Monday, July 30, 2012

Communication - 5 Questions and 1 Key Concept

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The most critical topic I can discuss with any mentee is communication. It touches nearly every other topic we could possibly cover. Whether a mentee is wondering how to deal with a difficult person, ask for a raise or promotion, increase their sphere of influence, improve a relationship or connect with others it's all about communication. In the end one's mastery of this skill will likely determine the difference between success or failure. Billions of humans can talk but a far fewer number can communicate and do so effectively.

This topic usually arises in my conversations in the form of a complaint or a problem the protégé brings to my attention. That problem sounds something like "he/she doesn't understand me" or "no one listens to me". At that point I share with them this simple yet somehow often overlooked critical concept: Successful communication is the burden of the speaker and not the audience. To put it even more bluntly (and when I am blunt I am so purposefully): if "they" don't understand what you're saying it's likely your fault.

The ultimate goal of any communicator is to deliver a message and have it received and understood. To do that one must "package" this message from the point of view of the audience. The "audience" I'm talking about could be anything from an auditorium full of people or just one other person (like your boss or co-worker).

Some questions to ask yourself to better construct your message "packaging" include:
  1. Will the audience be receptive or hostile to my message?
  2. What are the fears/concerns of the audience to my message and what can I do to address those fears?
  3. Does the audience have a vested interested in listening to my message or are they here because they have to be?
  4. Does the audience need additional tools (for example, visuals, data, other people to corroborate) to receive and understand my message?
  5. Are there better times than others for the audience to hear this message? For example you may not want to talk to someone about a really big initiative the day before they go on vacation.
This simple analogy should bring home the point: If you compose a letter or an email and don't address it correctly your intended recipient doesn't receive it. Your message inside may have been extremely important and perfectly composed but if it's not addressed or packaged correctly it won't get delivered. Period.

"If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view-as well as your own."
- Henry Ford

The secret to communication is to follow Henry Ford's advice and design your message delivery accordingly. When communicating you need to spend just as much time creating your envelope/"packaging" as you do composing your message.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Speed Kills

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There's a well known saying (at least in the U.S.) with respect to safe driving behavior. It states simply: "Speed kills". That intuitive statement suggests that the faster you drive the greater the chance of getting into an accident that will kill you. When driving at high speeds you have less time to react to driving conditions that can cause an accident for example a car cutting you off or some object on the road you need to avoid.

I believe this phrase applies in different contexts too. I use this phrase occasionally when having to plan out an extremely accelerated project delivery. The faster a team is forced to go the less likely it will be successful as it has less time to react to unexpected events whether it be change in scope, technology challenges or personnel issues such as someone being out sick. As any experienced project manager will tell you something will always pop up and attempt to "cut you off".

I also use the phrase "speed kills" when speaking with a mentee about patience and perseverance. Invariably I have many, many discussions with protégés about career-building and have to help several deal with the fact that they are not at the stage they expected to be at the time we're having our conversation. I don't view careers as races or even marathons. Instead I see a career as something you craft over time in a strategic, patient and careful way. Think of an artist creating a masterpiece.There are also several factors affecting one's career trajectory that are not in our control not the least of which is the economy. The key to dealing with those types of factors is acceptance, patience and continued perseverance of factors we do control. An occasional re-examination of career goals and an extra helping of creative thinking about how to achieve those goals are useful too.

This article is not to say that ambition is all bad or that shortened projects are not achievable. But in building a career we all know of stories where too much speed/ambition led to poor choices and undesirable results.

I'll leave you with an Italian saying my multi-lingual mother would repeat to me growing up as I longed to grow up faster:

"Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano." which translates to "Those who go softly (slowly / patiently), go sanely and go far".

Drive safely!