I’m not sure about you, but it’s hard for me to take much more of the political fights happening throughout my social media world. It’s obvious that we are in unchartered territory here in the United States because I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Dr. Seuss
I’ve seen leaders ask more questions to understand and clarify. Instead of proving someone wrong and the rightness of a position, I watched someone modify language and communication. Or, try this: Start with the positive before you believe the worst about someone. And especially gratifying was when two people agreed to actually talk. Yes, talk—you know, when you are actually sitting down, face-to-face and having a real conversation instead of a social media onslaught. What an idea! Finally, I was particularly pleased when someone took my counsel. My advice was to see if you could argue the other side passionately and factually. That required research and time, but I was told it was an incredibly enlightening process. He didn’t change his mind, but he did reach a common understanding with his friend.
“Leaders start with the positive, always believing the best first.” -Skip Prichard
Reduce emotions by hearing the stories behind the raw emotion
Modify language from extreme positioning
Increase face-to-face conversations
Learn to articulate the other side with passion and facts
I can’t say that I’m not frustrated with it all. I still cringe when I see someone post a question as bait ready to hook someone into an argument. At least now I’m hoping for a more positive resolution.
“Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.” -Laurence Sterne
I’m a student of good communication and have been all my life. And Jack’s observations and practical book upped my game immediately from Chapter 1. I’m sure you will enjoy learning to recognize these sentences and strategies and how to handle them as they arise.
Jack Quarles is the founder of Buying Excellence, a company helping businesses choose the best vendor possible. He is a specialist on expense management, negotiations, and increasing ROI.
How to Spot the Expensive Sentence
Give us an example of an “expensive sentence.”
Skip, here are a few I’ve heard in the last week:
“I’m too busy to look at that now.”
“She’s the only one who can do the job.”
“It’s too late to change our plans.”
They surround us. Sometimes they take the form of proverbs, like, “You can’t change horses in mid-stream,” or “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Others can be very localized, like, “Our boss isn’t interested in new marketing tactics,” or “That’s just Ted being Ted.”
“The best time to manage the damage of an Expensive Sentence is right after you hear it.” –Jack Quarles
How are expensive sentences related to poor communication?
Unfortunately, Expensive Sentences have the effect of ending conversations and stopping communication. For example, imagine that you and I are discussing which consultant to hire for a project, and I say, “Well, you get what you pay for.” That phrase has weight; it sounds wise and definitive. You will probably think I am quite set in that position (of hiring the higher-priced consultant), even though I may only be 60% sure that it applies here. I’d be better off qualifying my words before they define our decision, and you might be smart to gently respond, “Yes, it’s often true that you do have to pay for higher quality… but is that true in this case? Or could that be an Expensive Sentence?”
Myths that Drive Decision-Making
Jack, you debunk many common myths that drive corporate decision-making. And then you give suggestions on how to handle them. I’d love to delve into a few, starting with, “The customer is always right.” You give examples of where customers are mistaken. Would you share one and the implications?
In the book, I share about a meeting I took part in with the CEO of Five Guys, Jerry Murrell. They’ve grown with a franchise model, and so they have customers who run restaurants (franchisees) and customers who eat burgers (“French fries-ees” – sorry, couldn’t resist!) Lots of people associate burgers with milkshakes, and a common request/complaint is that Five Guys should sell milkshakes. Other customers would love to see turkey sandwiches or coffee on the menu.
Murrell sees these potential expansions as diversions; he has always been laser-focused on burgers & fries. The chain prides itself on being the best reviewed restaurant in the world, in part because they serve such limited fare. If they were to start offering other items, they’d be graded on the average of their full menu, and Five Guys is not confident they can make what would universally be considered the best milkshake or turkey sandwich or cup of coffee in the world. (Burgers & fries? Done.)
There are only two reasons that our customers are “wrong” with their requests: either they add too much cost for us to serve them sustainably (i.e., profitably), or they lead us in the wrong direction, away from our core business. We must be clear and confident about our business model to avoid letting customers steer us in the wrong direction. This can be tricky because sometimes we need to experiment, and business models can evolve. But over-responsiveness is a proven path to exhaustion and losses.
Five Guys is an extreme example of focus (even within the restaurant industry), but note their success. Clearly, it’s not “wrong” in the abstract to want a turkey sandwich or a milkshake with your burger; the point is that’s not the kind of experience that Five Guys is offering.
How wide-ranging is your “menu”? Where does your business draw the line? What are the wrong kind of customers? Do you currently have a client who might be better served by one of your competitors? These are great questions to discuss with your team.
“The cost of Expensive Sentences transcends the income statement; it affects lives all around us.” –Jack Quarles
This is a guest post by Judy Nelson. Coach Judy Nelson has golfed with presidents, been heckled by famous comedians, and researched insurance policies for riding elephants on behalf of Zsa Zsa Gábor—and those were the ordinary days! Her new book, Intentional Leadership debuts in January.
“Tact is an ability to live in the midst of ugliness without getting ugly.” –Debasish Mridha
A tachometer in a car measures the rotation of the crankshaft. A TACT-ometer in a leader measures the rotation of the crankiness or degree of rudeness they reveal and inspire in others. Leaders everywhere would be wise to make sure their TACT-ometer is functioning well—or take it in for a tune-up.
In a manual transmission, the tachometer serves a significant role for the vehicle’s engine maintenance. It helps the driver select an appropriate gear for driving conditions. It denotes the maximum safe range for rotation speeds, which when exceeded are indicated in red. When a driver operates the car while the tachometer reads in the red areas, it’s called redlining the engine. Prolonged extreme redlining in the tachometer may cause less than optimum performance that could cause excessive wear and tear or permanent damage to the vehicle’s engine (And in case you were wondering if I knew all this before, I didn’t. Thank you, Wikipedia.)
A TACT-ometer is a gauge for your mouth. It serves a significant role for your team’s morale maintenance. It helps the speaker select appropriate words for working conditions. It denotes the maximum safe range for lack of tact, which when exceeded leaves the speaker’s recipient red with embarrassment (or rage). When a speaker regularly operates in the red zone, I call it redlining the team. Prolonged extreme tactlessness or extreme tact may cause less than optimum communication and conflict that could cause excessive wear or permanent damage to relationships. (Sadly, I learned this concept through experience, not Wikipedia.)
“Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” –Isaac Newton
I use the Workplace Big 5 Profile 4.0™ Assessments to help my clients assess their performance on the TACT-ometer. The Workplace Big 5 Profile stimulates changes in self-awareness and identifies ways to maximize your natural talents in a manner that works with your natural energy levels.
Some people who score in the 0 to 35 range don’t believe they lack tact. In fact, the harshest person you know may think that he or she is just being direct and even kind because telling the absolute truth is the right thing to do. Who can argue that much of the time telling the absolute truth is the right thing to do?
“Tact is the ability to step on a man’s toes without messing up the shine on his shoes.” –Harry Truman
And who can argue that there are times when it isn’t?
The definition of tact can vary depending on the area where you live. Take, for instance, the different regions of the U.S. In one part of the country, being direct (up to and including the point of being blunt) is not only accepted but also expected. In another region, extreme politeness is the norm. These expectations tend to stay with you even when you leave the area you consider “normal.” When people with different definitions of tact work together, office tension is often the result.
Copyright Judy Nelson, Used by Permission
Knowing your natural tendencies regarding tact could help you to choose more consciously what you say and how you say it—i.e., to manage your mouth strategically. I advise my clients to use I-messages. I-messages create responses that feel less accusatory. They demonstrate more tact when used correctly. Unlike You-messages, (e.g. “you always interrupt” or “why don’t you just…?”) I-messages focus on the feelings of the speaker rather than the person they are addressing. They provide a tactful way to deliver a direct response.
The Right Words Matter
When it comes to how you communicate, let’s face it: The right words matter!
This is a guest post by friend, executive and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor. Follow him on Twitter.
Leadership is Not About Knowing All the Answers
Leadership is not about knowing all the answers—it is about leading others to do their best to accomplish goals, solve problems and grow. How many times have you seen a “leader” arrive at the wrong conclusion or take misguided action because they did not know all the facts? How many times have you been frustrated because you were not asked to provide your opinion, perspective or experience?
“Leadership is not about knowing all the answers.” -Bruce Rhoades
When leaders do not take time to formulate and ask appropriate questions, the whole organization suffers—people do not contribute their best; they do not grow, and the organization often takes sub-optimal or wrong action. Likewise, leaders that do not ask purposeful questions can demoralize the organization, gradually turn associates into non-thinking “yes people” and risk looking foolish or arrogant.
A leader’s effectiveness can be greatly improved by using insightful questions. Here is how.
“Leaders who do not ask purposeful questions can demoralize the organization.” -Bruce Rhoades
In business, some would reject images and drawings as childish. You say that it’s the most natural thing in the world and dismiss this. Why do some people feel that way and resist the visual?
If you’ve ever witnessed a board meeting, suffered through a bullet-point presentation, or tried to read a business-school article, you know first-hand that “serious” businesspeople hate pictures. Pictures are childish, simplistic, and patronizing.
But if you consider that most meetings are torture, that most people sleep through PowerPoints, and secretly admit you’d rather watch Game of Thrones than read “The Harvard Business Review,” you also know this hatred of pictures is insane. The sad fact is that business without pictures is boring – and boring doesn’t get the job done.
There are many reasons this anti-picture mentality persists: In school drawing is considered just a stepping-stone to reading. Most of us had a parent or teacher who told us sometime that our drawings were terrible, and there are few resources for creating or critiquing business-oriented pictures, etc. But I think the most profound reason pictures are poo-pooed in business is historical.
Think about it like this: A century and a half ago, we inherited our educational system from the British – and most of it was developed during the industrial revolution. England (and America, who still looked across the Atlantic for guidance on most social issues) suddenly found itself needing to shift its workforce from fields into factories. Faced with millions of former farmers who had to learn overnight how to pull the right levers in the right order, our modern educational system was born, and the essence was this: If you could talk well, you went to university, banking, and law. If you couldn’t talk well, you went to the factory. The die was cast, and to this day the greatest definer of “intelligence” – despite increasing data and cognitive studies pointing out the power of pictures – remains your ability to talk. That’s great if you’re a natural Shakespeare, but miserable if you’re more Michelangelo.
“The best CEOs I know are teachers, and at the core of what they teach is strategy.” -Michael Porter
In your work, many will tell you what I’m thinking right now, “But, Dan….I can’t draw!” What do you say to the many who resist?
It’s important to realize that drawing isn’t an artistic process; drawing is a thinking process. By virtue of being human, you are from birth an extraordinary visual-thinker. More of your brain is dedicated to processing vision that to any other thing that you do, with nearly half your neurons keeping you alive by seeing the world around you.
Kids love to draw. Drawing is the first way that all of us model and record our thoughts, and as kids we’re really good at it – until the “That’s a terrible dog; dogs don’t look like that!” judgement sets in, and drawing is beaten out of us.
Don’t get me wrong: I love words; words and spoken language are a miracle – but words work best when supported by pictures. Words and pictures amplify and complement each other – in exactly the same way our brains work when making sense of the world.
Copyright Dan Roam, Used by Permission
Once you realize that, drawing becomes easy to reintroduce: You start by drawing a few simple shapes – a circle, a square, and a line to connect them – and before long your visual mind wakes back up and you’re on a roll.
(In fact, when I do training at major organizations and corporations, it takes most people about three minutes to start drawing again.)
“Business has only two functions-marketing and innovation.” -Milan Kundera
What are some of the benefits you’ve seen when someone learns to make drawing part of their regular practice? Any stories of how this transformed someone’s leadership you can share?
Copyright Dan Roam, Used by Permission
The first discovery of someone who starts drawing again is clarity. We think that the verbal voices in our head make beautiful sense – right up to the moment we try to describe our ideas to someone else and we find ourselves spinning and our audience drifting away. Pictures fix that, in a couple ways.
First, when you draw out your idea, you don’t have to remember anything: the full logic of your idea is there before you, all in one place, all immediately scannable, and none of it hidden. (And if you can’t draw out at least a few pieces of your idea, I think it’s important to ask yourself how well you really know it.)
Second, drawing exposes holes in your thinking that you typically don’t notice when just talking. It’s really easy to lie to yourself with words but a lot harder with a picture.
I’ve seen this sudden discovery of clarity hundreds of times in consulting and training sessions. My favorite example was when Ted, the Director of Strategy at one of the world’s largest professional services companies, had an epiphany during a visual-thinking class. I was taking the group through my “Six-by-six” visual storytelling exercise when Ted suddenly jumped up, and waving one of his pictures, ran out of the room.
He returned thirty minutes later, saying, “I just sold the job! I took a photo of my sketch and emailed it to my client, then called and walked them through it. I finally saw the way through – and they finally saw it, too.”
“In sales, it’s not what you say; it’s how they perceive what you say.” -Jeffrey Gitomer