let's look a little bit deeper at this idea of being articulate when communicating.  The moment a person opens his or her mouth, a dozen assumptions are made about them by the way they speak. Some of them are right on target, and of course, some of them are totally off base.  For example, to hear a person be able to articulate his vision for his future or a plan to start a business or the reason why he feels passionate about his religious beliefs may cause the listener to think this person is a critical thinker.  He is decisive.  He is educated.  He is wise.  He is confident, and a whole host of other positive assumptions.  Regardless of his race, many would surmise he's a guy worth engaging.  Now take a young white man from a rural county in a rural state in the deep south.  Throw in a southern twang as part of his dialect, a few mispronounced and misused words, and an inability to clearly communicate how he's going to start a trucking business, and we immediately assume he's uneducated, lacks intelligence, and is merely sucking up oxygen someone else could be using.  More than likely, he wouldn't get much of our time.  Is that racist?
     The way I see it, acknowledging that someone's articulate has less to do with insulting someone's race than it does insulting someone's intelligence.  We automatically assume that a well-spoken person is educated, smart, and worth our time.  We're more likely to listen to them than we are to someone who is rambling, using slang, and limited in their vocabulary.  Without addressing the reality that people who are articulate can present themselves quite well to others but can be so full of bull that they stink.  Or people who are simplistic in their communications, who don't use a lot of big ol' fancy words, whose style is not to be pedantic and haughty can be successful leaders.  Those truths aside, think about how you view people who are well-spoken and good communicators.  Then think of those whom you've encountered that weren't.  What assumptions did you make?  And how valid were your assumptions?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Courage to Speak Up

     "Snitches get stitches."  Ever hear that term?  Apparently this is the threat in some neighborhoods where people who witness violent crimes are reminded that if they say anything about what they saw, they face retaliation.  Maybe even death. 
     Intimidation is a tactic used also in the workplace to prevent workers from speaking up when they see things going on that are unethical or even illegal.  The situation is especially difficult when the offending person is a leader in the organization.  Take the former superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, Beverly Hall, for example.  She and 34 other educators in the school system were indicted for a vast cheating scandal that rocked the community and grabbed national headlines.  The cheating is believed to date as far back as 2001.  Imagine the damage to the thousands of students who have gone through the system over the past dozen years and were inadvertently caught in this web of lies and deceit.  For those who worked hard to do well and did, and those who didn't but got the high marks anyway, all of the students lost.  Why didn't someone speak up sooner? 
      In interviews, some of the educators that were caught up in the scandal said that they cheated for several reasons:  "out of pride, to earn bonuses, to enhance their careers or to keep their jobs."  In every instance, the reason no one spoke up sooner was because they thought they'd lose something.  They feared that they'd have to give up something that was valuable to them.  It seems the repercussions to others were not as great as their personal repercussions had they spoken up.  So the unethical and illegal behavior was permitted to happen for years.  Fear and loss seem to be the major reasons most people will look the other way when they see or suspect criminal behavior.  The bookkeeper who is doctoring the books to present a better picture of the company, the treasurer who is skimming money from the coffers, the boss who is sexually harassing an employee, the coworker who is drinking or doing drugs on the job, the salesperson who is gouging the customer--they are all examples of what happens when unethical and illegal behavior is ignored.
     Where do we get the courage to speak up?  How do we overcome the fear of personal pain and loss to support justice?  Let me know what you think.