“God made some faces for long hair and some faces for short hair, and you have a short hair face.” Until about the 3rd grade, I totally believed this “scripture” that my mom shared with me. Let me fill you in -- my mom is one of the most wonderful people in the world. But she can’t do hair. I know for many of you this flaw may seem trivial, but as a young girl, it was kinda a big deal. I longed for braids and pigtails and buns. Instead, I was encouraged to get the “Dorothy Hamill” bob, bangs and all. In 3rd grade, I realized that my mom MAY have added her own twist to the whole “God made” idea and decided to let my hair grow long. Remember that I’m VERY old, so I lived in a time before every house and hotel room included a handheld blow dryer, and as my very thick hair grew past my shoulders, getting my hair to dry in a timely manner was nearly impossible. I washed my hair at night, so I’m pretty sure that my pillow never completely dried during my entire 3rd grade year. And that thick hair was a mess -- frizzy, a bit tangled, and because my mom could NOT do hair, lacking any braid or pigtail or bun! I finally realized that maybe my mom was right, and in 4th grade I cut off that long hair to make a Mrs. Brady shag cut. Fast forward to high school and college and to my friend, Janet. Janet could totally do hair - I mean she was (and probably still is) great at styling hair, and I was lucky enough to have her help me through dances, the prom, college events, and even my wedding. But alas - after marrying Scott and moving to Virginia, I had to do my own hair. And with no hair-fixing genes (thanks again, Mom!), I “styled” my hair by flipping my head over and blow-drying (finally I had one) from the bottom up. I had no round brushes or hair products or multiple nozzles for the dryer. I did use a curling iron but not all that effectively. And to this day, I am too frightened to use a flat iron - I can’t even imagine the damage I could do with a “weapon” like that. BUT - Jennifer, my present, very talented hair stylist, suggested that I try a blow dryer with an attached brush. What? I had never heard of such a thing! The hot air moves through the brush as you pull it through your hair. It styles and dries AT THE SAME TIME!! I finally can do hair (at least mine and really only in one style but still!?!?).
So again, how in the world does my hair story connect to good communication? Without the discovery (thanks again to Jennifer) of my new, fancy blow-dryer, I would still be struggling to do my hair. When is the last time you discovered a new tool to help you communicate more effectively? In this (and future) blogs, I’m going to share tools that I have discovered or that others have shared with me that might help you.
GroupMe - I really dislike group text messages. I know that I can change the settings to better manage the messages, but I always forget and get involved in a lengthy and (a bit) annoying texting experience. My son, Austin, shared with me the GroupMe app. This group messaging app lets you control when and where you want to use it. Austin has groups within groups within groups and says it’s super easy to use. I know that there are similar apps out there, so find one that you like to use. Group messages can be an easy and effective way to communicate, and using an app like GroupMe keeps you from clogging up your text messages with group stuff.
CamCard - I LOVE this app. CamCard lets you take a picture of a business card (front and back) and downloads, organizes, and syncs the information for you. Now my pile of unorganized business cards are right on my phone and easily assessed. Karen and I can even share business cards, so we only need one. Again, there are many apps performing the same functions, so see which one you like best.
Google Docs - What would we do without Google??? But have you tried using the Google products like Google Docs? Karen and I constantly share a document to edit and revise in real time. I love when Karen’s pink box shows up at the top and I can watch her take out all of my double spaces after a period (yeah - I’m old school on that one). We also send unfinished emails back and forth to help find the very best way to “sell” our trainings! You can share spreadsheets, slideshows, drawings and much more.Think about using Google Docs during a meeting to allow all participants to write on a notes page.
etc Strategies believes that you should work to discover new ways to communicate more effectively. Ask your friends, family, and co-workers to share the best app or program for communicating. Read articles and research for the newest ideas. Be open to trying new things. And if you need help styling your hair, definitely go buy that brush-blow-dryer! Now if I could only learn how to French braid my hair ...
Looking out at the 22 kindergartners, I was killing the library lesson … or so I thought! When I became an elementary librarian, I worked to create lessons that encouraged a love of reading and literature AND taught comprehension skills, so after much planning and practicing, my first kindergarten lesson, involving character analysis, was rocking along. We had already noted how the character’s words and actions showed sadness about being lost in the jungle. I could tell that the students were engaged - all eyes were on the pictures in the book and the students sat quietly to hear every word. In the middle of the lesson, a girl’s hand shot up in the air. What? Did my lesson provoke an intellectual question? What insights might she share? I was on a librarian high as I thought that I was totally inspiring these young learners! The young girl paused for a moment and then asked, “When do you think this tooth will fall out?” and proceeded to show me and the rest of the students her very wiggly front tooth! So much for my great lesson! So much for my librarian high! I politely answered that I really couldn’t answer that question and finished the lesson, without calling on any other students with hands raised. I learned early in my librarian career that kids don’t always ask the best questions at the best times. And guess what? Adults don’t either!
Let’s revamp Shakespeare’s famous line of “To be or not to be” to say “To ask or not to ask” and take some time to focus on good and bad questioning skills and strategies. And the best way to look at questioning is to ask questions!
What are good questions? Questions to seek information, express interest, clarify, and encourage thought are good questions. Open-ended questions designed to encourage detailed responses are good questions. Questions used to resolve conflict or clear up any misunderstanding are good questions. But remember - any question designed to trick or trap or anger someone is a bad question.
How should we ask questions? Work to present a clear, concise question. Allow an appropriate amount of wait time for a response (count 7 seconds). Be genuine and show that you care about the response. Show gratitude for the response.
When is a good time to ask questions? The best advice here is to be an active listener. Active listening involves becoming completely engaged and focused on the speaker. AFTER hearing and reflecting the message, THEN the questioning can begin. In other words, don’t think about your questions until AFTER you hear the message. Work to not interrupt, but if you need to clarify or if time is running out, be polite - “Excuse me, but can you clarify this point?”
Why should we ask questions? Questions are the foundation for developing relationships. Think back to when you first met your significant other. You slowly discovered each other through questions -- Where did you grow up? What was it like? What is your favorite food/color/animal? Humans are continually gathering information to learn, to problem solve, to understand. Questions connect us to others, personally and professionally, and help those relationships strengthen and grow.
As I continued working as an elementary librarian for the next 8 years, I learned to appreciate ALL of the questions my kids asked, even those asked at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Those questions helped me learn more about my students and helped us connect, even if the questions weren’t always about my lessons. etc Strategies believes that asking good questions can build stronger relationships resulting in better communication. And by the way, that wiggly tooth fell out right at the end of my lesson, and the young girl then asked me, “How much money do you think the tooth fairy will bring me?” I couldn’t answer that one either!!
Forget ballet or baseball lessons. Forget nature camps. Forget learning a new language. I firmly believe that children should be taught the following important life skills: how to decorate a cake, how to arrange flowers, and how to country-western dance. Although the first two skills will save our future generation a huge amount of money, learning to dance is probably the most important. Why? Because country-western dancing is so stinking fun! You heard me -- dancing is a blast! My dance lessons began at Garner State Park way back when I was in elementary school. Every summer, my family and a million others (I think that is a literal number - Garner is super popular!), trekked to the Texas Hill Country to spend a week floating the river, hanging out with friends, and twirling across the pavilion at the nightly dance. At the campground, my friends Kim and Rhonda taught me the basics of two-step, polka, and waltz, but the only way to really learn these steps is to DO these steps to music, and we practiced every, single night! Garner still hosts the nightly dance (dating back to the 1940s!) and still uses a jukebox for the music. I’m not sure what songs are played today, but long ago we shuffled to the Eagles, cut a rug with Eddie Rabbit, and swayed to Charlie Rich. And now, when I hear one of those songs, I immediately return to those summer nights on that concrete dance floor, awkwardly two-stepping and singing the words of the songs I heard every year. I continued my country-western dancing through high school every Sunday night at Bill Mraz Dance Hall and through college every Thursday night at The Hall of Fame. And Scott and I continue dancing today. Just a few weeks ago, we joined Kim, John, Rhonda, and Donald (yep -- the same Kim and Rhonda who taught me to dance all those years ago) and danced the night away at a local hall.
So for today’s communication lesson, I want to go back to Garner, back to those summer nights, back to that jukebox, back to those songs of my childhood (because you KNOW that I can find a way for those songs and lyrics to teach communication strategies!). And I think that the Eagles say it best!
“I Can’t Tell You Why” - How many times do we make communication “harder than it has to be”? Although “I can’t tell you why” we stress or fret about sharing information, I can tell you that sticking to the basics is the best communication strategy. Unlike the song, take out the emotion and just present the core message. If necessary, first write out your message including the emotional stuff. Walk away for a bit and then come back to edit out the emotions because you don’t want your message to get lost “in the dark.”
“Take It Easy” - So many times I need to “loosen my load” when it comes to communication. Do you also need to “lighten up while you still can”? In other words, do you (and do I) need to work for more concise communication? So many times I want to give details and steps and hints and … guess what? My message gets lost. Take out the emotions and take out the unneeded details. Again, just present the core message. Then offer the opportunity for more information or offer other resources for those who may need to get more details.
So many songs … so many communication lessons … so little time!! I could go on and on with this blog (there are lots of Eagles’ songs), but I’m going to follow my own advice and “take it easy”!! etc Strategies believes that the best way to communicate is to take out the emotions and unneeded details and focus on your core message. And I believe that learning to country-western dance (and how to decorate a cake and arrange flowers) will give you a “peaceful, easy feeling”!
When Austin was in kindergarten, the students were assigned daily or weekly tasks to teach them responsibility. Line leaders led the line, table washers cleaned the tables -- you get the picture. One very important task was to take out and bring in the orange cones for recess. The kindergartens played in an area with a circle driveway, so during recess, the cones were placed so that cars would not use that route. But one day at recess, someone forgot to bring in the orange cones. Austin’s teacher, Mrs. Cordes, asked who left the cones out, but no student took responsibility for the mistake. Later that day, as Mrs. Cordes read the story during circle time, Austin jumped up and screamed, “I did it! I did it! I forgot to bring in the cones!” and burst into tears. Although his over dramatic confession was the stuff of CSI or an episode of 48 Hours, obviously the guilt took over, and Austin finally took responsibility for the mistake. Well, you’ll be glad to know that his punishment was not very harsh and consisted of him losing the all-important task of cone bearer for the rest of the week (which for Austin was pretty devastating -- it was an important task!). But Austin learned a very important lesson -- it’s always better to take responsibility for our mistakes.
We all make mistakes. But how we handle those mistakes - the actions, words, or feelings after the mistake - can make all of the difference in the world. Again, I would love to work with you to address how to handle “life” mistakes, but this blog focuses on how to handle “work” mistakes and offers concrete tips to use in the workplace. I strongly believe that the very best way to improve all communication (in and out of the workplace) is to make it personal. So the word “I” is the easiest and most effective tool to use, especially when handling a mistake.
“I did it.” - take responsibility for the mistake. Even if there are extenuating circumstances or others involved, you can only control your actions and words.
“I am sorry.” - make the apology. Make sure it is timely and sincere. Don’t use “but” or “if” and clearly and concisely acknowledge the mistake.
“I will …” - offer a solution or a way to prevent the mistake from happening again. Or ask for help to develop a plan.
“I understand how you feel.” - be prepared for others to share their feelings about the mistake. You may experience hurt feelings, anger, and frustration. Be prepared to just listen.
“I will learn from the mistake and move on.” - after taking responsibility, apologizing, offering a plan, and allowing others to vent, evaluate the situation and find lessons to learn. Then, stop beating yourself up and move on. We ALL make mistakes.
We live in a world where “I’m sorry” doesn’t seem to mean much anymore. Celebrities and other public figures make huge mistakes but often feel that the words are enough. And even though I know the power of words, when you make a mistake (personally or professionally), the words need to be backed up with sincerity and positive actions. etc Strategies believes that personally addressing a mistake shows credibility and confidence and strengthens communication. So, the next time you make a mistake, just say, “I did it.” But maybe not quite as dramatically as Austin!