Karen and I send our thoughts and prayers to all who are impacted by the devastating weather in Houston and surrounding areas. Both of us previously lived in the Beaumont/Sour Lake area but now live in Houston. We are so blessed to be safe and dry and experiencing no damage, but many of our dear friends and so many others in both areas have not been so fortunate. Our blog today is all about communicating in a different way -- please communicate your care and support by giving to one of the following organizations. etc Strategies believes that reaching out to help others is truly the only way to make our world better.
Houston Food Bank
SPCA of Texas
In the play, “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet shares, “What’s in a name?” and goes on to suggest that a name is artificial and meaningless. But I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with Juliet (look at what happens to her!). Names are important, and knowing someone’s name is truly the highest form of respect. Let me tell you about my name. In 3rd grade, for homework, we were to find out our “name story” or how we got our name. I’m sure that Mrs. Johnson expected interesting or humorous or even sentimental stories, not my very boring one. When I asked my mom, she replied, “After you were born, your dad and Dr. Webb (my dad’s friend from high school) were in another room watching a baseball game. When they walked back into my room, I said, ‘Let’s name her Julie,’ and your dad said, ‘Ok.’” Wow! What a great story! Not! At least my boys have better “name stories.” After searching a baby name book for weeks, we decided on the name Austin, but after he was born (3 days of labor and an emergency C-section), the doctor asked, “Why Austin? I thought you would name him Bryan.” Let me explain his comment. My husband and I are Aggies (we attended Texas A&M University), and our rival (that “other” big school in Texas) is located in Austin. A&M is located in College Station which is right next to Bryan. See why the doctor was confused. But I loved the name Austin, and his middle name is after Scott’s grandfather (who passed away shortly before Austin was born). So Austin Steele was named (and I always thought he could use the name if he became a country singer or male stripper!). Hayden’s name came from that TV show, Coach. I distinctly remember hearing the main character’s name, Hayden Fox, and thinking what a cool name! Scott voted for Armistead (yep - that’s the same reaction I had) but Austin (with a little coaching from mom) voted with me, and Hayden Scott (my husband’s middle name) was named. So why am I sharing all of our “name stories”?
If we compare effective communication to one of Shakespeare’s plays, knowing and using someone’s name sets the stage for the experience. There is actual scientific research showing that hearing your own name (as compared to hearing other names) causes a unique response in the brain. Yep - your brain “lights up” when you hear your name. Because of this response, using someone’s name will help improve focus, promote your credibility and competence, create positivity, and instill loyalty. Wow … all that by just using someone’s name!! But if you are anything like me, learning and remembering someone’s name can be super difficult. Don’t despair! (Do I sound a bit like Shakespeare??) Here are some tips to help you out.
1. In the excitement or even in the stress of first meeting someone, research also shows that we don’t remember names because we are not paying attention when someone shares his or her name. So work to focus your complete attention when meeting someone, and repeat the name. “It’s so nice to meet you, Julie.” “Julie? I’m glad to meet you.”
2. Immediately try to associate the name with something. I tend to associate names with other people I know with the same name. My super cute new neighbors are Morgan and Jeff, names I can associate with a family from my past. As I learned students’ names each year, I connected the name with former students. You can also associate the name with a celebrity or a place or a thing: Melinda - Melinda Gates; Brian - Bryan, Texas; Scott - a pot. By visualizing the connection, you will make the association even stronger as we remember pictures even better than words.
3. Use it or lose it! Work to use the name during the conversation (but don’t overuse!). Say the name over and over in your head. If taking notes during the communication experience (and I hope you are), write the name down at the top of the page. After the initial meeting, write the name down again (maybe this time in a calendar). Send a thank you note or email and use the person’s name in the greeting. In all future correspondence, use the person’s name. But always make sure you are pronouncing or spelling the name correctly!
There are many, many other “hacks” for learning and using names, but etc Strategies believes that there is really only one thing to remember: motivation drives behaviors. If you understand the positive impact knowing someone’s name can have on a communication experience and ultimately on a professional or personal relationship, you will find ways to learn and remember a name. Sorry Juliet! There is a lot in a name!
In my blogs, we have learned communication lessons from my family (I am so sorry that I throw them under the bus on a weekly basis), from my dog-children Maggie and Rebel, from children’s books, from my vacations, from television shows, even from Jazzercise. As the new school year is about to begin and many of you are now in a world of new school clothes and backpacks and school supplies, let’s take a moment to reflect back on summer and see the communication lessons we can learn!
Lesson #1 - How You Leave the Pool
Growing up in El Lago, Texas, is like growing up in the 1950s (in a good way!). My kids lived in a neighborhood of bike-riding to school (they got there faster than I did in the car), 4th of July parades, and Santa riding up and down the streets on a fire engine giving out candy. With our snacks, sunscreen, and toys, most summer days we hung out by the neighborhood pool. But just like summer vacation, all good things must come to an end, so our daily pool time had to end as well. But do you know how hard it is to get kids to leave the pool, especially those kids who are having a jumping contest off of the diving board or who are playing Marco Polo or who are seeing how long they can hold their breath underwater? So (and I wish I had thought of this myself but I didn’t), our family rule stated, “How you leave the pool decides if you come back to the pool.” Brilliant and so easy to follow! Don’t get me wrong -- we definitely had a “see if mom really means it” experience, and even though going to the pool that next day would have been sooo much easier on me, we stayed home (with very pouty boys) and the lesson was learned! Now to learn the communication lesson: how you leave a communication experience can decide if you ever come back to a communication experience (at least a productive one) with that same audience. Just like leaving the pool involved the ritual of retrieving all the pool toys, drying off, packing up things, and walking (usually dragging) the 2 blocks to get home, leaving a communication experience involves concrete steps as well. First, summarize the main points to help you and your audience leave the communication experience “on the same page.” Next, show appreciation for the experience and for your audience. Use statements like “Thanks so much for sharing your ideas about this issue with me” or “I’m so glad that you came to me for help with …” Finally, express hopes for a productive communication experience in the future. “I look forward to discussing this issue next week” or “Let me find out some more information to continue working on this issue.” Even if you disagree or allow emotions to come into play, work to still follow these end-of-discussion steps.
Lesson #2 - You Don’t Have to Clean the Baseboards!
My mom taught school for over 30 years (most of that time teaching 1st graders!), and every summer she created a mile-long list of all of the chores she needed to accomplish. At the top of her list (every single summer) -- clean the baseboards. For most of my childhood, I didn’t even know what baseboards were, and I can honestly say that I don’t remember my mom on her hands and knees cleaning them, but I would never ever question my mom if she did or did not clean the baseboards every summer. The summer after my first year teaching in Houston was also the summer after Scott and I purchased our first house, so I followed my mom’s rule and created my list of chores, and at the top I put “clean baseboards.” After that first week of sleeping as much as possible (only my teacher friends will understand the end-of-the-school-year tiredness), I started the 2nd week of the summer with my chore list in hand. As I looked at #1 - Clean the baseboards, I thought, “Why?” How often will anyone ever see my baseboards up close and personally? How often do I ever see my baseboards up close and personally? Suddenly it hit me -- I’m not going to clean my baseboards every summer. Now I’m not a total slob -- I will wipe down the yucky hair-spayed bathroom baseboards and maybe even Swiffer dust the other baseboards every now and then, but I am not going to spend a lot of time and effort working to get my baseboards sparkling clean. So what’s the communication lesson, Julie?? Make sure that you are making purposeful choices when it comes to communication and NOT just doing what others have “always” done. Perhaps long meetings can be broken into multiple meetings for better attention and focus. Maybe that lengthy email outlining projects and issues can be shortened to bullets with attached resources sharing more information. Or, if you don’t understand why things are done in a certain way, work to find out the reasons and be open to the justification. I can’t tell you the number of times I griped about completing a report or attending a meeting instead of finding out why we needed that report or meeting and working to understand the importance of the communication. I finally asked my mom why she cleaned the baseboards, and she responded, “The clean baseboards make the whole room look cleaner, and then I don’t have to wash the walls as often.” Wash the walls? I didn’t know I had to do that too!!
etc Strategies believes that we can learn communication lessons from so many things around us, including summer. Understanding the best way to “leave” a discussion and working to make purposeful, well-reasoned communication choices will help create more successful and productive communication experiences. Now I need to run -- summer is almost over and I need to head out to the pool before I have to come home and wash my walls!!!
Years ago, after spending a fun-filled day at a dear friend’s birthday/pool party, my family piled in the car to drive home. Hayden, my youngest son and a middle schooler at the time, spent the entire day in the pool hanging out with other kids his age, especially one really cute girl. As we backed out of the driveway, Austin, now a very “experienced” high schooler, ribbed Hayden, “I saw you hanging out with that girl. Did you get her contact information?” Hayden, a bit dazed from being in the sun all day and exhausted from playing in the pool, immediately responded, “She wears disposable ones too.” Huh??? Confusion set in until we all realized that Hayden misunderstood the question and thought Austin was asking about contact lenses!! Hayden quickly caught his mistake, but it was too late. We pretty much laughed all the way home.
Don’t worry -- I totally have Hayden’s permission to share this story, but I’m sure you are wondering about this blog’s communication lesson. In a nutshell: effective communication occurs when you understand your audience’s prior knowledge as well as your own prior knowledge. The knowledge and experiences you both bring to the communication situation can and should affect the communication strategies you use. At the time of my story, Hayden had little (if any) experience with girls (come on -- he was in middle school and still went to the school dances to run around with the guys, not to dance with girls!). When asked the question about the girl’s “contact information,” Hayden’s prior knowledge connected to contact lenses, certainly not to her phone number. Austin, on the other hand, was immersed in the dating/relationship drama of high school and assumed that Hayden knew what the question meant. We all have experienced communication situations where confusion and misunderstandings happen based on the prior knowledge of the sender or the receiver. So how can we avoid this confusion?
There are two sides to consider. First, look at your prior knowledge. As the communication sender, figure out what you already know about the topic or problem or organization or client. Then, if possible, add to your knowledge BEFORE the communication experience. Recently I presented a communication training for a group of very dedicated and knowledgeable pet groomers. I spent some time discussing the industry’s jargon and ways to share the specialized vocabulary with clients (see last week’s blog for ideas). But in order to give examples of the jargon, I had to learn at least some of the words. Enter Petco’s Groomlish: A Dog Grooming Glossary. That’s right -- I used an online glossary of grooming terms to help me develop industry-specific examples to use in my presentation. Ask me about a dog’s feathers or skirt, and I can totally explain! Before every new networking opportunity or sales meeting, before every client lunch or training session, I always work to build upon my prior knowledge by researching. I then use this knowledge to make communication choices that the audience can more completely relate to and connect to like using the industry’s jargon or discussing the company’s philosophy and how it relates to communication.
Then, you look at your audience’s prior knowledge. Wait a minute! How can you figure out what your audience knows or does not know? Most times you can’t! And making assumptions about prior knowledge will only contribute to any miscommunication. Instead, approach the communication situation with an open mind and look for ways to ask about prior knowledge. If you are speaking one-on-one, you can ask an open-ended question. I’ve learned that the best way for me to understand someone’s prior knowledge about communication strategies is to ask “What is the biggest communication problem you experience?” You can also preface statements with “As you may already know …” or “I’m not sure if this is applicable to your company …” Watch your audience’s body language as you communicate. It’s easy to see confusion on someone’s face, or look for affirming nods and strong eye contact to show understanding. Above all, communicate with confidence and authority but don’t become cocky or a know-it-all. And listen closely -- give your audience opportunities to share prior knowledge and as you learn more and more, be flexible enough to change your word choice, pacing, or examples.
etc Strategies believes that prior knowledge can make or break a communication experience. Working to increase your prior knowledge and working to understand your audience’s prior knowledge will help you more effectively deliver a message. And to give you a bit more prior knowledge, according to Hayden, while goofing around in the pool that day, he and that very cute girl carried on a lengthy conversation about -- contact lenses (thus leading to his answer to Austin’s question). He used their shared experiences with contacts to get to know her better. Maybe Hayden had more prior knowledge about girls than I realized!!
After his Navy days as the ship’s navigator, Scott’s first civilian job as a maintenance engineer at a chemical plant finally utilized his mechanical engineering background. One evening, after I asked about his day, Scott began sharing a long and complicated story about a problem at the plant and how he developed a solution. In his excitement, he shared very specific details about the processes involved, the tools needed, and the skills incorporated for the successful fix. About halfway through his very lengthy explanation, I remember looking at him and interrupting, “You are the only person in my life who talks like you do.” He truly sounded as if he was using a foreign language, and no matter how hard I tried, I just could not understand what he was saying. But wait? I’m a pretty well-educated person who loves to read and learn and research (I know - what a nerd!), so why couldn’t I understand Scott’s story? Bottomline, I just didn’t know his industry jargon. According to the Google Dictionary, jargon is defined as “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.” Doctors, lawyers, teachers, dancers, gardeners … most trades, professionals, and groups use specialized terminology only understood by its members. Texting even has its own jargon. You probably know ROTFL (rolling on the floor laughing) or BTW (by the way), but you may be less familiar with the newer senior text jargon - FWIW (forgot where I was) or ROTFL … CGU (rolling on the floor laughing … can’t get up). I love those!
Acronyms, abbreviations, and specialized vocabulary can make communicating with those outside of the industry or group difficult and confusing. And many times, we assume that those involved in the industry or group already know the jargon. But what happens when you need to communicate with someone who doesn’t understand your vocabulary? Or perhaps you need to mentor a new employee? Or even explain something to someone in a different area of the company or to a community or family member? And with our advancing technology and innovations, how do you “teach” others newly developed jargon? Here are some communication strategies to help explain your industry’s jargon:
1. For new employees, create a company glossary with all acronyms, abbreviations, and specialized words. Make the document available to all employees to insure that there is a company-wide consistency for all of the definitions. Also continually update the glossary as new terms are created or as old ones are modified.
2. When using the jargon to communicate, make it a habit to substitute for the specific word. Find synonyms (words that mean the same thing) or appositives (nouns or noun phrases that can help describe the word) or briefly define the word. For example, a few weeks ago at a wine tasting, the guide said, “Note the finish, the impression of textures and flavors left in the mouth after you swallow the wine.” He easily and seamlessly used and defined a specific wine term “finish” without making us all feel stupid.
3. When you use acronyms, use the words too. Did you realize that base jumping is actually an acronym for the four types of fixtures you can jump from - building, antenna, span, or Earth? And according to a Huffpost article, “Care packages were originally CARE packages; they were sent via the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe to Americans’ loved ones in Europe as the continent struggled to recover from the ravages of WWII. The organization eventually changed its name to Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere.”
4. Finally, use a visual representation of any specialized vocabulary. Research shows that we understand pictures better than words, so take a photo of the machinery or use a chart to explain the process.
To be honest, I still don’t always understand when Scott shares about the specifics of his day, but he has learned to use strategies to help me. etc Strategies believes that working to better explain or define industry-specific jargon can help create more successful communication experiences. This is the EOD, so TYVM for reading my blog, and TTYL (next Tuesday!). And BTW, I really HTH!