Can we talk? Getting back to conversation – Part 2

Face-to-face communication is the most powerful business tool we will ever have. So why don’t we use it more often? Or more effectively? Or more consciously? For over a decade, I’ve been encouraging people to get out from behind their tools and technologies and talk to each other. People nod vigorously. Then they send off an e-mail with a .ppt attached. Or they type something into Jira and feel the product user’s needs are well described. Maybe they post a Tweet, hoping the right people will read it. Have you ever said, “Yes, I talked to [Whomever],” then recall later that what you actually did was correspond in Slack? Tools can fool us into thinking we’re communicating. Tools create contact. They can also share certain kinds of information. That is all. We mustn’t confuse that with connection, communication, conversation, dialogue or real interaction that leads to fresh ideas or new ways of working. Yet we do. We see a situation that will create a problem for our project and we send a memo. We need executive support for an initiative and we give them a PowerPoint. We would rather type than talk. When we use text, whether it’s paper, email, text messages or something else, we may be transmitting information, but not necessarily communicating. Even when we actually are together, we can fail to communicate. Are your meetings a series of broadcast monologues? “I did this yesterday. I’m working on this today. Nothing’s blocking me.” Or do people actually talk about the work they are doing together? The first value of the Agile Manifesto for software development emphasizes “individuals...

Can we talk? Getting back to conversation – Part 1

Ten years ago, my writing and conference talks were filled with predictions that conversation would be the Next Big Thing. Citing evidence from multiple disciplines, I called for organizational leaders to recognize that the desire for connection is a basic human trait and make in-person interaction a deliberate priority. Instead of trying to master blogs, podcasts, email and other tech-centric communication channels, I urged them to get out and talk to people. But Next Big Thing would not be face-to-face communication. In 2007, along came the iPhone. Mobility became the NBT. And our world changed. Today, our mobile devices keep us “connected” and “talking” to people around the world 24/7. Yet, is it a true connection? In her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin Press, New York), sociologist/psychologist and MIT prof Sherry Turkle suggests our “always on” connections, such as facebook, Instagram, Twitter and thousands of other apps, provide the illusion of communication, but actually impede conversation. We can avoid real conversation by sending a text. We can post a picture rather than engage with someone. We can edit ourselves into a carefully constructed persona that presents someone we are not and will never be. We can post messages to facebook “friends” while ignoring the real friends in the room with us. We can get attention without the unpredictable untidiness of getting close. A Gloomy Outlook? Turkle has spent 30 years investigating our society’s relationship with technology. In this book, her ninth, she descibes offices where workers lay out their multiple devices, don headphones and spend the day exchanging electronic messages in...

Communication Kata #2 – Share Your Intention

If you’ve ever said or heard, “That’s not what I was trying to do,” an intention check might have helped your interaction. It’s a three step process. Step 1 This kata starts, like so many things in communication, with self-awareness. The first step is to know what you are trying to achieve. If your internal thoughts are muddy, there’s no way your communication will be clear. Ask yourself, “What do I really want here?” Know your goal for the interaction. Sometimes you’re just curious. Sometimes you want the other person to do something. Sometimes you need them to know something. Or you want to recognize something they’ve done.  But knowing your purpose is the first step to clear communication. You might also want to check that your intentions are honourable. Working with a client on this recently, she realized, when she checked her intentions that, what she was about to say was really a form of retaliation for something a colleague had said the previous day.  When she examined what she really wanted she moved to what was good for the team and the project. Step 2 Once you’re clear on your intention, the next step is to share it. People can’t read your mind. What happens if people don’t have the facts about something? Yeah, they make stuff up. So when I ask you if you got authorization from audit for some process change, you might conclude that: I’m nagging you I want to make you look bad for not doing it I’m butting into your business I’m trying to do your job I’m just a jerk etc. You...

Communication Kata 1 – SCARF

SCARF is a concept developed by David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute and popularized in his book, Quiet Leadership. It’s a good way to take stress out of a conversation. That’s useful, since a person in stress doesn’t think clearly.Sometimes, our brain is not our friend. There’s a busy and primitive part of it, the amygdala, always scanning for changes in the environment. It interprets all change or discomfort as danger, which made sense when the User Guide for Life was: “Eat or be eaten.” When the part of the brain concerned with survival takes over, the “fight or flight” mechanism kicks in automatically. The part of the brain that processes information and makes decisions is all but shut down as the body involuntarily prepares for trouble. The theory suggests there are five elements  of a relationship or situation that can derail any conversation if they are missing or out of balance. The more we can do to provide them, the more likely the other person is to feel safe in the conversation and able to think clearly. You won’t be surprised to learn that SCARF is an acronym. STATUS – “Where am I in the pecking order?” Our brains are always on the lookout for evidence of where we sit regarding power, authority and influence. That’s residue from an earlier time, one that held greater risk of getting clobbered. We feel safer when we sense that our status is equal to or greater than the folks around us. Neuroscience suggests that our brains react to a threat to our status the same way they do to a physical...

Communication Kata – The Series Begins

Holding a good conversation is the best way to instigate change for the better. People hear what’s going on, issues are aired, confusion is cleared up, everyone goes away happy, and change goes smoothly. On what planet? While humans are naturally wired to communicate, we’re not all set up to do it well. You don’t have to look very far to find an example of miscommunication that leads to waste – wasted time, wasted effort, wasted energy, wasted goodwill. Fortunately, there are some key behaviours we can learn and practise that will increase the chance that our communications will be heard, understood and acted on. We call these “Communication Kata.” They’re named after the exercises practitioners of martial arts, such as Aikido and Kung Fu, repeat, over and over, until they become instantly available to them when needed. They don’t have to think, “Now I move my right hand here and raise my left foot so many inches.” They focus on strategy. “Now I kick my opponent in the back.” Similarly, learning and practising these communication kata makes these techniqes of effective interaction available whenever you’re in conversation. You don’t need to think about the process, you can focus on the content. Think of it as “Tongue Fu.” We’ve presented these Communication Kata at conferences (Agile 2013 and Agile Tour Montreal). By popular request, we share them here on the blog. Communication Kata 1: SCARF Communication Kata 2: Share your intention...

Yes, it’s OK to say “NO!”

How to prevent the over-commitment that leads to overwhelm This article first appeared in our newsletter in 2003. Still true! “No!” It’s a small yet powerful word, one with big consequences. It’s a word that can improve our lives and make us more valuable to those we say it to – those we want to help in this world. At the end of a week in which I – and the feelings I was experiencing – seemed to be on a non-stop rush from appointment to commitment to obligation to ordeal, I stopped to reflect on what was making me feel so beleaguered. I examined my “To Do” list, and highlighted the things I really wanted to do. Almost all the highlighted items had fallen (or were they pushed?) to the bottom of the page. Activities that were important to me had, for months, languished, ignored and forgotten, beneath activities that other people wanted me to do. Ouch! It had something to do with my reluctance to use the word “No.” A little reading and a lot of reflection showed me: That NO is not a dirty word How to say NO without feeling guilty And why saying NO increases the value of the things we say YES to. How does it happen? Look at your own “To Do” list. Are your “Want To Do” activities sinking to the bottom of a seemingly endless ocean of what other people want? Why is it so hard to say “No” to people’s requests for our help? When we were two years old, saying “No” was never a problem. Saying “No” was...