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!!!