Take responsibility

**Note: this post is a follow-up to Talk smarter, not louder.**

Lest anyone think, based on yesterday’s post, that only the seeker of information carries the burden of finding a common language, I don’t believe that. The listener/answerer bears responsibility, too. The responsibility of understanding. The responsibility of providing relevant, useful information. The responsiblity of giving the answer in a language the asker will understand.

Remember this, however: you can only control your own actions. So, whether you’re the asker or the answerer, it is your job to understand and make yourself understood. Yes, the listener/answerer bears responsibility, but unless the listener/answer is YOU, you can’t do anything about it. If you focus on what the other person should be doing, you’ll likely end up in a heated round of finger-pointing.

If you’re doing the asking, make sure you get the information you’re seeking. Keep translating until you do; it’ll make things easier for you in the long run.

If you’re doing the answering, make sure you’ve given the right information. Giving the quick answer (see yesterday’s DVD example) may be the easy way today, but it could cost you a relationship (customer, friend, etc.) in the long run.

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Talk smarter, not louder

I see this every day. Someone will ask a question, and someone else will answer that question. Although she gets an answer, the asker walks away frustrated, because the question she asked wasn’t really the right one. Easy enough to fix, right? Not really, especially when the asker has no idea what went wrong. She might even ask again, more emphatically this time, only to receive the same result. What happened?

Think about it this way. If you’re speaking English to someone who speaks, say, Swahili, that person probably won’t understand what you just said. So you talk louder. I hate to tell you this, but it won’t help. More volume will never translate your English words into Swahili. To make yourself understood, you have to find common words, use gestures, draw pictures, provide context. You’ll probably also have to simplify your communication and be as direct as possible.You have to build a bridge to the other person’s understanding.

It works the same way even when both people supposedly share a common language. I submit to you that just because you and I both converse in English, my marketing-speak and your (for example) computer programming-speak may as well be different languages.

All right, this is getting longer and more complicated than I had intended. To really get the information you need, you have to boil it down to this:

  1. Don’t make assumptions that the other person knows what you’re really after.
  2. Figure out what you REALLY need to know. Ask THAT.
  3. Sometimes, this may actually involve a series of questions for clarification.
  4. If giving some background will help the other person understand what you’re after, do it–but don’t overdo it. (Watch for eyes glazing over. That’s bad.)

Here’s a real-life example in case you’re having trouble making sense of what I’m saying (i.e. if I’m not speaking your language):

I recently needed some electronic media burned onto DVDs. Ideally, I needed the DVDs to work both in computers and in home DVD/TV systems. I also needed the DVD to launch automatically, according to which device was being used. With these stated parameters, I asked if it could be done. The answer? Yes.

Simple, right? Wrong. What I didn’t know until I had the DVDs in hand was that the material would auto launch in  computer format only in certain circumstances, and those circumstances weren’t that prevalent. I got what I asked for, but I still ended up disappointed. I asked a question and got an answer. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask the right question.* I assumed the person I asked would intuitively grasp what I needed and why. I forgot that he didn’t speak my language, so I didn’t communicate my real need to him. Lesson learned–again.

*Right question(s): Can you make a DVD that will operate in home DVD players and in computers and will auto launch according to the device being used? Will this work every time? If not, how often and under what conditions will this NOT work? …or some such formulation.

Perception is reality

In a time where the world is all a-twitter about social media and the number of opportunities to connect with others is growing exponentially, it is more important than ever to communicate effectively. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking face-to-face, writing an ad, sending an email, posting on someone’s wall, making a video, or tweeting your status. If you really want to connect, you have to hear yourself as your audience hears you. It’s not enough to know your audience; for at least a moment or two, you have to BE your audience. How else will you

  • know what language to speak?
  • recognize the things that matter?
  • be able to make yourself relevant?

A mentor of mine constantly reminds me that perception is reality. It isn’t what you say or mean, it’s what the other person hears that matters. In this case, the thought doesn’t count.

I think he’s right.

Why am I here?

I’m a professional communicator, but aren’t we all? Being able to make your point effectively is essential to successfully doing your job, whatever that is. I just happen to have it in my current title.

I’m a thinker. I like to ruminate, ponder, contemplate. When it comes to turning things over in my head, I have been accused of putting the anal in analyze. Does that qualify me to write a blog? Probably not by itself, but I’d also like to think I am an insightful person who can listen like the audience, draw from experience, and make connections. Since I make my living finding effective ways to communicate with others, I’d like to believe that the collective value of these qualities is enough for someone to pay attention.

If you don’t agree with what I write, you have two choices: tell me why or don’t read. I hope you’ll choose the former so we can all learn.