Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Waze AppMore out of curiosity than necessity today, I used the smart phone app Waze on the 190-mile round trip to and from my parents’ farm.  I wanted to see how accurate it was in mapping my progress using GPS and warning me of potential trouble spots along the route.  It does much more than that, but keeping abreast of traffic issues – especially in our first winter weather conditions – was the main need.

I was pleased with how it performed.  It did great showing my place on the road, all nearby roads, and zoomed in or out based on the speed I was traveling.  When completely stopped, it popped up some displays showing nearby accidents or hazards or reports from other Waze users, going back to the navigational map automatically when the car started moving again.

One of the surprises was when the female voice suddenly warned me of things ahead like a car stopped on the shoulder of the road or, as it did the other night, an accident ahead.  Overall, I was quite pleased with the app and can see using it frequently when I drive in the city or on longer trips.

The experience made me think about the value of things like seeing the bigger picture rather than just what lies immediately ahead, and the value of having someone warn you when you are heading down a potentially hazardous or troublesome path.  When it comes to traffic and the value of GPS, we likely don’t argue with the benefit and readily trust the information given (although it can be inaccurate, of course).

However, what about other life paths we follow and decisions we make daily.  Are they done with a larger, long-term picture in mind or with only the next few moments under consideration?  How open are we to the early warnings of friends, family and coworkers, or do we insist on traveling down some predetermined road because it’s what we want come hell or high water?

It seems like we ought to be more open to receiving guidance – not just giving it, and not only after we’ve barreled our way into formidable roadblocks.

Leap year lesson #356 is Listen to early warnings.

I love it when my dog tilts her head in obvious confusion and wonder about something I say or do.  She doesn’t pretend to understand and act naturally as though to say “Oh yeah, master, I hear ya; been there, done that.”  No, she just puts her confusion out there for the world to see with an obvious head tilt.

People need to do more of that themselves when they don’t understand.  Oh, I don’t care if you actually tilt your head and try to look like a confused dog or not (although that would make for unmistakable body language to help the less perceptive), but I do care that attempts at communication succeed.  Pretending you understand when you do not helps nobody.

While body language or tone of voice may well communicate lack of understanding, it may be necessary at times to be more obvious and ask for clarity’s sake.  How many business meetings have ended with people nodding their heads and then walking out the door only to ask their coworkers for clarification later because they were too embarrassed to admit before others they didn’t understand something?  How many times have we acted on some understanding that was actually a misunderstanding, resulting in time wasted or unnecessary tension in relationships?

Communicating effectively is more important than silly pride that sometimes gets in the way of asking for clarification.  You can save yourself a lot of time wasted going down a wrong path if you first get a clear picture of the path expected.  Backtracking always wastes valuable time.

I confess that there are times when I fail to ask clarifying questions, especially if it seems like everyone else in the room fully understands.  Who wants to appear to be the dunce?  Yet, I have learned that making sure communication is complete and effective trumps the temporary risk of not looking as smart as you want others to think you are.

Thanks, Callie, for tonight’s head tilt that resulted in leap year lesson #333 – Don’t pretend to understand when you don’t.

I realize language changes over time and new words come into being and general acceptance after repeated usage.  Still, there are some language habits developed that just should never happen.  One that gets under my skin faster than yesterday’s flu shot did is the use of verbs as nouns.

Case in point: using the word “ask” as a noun.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone (actually multiple people) at work for the past few years say phrases like “What’s the ask?” or “That’s a good ask.”  Arrrrrrggggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!  I can’t stand that!

Ask is a verb!  Know the difference!  Don’t say “What’s the ask?”  Say “What’s the question?” or “What’s the request?”  Don’t say “That’s a good ask.”  Say “That’s a good question.”  It really is simple.  You should’ve learned that in grade school.  Just because someone higher than you in the org chart uses the word incorrectly doesn’t mean you have to follow along with their butchering of the language.  Be the adult with grammar skills.

Recently I’ve had to endure presentations by a contractor that almost always begin with an early slide titled “The Ask.”  No… the title should be “The Request” or “The Agreement” or “The Contract.”  The rebellious side of me just wants to carry an air horn into meetings and blast it out every time someone refers to “the ask” or commits some similar trendy misuse of language.

Even the graphic above comes dangerously close to crossing the line.  In its attempt to clearly distinguish between nouns and verbs, it labels the crossover as heinous “business speak.”  Fortunately, it is common to add “speak” to make a compound word or phrase such as “adspeak” or “business speak,” although in this case it’s really a violation of the very practice it labels as heinous.

I know my rant won’t change business culture, but I can at least make a few people aware of the matter.  I let my team at work know my disdain for “ask” as a noun, so now they only do it to irritate me which is fair.

Leap year lesson #319 is Avoid heinous business speak.  There.  I feel better.  Carry on.

Most of us don’t like being the bearer of bad news.  On the contrary, we would rather be associated with the verse from the prophet Isaiah: “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” (Isaiah 52:7) – a verse repeated by Paul in Romans 10:15.  The positive image brings to mind a runner going to or perhaps returning to a community to bring welcome news from afar.  Such a messenger will be greeted with joy.

Not so with those who bring bad news.  In ancient times, if a messenger ran to an enemy camp with a message not well received by the hearers, it would be unfortunate but not inconceivable that the hearers might take out their frustration on the messenger.  It was a dangerous role for the one delivering the news.

Nothing much has changed today in that regard.  While we don’t send runners to enemy camps with bad news anymore, we still find ourselves from time to time in the uncomfortable position of telling others things they don’t want to hear.

If you are the messenger, then you have the obligation to deliver the message clearly and with whatever level of compassion seems appropriate.  You don’t really have the option of not delivering the message without failing at an important task.  Friends, managers, coworkers, family members, even strangers may find themselves in such a role and perhaps with a message originating from themselves and not from someone else.

If you are the recipient of the message, then you have to control your emotions and react to the message rather than the messenger.  That isn’t easy.  It’s human nature to lash out at personal criticism or in response to news that is upsetting.  Still, the adult response is to absorb the message, take some time to process it if needed, and then respond appropriately.

Next time you hear something you’d rather not, try to remember leap year lesson #317 – Don’t shoot the messenger: You might miss the message.

One of the online conversations today at work dealt with the differences between face-to-face and online communication.  It should be obvious to most that there are major differences between the two, but our actions don’t always indicate an awareness of those differences.

For example, when we are physically present with others, we have the benefit of not only hearing the words they say, but we can hear their tone of voice, we can see their facial expressions and their other body language.  All together, we make a more informed decision on what the person is communicating, taking visible and nonverbal clues into consideration.

Contrast that with how we communicate online.  We are mostly limited online to typed text on a screen, void of any tone or physical clues that help with understanding.  Yes, we have the option of emoticons – smiley faces, frowns, etc. – but even with those we don’t know for sure the intent of the person who typed them.

The trigger for this thought and discussion today was when someone commented on a thread in a manner that I thought was unnecessarily argumentative.  When pointed out, the person went back and added “#kidding” to the post.  I’ve had enough people complain to me about similar situations over time that I posted that I still consider many such statements as intentional jabs that people try to then pretend are not jabs by adding some cutesy icon or hashtag.  By then, however, the criticism is inflicted.  You may as well take a knife and stab it in someone’s back and then try to cover the puncture wound with a yellow smiley face sticker, pretending all is well and that you’re best buds.

Communication face-to-face is hard.  Communication online is infinitely harder and requires more skill and forethought and care so as to communicate clearly, making up for the lack of visual and nonverbal clues the medium necessarily omits.  You may know exactly how you intend a comment to come across, but that is no guarantee that the characters on the screen adequately communicate that intent.  Go the extra mile to communicate clearly online.

Leap year lesson #313 is Understand the difficulty of online communication.