As I have shared before, my husband wears hearing aids. But these are not the old-fashioned kind… his hearing aids are pretty fancy and can do all sorts of neat things. One feature that I do NOT like is the Bluetooth option. Scott can use his hearing aids to wirelessly listen to his phone. That’s right - he can listen to anything (including his music) from his phone through his hearing aids without anyone around him knowing. I became aware of this neat trick one day in church. Scott seemed to be lost in the sermon, but it was the “children’s” sermon. I leaned over to quietly ask if he was ok, and I could faintly hear talking in his ears. I quickly discovered that he was listening to Michael Berry’s radio show podcast! After some really dirty looks, he turned off his phone. But Scott’s hearing aids continue to cause problems. He can also set the television sound to come through his hearing aids. So I have now learned that when he walks in from work or he’s sitting on the couch or he is tinkering in the garage, I must always ask if he is actually listening to me or his phone BEFORE I begin a conversation or he will ask, “Wait, what?” But Scott is not the only one who doesn’t always listen. When my kids were little, I always wanted to hear about their day, and many times that long and detailed story started with, “I went through the school doors and … “ They would share every (and I mean EVERY) detail of the day. Although I loved hearing their story, some days I just didn’t have the needed focus to really listen, but as all moms do, I developed the skill of being able to appropriately share an “oh” or “ah” or “no” at the right time. Most times I correctly responded based on the kid’s inflection, but every now and then, I missed. And I got caught every time! “Mom, are you listening?” Nope. I really wasn’t listening, but would then try to focus on the conversation at that point. How many times are we not really listening? How many times have we missed out on something or caused unneeded confusion or perhaps even created a huge problem because we didn’t listen? James E. Ryan, Dean of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, recently published a book called, Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions. I highly recommend the book and will probably write other blogs about the things I am learning while reading it. But in a nutshell, the book discusses the “art of asking - and answering - good questions.” Ryan shares that the root of all understanding is “Wait, what?” and “is an effective way of asking for clarification, and clarification is the first step toward truly understanding something—whether it is an idea, an opinion, a belief, or a business proposal.” Look, there are times that we all don’t listen when we should, and although the best communication advice is to always try to focus and listen, it’s just not going to always happen. So instead, just take responsibility for your lack of listening, and ask, “Wait, what?” if you miss something. Think of all the time and effort (and money) saved if people asked for clarification BEFORE an action is taken. etc Strategies believes that successful communication involves successful understanding, and asking for clarification (even if you were listening closely) can help create a more productive communication experience. And here is another tip -- if you have a difficult time focusing and listening, take notes during the discussion or meeting. The physical act of taking notes can help you stay involved in the discussion and listen more carefully. Try to find other strategies to keep you focused on the communication, but if you discover that you are not listening, just ask, “Wait, what?” Scott Hardegree certainly uses that question -- a lot!!
In the last week, I have been involved in two very different problem-solving experiences. I almost felt like I was a character in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Do you remember that series? Back in the 80s and 90s, these “gamebooks” (that is actually what they were called) let the reader become an integral part of the story and along the way, make different choices that would impact the characters and plot. The books offered a variety of plot twists and endings, some happy and some not-so-happy. In my first “story,” I called the IRS to figure out a tax question about etc Strategies. A young man answered the phone stating his name (Josh) and his identification number (which is entirely too long for me to remember). Josh asked how he could help me, and as I began my “story” (and as you can tell from my blogs, I LOVE to tell a story!), Josh listened carefully and asked very specific questions to get a clear understanding of my problem. He did not rush me or try to complete my answers with his own ideas. After very clearly answering my original question, Josh went on to inform me of a few other issues that may come up with a new business and taxes. He even offered a bit of advice about how to handle the issues and encouraged me to write down any helpful information. After about 15 minutes, Josh ended the call by encouraging me to call back with any other questions. Now I don’t know about you, but I have always heard that talking to the IRS was a nightmare. In my story, the opposite occurred. Josh’s patience, engagement in the discussion, attention and focus, and expert knowledge helped that 15 minutes to be productive and informative, and both the IRS and I benefitted from that discussion. I will now turn in the right form saving the IRS and myself time and effort (and most importantly, money). Now in my second “story” things did not run as smoothly. After numerous internet outages at my house, I called Comcast to see if we could figure out the issue. Don’t jump on Comcast yet -- things did work out in the end, but not with the first representative. Instead of listening carefully to my explanation and detailed timeline of the problems, the rep immediately responded that he would take certain steps to fix my problem and put me on hold. But he never really listened to understand, so those steps did not work. He then transferred me to the next level of service. Luckily, this representative listened and asked questions to get the complete picture and helped me figure out what to do. This phone call involved 2 different reps and lasted over 35 minutes, and although my problem was eventually solved, all parties wasted valuable time and effort. In both of these experiences, I feel like the representatives chose how my “story” would go and how it would end. Josh chose to use important communication strategies to completely understand the problem to more effectively help me to solve it. The first Comcast rep chose to not listen, to not ask questions, and to not allow me to share very specific details important to the problem-solving. Just like the characters in the book series, these choices changed my experiences, and I had no real control over my “story.” So today’s communication lesson is this -- others’ choices can make or break a communication experience. But etc Strategies believes that YOU should always choose the best communication strategies. Even if your “story” does not end the way you want it to, know that you did everything you could to create a successful communication experience. Maybe your choices can change the “story” to a happier ending, but if that doesn’t happen, turn the page and move on to the next adventure. There are so many stories out there waiting for you.
Remember the How I Met Your Mother episode about how Barney could never look bad in a photograph? Well … I’m definitely NOT Barney. It all started in childhood. Every school picture, every birthday party shot, every family photo -- when I smile, my eyes squint to almost closing. Or lots of times, my eyes actually close. My high school secured a professional photographer to take our senior pictures. We all made appointments at his intown photography studio, and unlike my Sears and Olan Mills photos, these photos promised to be professional (and were very pricey!). I scheduled a hair appointment to prepare and even wore real make-up (I’m talking foundation and everything!). I wish I remembered the photo shoot itself (I remember that I changed clothes a few times), but I do remember the excitement when I went back to the studio to preview the pictures. And would you believe -- my eyes were closed in EVERY picture. You heard me -- EVERY picture. Now remember this was WAY before digital cameras, but I do blame the photographer a bit. I’m sure he could see how my eyes squinted when I smiled, so I think he should have worked with me to open my eyes wider or smile a bit less. But I’m pretty sure that his schedule was jam-packed with appointments, and he just needed to get me out for the next senior to come in. This lack of effort only cost him more time. I had to come back to re-take my pictures (although this time there was no hair appointment). And although my eyes are open in the second batch, I can tell that I wasn’t as excited about the second shoot. Fast forward to this past weekend -- Karen and I needed new professional head-shots for an upcoming conference, so I called a friend who takes fantastic pictures, Julie Glenn of Photography by Julie. We had a vision for our shots -- professional but casual; confident but warm; and of course, younger but not fake! Poor Julie -- we were asking a lot! We met at a beautiful park with the sun shining and the wind blowing. I shared with Julie all of my picture-taking flaws, but she didn’t seem all that worried about getting good shots. After an hour of fighting the sun glaring on my glasses and making sure that hair was not flying up in the air, Julie ended our session with, “I think I got some good shots.” For the next few hours I fretted about those silly pictures. What happens if my eyes are closed again? What if Julie could not get any good ones? But as you can see from our new pictures, Julie did a great job!! We love them! She truly captured all of the qualities we hoped to demonstrate. So how did she do it? Julie followed a very simple but effective communication strategy: she “modeled” for us how to model. Instead of telling us how to pose or where to look, she actually put herself in the position to show us what to do. She took the extra time to walk over to the gazebo and lean over the rail or stand next to the pole. And when she was taking the shots, she tilted her head or leaned in so we could easily copy her movements. The extra time she used to model for us saved time in the long run. We completely understood what she wanted because she showed us what she wanted. We can all learn from Julie and apply this strategy in our professional and personal lives. etc Strategies believes that modeling is the very best way to communicate. Show people what you mean instead of just telling them. Find ways to demonstrate behaviors including good communication skills. Research shows that modeling behaviors increases productivity and positivity in the workplace, so work to avoid the “do what I say not what I do” mentality and actually “do” what you want others to imitate and adopt. After our successful photo shoot, Karen and I plan to become America’s Next Top Models -- not for photographs, but in our business as we model successful communication strategies. Let us help you become a successful model too. And maybe we can get Julie to take your picture!!
As we finished dinner and continued sharing our very funny family stories, I heard Hayden laughingly say, “Screw you, Granny.” What? My husband and I shockingly turned to Hayden and asked, “What did you say?” As a 2nd grader, Hayden was learning all kinds of new vocabulary, and not all of the new words were taught by the teacher. His only experience with “Screw you” occurred on the playground when a classmate laughingly used the phrase during a fun-filled chase around the swingset. Using context clues (thanks to his teacher), Hayden thought the phrase was a positive response. And who can blame his interpretation? How many times has “Screw you” been used in a joking manner? But we all know the true meaning of the phrase, even if it is a less offensive version. And it certainly was NOT an appropriate response for Hayden to use with his grandmother! We all know the childhood saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” and although the saying is meant to encourage children to ignore name-calling, words are powerful and can help or hurt any communication experience. But this blog is not about the importance of professional word choice (that’s a blog for another day). Today I want to focus on how word choice can affect meaning. According to Power Thesaurus, there are over 2,000 synonyms for the word love, and each word produces a different meaning. I adore, cherish, and am devoted to my husband. But although I love Mexican food too, I certainly am not devoted to it! The great (or super confusing) English language provides different words that mean the same thing. Our job is to find the best word to communicate the desired meaning. Think about these words: problem, issue, and crisis. Which one is strongest? How do others react to each word? Most see the word “crisis” as the most powerful, action-producing word, but how many times do we use that word when the situation could be defined as more of an “issue” or “problem”? Words reflect a dictionary meaning (denotation) and an emotional meaning (connotation). etc Strategies believes that good communicators take the time and make the effort to find the word that strongly conveys both intended meanings. I promise that you don’t need to find a thesaurus app (although I personally use mine quite often), but you do need to be aware of the power of words and take that extra few seconds to purposely choose the most effective word. Fortunately for Hayden, his grandmother (a 1st grade teacher for 35 years) understood the wrong word choice and helped us explain to Hayden (using 2nd grade language) why “Screw you” was not appropriate. And although he learned his lesson those many years ago, at 21 years old, I’m pretty sure that today Hayden now uses the phrase (or the even stronger version) “appropriately” ...