The other day, Hayden, my youngest son who is studying computer science, tried to explain some computer programming process that he was working on for a class. He compared the process to putting books on a library shelf and explained how the books go on different shelves and contain different information. Eureka! As a former librarian, his comparison made the process super easy to understand. Now don’t get me wrong -- I would never be able to write the program he described, but I did (sorta) understand what was going on. Using a comparison or sharing an analogy makes understanding so much easier, especially if you make it relatable. Crayola is an expert at comparisons. Think about it -- many of the Crayola crayon names are comparisons to help us better understand the actual color. You know the old favorites: Forest Green, Lime Green, Lemon Yellow, and Sky Blue. If your eyes were closed when you heard these colors, you could easily see the color described. But have you ever seen the Macaroni and Cheese crayon? It’s an orangey-yellow color and totally reminds me of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. What about the crayons named Asparagus or Granny Smith Apple or Robin’s Egg Blue? Can you picture those colors? Absolutely -- the comparisons make it super easy! Analogies (extended or more elaborated comparisons), metaphors, and similes are tools that can help explain a more complex idea or problem or can create images for better understanding. And we use them ALL the time -- as cool as a cucumber, as big as an elephant, as busy as a bee. Great writers created timeless comparisons like Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 - “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Sounds easy, right? But there are some issues to remember when using comparisons. First, make sure your audience is familiar with the comparison. My engineer husband will many times work to explain something by comparing it to an engineering concept, way out of my comfort zone. Or if anyone tries to compare things spatially, like saying that the thing is as long as a bus or as wide as a football field, I’m totally lost. I am spatially impaired and can’t even pick the proper Tupperware for the amount of leftovers after dinner. Take into account any cultural or even geographical differences as well. Texans have their very own comparisons that are misunderstood by most like: “If dumb was dirt, he’d cover about an acre.” Next, don’t force the comparison. Some things just should not be compared. You can find online hysterical comparisons created by high school students on actual essays that illustrate this rule. Some of my favorites include: “Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides compressed by a Thighmaster”; “She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh like the sound a dog makes just before it throws up”; and “The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.” I crack up everytime I read those very “creative” but ineffective comparisons. Finally, allow your comparisons to support or explain your ideas but never use as your reasons or evidence. etc Strategies believes that comparisons are a great tool to better communicate your ideas, concepts, and projects. Work for strong connections, universal ideas, and easily understood processes, but don’t overuse. Using comparisons is like using salt. Just enough can add flavor to your communication and offer a taste that your audience can enjoy, but too much can create an unpleasant experience for all. See -- using comparisons can be easy and fun!
As I worked yesterday to accomplish the very important item on my to-do list of sending cards and checks to the graduates in my life, I smiled as I thought of the excitement and celebration associated with graduation. I love seeing and hearing the inspiring graduation speeches, so I thought this week’s blog should be my advice to the graduates (and of course you realize that this advice is really for everyone -- I’m just trying to be seasonal!!). My advice is … (drumroll, please)... write it down! That’s it! I truly believe that if we would just write things down, our lives could be so much easier! Listen - we all have so much going on in our brains. From appointments to chores to work to play to family to … you get the idea. So help your brain. Write things down. I know that I’ve preached this in previous blogs, but I needed to write it down again for you and for me (did you see that fun connection?!). In high school, Hayden participated in band and sports (soccer, swimming, golf, tennis, cross-country running), so I in turn participated in the booster clubs. To raise money, both the band and sports booster clubs manned concession stands during sporting events, and I worked many football and soccer games as well as a track meet or two. But to be honest, I wasn’t the best concession stand worker. No, I didn’t sit around or lurk outside the door to avoid working; I was terrible at remembering orders. I could look out of that window, straight into that customer’s eyes, and listen intently to the order. “I need a nachos with no peppers, a Sprite, a Dr. Pepper, some cheese sticks, and a Snickers.” As I would then turn to complete the order, my mind would go completely blank. Seriously, I could not remember one thing that was ordered. So, I would turn back to the customer and try again. And I would forget again. I was a concession stand worker failure! My brain could not listen to an order and comprehend what was being said. Most customers were pretty understanding about repeating an order over and over as they knew that I was a volunteer working to support extracurricular activities. But I could tell that many became a bit annoyed, and as the line grew longer and longer, even some of my co-volunteers became impatient. Finally, a very experienced concession stand worker handed me an order pad and a pen. “Write it down,” she said. Brilliant!! From that moment on, I wrote down the orders and efficiently served the nachos with no peppers, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, cheese sticks, and Snickers. I’m not sure why I didn’t come up with that solution as I write down most things in my life in my calendar, on a notepad, and even on sticky notes strategically placed throughout the house. But for whatever reason, writing down the orders just didn’t occur to me. When my oldest son came home from the hospital, all 9 pounds 10 ounces (he was super-duper overdue!), we tried to give him the 4 ounce bottles recommended by my doctor and every baby book on the market. After the bottle, he still cried, and Scott and I did not know what to do. We burped, rocked, changed, sang, and nothing helped. Then we tried to give him another bottle. Hooray! Austin was so stinking big that the 4 ounce bottle was just not enough food. Our motto became: Food first!!! And Austin became the happiest (and fullest) baby ever. Just like always trying food first with Austin, my concession stand failure taught me to first try the strategy of writing things down. Instead of trying to remember what your co-worker shared with you in the hallway, take a moment to write it down. Instead of trying to remember what you should bring to that meeting or appointment, write it down. Instead of trying to remember to send that birthday card, write it down (on your calendar a week before). etc Strategies believes that you should write it down. Give your brain some extra room to fill with memories instead of memos or appointments or tasks. And graduates -- congrats! Go out and conquer the world! Go on adventures! Make wonderful memories! And then -- write it down!
Last Wednesday, Karen and I attended a Houston Astros’ baseball game thanks to Amoco Federal Credit Union Select Partner program (we love being a part of such a great group!). We had unbelievable seats overlooking centerfield in the new Budweiser Patio area. Although we were there to enjoy the game (by the way, a big win for the Astros), this networking event gave us the chance to meet lots of new people and share about our business. As I munched down on delicious nachos, I met Teresa Yehle, the Event Sales Manager at my new favorite place -- Top Golf!! She and I shared professional and personal information (I did let her know my idea about more positive, inspiring comments after bad shots -- see the 1/31 blog), and really enjoyed getting to know one another. As the game ended, we exchanged business cards. “Hardegree?” Teresa asked. “Are you Scott Hardegree’s wife?” Yep … she and Scott had worked together to coordinate a work function at Top Golf. She then shared a story about attending an awards ceremony in Las Vegas and meeting someone Scott works with. Wow! What a small world!! How many times have we exclaimed that? I find it amazing that almost everywhere I go, I eventually meet someone who knows someone who knows someone - you get the picture. From meeting a friend of my grandmother’s in a far away airport to my aunt and uncle running into one of my teacher colleagues during a vacation to Alaska to my son working with my brother’s high school classmate during an internship in South Africa -- you just never know who you might encounter. One of my mom’s favorite sayings is “Always wear clean underwear!” and although I am sure that we can come up with many ways, both literally and figuratively, to explain the meaning of the statement, she honestly is not talking about undergarments (even if clean ones are always a good idea!). The saying originally included, “You never know when you will be in an accident,” and implied that if you were in an accident and taken to the hospital, the doctors and nurses would judge you if you didn’t have on clean underwear. I’m pretty sure that underwear is the last thing anyone thinks about during an emergency, but my mom (and other moms who use the saying) are figuratively saying that you only have one chance to make that first impression. And you should always act in such a way that you won’t regret your behavior if you discover that you already have a connection with the people involved in the situation. So how can you always wear “clean” communication strategies? First, mind your manners. You heard me -- remember the old stand-bys. Say “please” and “thank you.” Offer assistance when needed. Engage in the conversation with no distractions. Next, make connections by asking questions. Work to find common ground -- here’s where the small world usually comes up. Finally, let the person know that you genuinely appreciate meeting and visiting with him or her. Exchange business cards if appropriate. You truly never know how that networking opportunity may impact you in the future. And don’t forget to also “wear clean underwear” with your digital communication. Follow the same rules, but don’t forget that your written message should be grammatically correct and watch your usage and spelling. Make sure that your social media is also “clean” and reflects the qualities that you want the rest of the small world to know. etc Strategies believes that wearing clean underwear (literally and figuratively) and using “clean” communication strategies will create a strong first impression in your personal life and professional life. And etc Strategies believes that moms are always right! Just ask my mom!
Have you ever played that icebreaker game called “Two Truths and One Lie”? You share two things about yourself that are true and one lie, and people try to guess which is which. The game is an easy way to get people in a group to start talking, and it’s a fun way to get to know people. And I have one of the best “truths” that people usually identify as my lie. I raced motorcycles as a kid. Growing up, my family belonged to a camping/motorcycle-riding club, and we participated in family and individual races organized by members of the group. My very first “race” experience involved me sitting on my daddy’s gas tank as we went through the course during a family race with my mother and brother. At about 5 years old, I started riding my own motorcycle. I know you may envision me flying down the trails, but in reality, with my helmet and riding boots (for safety of course), I never really went very fast. But I loved it! My first “race” involved an enduro style trail (a trail through the woods with some obstacles - like a small ditch - that circled back around to the start). The goal was to go around the trail as many times as possible in the time allotted. Each time a racer rode through a checkpoint, a race official would hole-punch a plastic card attached to the handlebars. At the end of the race, the rider with the most holes would win. I can proudly share that even though I stopped every single time at the ditch obstacle, got off my bike, let my daddy ride my bike down and up the ditch while I walked, I still came in 2nd place and took home a huge trophy! (Please don’t ask how many racers were in my age group … it will only take away from my story!!). So what communication strategy am I sharing this week? Well, let me explain what happened at the checkpoints, especially in the younger age-group races. A parent manned each checkpoint, located near an obstacle or further down the trail in the woods. When a rider reached a checkpoint, besides hole punching the card, the parent could double check that the rider was safely participating in the race. One checkpoint was close enough to the obstacle so the parent could know if a rider fell, while other checkpoints on the trail were spaced in such a way that if a rider ever experienced trouble, he or she could easily yell or walk to get help. The checkpoints served two purposes: to track the progress of the race and to track the safety and well-being of the riders. Those racing checkpoints can and should be used in communication as well. Outside of motorcycle racing, a checkpoint is defined as “a point or item, especially in a procedure, for notation, inspection, or confirmation.” In any communication experience, we should strive for that checkpoint -- a moment to check our progress and check on the attitude of the participants. During a meeting, incorporate time to stop a discussion and check to see if more clarification, more resources, or even more time is needed. In a face-to-face conversation, ask open-ended questions like, “How do you feel about that?” or “What do you think about that?” to check for understanding or perceptions. Use emails as a checkpoint -- after a discussion, send an email outlining the discussion with a request for any additional clarification or missed details. Some people question the value of using checkpoints and feel that waiting until the end of the project or meeting or entire task is the best way to evaluate for understanding and attitude. I disagree, and once again, golf can best support my opinion. I am still trying to better my golf swing, so Scott suggested I watch some YouTube videos. One particular video suggested that as you swing, you establish checkpoints to check your form and where the club is facing. The pros suggested 3 different checkpoints - one as you swing back, one as you make contact with the ball, and one as you finish the stroke. Although it’s hard to stop mid-swing, by checking at each point, I can adjust my form more easily than by evaluating the entire swing. Establishing checkpoints in communication experiences allows you to evaluate a smaller chunk or short term goal or isolated step and allows for better feedback. etc Strategies believes that just like in my motorcycle race, checkpoints can help you track progress and track participants’ understanding and perceptions - their “safety” and “well-being.” And maybe those checkpoints can help you win the race too!
PS -- There were only 2 riders in the race where I won 2nd place … but I still “won”!!
You know what they say about bartenders and hair stylists -- anything you tell them will remain a secret, never to be shared with others. Well, in my case my movers fall into the “don’t tell” category. Recently we moved 2 times in 4 months (long story for another blog), and each time we moved, my bedroom closet got smaller and smaller. Let me backtrack -- the custom home we originally purchased in Sour Lake had a dream closet. No seriously - I’m pretty sure the closet was designed to be a small study off of the entryway, but the house plans were changed and that room became a HUGE master bedroom closet. And although Scott and I “shared” the closet, I pretty much used most of the space. As a lover of shoes and clothes, it didn’t take me long to fill up my space and even move into Scott’s. I organized everything by color or style, and getting dressed in the mornings became a true joy. But then we decided to move back to Houston and downsize (to eventually build our dream home on our retirement land -- just wait for that closet design!), and the new house had a much smaller closet. But burying your head in the sand is easy to do, so I decided to just take ALL my shoes and clothes and try to make everything fit into my much smaller closet. The day the movers arrived to pack our stuff, one guy went to the closet and packed box after box labeled “Julie’s shoes” or “Julie’s clothes.” The next day, as the guys loaded those many “Julie” boxes into the moving truck, there was a quick glance and an understanding nod to signal that they would NEVER share the number of “Julie” boxes loaded and unloaded that day. But you know where the story is going -- I quickly discovered that the smaller closet would never hold all of my stuff, and the time had come to take my head out of the sand and get rid of unneeded shoes and clothes. But do you know how hard it was to get rid of those cute-gray-houndstooth-sling-back pumps, even though I never really had anything to wear with them? And realizing that I would never wear that black Casual Corner skirt that got me two different jobs was heartbreaking. But I persisted, and after reliving a few memories and shedding a few tears, I finally could shut the closet door. Then … we had to move again. And guess what? This closet is even smaller than the last one! Arghh!! The trend of decluttering, simplifying, and getting rid of stuff is super popular at the moment, and becoming a minimalist is the hip way to live. But I believe that as long as you have space for storage and even a slight need for the stuff, it’s fine to keep it. The problem occurs when you don’t have the space or the need or if your stuff becomes the most important things in your life. That’s when you have to weed some things out. The same can be said for communication. There are times when less is more, and you need to be willing to clean out your communication “closet” and get rid of some stuff. As emails become the most common communication source professionally and personally, we all can become overwhelmed by the number of emails sent during a day. And when we open an email that is paragraph after paragraph of information, we tend to skim and scan and possibly miss important details. Or worse … we don’t even read the lengthy email! Work to clean out your emails and texts. Always strive to be specific and detailed to insure that your communication message is understood, but save your long funny story for a face-to-face encounter or concisely summarize the information from a long meeting or report and offer the detailed meeting minutes or multi-page report for anyone who requests more information. Another tip is to send multiple shorter emails instead of one long email. By dividing a message into smaller parts, you can be very specific and send the information based on the timing of the tasks. etc Strategies believes that when you work to concisely present information in an email, there is a much greater chance that the recipients will read and more importantly, understand your message. And perhaps if you model this communication “weeding,” others will follow and also work for more concise emails. Now back to my shoes and clothes … although it was really hard to weed out my stuff, I did discover things I had totally forgotten about and other items that had come back into style again. So maybe a smaller closet isn't so bad, but I do have a confession to make -- I did buy another black skirt -- and it fits just fine in the closet!!