Those of you following my blogs know Maggie - my dog daughter who pretty much rules our lives. In a previous blog, I shared some of Maggie’s “quirks” (aka weirdness) and talked about her fear of hard floor surfaces. Every now and then, in the throes of protecting us from the mailman or the cats who hang out in our front flowerbed, Maggie finds herself in the middle of our tiled entryway. And as I shared before, she barks until someone comes to carefully walk her off the hard floor and back to the carpet. That blog’s lesson was that we should ask for help just like Maggie. I’ve discovered that there are other communication lessons we can learn from Maggie, so here are Maggie’s Communication Lessons!
Lesson #1 - It’s OK to Bark Now and Then
Maggie scratches at the back door to go out, and most times she does her “business” and then comes right back in (she really doesn’t like to be hot or cold!). But sometimes she goes outside and stands in the middle of the yard and barks - at nothing and no one. I always wonder what she is barking at, but alas, Maggie can’t communicate using words, so I’ll never know. But there is a great communication lesson to learn. Sometimes we need to bark now and then. I know … I always preach positivity and flowers, but there are times when everyone just needs to vent, to let out frustrations and negative emotions. But learn from Maggie -- she doesn’t bark directly at someone or something. So when you feel the need to vent, make sure you don’t let it become personal. Share that you are frustrated with a process or the way something was handled. Try not to name-call or be a bully. And get it out of your system and move back to the positive attitude.
Lesson #2 - Gently Remind
Maggie eats about 3:00 every afternoon, but sometimes I don’t even realize what time it is and forget to feed her. But don’t worry! Maggie doesn’t get upset with me. In fact, she’s very understanding but gently reminds me that it’s dinnertime. She starts by standing near the kitchen. If that doesn’t get my attention, she stands by me. And if that doesn’t work, she starts to nuzzle me until I finally realize the time and feed her. Again, we can learn a great communication strategy from Maggie. We should gently remind when necessary. If you haven’t received a response to your email and need the information, send a reminder. You can say, “I wanted to touch base with you again to see if you can …” Or better yet, go and talk directly to the person. Perhaps email is not the best way to communicate in the situation. Send that meeting reminder or task deadline date. We ALL need reminders, so on the flipside, appreciate when someone reminds you of something.
Lesson #3 - You’re a Good Girl!
Another Maggie “quirk” is that she must be able to see me at all times. If I’m in the kitchen, she positions herself where she can keep an eye on me. She can be snoozing in her chair in the study, but if I go to the bedroom, she will get up and come with me. Most times she is happy just to be in the same room with me, but every now and then, she will come over to me for some loving. I pet her, scratch behind her ears, and usually say, “You’re a good girl!” Maggie just needs some positive contact and affirmation. Wow! Don’t we all need positive contact and affirmation!? But again, we can learn from Maggie -- she comes to me and asks for it. Now don’t think I’m suggesting that you go prompt others to say you or your work is great; I am encouraging you to find positive contact and encouragement. Do some research and find information to validate your ideas. Join a professional organization and find like-minded people to talk with and share ideas. Brag to your significant other about something you did at work. Again on the flipside, if you work to offer that positive contact and encouragement to others, I promise that your modeling will be copied and you will then get the “good girl (or boy)”!
So there you have it … Maggie can really teach us great communication lessons. etc Strategies believes that we can and should learn all the time, from experts, coworkers, friends, strangers, and even puppy dogs! Let me know what you think. I would love to learn from you too!
True confessions time -- we all carry emotional baggage from our childhood, and I feel that it’s time for me to share my largest bag … I hate when things don’t match! Give me a minute to explain. I know from experience that clothes shopping with preteens can be painful, but I can honestly share that I don’t know what it is like shopping with a preteen girl (I have 2 boys). Obviously for my mother, shopping with me was no fun at all! I was too tall for the girls’ department, too skinny for the preteens’ department, and too young for the juniors’ department, so when we finally found something that fit (and was age-appropriate), we snatched it up .. even if the pieces didn’t always exactly match. “The colors are far enough apart to look fine,” my mother said time and time again. And at first, I totally believed her. But one day, as I looked at the red in my shirt and the red in my skirt, I realized -- I DID NOT MATCH! And I was horrified!! I had no choice but to continue wearing the outfit, but I promised myself from the next shopping trip on, I would only purchase (and wear) things that match. To this day, if I have even the slightest doubt that my blues don’t coordinate or my brown shoes are not really the same brown as my brown pants, I will change clothes or shoes. And my clothes-matching baggage has moved into other areas of my life - my home decor, Christmas wrapping paper (not always matching but totally coordinating colors), and if I had my way, our cows. You heard me - I wish our cows (we have about 15 of them on our retirement land) all matched. They don’t - we have a red bull, some black and white girls, and now three new brown ones. Ugh! Matching may not be as important to you as it is to me, but in my own emotional world, that small detail can make or break my sanity. What small details are important to you? Being on time? Having a clean car? Alphabetizing your spices? We may chuckle a bit at the small details that others (or that we) value, but small details are no laughing matter when it comes to communication. In our fast-paced world, it is so very easy to overlook the small details, but those details can negatively impact credibility, productivity, quality, and even safety. Stay tuned for future blogs about focusing on small details in other communication experiences, but today’s blog offers some practical tips about written communication. Spelling mistakes and incorrect grammar are details that reflect poorly on you and your company and imply that you lack education or that you are careless and don’t pay attention. But the English language is pretty messed up, so spelling and grammar rules can be difficult to remember and follow. What can you do? Go back and relearn spelling and grammar? Although that sounds totally like a fun time to me, I’m sure you would rather use these strategies.
Always proofread your written communication. I know that sounds like such common sense, but when we are in a big hurry, we hit the send button before looking over the message. And then we miss the mistakes. If time allows, have a trusted colleague look over the message, preferable the best speller and grammarian of your group. Or to keep your brain from seeing a “correct” version (our brains can correct mistakes as we read), read your message from the bottom up, backwards. Use Google Translator to read your message aloud. It’s easier to catch mistakes when you hear them. Look into using Grammarly, a program that proofs your written communication and offers corrections for FREE! I use it for all of my written messages including Facebook posts. Print out your message to proofread, and use a pencil or pen to physically touch each word as you check for mistakes. Look online and check a word’s spelling or the grammar rule. Sometimes words look “funny” to me, so I use a dictionary program to check spelling and usage. Finally, realize that we all make mistakes. If you can, send out a corrected version. If not, learn from the mistakes and work to use better strategies in the future. etc Strategies believes that you should focus on the small details of your written communication and correct any mistakes to create a clearly-worded, well-written, mistake-free email or document that reflects credibility, consideration, and professionalism. Now if I could only find a strategy to make our cows all match ...
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
In the poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost literally shares a moment during a walk in the woods when the speaker comes to a fork in the road and must choose a path to follow. The figurative meaning … now that’s another story. Most people can agree that the poem is about making choices, but that’s just about where the agreement stops. And although I would love to get in teacher-mode and have a lengthy discussion and analyze the heck out of the poem, let’s just all agree that literally and figuratively, the speaker faces a choice between two options. But the speaker demonstrates the communication lesson of this blog - he (or she) takes a moment to think about the choices - “long I stood and looked …”
I love using Google Maps! I try to check in on my parents once a week and work to schedule my visits outside of Houston’s high traffic times (although this seems to be harder and harder to do!). But Google Maps always offers me at least two route choices - and then I take a moment to figure out the best one. Do I want to pay tolls this time? Do I want to fight the narrow lanes on 290? Do I want to merge onto 610 with all the crazy drivers who don’t understand what “merging” means? By taking a moment to think about the options, I can make a more informed choice. Boy do I need to take my own advice! How many times do I “choose” to order the large dinner at the Mexican restaurant without taking a moment to think about how I will feel after I finish it? How many times do I “choose” to buy that pair of shoes without taking a moment to think about how the strap cuts into my toe? How many times do I “choose” to communicate without taking a moment to think about the best time, place, method, or words? My oldest son (now studying to be a veterinarian) loves animals and as a child, easily suckered my equally-animal-loving husband into getting all sorts of creatures. My memory is a bit clouded about all the details (I can’t remember if it was a dog or hamster or rat …), but Austin really wanted a new animal. So, after much consideration of the best time, place, method, and words, one evening he sat us down and “presented” his case including a Powerpoint show with facts and graphs. By taking a moment (really LOTS of moments) to “choose” the most effective way to communicate his ideas, Austin accomplished two important things. First, he took the time to think about his message and choose the best words and best evidence to make his point. Then, he took the time to think about how to present his message looking at the best method, the best place, and the best time (right after dinner in the family room). To be honest, I really don’t remember if Austin ever got that creature, but I still remember his presentation (and have it somewhere on an external hard drive that has been through many computers since then). And I remember being impressed with his communication choices. So just like the speaker in Robert Frost’s poem, I encourage you to take a moment when it comes to communication. There are so many “paths” that you can walk, so be like Google maps. Look at your routes. What is the best time to communicate this message? What is the best place? How can I best communicate my ideas? Do I need to write down any information? Offer a visual to support my message? What are the best words or comparisons or evidence? Do I need to find more information before I share my ideas? Then make an informed choice and pick your best route. etc Strategies believes that you should be aware of your communication choices and take a moment to consider your options. Learn from Robert Frost (and my son Austin)! It truly can make “all the difference” in the success of the communication experience.
Passport - check! Packed suitcase - check! Planned list of things to do - half a check! Huh!? For those of you following my blogs or for all of you who know me personally, you can tell that I like organized, detailed, list-generating plans. So for months, I planned our recent trip to London. I searched every “best things to do in London and UK” site, took meticulous notes, arranged and rearranged our schedule, compared prices, and even requested friends’ suggestions using Facebook. Armed with my very detailed itinerary (including attractions’ times and days, prices, directions - using the Tube of course, suggested length of visit, and even reviews and ratings), Scott and I started our trip. But in a very “non-Julie” way, I only planned the ten-day trip through day seven -- I left the last 3 days completely open -- you heard me -- NO planned activities! And to be honest, it made my stomach hurt a bit. From Windsor Castle to Stratford-Upon-Avon to the Warwick Castle to the Tower of London to Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey to the Thames River cruise and much more -- we walked and toured and took in ALL of my planned sights. I nerded out at all of the literary and royal connections while Scott nerded out at all the castles and engineering and architectural feats. At the end of day seven (with hurting backs, tired feet, and even a little sunburn - the weather was fantastic all week), I started to panic a bit. What are we going to do tomorrow? Over dinner that night (at a pub of course), Scott and I contemplated our choices and decided to take it one day at a time. Again - my stomach hurt. How can we just plan “one day at a time”? We need to research and look at reviews and figure out directions and prices … wait a minute! Why not be a bit flexible? If you only knew how hard that was for me. But I was willing to try, and we then went on to have wonderful adventures for the last three days of our trip! We took a train to Canterbury and walked the steps of Chaucer’s Knight and Lady of Bath, and all the other characters of the Canterbury Tales. We spent hours at the British Museum and marveled at the medieval swords and mummies and Roman statues. We rented bicycles, got totally lost in the streets of London, and discovered the canals and parks and beautiful churches off the beaten path. We even finally participated in a traditional afternoon tea. Our “unplanned” activities were as much fun as our “planned” activities, and I have to be honest - by day nine, I even looked forward to our brainstorming dinners about what to do the next day. This flexibility allowed us to see new possibilities and to revisit attractions that didn’t make my list. So how does this connect with good communication skills? As stated in my previous blogs, I believe that planning your communication is super important and creates a more successful communication experience. Many times you have specific points or detailed directions to share, but you may need to be flexible in the process. Successful communication only happens when you engage and connect with the receiver, so you may need to change your behaviors (what you can control). Maybe you need to schedule a different time to communicate - work for a time when your receiver can give you the needed attention. Maybe you need to sit down for the communication experience - trying to share information walking or standing is less engaging that sitting and looking face-to-face. Maybe you need to work for more meaningful language or comparisons - if you find that you are not making your points clearly, think about your audience and work for ways to better relate to their needs and experiences. Finally, maybe you just need to lower your voice - changing your volume can create a sense of calm that will encourage engagement. etc Strategies believes that flexibility can help your communication experiences be more successful and productive. Still research and plan and list, but also be willing to change and be open to new ideas. Fantastic trip to London - check, check, check!!
On a very sad note, the horrible incident at the London Bridge happened during our visit. Our hearts go out to all of those involved and a big thanks goes to our friends and family who checked on us.