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Posts tagged ‘communication’

NO OBLIQUE-SPEAK: Part IV – Summary (So What?)

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

– Bernard Shaw

NOTE

What follows is the summary the essay on corporate communication. While the basic information has universal application, the focus of this series is on the communication concerns of  fast-paced, early stage, entrepreneurial and intrapreneuial ventures.

Position Statement

Business (life) means building and maintaining relationships.


So What?  So What?  I’ll tell you So What.  Wars are fought, relationship destroyed, opportunities are missed and lives are lost due to misunderstandings, confusion, unintentional insults, and perceived—and intended—mixed messages.  That’s So What…

  • In business, oblique-speak (“BS,” “Blowing Smoke,” Wink-Wink-Nudge-Nudge”) is a manager’s downfall. Establish a relationship of trust and speak clearly leaving little or no room for misinterpretation. If unsure, have the person your addressing give their understanding of what you just told them. And, remember, lying by omission is deceit in its most cowardly form.
  • Unless immediately informed to the contrary, every employee must come to work every day knowing they are Secure, Accepted as an on-going member of the team, and that they are Respected for their knowledge and contribution to the company mission. Once doubt occurs in any of these three default conditions, communication begins to shut down. An organization without a SAR culture invites a reduction in productivity, an increase in turnover, stress-related absences, heightened presenteeism, and reduced staff morale.
  • Tune into the concern behind the question, stay away from hyperbole and don’t confuse connectivity with communication.
  •  In business (and life) the preferred order of personal interaction is as follows:
  1. In-Person Face-to-Face
  2. Electronic Face-to-Face
  3. Telephone
  4. Video Message
  5. Audio Message
  6. Descriptive Email
  7. Text Message
  • Conflict with integrity is critical if you are to successfully mine all of the talent in your shop. Irritation produces pearls and without disruption there is no innovation. However, without a SAR culture, conflict can destroy your company.
NEXT ESSAY ON DECK:
High Performance Balance:
Effectively Balancing Work, Home and Community

NO OBLIQUE-SPEAK: Part III – Conflict and the Art of Relationships

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

– Bernard Shaw

NOTE

What follows is Part III of a four-part essay on corporate communication. While the basic information has universal application, the focus is on the communication concerns of  fast-paced, early stage, entrepreneurial and intrapreneuial ventures.

Position Statement

Business (life) means building and maintaining relationships.

 “Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity…”

– John Dewy

Conflict as an Asset

When most people think of conflict, the following words and conditions come to mind:

fight lose
anger control
pain hate
war loss
impasse bad
destruction wrongdoing
fear confrontation
mistake avoid

Well, contrary to what you may have heard or thought, conflict is good, yes, good.

Irritation produces pearls and without disruption there is no innovation. However—and this is a very important “however”…minus integrity, constructed on blocks of honorable intention, a secure-accept-respect (SAR) culture, and considered thought, conflict destroys.

So, as you can see, at the workplace, we are talking about a very fine line that separates productivity and empowerment from chaos and suppression. This condition defines the classic approach-avoidance dilemma. As a manager do I allow and encourage differences of opinion, open discussion, healthy skepticism and exploration? Or, do I run a strict top-down organization where “I dictate…You follow” is both motto and practice?

The sad fact is that many, if not most, organizations wave a banner that shouts collaboration and invites input while placing an ever-stronger chokehold on constructive opposition and disagreement. Instead of viewing conflict as opportunity, a closed-minded autocrat views conflict as a threat and either avoids or stomps it out, quickly. What a shame.

By the way, yes, there are times when leadership must make tough decisions and point the way, despite opposing views—even if those views are of the majority. That’s why thrones are built for one person. Fine. Good. I’m all for it. But if leadership falsely advertises a management style that embraces honest input and open discussion only to punish those who present cross-aisle views, shame on them. Not only is this deception immoral (call it what it is) it wastes time and hurts the company in the long run. High-integrity conflict is good.

Traditional Approaches to conflict

Conquest

  • Once bullying, dominance, and manipulations are used, it is difficult to view the person’s power in any other way.
  • Relationship suffers because the dominated person is reluctant to use innate talents and acquired skills.
  • Passive/aggressive actions eventually spring from the subverted individual.

Avoidance

  • Mistakenly suggests that all conflict is bad (see above).
  • Denies opportunities to clarify positions and clear up potential misunderstandings.
  • Implies acceptance of behavior thus enabling the individual to continue on a potentially dangerous or disruptive path.

Band-Aid

  • Creates an illusion of permanence.
  • Avoids the core work of resolution and establishes a set behavioral approach to conflict.
  • The “quick-fixer” is reinforced for putting out the fire but the embers continue to burn—creating a culture of crisis management. (BTW, if you have someone on your team who is great at putting out fires, check their desk drawers for matches…).

Role Player

  • Rigid role assignments foster myopic solutions centered on power.
  • Subordinate member of relationship hesitates to contribute beyond his/her assigned role.
  • Can create an on-going adversarial relationship.

Bargaining

  • Often focus is on numbers and objects instead of personal value.
  • Can develop into a carry-over adversarial relationship based on “winning” and “losing.”
  • Stronger or more articulate negotiator wins not on merit and value but verbal skills—can damage relationship in the long-term. 

A New View of Conflict

Instead of always…

A disruption, negative experience, error, or mistake

Perhaps…

An outgrowth of diversity leading to mutual growth and improved friendship

Instead of always…

An all-consuming battle of self-interests or desires

Perhaps…

A reflection of one or two aspects of a total relationship

Instead of always…

An isolated event we use to define the entire relationship

Perhaps…

An opportunity for clarification in a long-term relationship

A Partnership Process

Conflict enhancement and relationship building requires that you focus on needs, perceptions, power, values and principles, feelings and emotions, and internal conflicts.

  • WE not I vs. you…
  • Conflicts must be considered in context.
  • Honest discussion of disagreements strengthens relationships but BOTH parties must participate.

Ten Steps to Conflict Enhancement and Relationship Building: A Formula

  1. Look to the Future and Learn from the Past
  2. Generate Options
  3. Develop Realistic Stepping Stones to Action
  4. Make Mutual-Benefit Agreements
  5. Celebrate Diversity
  6. Crate an Effective Atmosphere (SAR management)
  7. Clarify Perceptions
  8. Focus on Individual and Shared Needs
  9. Build Shared Positive Power
  10. NO OBLIQUE-SPEAK!

Keep in mind the fact that how we understand conflict influences how we develop and maintain relationships. Recognize and celebrate the fact that honorable conflict is an outgrowth of diversity and differences. Both productive and destructive conflicts involve emotions, values, and principles as much as needs and desires and that …

how well you  handle your internal personal conflicts will often direct how well you develop and maintain relationships.

Coming Up…

Part IV:  Summary (So What?)

NO OBLIQUE-SPEAK: Part II – Human Interaction (The Order of Preference)

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

–  Bernard Shaw

NOTE 

What follows is Part II of a four-part essay on corporate communication. While the basic information has universal application, the focus is on the communication concerns of fast-paced, early stage, entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial ventures.  

Position Statement

Business (life) Means Building and Maintaining Relationships

As a university lecturer, mentor and trainer of hundreds of health promotion professionals, I always stress the importance of C4 (crystal clear communication is critical).  The order of preference for business—and personal—communication is:

  • In-Person Face-to-Face
  • Electronic Face-to-Face (e.g., FaceTime, Skype)
  • Telephone
  • Video Message
  • Audio Message
  • Descriptive Email
  • Text Messages (Think 140 Characters or Less)

In-Person Face-to-Face

Of course, you’ve never done this but we all know tales of people one office apart who text or send emails instead of getting off their butts and walking ten steps.  Or, even worse, people in the same room who text one another.  Yikes!  What ever happened—now, I’m sounding like my father—to shaking a hand, looking someone in the eye, and saying whatever it is you need to say? As mentioned earlier, language goes way beyond written or even spoken words.  As the saying goes, “Eyes are windows to the soul.”  Whenever possible—good news, bad news or just chatting—make it in-person,  face-to-face.

Electronic Face-to-Face

While not the same as being there, today’s technology permits the next best thing, video chats.  Whether it’s a client in London or my granddaughter in Providence, they are just a click away.  I can see their eyes, hear all of the voice variations, and even catch non-verbal facial expressions and a bit of body language.  In other words, we get to communicate.  Pretty cool…

Telephone

We’re moving down the communication scale but still doing pretty good.  Gone our the days of party-lines, mortgage-your-house-long-distance charges, and waiting outside a phone booth (with a pocket full of change).  In this era of affordable cell phones and manageable rates there is no reason for not doing both business—as well as social catch-ups—in real-time.

Video Message

Video messages, like the ones I use on my blog, are fine for summaries, quick hellos, and for introducing articles, business documents, and news events. The recipient gets to see the author and the author is able to enhance the message using visual and auditory cues. The key is to keep them as short as possible, preferably less than five minutes and certainly no more than ten. There’s a reason why broadcast television breaks every twelve minutes and why commercial messages are sold in 5, 10, 15 and 30 second segments (60 also but these are increasingly rare).

Audio Message

Not very intimate but, at times, a pretty good alternative to real-time. If you simply want to convey information with affect—and you don’t need an immediate response—an audio message works great.  However if you are leaving business or personal messages at 3am because you want to make sure you don’t have a live connection, I suggest you figure out what you are afraid of. And, oh yes, you are afraid of something. Like I said, figure it out…

Descriptive Email

Other than as a way of distributing pure information—who, what, when, where, why and how much—or, as a way to transmit business documents, video or audio messages, email should be avoided. If you are shooting for a humorous, sarcastic or sardonic tone, or, if you find the need to frequently bold,  italicize, or exclaim!, business email is the WRONG place to do it.  Most people simply can’t pull it off (some can…but not many) and the result can range from confusion and annoyance all the way to anger and loss of business and business relationships.

Text Messages

Other than quick hits like…

  • “Meeting time changed to 2:00.”
  • “Just leaving the office.”
  • “Don’t forget the J&J report.”
  • “Call me ASAP.”
  • “Where the hell are you?”
  • “On my way home I’ll get milk , bread, and (okay) beer…looks like snow!”

…and other easily understood one-liners, stay away from text messages. They have no place in business communications. This is particularly the case with acronyms and emoticons. Don’t use them because OMG  IGWS I won’t be  HOYEW!  ;-(

Coming Up…

Part III:  Building and Maintaining Relationships – A Formula

Part IV:  Summary (So What?)

NO OBLIQUE-SPEAK: Part I – Six Keys to Effective Communication


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

–  Bernard Shaw

NOTE 

What follows is Part I of a four-part essay on corporate communication. While the basic information has universal application, the focus is on the communication concerns of fast-paced, early stage, entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial ventures.  

Position Statement

Business (life) Means Building and Maintaining Relationships

1.        Create a Culture of Security, Acceptance, and Respect (SAR)

When I was completing a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the University of Michigan School of Education—a long time ago—it was drilled into our heads that, rather than truly listen when spoken to, most people half listen while they rehearse what they’re going to say when it’s their turn to speak. As a result, the subtleties of language are often missed.  Things that go unnoticed, like a raised eyebrow, a smirk, a shoulder shrug, a shoe scuff, and darting eyes—the italics of conversation—are as meaningful and defining as a shout, a cry, or a whisper. Miss them and you miss the meaning behind the words. Throw on top of that our reluctance to use unvarnished and to-the-point language and you can see the truth in Shaw’s quote, above.

Trust is an Issue         

There is a nurture vs. nature argument here that I’ll skip for now. Regardless of origin, we, as a society (Species?), tend to be skeptical and, increasingly, cynical. We question what we hear—and sometimes what we see. “What’s the angle?” “I’m not sure she actually meant what she said.” “Look me in the eye and say that, again.” “Ummm, I wonder.” And, who can ever forget the battle of wits in the poison scene between Vizzini and The Man in Black from the movie, “Princess Bride.” When acceptance, respect and the overall security of a relationship are questioned, we, like Vizzini and The Man in Black, think, plan and act according to our interpretation of true intentions…face value no longer has much value.

Darwinian or not, in business, particularly in a start-up venture, it is imperative that all parties truly trust one another. Management must speak clearly and directly at all times AND encourage all employees to do likewise.  Shoestring budgets and—not-long-enough—sixty-hour weeks permit only the thinnest margin of error. Let me make it very clear that this does not suggest that bullying, rudeness, disrespectful or petulant behavior is excusable; that is never the case.  The default must be that:

  • our relationship is solid and secure
  • we accept each other as individuals
  • we respect each other’s talents and contributions

THE C4 PLEDGE

I HEREBY PLEADGE THAT I WILL IMMEDIATELY INFORM YOU IF AND WHEN ONE OR MORE OF THESE VITAL CONDITIONS ARE CHALLENGED

Signed:  ________________________

The Tale of Two Employees

Nobody Ever Told Me…

Let me tell you a sad story. When I was asked to build a company within a company—to be an intrapreneur—I was given a considerable budget and a fair amount of freedom to assemble a quality “A” team. I could build the team by recruiting outside or, if I chose, I could interview and make offers to candidates currently employed by the parent company. Human Resources, on the lookout for possible matches, suggested one particular individual from the parent pool. The individual had nineteen years of service with a stellar performance review history. I had met this person briefly and he seemed like a good guy but the nature of the job was technical and a bit out of my scope so I leaned heavily on the impressions of others.

When I mentioned this candidate to the CEO of the parent company, he said, “Oh, you don’t want him. He’s a mail-it-in kinda’ guy. Just does the bare minimum and checks out.”  When I spoke with his immediate supervisor, I got a similar response.  So, when it came time for me to formally interview this person, I told him what I’d heard (protecting the sources). He was devastated. In all the time on the job he thought he was doing a fine—if not exemplary—job. Oblique speak at its worse. From what I could tell, he was a fine person with above average intelligence. With the right coaching and with honest feedback he may have moved into a high middle management position. Instead, within a couple years, when the economy tanked—and layoffs were inevitable—he was gone.

Two things were happening here. One, my guess is that he, at some level, knew he wasn’t performing at his best but put the gear in cruise figuring all was good with the brass.  The other thing was a culture of “nice guy” where nobody wanted to criticize the work of someone who, while maybe not destined for the C Suite, was “good enough.” He was accepted as a person but his work was not respected and he was on shaky ground for years; unfortunately, nobody told him. It was a case of pure conflict avoidance. The result hurt both the company—he was capable of so much more—and the individual who never got the needed kick in the butt needed to move himself out of cruise and into passing gear.

I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends…

In another case with a happier ending, let me tell you this story. In the field of wellness and health promotion I’ve encountered scores of really good people but only dozens of business-ready people. They—the nice but unconsciously incompetent group—need molding, mentoring, coaching and opportunities to both fail and succeed.  Most listen well, respond quickly, rarely make the same mistake twice and do just fine.  And, then there are those who, while talented, tend to wander off into deep water a little too often.

One such young man was having a challenge with authority and, it appeared, women supervisors in particular. His insubordination was reported up the chain of command and, after his boss conferred with her boss, the employee was place on a Performance Improvement Plan, a PIP. Having been schooled on the fine points of Secure-Accept-Respect management (SAR), it was explained to the employee that he was respected for his field knowledge and for his overall contribution to the team but that his attitude and failure to carry out instructions from his supervisor was unacceptable.  Furthermore, it was made perfectly clear that failure to rectify the situation would result in probation and, potentially, dismissal.  MOST important the PIP team, which included him, designed SMART goals that, if met, would put him back on track.

The review process uncovered cultural factors on both sides that helped explain—but not justify—his behavior. The process also revealed the extent of his supervisor’s frustration. To complicate matters, the supervisor, a warm, compassionate, quintessential health promotion professional, ranked very high on the OBLIQUE-SPEAK scale. Her instructions were riddled with ambiguity and qualifiers.  For example, instead of saying, “Be at Sharp Mechanics on Tuesday no later than 10:00 sharp to begin screenings. And, make sure to complete no less than 20 before heading back to the office at noon.” She was more apt to say, “If you would, please, try your best to start the screenings around 10:00, do the best that you can and I’ll see you when you return to the office. My guess is that it shouldn’t take you more than a couple hours to complete 20 screenings.” When he got back to the office at 12:30 after completing 15 screenings beginning at 10:30 she was furious and he was confused. She thought she was very clear with her instructions and he thought he was following her instructions to the letter.

In this case the issue was resolved and the employee went on to become a truly exemplary member of the corporate team.  Why?  Because of 5 critical steps:

  1. The issue was reported early
  2. The employee received a SAR review
  3. A collective effort determined the source of the problem
  4. A PIP was generated and agreed upon by all parties
  5. Both supervisor and employee received training on non-verbal communication and conflict management.

In the first case, the employee was blind-sided and everyone lost.  In the second case, because of a SAR culture, everyone won.  You choose…

2.    Practice No-Oblique Speak

When I was a young airman going through basic training at Lackland AFB in Texas we did a lot of marching and precision drilling.  I got the “Forward March” part  just fine and I nailed the “About Face” command.  However, I never heard of “Right Oblique” and “Left Oblique” commands. I quickly—and painfully—learned that it meant turn at a 45-degree angle; not right, not left, not forwards or backwards.

Oblique angles might work okay for a drill sergeant or an engineer but not so much when it comes to communication. As the subtitle to this article states, “crystal clear communication is critical” and that means, “Straight Talk.”

Once-upon-a-time, I had a senior staff colleague who was very passionate and opinionated when she spouted and fumed in the hallway but was solid as Jell-O when speaking inside the boardroom.

What was once…

“I absolutely oppose the direction we’re taking. It’s ill conceived, highly risky, over-funded and it distracts from our corporate mission. I don’t care if it is the CEO’s pet project, it will never work!”

Five steps later, inside the oak paneled conference room, her positioned morphed into…

“Well, this is clearly one of the best strategic initiatives conceived, to date.  Kudos to you and the development team, sir.  Excellent job!  I wonder, however, if, maybe, perhaps, you would entertain the possibility of holding off on the launch until a later date.  Our plate is pretty full right now and funds are getting tight. Of course, if it’s imperative that we meet the deadline you’ve proposed I’m sure we can move some of the other projects and concentrate on this one.  I just offer postponement as a suggestion, for your consideration.  You know of course, that my team and I will do whatever you feel is needed and we will make it work.”        

True story—with a little paraphrasing—but close enough to the real thing. The result of this inhibited culture of oblique-speak? The launch date was met but the initiative was was flawed at best with technical glitches , cumbersome administration, and considerable confusion. On top of that, it pulled key people off of mission-critical jobs, proved to be way more expense to launch and administer than originally planned, and it never recovered.  It didn’t work.

Now, of course, had the executive taken her hallway words and attitude into the boardroom she would have risked losing her job. No-Oblique-Speak isn’t code for hari kari. It’s possible to get your message across clearly without blowing everybody—including yourself—to smithereens.

She could have presented her views this way…

“With all due respect, sir, I encourage you to reconsider the launch, as well as the initiative, itself. It is my opinion, confirmed by my staff and supported by data, that, while the idea shows great promise, the current deadline isn’t realistic. The financial models are inconclusive and the IT staff needs more time to test various scenarios.  Instead of January, we recommend a June 1st launch with a May 15th Go/No-Go cutoff.”    

The CEO would not have been pleased but the Vice President (with fiduciary responsibilities) would have made her point clearly, and, perhaps, saved the project and/or a ton of money for the company.

3.    Behind Every Question There is A Concern

We all know the story of the little boy who asks his parents, “Where do I come from?”  The parents take a big breath and launch into a poorly rehearsed and supremely awkward rendition of the birds and the bees.  The little boy looks at them in confusion, shakes his head and says, “No, I mean, where did I come from?  Bobby’s from Buffalo…where am I from?”

Before launching off into a long discourse, remember that behind every question there is a concern.  Make sure you identify and understand the concern before you answer the question.  Remember, words are just a part of the communication mix.  Inflection, intonation and body language complete the message.

4.    Hyperbole Never Helps

I once had a member of my senior staff who was the Mistress of Hyperbole.

  • “Yes, yes, yes, I agree with that 100%! Only, do you think maybe we could modify it this way instead?”
  • “Fred is an outstanding employee. No doubt about it, he’s great. If only he wasn’t so pig-headed and lazy he could really make a contribution.”
  • “Totally! Yes, you are absolutely right.  My feelings, exactly. However…”

You get the point.  Extreme communication is a waste of time and brings a person’s credibility into question. It’s also very annoying. Listen for it in yourself and others and work to change the habit. Hyperbole is absolutely, positively, the worst possible thing a person can do! The world would be a perfect if ONLY people would stop exaggerating!  😉

5.     Don’t Confuse Connectivity with Communication (or intimacy)

Stop for a second and consider the possibility that the more touch-points we have…the less in-touch we’ve become.

The other day, I heard a TV reporter ask a 20-something woman how often she talked on the phone. Her response was, “Almost never.”  She, like most of those under forty, prefers texting to actual phone calling. Her response as to why she texts:  “I find that texting allows me to avoid the awkwardness that comes with actual interaction.”

No, seriously, that’s what she said. As for the reporter, not an eyebrow raised or a follow-up question asked.

 “…allows me to avoid the awkwardness that comes with actual interaction.”

Is it just my white hair that finds this alarming or are there others of you out there that are just a little creeped-out by her answer?

Yes, I understand the value of texting and instant messaging and I realize that the sheer numbers of contacts and connections has increased significantly. This part is all good. The creepy part is that…knowingly or not…I think she nailed it.  Have we exchanged intimacy and actual interaction for expediency and ease?

As for the full spectrum world of technology, it’s been said that computers like IBM’s “Watson” will never totally replace humans because they cannot convey the subtly and nuance often used to deliver the true meaning behind our messages. All of us have dozens of shades of smiles, frowns, voice inflections, intonations, body postures, eye shifts, lifts and squints that add color, texture and clarity to our interactions.

Wait, before anyone calls me old—”chronologically superior”—or out of touch (that would be ironic), let me again praise technology and its value in wellness, health promotion and daily living, in general. I love it for peer support, reminders, data uploads, medical monitoring, rallying action, spreading information, quick hellos, and growing social networks. It truly is remarkable and we’ve just scratched the surface!  Hot damn, hallelujah and bring it on.  My kids have the best hand-me-downs you can imagine. At this very moment my daughter is anxiously waiting for me to pick up my new iPad2 so she can have my “old” iPad1.

But please, please, please, along with high tech, keep fostering and building high touch. A few months ago, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the computer kick butt on Jeopardy but it’s hard to imagine “Dinner with Watson” coming to a theater near you. Also, all the emoticons in world can’t replace a hug, a knowing look or an actual smiley face from a real little kid. I don’t find interactions with them awkward, at all.

6.     Challenging and Constructive Conflict is Good.

This point will be covered in detail in Part III:

 Coming Up…

Part II:      Human Interaction:  The Order of Preference

Part III:     Building and Maintaining Relationships:  A Formula

Part IV:    Summary (So What?)

No Oblique Speak! Introduction: Let Me Tell You a Story…


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

–  Bernard Shaw

Position Statement

Business (life) Means Building and Maintaining Relationships

NOTE 

What follows is the introduction to a  four-part essay on corporate communication. This section introduces the concepts of “secure-accept-respect” and “no-oblique-speak.” These themes will be presented in detail in Part I and appear throughout the essay. While the basic information deals with all levels of human interaction, the focus is on the communication concerns of fast-paced, early stage, entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial ventures.   

Once Upon a Time…

On June 14, 1999, I had a right modified radical mastectomy to remove an invasive ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer. In the beginning, this uninvited—and mind-numbing—voyage was distorted by a cracked prism of blurred colors. When I squinted very hard, the view would suddenly burst forth with distinct edges and hopeful clarity only to slip back into a murky and surreal world of distortion and confusion.  In September of that year I decided to write a book of reflections and lessons about my new journey, “Voices from the Edge.” As with all memoir-type books, the motivation came as much from a need for personal healing as it did from a desire to share my new perspective on life.

I had passion and a story to tell but I needed the help of an editor to keep me from mucking it up by meandering all over the place. As luck would have it (make that fate) I didn’t have to look any further than my own family.

My brother, David, now deceased, was a brilliant professor of creative writing as well as a law professor at the University of Southern California. He was a supreme practitioner of the “secure,” “accept,” and “respect” philosophy and a master of the “no oblique-speak” school of communication. As a writer—or in any life circumstance—you always knew where you stood with Professor Samuelson. With compassion and crystal clarity, he’d let you know if his respect for you was waning. If a behavior was unacceptable, he’d let you know. If the overall security of the relationship was in danger, he’d let you know. And, in every case, he’d offer up suggestions on how to get things back on track.  If he said nothing at all about these issues you knew that you, your work, and your relationship with David was accepted, respected and secure.

When speaking with my brother there was no place for innuendo, vagueness, hyperbole, distortion or any other form of oblique-speak. As a result of this clarity, conversations and interactions of any kind were always free of “How should I put this…?” or, “What did you mean by that?” You could say what you wanted to say and you listened carefully because what he said he meant.  Wow, just like when we were kids!

Somewhat hesitant at first, David did agree to copyedit and critique “Voices…” under one very important condition. He made it perfectly clear that from the first corrected semi-colon to the final punctuation mark, he would no longer think of me as his brother. I was a writer and he was my editor. Period. We repeated this arrangement for two additional books that I wrote, “Moments…Not Years” and “What Would Mickey Say:  Coaching Men to Health and Happiness.”

Easy, right? I mean how blunt could he be, he’s my big brother? He certainly wouldn’t hurt my feelings or discourage me, right? Okay, but if it was necessary to correct my writing, he would do it with velvet words wrapped in a big warm supportive smile, right? WRONG. He was direct and to the point. He didn’t waste time, emotion, or words with his criticisms and suggestions. I asked for his professional evaluation and guidance…he gave it to me…take it or leave it.

Ready or Not

The following are direct quotes from his critiques of my work:

  • “That was a lazy paragraph. Inject energy or throw it away before you lose your reader. Here’s a suggestion…”
  • “I hope you feel better after writing this chapter but it has no business in this book. File it away for another time.” Consider…”
  • “You lost [character’s name] voice, here. Sound’s more like [another character’s name]. If you’re going to use stereotypes (I don’t recommend it), at least make them consistent. Here’s a suggested re-write…”
  • “You nailed it with this chapter. Best work to date. Let me tell you why…”

And, of course, being a master of no-oblique speak, there were times when he would dot the pages with blue punctuation pulled from his personal stylebook. I’m pleased to say the books, when published, were met with critical acclaim and earned jacket endorsements from Larry King, Ken Blanchard, Dee Edington, Brian Luke Seward, Jim Prochaska, and The Lance Armstrong Foundation. I received subsequent written kudos from Betty Ford, C. Everett Koop, Tom Ridge, and others. But, of all the nice things said about the books, whose praise meant the most to me?  Yes, of course, my brother, David.  Just like when we were kids!

It’s All About Trust

What made my editor/writer relationship with my brother work was trust. Trust is a two-way street. It wasn’t enough that I knew I was accepted, respected and secure in my relationship with David, he also had to operate with the same understanding when it came to trusting me. He had to be comfortable knowing that I could also compartmentalize. He knew he could give frank, clear judgments without concern for losing my acceptance or respect; that our relationship as brothers would remain secure. He knew also that there may be times when I would respectfully reject his recommended edits and that my expectation was that he would accept my decision without prejudice. As an example, on one occasion, he questioned my use of a made-up word, “Thrival.”  He pointed out the fact that it wasn’t a word and suggested an edit using the accepted word, “Thrive.”  I pointed out that “Thrival,” when used as the next step beyond cancer survival, was an audience accepted and appreciated word. It aptly described an aspiration. His suggestion was to keep the non-word, but use parentheses. In this case, we both agreed that function trumped form. Most important, we both knew that, if needed, one or both of us would bring troublesome issues to the surface for discussion and resolution.

In a case where form served function—and was clearly in the editor’s domain—let’s take a look at an actual critique.  It refers to a blended fact and fantasy book I wrote about the life of Mickey Mantle. The book has eight central characters including a resurrected Mickey.

Brother David:  “Your characters are losing their identity. Remain consistent with your backstory so that the personalities progress logically. Your tone and voice are getting jumbled. You can do so much better. Here’s a suggestion…”

  • Now, remember, at this point, he is no longer my brother, he is Professor David R. Samuelson, PhD. The first three statements from the good Professor are clear. In his professional opinion, character development is breaking down and character behavior/dialogue is inconsistent with established background. Because of his reputation for excellence, coupled with his academic credentials and experience, I am not defensive nor do I question the intent or veracity of his statements. I TRUST his integrity as well as his judgment.
  • When he tells me in the next sentence, “You can do better than that.” I don’t take it as an empty platitude thrown out to make me feel good (although it did).  I take it, again, as a professional critique.  I TRUST his judgment.
  • He then finishes his critique with a suggestion on how I can round out and strengthen my characters. I followed his advice. Why? Because I TRUST his judgment.

If David felt that he needed to sugarcoat his comments or boast my self-confidence with empty compliments, my work would have suffered and same goes for our relationship. The moment he accepted responsibility as my editor and the moment I accepted responsibility as his writer we entered into a sacred trust of unencumbered honesty and clarity. “I wonder what he meant by that…” was replaced with, “Got it, thanks.” And, “Let’s see, how should I say this…” was replaced with, “Okay, here’s the deal…”

Art, Society, and Business Operating Systems

David’s trust-based, direct, no nonsense, no oblique-speak approach to teaching is a solid model for building clear lines of communication that can accelerate business success.

Everyone in an organization (particularly in early stage development) must have a clear understanding and a singular interpretation of mission, vision, strategy, tactics, execution and evaluation. To have otherwise is akin to an orchestra pit filled with musicians perpetually tuning their individual instruments, or a chorus doing vocal warm-ups.  It’s just noise…and, before long…very annoying noise. This article is about cutting through the corporate noise. It’s about orchestrated four-part harmony.

Coming Up…

Part I :      Six Keys to Effective Communications

Part II:      Human Interaction:  The Order of Preference

Part III:     Building and Maintaining Relationships:  A Formula

Part IV:    Summary (So What?)