When I found out I was pregnant with my first son, I immediately read the What to Expect When Expecting book cover to cover. I realistically expected the morning sickness. I realistically expected to be tired. I realistically expected to watch my body completely change as I grew a human. But I also faced a few unrealistic expectations. First, I took to heart the “eating for two” and ate a lot - powdered sugar donuts, Mexican food, pizza, and hamburgers were my favorites and eating totally helped with my morning-afternoon-evening sickness. But I didn’t quite expect to gain 65 pounds. Yes - you read right - 65 pounds. Although I started the pregnancy a little under my recommended weight, I’m pretty sure that a 65 pound gain is never a good idea. Now we get to my second (and way “bigger”) unrealistic expectation. As I prepared to go to the hospital, I packed a really cute coming-home outfit for the baby, a newborn-sized baby blue romper, and for me, a floral t-shirt dress, size medium. After two and a half days of labor, a C-section, an almost 10 pound baby boy, and a few extra days in the hospital, we excitedly got ready to go home. But we quickly discovered that the newborn romper barely covered Austin’s fat thigh (remember he weighed almost 10 pounds), and that floral medium dress -- let’s just say that I looked about 9 months pregnant even after the delivery as I looked about 13 months pregnant when I arrived at the hospital. Luckily, Austin fit into another outfit we received as a gift, but I had to go home in my nightgown. And that cute dress - well, my mom ended up wearing it home after spending a night at the hospital.Thus began my journey into parenthood and many, many more unrealistic expectations!
As I continue to write about communication expectations, today’s blog is about how defining your expectation before the communication experience can help create a more successful communication exchange. There are three main communication purposes: to inform, to discuss, and to connect (to persuade uses all three put together!). Just like a recipe might call for a specific type of oil or a song’s beat might invite a specific type of dance, your communication purpose is best met using specific communication methods.
When you need to inform - email can be used to share all kinds of information. Remember to concisely present an overview in the email itself (we ALWAYS want the audience to read your emails), and then offer attachments or links to more detailed information.
When you need to discuss - a phone call or face-to-face meeting works best. A discussion is an active process involving a back and forth exchange. During a verbal interaction, you can ask questions, seek clarification, add information, and most importantly, read verbal and non-verbal cues to better understand the communication situation.
When you need to connect - use all communication methods. Studies show that stronger personal connections create happier and more productive workplaces. Send that encouraging text message. Express your appreciation in a handwritten note. Offer your insights in an email. Address a concern with a phone call or meet face-to-face.
Although these suggestions really work (just check out the research), remember my advice from last week’s blog - work to use the communication method that best meets the communication expectations of your intended audience. So if your co-worker never reads emails or another never answers phone calls, you may need to share information in a way different from the above suggestions. etc Strategies believes that defining your communication purpose can help you use the best communication method and produce more successful and effective communication experiences.
P. S. - Even though my coming-home-from-the-hospital expectations were totally unrealistic, another more realistic expectation was totally crushed in a good way - that almost 10 pound baby came home from the hospital sleeping through the night! And I did eventually fit into a small (not even a medium) dress but that realistically took about 8 years to happen!!
Baby blue underlay … Swiss dotted lace … tuxedo ruffles … spaghetti straps … satin bow … ball gown skirt … and tiny buttons going down the front … I loved (and still love) that dress. As you can see from the very old photograph, I added the pearls and a lovely white rose (with baby blue ribbon and baby’s breath) corsage. Perfection - at least in my eyes! Every year, the Sundowners (my high school dance drill team) held a Presentation, a formal dinner/dance event to “present” the new officers and give out awards - think mini-prom with formal gowns, tuxedos, flowers, and even little programs at the tables (I still have ALL of mine of course). Usually I wore an old bridesmaid dress (and yes, I did wear a few again!), but for this year, my mom and dad were buying me a new dress. My “say yes to this dress” story began with visits to formal dress shops (and trust me, Houston is filled with these stores). After a long day of shopping, I found the dress. Just like the television show, I just knew it was the one! And just like the television show, the dress was WAY over my budget! But my mom loved the dress almost as much as I did, so she bought the dress on a payment plan - $80 down with monthly payments. I honestly don’t remember the exact cost of the dress (I think about $300), but I do remember the $80. Why? Because when we returned home with the dress in hand (no alterations needed - another sign that this dress was meant to be mine!), my dad asked how much we spent on the dress. My mom honestly answered, “We spent $80 today.” Note the word “today” and my mom’s subtle way of not sharing ALL of the information about the cost of the dress. And, realize that to this day, my dad still thinks that the dress cost $80. You see, my dad has never realistically understood how much women’s clothes and shoes and purses cost. He barely understood how much men’s clothes cost with the exception of a good suit every few years. My dad did not go shopping, so my mom purchased his clothes for him and returned things that didn’t fit. The process totally worked for my dad but led to his lack of knowledge about the cost of clothes. And that’s how we “got away with” my blue dress.
So is today’s communication lesson about “getting away with” stuff or tricking others? Of course not! This blog is about realistic expectations with communication. In our ever-advancing-technology-based world, things change very quickly, and many times the “rules” are never outlined or shared causing misunderstandings and miscommunication. Many times, these different expectations occur generationally. Emailing became popular in the late 1990s followed closely by texting, so my generation (remember I’m old!) used phones (landlines not cellphones) and snail mail to communicate. We left messages on answering machines, and if necessary, faxed a document. See how things have changed? For the most part, I believe that we all (old and young) have embraced the changes - even my 82 year old mom emails and sends text messages (although she doesn’t understand how to backspace to make corrections so she just retypes the word again) - but we don’t all have the same expectations. At a recent communication training, one of the participants (a young up and coming salesman) shared concerns about text messaging and the delay or even lack of responses. For this young man, texting is the most effective and efficient communication method, but in this business setting, his communication expectations differed from those of his intended audience. How can we solve this issue? Easy, peasy! Respect all communication expectations by using a variety of communication methods. Pick up the phone and make that call. Craft that killer email and press send. Leave a voice message and don’t rely on someone seeing your number to return a call. And for goodness sake, check your voice messages often. Send a note through the office intermail or snail mail. Walk down the hall or make a trip to communicate face-to-face. And the best advice -- use a variety of these methods to discover what works best for each person and each situation. etc Strategies believes that using a variety of communication methods will meet a variety of communication expectations and produce more effective, productive, and efficient communication experiences with less misunderstandings. But one final note -- if you meet my dad, please don’t share my secret. He still thinks that dress cost $80!
When I turned 21 years old, a gift from my Grandma B arrived -- my first gray hairs! I have inherited my grandmother’s hair, and I look forward to having her beautiful white, thick hair one day FAR in the future, but the gray hair coming in right now (and back then) is dull, dry, and a very dreary color. So, until then, I color my hair to cover the gray. I started small -- my husband would pull my hair through the cap and highlight strands of hair to make the gray blend in. Mind you, I worked to make sure that we did NOT have a recent disagreement and that I treated him nicely before our hair coloring experiences because depending on his mood, he could totally take out any frustrations with me as he pulled my hair “gently” through those tiny holes in the cap. As the years went by and more gray appeared, I moved to the professionals and now work with wonderful hair stylists to color my hair. Some years we highlight or lowlight or both. Other years we go for full color coverage. Some hair visits take one hour; others take 3 hours. No matter the process or the length of visit, I always look super great during the process -- NOT! But the effort is worth the results - my gray hair is covered, and my natural dull brown hair color is now a lighter more vibrant shade, sometimes with golden highlights. And thanks to good vitamins and Grandma B’s hair genes, my hair still grows and grows and grows, so every 3 weeks, I head back to the salon. Every. Three. Weeks. If I try to go longer or miss an appointment, my gray roots give it away. So I schedule that hair appointment every - three - weeks. I work around my schedule and my hair stylist’s schedule; I work around holidays; I work around anything that might keep me from coloring my hair.
Well, guess what? I believe that we should schedule communication “clean ups” just like I schedule my hair appointments. Just like coloring my hair every three weeks keeps my unsightly gray roots from showing, you may need to schedule some time to work on communication issues that could become unsightly (literally and figuratively) as well. So I encourage you to schedule some time to address the following communication issues.
Emails - I know, I know -- another email-fixing idea may seem like I am repeating myself (see last week’s blog), but today I am encouraging you to schedule time to clean up your emails. My toes hurt right now as this advice stomps on them, and although at times I am forced to clean up my emails because of storage limits, I am so much more organized when I schedule time each week to review and organize my emails. Many times after I review a saved email, I either complete the task, respond in some way, or move the email to a designated folder for future reference. Other times, I find that the email can be deleted as the issue is being addressed face-to-face or is no longer my responsibility. And to be honest, sometimes I run across an email that I can’t really remember why I saved it in the first place. Scheduling time each week or day or month to organize your emails can save you time and effort and storage space.
Notes - Again, my toes are really hurting right now! I have legal pads, spiral notebooks, and even sticky notepads with lots and lots of notes from phone calls, meetings, and research. I wish that I organized those notes immediately following the experience, but most times I just flip to the next clean page for the next set of notes. So one of my legal notepads contains notes from a business call with my partner Karen followed by research notes about employee productivity statistics followed by my to-do list of emails -- all on the same notepad. Trying to later locate information can be time-consuming as I look through notepad after notepad to find the needed details. As of January (one of my New Year’s resolutions), I now rip out the page with notes and use an organizational strategy for easy access in the future. Many times, I create a file for the notes; other times I add the information to my calendar or a document; sometimes I compile notes from multiple pages to later share with others. And just like my emails, I schedule time each week to organize my notes. I again save time and effort (it can take a LONG time to go through all of my notepads), but more importantly, by organizing my notes, I avoid missing important details and tasks.
My next hair appointment is this Thursday, and my gray roots are just beginning to let me (and anyone else who looks closely) that coloring time is near. My next scheduled email and notes clean-up is this Friday (I love going into the weekend organized). etc Strategies believes that scheduling time to organize your emails and notes will help you become more organized, more productive, and less stressed. So go ahead -- schedule these communication clean-up tasks. And don’t forget your hair appointment too!