Saturday, August 18, 2018

Swimming in the Ocean

Not too long ago I had the thrill of swimming in the Pacific Ocean. It is something I have wanted to do for years now so when the opportunity finally arose, I eagerly took advantage of it. Mind you, I only splashed around for a short period of time. Still, it was fun and felt good to cross one more item off my personal bucket list. I won't go into much detail as there is not much more to share other than this: swimming in the ocean is a challenge, one much more difficult than being in a swimming pool. In the ocean, one has to contend with strong currents, deep waters, the fact the water is salty, and living creatures that may not always be friendly. In a swimming pool, other than perhaps other people, the resistance is minimal.

Putting aside opportunity, my theory is people are more attracted to swimming pools because they are far easier than oceans. Pools are known and oceans are not. In this sense, such a construct does relate to communication. People seem to much prefer communicating with those with whom they agree than those they do not. Communicating with those on the "same page" is so much easier and, let's be honest, often more enjoyable, then trying to connect with one who does not see things the way we do.  Having to defend our perspective and put together some sort of cogent argument is not nearly as easy as having talk off the cuff and have what we say met with nods and reinforcement.

Perhaps one lesson here is that it is human nature to choose an easier path. Not for a moment will I deny that is not the case with me in many ways. Having said that, however, such a reality is unfortunate. All of us would better serve ourselves and others if we attempted to communicate "in the ocean" rather than in "swimming pools." The harder we work at interacting effectively with others the greater are the chances of our establishing lasting harmony. As a result, all of us need to do far more ocean swimming than we do.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Panama Hats

How many people can say they have actually and held a Panama hat being sold for $7,000? Whatever the answer to that is, my name can be added to the list. At a Panama hat shop located inside the famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu, this treasure is waiting for some lover of hats to claim it for their own. There are, of course, other, similar Montecristi hats - all fine - in this shop but none quite like it. You may wonder, what makes this particular hat so much more special than its lesser-priced counterparts? The answer is founding in the weaving; specifically in the tightness and consistency of the weave.

I am definitely no expert on how Panama hats are made, but I do know enough to know they are made with a great deal of care. The process followed, according to the shop manager, involves hand-weaving by what he called "master artisans." Very impressive indeed. What I found most impressive is the attention to detail given in the construction of these hats. The result is, as best I can tell, are products of the highest quality regardless of whether they sell for $50 or $7,000. How bad of a pun would it be for me say, "hats off" to the folks at Montecristi and the work they do on behalf. Of their product?

Montecristi is successful because of their detailed effort. This is not unlike effective communication plans. To be as successful as possible requires much attention to detail. For instance, communicators must focus on their message in terms of its tone and presentation. At the same time, equal attention must be given to ways in which intended receivers of the message prefer receiving new information. Among communicators, it is not uncommon for more attention to be given to the best ways to send a message rather than how it might best be received. Such a shortage of detail should not be tolerated, particularly as this relates to how well people connect.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Book Signing

One of the great things about a new experience is that it can be quite positive. I would had one this week. It was my first book signing. Earlier this summer my first children's book, "A Hilltop in Jymbob." As part of an effort to promote it, a book signing was arranged at a small but cozy venue in Brooklyn called Pinkyzplace. Going there, I was not sure what to expect, particularly since it was being held on a sunny, week-day afternoon. Would any one even be there? As it turned out, two kids, one accompanied by his grandparents and the other by her mother, were on-hand. Granted, not the biggest of turn-outs. Nevertheless, I was happy to have any one there.

The actual reading went well enough. The little girl in attendance was very attentive. The little boy, on the other hand, seemed more fascinated by a transformer-type truck than he did my book. (But in fairness to me, the truck was pretty cool.) At the conclusion of the reading, the girl's Mom was nice enough to purchase a copy of my book. That aside, what my main take-away from this experience? It is this: If a person is going to try and sell a something, such as a product or an idea, it is not enough to sell the actual item. Their first priority must be to, in a sense, sell themselves. Potential buyers or supporters are not going to support what is being sold unless they first believe in the seller.

This is what makes the act of communication so personal. Each time we reach out to another, we are putting ourselves on the line. "Believe in me." "Take a chance on me." These are the underlying and not-so-subtle messages of our pitch. Those on the receiving are far more likely to hitch their wagon to another person than they are a concept or some sort of thing. This is why, at my book reading, I tried hard to make those folks who attended feel welcomed and appreciated for taking the time to be with me. As good as whatever it is any of us might be promoting, the reality is rarely does it sell itself. Behind it must be a personable person.


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Complexity In Motion

Let's return to basics for a few moments. We are all creatures that communicate. We do it all the time in all ways at our disposal. In fact, at times we even communicate messages that we do not intend to disclose. Body language or facial expressions, for example, are big giveaways. On top of that, we are so sophisticated when it comes to communicating that we even have the ability to put forth false or misleading designed to mask how we might really feel about something. And then there is our unmatched ability to communicate exactly how we feel or believe about something. Given all that, there are simply no better communicators on the planet than human beings. High five to us!

Given this reality that we are so darn good at communicating, however, the question remains: how come there is so much conflict, misunderstanding, intolerance and ignorance in the world? Humans are indeed "masters of the university," to borrow Thomas Wolfe's great descriptive. Despite that, we sure could and should be better at it than we are. I confess that the cynical part of me believes that the many times we fall short from communicating effectively is often-times purposeful. We deliberately mislead. We deliberately sabotage interactions. We deliberately take steps to squash voices other than our own.

Do we do this all the time? No. Do all of us do it? Fortunately, no. Yet it cannot be denied that this sort of negativity occurs on a very regular basis. Let's face it: as adept as we are at communicating, we are also quite good at communicating poorly and ineffectively. So, what's the deal with our split personalities when it comes to communicating? How come one moment we can be spot-on when it comes to helping facilitate an effective and respectful communication exchange and then turn around the next and - on purpose - in a sense turn lemonade back into a lemon? Obviously, the answer revolves our own psychological profiles and circumstances in which we find ourselves each day. No wonder the act of communicating remains very complex.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Achieving Communication Essence

In Herman Hesse's famous book, "Siddhartha," the title character is described as having the singular goal of becoming empty; specifically, to empty himself of such things as desire, dreams, joy and sorrow in order that he be open to "miracles in unselfed thinking." Why, you might wonder, would any one want to do that? Siddhartha would respond by saying to attain such a state would allow him to achieve his innermost essence. To that, I say, "good luck." Particularly in a world today filled with far too much anger, intolerance and willful ignorance, experiencing most any level of inner peace sounds awfully good.

To play-off  Hesse and his character, when it comes to communication, it seems there are two primary goals that all of us share: to empty ourselves and to fill ourselves. By "empty," I refer to our desire to be heard, share our thoughts and knowledge. By "fill," I mean our desire to learn, collect information and interact with others. For one to achieve what Hesse might refer to as a kind of  communication essence, it seems they would need to strike a equal and sustained balance of maintaining both goals at the same time. Emptying one's self while not filling themselves equally, for instance, would represent an imbalance of communication.

My sense of the current communication climate within the United States is that a great imbalance exists. There is far too much emptying and not nearly enough filling. Many folks seem to want to be heard but are not nearly are as interested in hearing or listening. In other words, there is far too much talking at and not nearly enough talking with. With such an imbalance, it is not a surprise that there is as much tension, miscommunication, anger, and outright deceit as there is throughout our nation's landscape. The answer is for all of us to do more about striking a better balance; achieving greater communication essence. Doing so won't eliminate disagreement, but it sure will take much of the air out of the tension that we are witnessing and experiencing.  

Sunday, July 29, 2018

"The Word"

In the beginning, it was once written, is "the word." I believe that observation to be spot-on. After all, it is the word that describes our actions, intentions and reasons for doing whatever it is we are going to do. I am going out to dinner. I am going to work. I am going for a drive. Those statements and many like them words - though simple and direct - represent a pledge that sets forth our course of action that ultimately provides an outline by which we will be assessed as a person. Actions complement the word and, in part, define our level of competence. But it is "the word" around which all is measured. It is "the word" that establishes the clarity of our actions; "the word" that sheds light onto our souls.

In the profession of communication, those who make best use of "the word" are often viewed as being among the most effective in their field. Their ability to put words together in a certain way that provide all on the receiving end with clear understanding of meaning is what places them among the best at what they do. This, I should note, is not always easy. After all, the universe of words in which one has to work is limited much as the universe of musical notes in which composers write their songs is also limited.   

In making use of "the word," all of us begin from the same starting point. Each time we speak or write, we begin with access to the same amount of words as any one else, regardless of their level of experience, maturity, education or knowledge. It is not unlike a race where all the runners share the same starting line. At the same time, it is "the word" that defines and is used to describe how well we ran that race. Our actions are assessed and placed into context via "the word." This, then, puts "the word" at both the beginning and ending of our life-long journey. Words, then, are in many ways our most intimate companion.         

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Forging Our Own Path

There is a line put forward by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado that, I believe, has an interesting connection with the act of communication. The line is: "Traveler, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk." The sentiment of this line has been echoed by others, of course. "March to the beat of your own drummer;" "Do your own thing;" and "Everybody to his own bag;" to name but a few. The point is for any of us to be our own person - however we define that - then the path we chart for ourselves must, ultimately, be the result of our own choices, judgment, etc. Input from others is nice, but at the end of the day, it is us who decide which door to open as we move forward. 

Such a point in our lives also applies to how we interact with others and how we communicate our own perspectives, feelings, etc. This is our decision to make. Yes, during our lives we may have a range of advisors, including parents, well-meaning friends, teachers, priests and even public relations consultants. But as we advance toward and inevitably enter into maturity, the communication path we select comes down to our assessment of the advice of others, information we have attained, and the past experiences of ourselves and others. We take that input and, as Machado wrote so well, use it to forge our own path.

Each day we interact with the rest of the world, we are faced with unlimited challenges in terms of how most effectively to interact with, say, a police officer, demanding boss, spouse, child, angry neighbor, happy co-worker, or stranger in line in the check-out line of the local grocery store. These and so many other encounters in which we participate represent mini-paths that we must forge all by ourselves. A neighbor just snapped at me for not cutting my lawn as often as they may like. How should I respond? With equal anger? Patience? With no response? All this adds up to forging our own paths as communicators. It remains on ongoing challenge.