Growing up, my family spent time together camping, water-skiing, and riding motorcycles. Most weekends we sat by a fire in the woods instead of at a table in a house, so we were never big on playing board games. Sure, I played with my friends at times, but as a family, not so much. So when we did play games, we were never really very competitive. In Monopoly, if you ran out of money, my dad would slide you a few bills to keep you in the game. During Pictionary, if you couldn’t guess the drawing, my dad would give you a few “hints” out loud. Some might call my dad’s actions “cheating” - but because we just played games as a social experience and not really to ever win, my dad just helped everyone stay in the game and part of the fun. Imagine my surprise when I played games with my husband’s family and discovered that all families did not play games like mine! One weekend (pretty early in our relationship), we visited Scott’s family in Ft. Worth. That evening, his dad brought out the Monopoly board for a “friendly” game. After dividing the money, picking the game pieces, and adjusting our snacks and drinks, we started to play. Although my husband disagrees, I’m pretty sure that I was out of money by the 5th turn. Seriously, those people were out for blood. Scott’s sweet mother turned into a fierce warrior on the Monopoly battlefield, and you could see in her eyes the ruthless determination to win! His soft-spoken dad became a greedy, money-and-property-loving maniac! And Scott, well let’s just say that I saw a competitive side of him that was NOT pretty! At that moment, I discovered that most families played games to win, not just to visit, and made a promise to myself to NEVER play board games with Scott’s family again!
In the spirit of playing board games, this week’s blog is a game about communication. Don’t worry -- we’ll play it like my family plays games where everyone wins just by participating! Like Jeopardy, I’ll give you a word or phrase about communication, and you think of the question that the word or phrase can answer. Good luck!
Active Listening for $100
What is listening with no distractions, without interrupting, asking clarifying questions, refraining from judgement, and reflecting what you heard?
Audience for $200
Who are the receivers of the information you are sharing, and how can you make communication choices about your message and the medium to meet the expectations and better share your message?
Grammar and Spelling for $300
What should you check carefully before you send an email so that your message is professionally presented and shows your attention to details?
Note-taking for $400
What easy tool can you utilize to help remember discussions, tasks, and important information?
Positivity for $500
How can you approach every communication experience by using words and non-verbal cues to create an atmosphere that encourages idea-sharing and collaboration?
How did you do? We should all play the communication game like my dad - work to include everyone. etc Strategies believes that by making good communication choices like active listening, knowing your audience, being professional, note-taking, and working to be positive, the communication experience will be more productive and effective. And most importantly -- everyone wins!
PS - Even after 30 years, I still won’t play board games with my husband’s family!!
When I found out I was pregnant with my first son, I immediately read the What to Expect When Expecting book cover to cover. I realistically expected the morning sickness. I realistically expected to be tired. I realistically expected to watch my body completely change as I grew a human. But I also faced a few unrealistic expectations. First, I took to heart the “eating for two” and ate a lot - powdered sugar donuts, Mexican food, pizza, and hamburgers were my favorites and eating totally helped with my morning-afternoon-evening sickness. But I didn’t quite expect to gain 65 pounds. Yes - you read right - 65 pounds. Although I started the pregnancy a little under my recommended weight, I’m pretty sure that a 65 pound gain is never a good idea. Now we get to my second (and way “bigger”) unrealistic expectation. As I prepared to go to the hospital, I packed a really cute coming-home outfit for the baby, a newborn-sized baby blue romper, and for me, a floral t-shirt dress, size medium. After two and a half days of labor, a C-section, an almost 10 pound baby boy, and a few extra days in the hospital, we excitedly got ready to go home. But we quickly discovered that the newborn romper barely covered Austin’s fat thigh (remember he weighed almost 10 pounds), and that floral medium dress -- let’s just say that I looked about 9 months pregnant even after the delivery as I looked about 13 months pregnant when I arrived at the hospital. Luckily, Austin fit into another outfit we received as a gift, but I had to go home in my nightgown. And that cute dress - well, my mom ended up wearing it home after spending a night at the hospital.Thus began my journey into parenthood and many, many more unrealistic expectations!
As I continue to write about communication expectations, today’s blog is about how defining your expectation before the communication experience can help create a more successful communication exchange. There are three main communication purposes: to inform, to discuss, and to connect (to persuade uses all three put together!). Just like a recipe might call for a specific type of oil or a song’s beat might invite a specific type of dance, your communication purpose is best met using specific communication methods.
When you need to inform - email can be used to share all kinds of information. Remember to concisely present an overview in the email itself (we ALWAYS want the audience to read your emails), and then offer attachments or links to more detailed information.
When you need to discuss - a phone call or face-to-face meeting works best. A discussion is an active process involving a back and forth exchange. During a verbal interaction, you can ask questions, seek clarification, add information, and most importantly, read verbal and non-verbal cues to better understand the communication situation.
When you need to connect - use all communication methods. Studies show that stronger personal connections create happier and more productive workplaces. Send that encouraging text message. Express your appreciation in a handwritten note. Offer your insights in an email. Address a concern with a phone call or meet face-to-face.
Although these suggestions really work (just check out the research), remember my advice from last week’s blog - work to use the communication method that best meets the communication expectations of your intended audience. So if your co-worker never reads emails or another never answers phone calls, you may need to share information in a way different from the above suggestions. etc Strategies believes that defining your communication purpose can help you use the best communication method and produce more successful and effective communication experiences.
P. S. - Even though my coming-home-from-the-hospital expectations were totally unrealistic, another more realistic expectation was totally crushed in a good way - that almost 10 pound baby came home from the hospital sleeping through the night! And I did eventually fit into a small (not even a medium) dress but that realistically took about 8 years to happen!!
Baby blue underlay … Swiss dotted lace … tuxedo ruffles … spaghetti straps … satin bow … ball gown skirt … and tiny buttons going down the front … I loved (and still love) that dress. As you can see from the very old photograph, I added the pearls and a lovely white rose (with baby blue ribbon and baby’s breath) corsage. Perfection - at least in my eyes! Every year, the Sundowners (my high school dance drill team) held a Presentation, a formal dinner/dance event to “present” the new officers and give out awards - think mini-prom with formal gowns, tuxedos, flowers, and even little programs at the tables (I still have ALL of mine of course). Usually I wore an old bridesmaid dress (and yes, I did wear a few again!), but for this year, my mom and dad were buying me a new dress. My “say yes to this dress” story began with visits to formal dress shops (and trust me, Houston is filled with these stores). After a long day of shopping, I found the dress. Just like the television show, I just knew it was the one! And just like the television show, the dress was WAY over my budget! But my mom loved the dress almost as much as I did, so she bought the dress on a payment plan - $80 down with monthly payments. I honestly don’t remember the exact cost of the dress (I think about $300), but I do remember the $80. Why? Because when we returned home with the dress in hand (no alterations needed - another sign that this dress was meant to be mine!), my dad asked how much we spent on the dress. My mom honestly answered, “We spent $80 today.” Note the word “today” and my mom’s subtle way of not sharing ALL of the information about the cost of the dress. And, realize that to this day, my dad still thinks that the dress cost $80. You see, my dad has never realistically understood how much women’s clothes and shoes and purses cost. He barely understood how much men’s clothes cost with the exception of a good suit every few years. My dad did not go shopping, so my mom purchased his clothes for him and returned things that didn’t fit. The process totally worked for my dad but led to his lack of knowledge about the cost of clothes. And that’s how we “got away with” my blue dress.
So is today’s communication lesson about “getting away with” stuff or tricking others? Of course not! This blog is about realistic expectations with communication. In our ever-advancing-technology-based world, things change very quickly, and many times the “rules” are never outlined or shared causing misunderstandings and miscommunication. Many times, these different expectations occur generationally. Emailing became popular in the late 1990s followed closely by texting, so my generation (remember I’m old!) used phones (landlines not cellphones) and snail mail to communicate. We left messages on answering machines, and if necessary, faxed a document. See how things have changed? For the most part, I believe that we all (old and young) have embraced the changes - even my 82 year old mom emails and sends text messages (although she doesn’t understand how to backspace to make corrections so she just retypes the word again) - but we don’t all have the same expectations. At a recent communication training, one of the participants (a young up and coming salesman) shared concerns about text messaging and the delay or even lack of responses. For this young man, texting is the most effective and efficient communication method, but in this business setting, his communication expectations differed from those of his intended audience. How can we solve this issue? Easy, peasy! Respect all communication expectations by using a variety of communication methods. Pick up the phone and make that call. Craft that killer email and press send. Leave a voice message and don’t rely on someone seeing your number to return a call. And for goodness sake, check your voice messages often. Send a note through the office intermail or snail mail. Walk down the hall or make a trip to communicate face-to-face. And the best advice -- use a variety of these methods to discover what works best for each person and each situation. etc Strategies believes that using a variety of communication methods will meet a variety of communication expectations and produce more effective, productive, and efficient communication experiences with less misunderstandings. But one final note -- if you meet my dad, please don’t share my secret. He still thinks that dress cost $80!
When I turned 21 years old, a gift from my Grandma B arrived -- my first gray hairs! I have inherited my grandmother’s hair, and I look forward to having her beautiful white, thick hair one day FAR in the future, but the gray hair coming in right now (and back then) is dull, dry, and a very dreary color. So, until then, I color my hair to cover the gray. I started small -- my husband would pull my hair through the cap and highlight strands of hair to make the gray blend in. Mind you, I worked to make sure that we did NOT have a recent disagreement and that I treated him nicely before our hair coloring experiences because depending on his mood, he could totally take out any frustrations with me as he pulled my hair “gently” through those tiny holes in the cap. As the years went by and more gray appeared, I moved to the professionals and now work with wonderful hair stylists to color my hair. Some years we highlight or lowlight or both. Other years we go for full color coverage. Some hair visits take one hour; others take 3 hours. No matter the process or the length of visit, I always look super great during the process -- NOT! But the effort is worth the results - my gray hair is covered, and my natural dull brown hair color is now a lighter more vibrant shade, sometimes with golden highlights. And thanks to good vitamins and Grandma B’s hair genes, my hair still grows and grows and grows, so every 3 weeks, I head back to the salon. Every. Three. Weeks. If I try to go longer or miss an appointment, my gray roots give it away. So I schedule that hair appointment every - three - weeks. I work around my schedule and my hair stylist’s schedule; I work around holidays; I work around anything that might keep me from coloring my hair.
Well, guess what? I believe that we should schedule communication “clean ups” just like I schedule my hair appointments. Just like coloring my hair every three weeks keeps my unsightly gray roots from showing, you may need to schedule some time to work on communication issues that could become unsightly (literally and figuratively) as well. So I encourage you to schedule some time to address the following communication issues.
Emails - I know, I know -- another email-fixing idea may seem like I am repeating myself (see last week’s blog), but today I am encouraging you to schedule time to clean up your emails. My toes hurt right now as this advice stomps on them, and although at times I am forced to clean up my emails because of storage limits, I am so much more organized when I schedule time each week to review and organize my emails. Many times after I review a saved email, I either complete the task, respond in some way, or move the email to a designated folder for future reference. Other times, I find that the email can be deleted as the issue is being addressed face-to-face or is no longer my responsibility. And to be honest, sometimes I run across an email that I can’t really remember why I saved it in the first place. Scheduling time each week or day or month to organize your emails can save you time and effort and storage space.
Notes - Again, my toes are really hurting right now! I have legal pads, spiral notebooks, and even sticky notepads with lots and lots of notes from phone calls, meetings, and research. I wish that I organized those notes immediately following the experience, but most times I just flip to the next clean page for the next set of notes. So one of my legal notepads contains notes from a business call with my partner Karen followed by research notes about employee productivity statistics followed by my to-do list of emails -- all on the same notepad. Trying to later locate information can be time-consuming as I look through notepad after notepad to find the needed details. As of January (one of my New Year’s resolutions), I now rip out the page with notes and use an organizational strategy for easy access in the future. Many times, I create a file for the notes; other times I add the information to my calendar or a document; sometimes I compile notes from multiple pages to later share with others. And just like my emails, I schedule time each week to organize my notes. I again save time and effort (it can take a LONG time to go through all of my notepads), but more importantly, by organizing my notes, I avoid missing important details and tasks.
My next hair appointment is this Thursday, and my gray roots are just beginning to let me (and anyone else who looks closely) that coloring time is near. My next scheduled email and notes clean-up is this Friday (I love going into the weekend organized). etc Strategies believes that scheduling time to organize your emails and notes will help you become more organized, more productive, and less stressed. So go ahead -- schedule these communication clean-up tasks. And don’t forget your hair appointment too!
How are your New Year’s resolutions going? Still working to develop those good habits? Be more organized? Eat better? Exercise regularly? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but studies show that about now you are perhaps not keeping up with those new goals. According to one very cited statistic, only about 8% of us actually keep our resolutions, and most start our downfall after about 3-4 weeks into the new year. Welcome to week 5 of January, 2018! I truly hope you are one of the 8%, but if not, there is also research that shows that failing to keep your resolutions may not be all your fault. As the new year begins, we have BIG plans for change and tend to set unrealistic goals. The experts suggest that we start small by making incremental changes instead of the “go big or go home” mentality. So instead of cutting ALL sugar out of your diet, resolve to lessen your daily sugar intake or work for no sugar at 2 meals. Instead of exercising 7 days a week, resolve to start with 3 days or add 15 minutes to your two-a-week sessions. And if you struggle along the way, work to remember that each DAY is a new beginning, and you can reset and start again if necessary.
So how can we apply this more realistic resolution setting to communication? Well, let me throw out a few more statistics -- did you know that the average worker spends 13 hours per week on emails? We spend 28% of our work week reading, responding, and rearranging emails. Yikes! I think that we all need ways to better handle emails, so let’s make a resolution to work on “email exercises”! Before we get started, remember that to achieve maximum results from physical exercises (to get the most bang from the buck!), experts recommend that you change up your exercise routine to prevent overuse injuries, to build new muscles, to beat boredom, and to keep your brain focused. And depending on current physical health, time available, facilities and equipment, and even the budget, different people work better with different exercise programs. Let’s apply these same rules to email exercises. Here are some small changes (researched and recommended) for you to try. Find the ones that work for you and mix them up.
Once-a-Day - first thing in the morning, schedule a long period (at least one hour) to check emails and formulate a plan for the rest of the day.
5-a-Day - check your emails first thing in the morning, mid-morning, lunch time, mid-afternoon, and before you leave for the day.
AM/PM - check your email in the morning when you get to work and in the evening before you leave.
Take a Break - during the day, take 2 hour breaks from emails. Turn off all notifications and force yourself to focus on tasks.
Just like physical exercises, there are lots and lots of ways to handle emails. And depending on the day or project, you may need to be flexible, but I suggest that you try ALL of these email exercises. Maybe on Monday, check your email ONLY in the morning. Try the AM/PM method on Tuesday. Wednesday, Take a Break or try 5-a-Day. Find what works for you and use it (or them). etc Strategies believes that finding ways to better handle your emails will improve productivity and lessen stress. And with more time and less stress, you can work on your other resolutions! Good luck!
Apology time again -- I am so sorry Diane, Michelle, and Karen for all the times we played school growing up and I ALWAYS had to be the teacher. Let’s face it - I was (and probably still am) pretty bossy, and after all, I did have my mom’s old schoolwork from her classroom. But looking back, I now realize I wasn’t being fair at all! Okay -- even back then I knew I wasn’t being fair, but Diane, Michelle, and Karen knew that I was going to be the teacher every single time, and guess what? They still played with me. And we spent hours “learning” stuff at our imaginary school before we moved on to Barbies or going outside to play. Do you remember your childhood group of friends? Luckily I grew up on Cheshire Lane with house next to house next to house filled with kids, all ages, boys and girls, with parents who made us play outside as long as the sun shined. We played kickball in the street and got so mad when cars came and we had to stop the game. We rode our bikes to the park and played tennis. We swam at Michelle’s house and jumped on the trampoline at Karen’s house. And all in all, we played nicely. We certainly had our squabbles (Rob made Diane cry at least once a week), and we didn’t always agree what to play or how to play it (except playing school - remember I was ALWAYS the teacher). But we figured it out and quickly got back to the game or Barbies or playing school. Wouldn’t it be great if we as adults could “play nicely” with each other, especially when it comes to communication?
In honor of those fun-filled days of playing with my childhood friends, I thought I would use the word PLAY to share some ways to “play nicely” when communicating with others
Prepare - Before we kicked the ball, before we organized the Barbie stuff, before we swam or jumped, we prepared. We picked teams, gathered our Barbie cases (and my cool Barbie airplane), grabbed towels and pool toys, or made sure we had the right shoes for the trampoline. To prepare for communicating with others, make sure you schedule the best time to meet, gather all of your needed materials and notes, organize your points, and plan multiple ways to meet your objectives. Even if your communication experience is informal and unstructured, prepare by remembering connections you can make during the conversation.
Lessen - As kids, we never planned to play kickball, Barbies, and jump on the trampoline all in one evening! I’m pretty sure our newly-forming time management skills did not teach us that we didn’t have enough time in an evening to participate in every activity. We just knew. But how many times do we try to squeeze way too many objectives into a communication experience? Work to lessen your load and more fully focus on fewer but more developed ideas.
Applaud - Although as kids we literally applauded (and yelled) when a team member made a great catch or kicked the ball a long way, we can figuratively applaud during communication experiences. Show your admiration for a well-made point or innovative idea. Give credit to others’ for their contributions. Highlight a job well-done. Everyone enjoys a little applause!
Yield - Although I ALWAYS had to be the teacher when we played school, there were other times that I didn’t have to do things my way (I only hope my friends can remember those times!). We all need to yield at times when communicating. I tend to talk way too much, so I work to stop talking and let others jump in. And if no one starts talking, ask open-ended questions to get everyone involved.
I’m thankful that I grew up with a wonderful group of friends who knew how to play nicely. etc Strategies believes that learning to “play nicely” when communicating can help you connect to others and develop stronger relationships. And a big thanks to Diane, Michelle, and Karen -- all those times they “let” me be the teacher only made me a better teacher later in life!
Back before Texas A&M football season tickets cost as much as a small car (thanks SEC!), we packed up and trekked to College Station most fall weekends for Aggie football. With our very young family and very early career earnings, the “best” seats we could afford were located on the 3rd deck about 4 rows from the very top of the stadium. Although our noses bled at this height, we loved spending time with our surrounding seatmates. And with A&M’s up and down seasons, for many games we were more excited about visiting with our friends than actually watching the game. As I said, we hauled our very young kids to the games, so I worked super hard to bring things to keep them occupied as football didn’t seem to hold their attention. Every game weekend, I packed the Backpack of Fun! Remember, we lived way before cell phones and iPads, so our fun included handheld games, crayons and coloring books, puzzles, cars, Legos, and the most fun of all, Play-Doh! I packed snacks and drinks and chewing gum (a very special treat!). For one game we even did crafts with pipe cleaners and beads! Of course, we needed batteries and Band-Aids and sunscreen. We had water and Goldfish and Tylenol. I’m pretty sure our family could survive in the wild for at least a week with the Backpack of Fun. But don’t just think that our family benefitted. Most games, we shared our snacks or water or batteries or Tylenol with our fellow fans. One game, I even remember using up all of the sunscreen as the weather report did not predict the bright sunny day. As a mom, I didn’t always make the right decisions and didn’t always handle situations as a “good” mom, but I pride myself on the Backpack of Fun! For the duration of our season tickets, I was prepared for just about anything. Fast forward to today, and although I don’t have a Backpack of Fun anymore, I do still carry a small container of mosquito spray and sunscreen in my purse, and I always have a fresh bottle of water in my car. I try to be prepared.
So why am I sharing my “be prepared” story with you? How does being prepared connect to effective communication? In previous blogs, I’ve shared strategies and tips about working to know your audience and purpose to make better choices for your communication medium and word choices, but today I’m focusing on a more general but important way to be prepared. And I’m offering a very simple task -- to prepare for any communication experience, take a few minutes right BEFORE the experience to prepare your attitude and outlook. Remember, you have already prepared “what” you want to say and “how” you want to say it. You may have even prepared visuals and examples and the answers to any questions. Now, prepare by getting into the right mind frame - work to be positive, confident, and cooperative. Take a deep breath and approach the communication experience with an open mind and a calm demeanor. Work to take out emotions BEFORE you engage in the conversation. And if needed and possible, postpone the communication until you can be more prepared. By taking the time to prepare your mental attitude before a communication experience, you are more in control of your emotions and better able to problem-solve and think creatively. Research shows that this positivity leads to more cooperation and collaboration.
etc Strategies believes that mentally preparing BEFORE a communication experience results in a more effective and productive engagement and exchange. You can “be prepared” by working on a more positive attitude and a willingness to listen and work with others. And put some sunscreen and mosquito spray and even a battery or two in your purse or briefcase. You never know when you might need some, so be prepared!
We snow skied, we hiked, we played the slots, we ate a lot, and we even saw the Star Wars movie -- welcome to the Hardegree Family Vacation, 2018! Last week, we visited beautiful South Lake Tahoe for a quick but fun trip - we love frequent flyer miles! Although I have more than a few blogs about the trip and “family” communication strategies to share at a later date, today’s blog is about how effectively our AirBNB host communicated before, during, and even after our visit. But first - a little story - you knew it was coming … After a visit to the Houston SPCA with my dog-loving brother and sister-in-law, my parents adopted a new dog, Rusty. He’s a five year old mix of some sort and seems to be pretty independent but loving, necessary qualities that meet my parents’ needs at this point. But, my mom is having great difficulty communicating with Rusty. When he comes back into the house, he stands beside her waiting. She’s tried giving him a treat, petting him, using affirming words, even offering him a toy, but nothing seems to completely satisfy him. After a few minutes, he moves on, but my mom is frustrated that she can’t figure out what Rusty wants or needs. If only Rusty could use his words to talk to my mom. Of course Rusty can’t use his words - he’s a dog, but life could be so much easier if everyone would “use your words” to communicate.
Now back to our vacay - from the moment I made the reservation for the condo, our host began “using her words” to share detailed information about the condo, the area, the process, and even about herself. From the first email introducing herself and sharing not only how much she loved the condo and the area but also sharing that she wanted to do whatever she could to make our trip easy and fun to subsequent emails confirming our details and letting us know of some changes in the scheduling to a very detailed email sharing particulars about the condo and suggestions and recommendations about local businesses and restaurants - our host truly helped our trip run more smoothly allowing us to have more fun and less worries! But the “words” didn’t stop at the emails -- in the condo, cabinets and drawers were labeled with contents, short notes shared hints and tips about appliances, and a bulletin board spilled over with information about the condo and surrounding area. She also created a scrapbook with even more information including phone numbers and directions. During the trip, she continued to email me offering to help with any questions or concerns, and after our visit, she welcomed my suggestions to make the condo even better for the next visitors. In our world of texting and tweets, less seems to be better, but there are times when “using your words” (and I mean lots of words) can more effectively communicate. Although some of the words shared by our host may be common sense, and I’m pretty sure I could have just opened the cabinets and drawers to see the contents, her words made my vacation a little easier because I didn’t have to figure things out. I know, I know - in previous blogs I’ve preached about concisely communicating, but there are times both professionally and personally that we all need to use more of our words. For that big project, offer both a concise summary and a detailed plan of action. Have multiple people take notes during a meeting so that one person can take detailed notes on one topic and make those detailed notes available for anyone to access. In emails, concisely share an overview but offer links and attachments to provide more details. etc Strategies believes that you should “use your words” to more effectively communicate. Sharing more details can avoid confusion and misunderstandings and increase productivity, safety, and morale.
So if you have any ideas about what Rusty may want, please “use your words” and let me know. And if you are visiting South Lake Tahoe any time soon, email me for information about a great condo and even greater host! And thanks for letting me “use my words” in these blogs!