Saturday, May 30, 2020

"Okay"

The other day I read that the most universally-understood expression in the world is "Okay." Simple. Straightforward. To the point. If true, it makes sense. Looking back at my international travels - not a lot but enough to include parts of Asia, Europe and Australia/New Zealand - I am hard-pressed to identify any other phrase or expression to offer up as being even close to being more understood by folks who may not speak English or share a common language. For that matter, off-hand I can think of no better expression that I would rather see holding such a distinct position.

"Okay" connotes understanding, acceptance, and a spirit of cooperation and suggests a positive state of well being that is both reassuring and comforting. For nearly a year while living in South Korea, I took drum lessons from a teacher who spoke very little English. (I spoke virtually no Korean.) Despite that, the instructor was able to raise my level of proficiency, in no small way, by giving me heartfelt smiles and an "okay" whenever I managed to play something correctly. The smile and "okay" never failed to make me feel good and give me a boost in confidence. At the same time, whenever the teacher tried to explain something to me, an "okay" from me seemed to give her a boost as well.

No question the times in which much of the planet exists these days are troubled. The coronavirus pandemic alone seems to have knocked a number of nations off-balance with their rising death tolls and infection rates. On top of that, here in the United States, racially-driven riots are taking place in multiple cities while unemployment are at record-highs. The result is people are not in a good place. All of us could use a lot more "okays"' in our days than we have either been expressing or receiving. The challenge is what can be done to make that happen. What can each of us be doing to be able to exchange a heartfelt "okay" with others? This is as great of a behavioral and communication challenge as we have faced in many generations.       

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Words and Deeds

The effectiveness of any leader revolves around not just what they say but what they do. Both must be in-sync and, as a result, are of equal importance. If not, then the leader's effectiveness is undermined by the leader him or herself. On the surface, such an observation might seem obvious. After all, the assumption is that those under the "big boss" listen to what comes down from on-top. They also pay very close attention to the leader's actions. It never ceases to amaze at how often leaders fail to fully appreciate this.

A number of years ago I was part of a sizeable division that comprised multiple units. Each unit had its own supervisor. We had just moved into a new building. The chief executive officer of the entire organization handed down a dictum that no one was allowed to smoke inside the building. Each supervisor echoed the policy to their staffs. The very next day, however, one of the supervisors was found smoking at her desk. When reminded of the new policy, her reply was that as supervisor, what she was doing was all right. Her brazen action did not set well with the staff as it caused much rumbling among them and ultimately became one of the reason why she was eventually terminated. By refusing to adhere to the no-smoking policy, she lost much of whatever respect she had earned from her staff.

The most effective communicators are those who do the best job of ensuring their words and deeds are in-sync. When that is not the case, then the leader's credibility is compromised. Credibility compromised is credibility lost. People generally do not respect those who say one thing but do another. Matching words and deeds is one of the key challenges that any leader faces every day of their time as boss. When they fail to do this, then whatever effectiveness they may have as communicators is greatly undermined.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Humility

How we communicate and, in doing so, present ourselves to others is a matter of personal preference. Assuming we share the same goal of making a positive connection and being heard, then the question revolves around choosing how best to do it and carrying out strategies with which we feel most comfortable. It is the choices we make that provide others with a window into the kind of person we are. For instance, is our outreach loud, overbearing and boastful? Or is it subtle, fact-driven and inviting? My contention is the answer to those serves as a direct link to those characteristics that define us as to who we are.

For myself, I have always tried to adapt a humble approach. I see my general my outreach as being more inclusive than confrontational. Even in situations such as job interviews or teaching students in a classroom setting, my tendency has been to keep the spotlight on me as less as possible. (At this point, I will acknowledge that this is only my perspective and that others, including those with whom I have interviewed or taught, may disagree.) People, myself included, tend to be more receptive to what is being communicated to them if they feel less threatened or under attack. When it comes to communicating with others, I have tried to be sensitive to this.

Arguably, the public figure who best personified humility when communicating with others was President Lincoln. Our sixteenth president came from humble beginnings. The influence of that background never seemed to leave him in his efforts to sway public opinion, deal with political enemies, and keep a nation together. Perhaps it was that that made so many of public pronouncements as powerful and inspiring as they proved to be. This is one more case where many of us can learn from Lincoln. Also, humility is a way to keep us as grounded as we need to be when others seek to communicate with us.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Golf

I do not play golf, unless you count miniature golf . If you do then, yes, I am a golfer. Otherwise, even though I have played a few times in my life, to label me a golfer would be like saying I am a rodeo star because I sat on a mechanical bull once at some bar. My point here is that I am not a golfer. In fact, I would strongly suggest if you ever see me with a driver in my hand, then do all you can to protect the windows in your home or cars. "Nuff said. I share this tidbit about myself to say that even though I do not play this popular sport, I do believe there is much to learn from it when it comes to communication.

Golf is a game of deliberation. One does not rush into things when on the links. Each shot, regardless of whether it is a drive, putt or chip shot, is made only after much thought and contemplation. In fact, the better the golfer the greater amount of time the player spends on lining up their shot before actually taking it. As a result, their shots are purposeful and carefully planned. Granted, the actual shot may not turn out all that well, but nevertheless they are not carried out with anything even close to a "knee-jerk" or "shoot-from-the-hip" reaction. For better or worse, there is reasoned logic behind each stroke.

In interactions with others, it is not unusual for folks to spout out the first thought that comes to mind without giving all that much thought as to its accuracy, logic, or how it will be received by the person on the receiving end. Often, all of us say what we say either because it feels good or we believe it is what the other person wants to hear. Is it any wonder, then, that so much of our conversations consist of our explaining what we meant or rephrasing our original comments? Perhaps we should try and be more life serious or professional golfers and actually think before we speak. It might improve our ability to make connections that last and that are positive.    

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Ghosts

I do not believe in ghosts. Some people do, but not me. I do, however, believe in things that go "bump in the night" simply because there is a logical explanation for that may range from the pet cat jumping up on the furniture or something that you thought was put away securely turns out not to be and ends up tipping over. Despite that, if pressed, I will concede that there is a particular kind of ghost that does exist and is not shy about making its presence felt regardless of the circumstance or time of day. These are ghosts that dwell in the world of communication, particularly when it involves the interaction of two people.

Specifically, I am referring to those moments when one person misinterprets another person's message. In these cases, the misinterpretation is so far off the mark that the initially sender of the message is taken aback at the response they receive simply because it is unexpected and far afield of what they said. Here is an example: Person One: "I can't believe the boss is making us work overtime." Person Two: "Of course the boss can make us work overtime. They have the authority." The first person was actually saying they do not understand the reason behind the boss' decision. The ghost in this exchange is found in how much Person Two has not understood the meaning of what Person One said.

Traditional ghosts illicit fear and nervousness. Communication ghosts illicit frustration and friction. They are the product of one person not saying things as clearly as they might and another person not making the effort to truly understand what is being said to them. The result is an exchange that is off-base from the get-go. Unlike Casper, they are not friendly ghosts. As beings that communication non-stop, we all must be sensitive to the role we play in creating these unwanted creatures that not only go "bump," but can do lasting harm.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Simple and Complex

What could be more easy than communication? Think about it. You tell someone that you feel, say, "good." And now they know. You ask them how they are and they respond. You go to a marketplace and order radishes. The next thing you know you are back i the car with your desired item. Easy peasy. Given that. Why have so many people been making such a big deal over such a seemingly simple act for so long? Why have multiple conferences literally all over the world? Why write books? Why have classes or even scholarly majors on this topic at colleges and universities? On the surface, it does not make sense.

As a communication practitioner and scholar for many years, I will concede that in many ways, the act of communicating is simple. Straightforward even. In my own daily life, I try to keep it as uncomplicated as possible in my daily exchanges and encounters with friends, family members and strangers. Thinking back on them, I cannot help but agree that for the most part my interactions go well. Looking forward, I see it is much the same with most everyone else. Am I far wrong in my unscientific observation that pretty much all of us communicate successfully every day of our lives? This, then, takes me back to my original question about communication being easy.

No question this is true. At the same time - and this is where it gets tricky - communication is also complex. How, one might ask, are both true? It is one thing to impart a thought to another and even to receive a thought from that other. But it is quite another to build on such a basic exchange to the point where an ongoing dialog.is established. And then there is the matter that people - all of us - are constantly adjusting and changing our inner thoughts and feelings. This affects how and what we communicate to others. And that forces those of us on the receiving end to be flexible in how we process that input and how we respond. And so it goes. Bottom line: communication is both simple and complex.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day

As I write this, today is Mother's Day. Generally, at least in the U.S, it is a day when families collect around their "Moms" and celebrate them for being who and what they are and the invaluable contribution they make to the stabilization and well being of the family. This often means taking the mothers out to brunch or dinner at a local restaurant. But given the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus right now, many if not virtually all restaurants are closed. That means the tradition of treating Mom to a meal she won't have to cook and then clean-up afterward will no doubt not be honored this year.

This means Dads and the "kids" are going to have to come up with some other way to give a shout-out to this indispensable member of their unit. Such a circumstance presents a challenge.as it means new strategies will need to be devised that communicate to Mom how much she is loved and appreciated. This is a great example of the never-ending challenge of communicating effectively. All of us live in what Darwin referred to an "ever-changing environment." To borrow the old cliché, "nothing lasts forever." We either adjust or fall by the wayside. That may seem harsh, but it does not diminish from the truth of such a reality.

How we communicate with others, particularly those that are of importance to us, is not a stationary act. By that I mean it demands that we must be flexible in our reaching-out to others. Growing up, for instance, we live with our Moms, so connecting with them is easy. But when we ourselves become adults and go out on our own, reaching out is less easy. At that point, we either have to telephone or text our Moms and perhaps even make travel plans to interact with them in-person. If we are unable or unwilling to make such adjustments, then how well we communicate with them will be compromised or, worse, lost.