Archive for the ‘Strategic Communications’ Category
Posted February 18th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
In the communications world, we’re constantly looking for those anecdotes and stories that help others learn about the importance and challenges of communicating to our audiences. One recently occurred with a little friend of mine (‘little’ meaning 10 years old!) in trying to help her solve a problem. It helped underscore the importance of using language that has meaning to the receiver, and of making sure our communications are audience-focused.
She called me, as a family friend, from her mom’s mobile phone to tell me they were having trouble with their new television and video-streaming reception (not that I’m an expert by any stretch, however, I’m a practiced tinkerer and have some talent in unexpected areas beyond my day job!). It seemed like nothing was working. Because they had one of those full-service, one-provider arrangements, I asked if the house phone worked. She didn’t know (and rarely uses it), so I asked her to pick up the phone and listen for the dial-tone. Her response was startling!
“What’s a dial-tone?”
At first I thought she was teasing me (something she learned from me and at which she is now well-practiced). I repeated my question, and asked if she could hear the dial-tone on the house phone. For context, this is someone with an iPad, iPod and notebook computer, and who uses her mom’s mobile phone for voice communication. Once she knows your eddress, you’re a regular in her ‘Contacts’ list, and are sure to be updated on her life activities via email, texts, etc.
I was a bit taken aback and started to describe what a dial-tone was when I realized she was of a generation that had no real experience with the concept, and that I’d lost my ‘audience’ because I was unable to speak in a language and with words, symbols and substance that she understood. In my inability to explain and attempt to grasp for comparisons, this thought came to me: How often do we communicate in a language, at a time, with an emotion or intent that makes complete sense to us, but leaves our audiences, our listeners, totally disconnected (pardon the pun!)?
We act based on what WE think WE know, rather than taking the time to understand what our audiences/listeners know and need. It’s a focal point of a lot of the professional coaching I do as well. Often my counsel (when clients present a challenge in communicating with someone) is to slow down, think about the person they are communicating to, and ask them to apply the old ‘put yourself in their chair’ exercise. For example, what is that person thinking? What experiences do they bring to the conversation? What are their needs, wants, desires; fears, apprehensions, anxieties? Apply the “Seek first to understand, rather than to be understood” lesson. In other words, focus on your audience.
When we train speakers, it’s the same advice. Ask, why are folks sitting in their chairs listening to me? Why are they there? What do they want? (Rather than the classic speaker’s mistake of asking: What do I want to tell them?)
This little 10-year old is pretty sharp, and eventually I was able to help her with her problem. It made me aware that a mobile-phone generation may NEVER hear a dial-tone, and that word, like so many others, illustrates the need for changing language, symbols and substance as we communicate to others who may have a different perspective, background, culture, history, etc. than we do. We need to understand what others need and want from the communication, presentation, meeting, or other interaction they’re having with us, and help understand their ‘language,’ and where they are coming from in the midst of their challenge, or solution-seeking.
And remember, we may be speaking ‘dial-tone,’ and they may be speaking ‘mobile phone,’ and we both may lose out on making an important connection!
Posted October 30th, 2011 by The Steve Alexander Group
It’s a shame that phrase has become so trivialized and impugned because of the circumstances under which it became part of our modern-day vernacular. Otherwise, it could truly serve as a plea for sanity at a time when dialogue between reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people has veered off into a world of unbelievable disrespect. I’m not the first to comment about the condition of today’s public discourse, and I won’t be the last. Hopefully, however, with some easy-to-apply tips, we all might challenge ourselves to a higher standard.
I was recently asked by a reporter to comment on a situation involving a community planning group and the level of apparent dysfunction they’ve reached, including personal insults, name-calling, nasty emails and the like. The article, “Political infighting plagues Alpine panel,” appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune and explains the kinds of behaviors that often occur in today’s public arena, whether it’s an advisory group, governmental body, in blog posts in response to news stories, etc.
I recently read somewhere that much of what has happened is that, due to the growth of electronic communications, we’ve learned to treat ‘people’ represented at the end of those communication venues as if they were themselves machines. Unfeeling, unconscious, unaffected machines. Thus, an email isn’t to a person. It’s the pounding away on a keyboard, with all the anger, frustration, ill-will and worse that gets conjured up inside us at times. Were folks sitting in the same room, face-to-face, it might just temper the words we use and the sometimes strength of emotion we use to convey them.
A few questions to ask yourself next time you communicate:
- How would I treat this person if they were my best friend?
- What can I say or do that would actually help in this situation?
- Is it possible I’m not seeing something that might give me a different perspective on the issue?
- What can I learn from someone who doesn’t think like me, doesn’t share my values, life experiences and world-view?
- If I let go of who’s right and who’s wrong, and instead focus on doing the right thing, how does that change my actions and words?
A few tips, many you’ve heard before, however, worth repeating:
1) Stop, take a deep breath (or three) before saying or doing anything. Just this pause alone will give you time to think, maybe even lower your blood pressure and act more kindly and thoughtfully.
2) Consider the difference between a reaction (quick, thoughtless, emotional, gives control and responsibility to the other person, blames, diminishes the likelihood of a resolution to conflicts, etc.) vs. a response (strategic, thoughtful, unemotional, seeks resolutions, puts you in control of your emotions and actions), and seek always a response to events and conflicts.
3) Take FULL responsibility for your part of the interaction and relationship (more on this in another post) instead of blaming or seeking change in the other person.
4) Remember, you are emailing, talking, blogging, tweeting, etc. a REAL HUMAN BEING, a person with feelings, albeit their world-view may be different than yours, they are of the same species, and like you, they mostly want to be heard, understood and appreciated for who they are.
5) Avoid the right/wrong paradigm (if they’re right, I must be wrong and vice versa), and instead, look for the nexus in your ideas; in the case of this story about Alpine, for example, what do we have in common in our love for our community, our vision for the next generation and what they’ll inherit from our hard work and dedication, etc.?
6) Remember, you can’t always be right. Sometimes you have to ask yourself if being right is more important than being happy and protecting your own serenity. After all, being at peace with what’s happening is within your power and it’s your decision, not someone else’s.
Granted, it’s not easy to be the first one to take the high road. However, with a new way of approaching our discourse, perhaps we’ll have healthier discussions, greater self-respect as well as respect for others. If it even nudges us slightly away from the aggressive tone we’ve adopted in our public discourse, won’t it have been worth it?
Interestingly, guess what the most common response is to my comments in this recent article from friends, colleagues and clients who read it! “Can’t you and those who do what you do descend upon Congress and get them to practice this stuff? They really need your help!” Well, we may not be able to do that. What each of us can do, however, is make an individual commitment, and since, as it’s said, ‘we elect the government we deserve,’ perhaps we can make a change in the discourse there, too. It can’t hurt to try.
Posted October 10th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
We have the tendency to think of others from our own world view, in other words, when we think about the messages we believe our organizations need to communicate, we get caught up in our own world, our internal language and what we know. We forget – most of those with whom we come in contact everyday do not share our experiences, including education, opportunity, social and family background, culture, you name it. As a result, we communicate from where we feel comfortable and are knowledgeable and experienced. As a result, we don’t reach or connect with our audience.
To reach an audience of customers, citizens, taxpayers, employees, patients, whomever your audience might be, the most effective communications start with getting out of our own parochialism. Tough to do when you’re used to using certain language, acronyms and images every day in your own work world.
Clients often ask us, “Why can’t we just tell them how important this is?” Well, that’s great if you have unlimited resources and can populate every place they get information in a non-stop, consistent way with what you think should be important to them! Even then you’re unlikely to get them to pay attention.
Ask yourself this simple question, “What was the last TV commercial I remember, including the product, the message and images?” Yet, here’s where companies spend a small fortune seeking your attention and, as my friend and colleague, Dan Kully of Laguens Kully Klose Partners always reminds me, have done some of the most extensives audience research on the planet. Tough to remember that last commercial, huh? And you’re probably even saying to yourself, “I don’t even watch that much TV!” Ah, and that makes you quite unlike your audience… your employees, customers, patients, etc.
Just check some of the statistics on how much TV people watch and that alone will give you a little clue. According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the Americans watch more than four hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or two months of nonstop TV-watching per year). For the average 65-year old, that’s about nine years of their life. This is not a discussion pro or con for TV watching, just pointing out that if those are not your habits, then by the same token, you’re not like most of your audiences.
Your assignment this week: Make a list of all the acronyms you use in your industry, profession, etc. and when you’re at your favorite restaurant, retail store or wherever you can ask the question without getting arrested, ask your server, clerk, etc. what the acronyms mean; just limit your self to about five of them. I think you can anticipate the results.
So, next time you and your organization decide you want to talk to the public, your audience, invest some time in asking who they are, where they come from ideologically, experientially, culturally, economically, etc. Get out of your own comfort zone, your own space. You’ll be surprised at the result.
Let me know what you learn and how you do. Especially with your assignment!
Posted April 22nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander
In my last post, I mentioned I’d re-visit the concept of The Platinum Rule®. First, let me give credit where credit’s due, The Platinum Rule® was created by Dr. Tony J. Alessandra and is a registered trademark. His work is pioneering, as it shifts the entire focus from ourselves to others. The Platinum Rule® simply states, “Do Unto Others As THEY Want Done Unto Them.” What it does is force us to think outside ourselves, requiring an empathic connection to the hearts, minds and souls of those folks with whom we’re interacting. It helps us seek to understand, rather than to be understood.
Why does that matter to you? Well, in that simple re-framing, we’re able to step back and examine from a different set of values, perspective and experience. Other than our own. And that’s where the magic begins.
I did a training for city department directors on how to manage difficult people. One jokingly said, “We’d all be fine if we didn’t have to deal with the public!” We all knew it was a form of gallows humor. And we all knew there was some truth to the view and experience that this person shared. Of course, we can get jaundiced by the day-to-day of complaints, criticism and sometimes downright ruthlessness when we’re in those kinds of public interface careers. So, it’s important to stop and ask ourselves, “What does this person need?” “What’s given rise to their complaint or problem?” “Why am I in this unique spot at this specific moment in time?”
With that insight, we begin to lay the foundation for applying The Platinum Rule®: “How can I be of service in helping them get their needs met, in helping them get what they want out of their interaction with me, my company and its product or services, or my organization, or the government service I represent to them?”
Why The Platinum Rule® works so well is because it’s contagious. Don’t take my word for it. Check it out. Apply it. Experiment in your job, at home, with your friends. Watch what happens when you start asking, “What do they need and want; how does their world look from their perspective?” And then follow-up with action, thoughts and words based on a view of how to “do unto them as they want done unto them.”
Take a test drive for the next few days; let me know how it feels. What you think. And how it works. I promise this, no matter what. It will be different.
Posted February 24th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
The Steve Alexander Group celebrates its 10 year anniversary with the launch of its new Web site at alexanderpa.com. We welcome you to take a test drive to see what you think. If you like the experience, let us know. Your feedback about what works and what could be done better is part of our commitment to improvement. After all, the site is about you, our clients, colleagues and supporters, and the chance we’ve had to serve on behalf of the good work these many individuals and organizations do for their clients, customers and constituents.
And, of course, if our service lines, strategic partners and client testimonials inspire you to contact us, we’d love to have the opportunity to see if we can help you meet your challenges, contribute to your success and collaborate with you as you grow in the coming year.
We’ll also be offering tips, tidbits, advice and insights to challenge your thinking, and stretch yourself, your employees and your organization through our blog. We invite you to opt-in so you can keep abreast of the latest information, articles, resources and other opportunities that can benefit you.
So, thanks for taking the time to experience our new home. We look forward to continuing our work, and our commitment to the best professional services in an array of areas where we can provide value and collaborate in the coming years.
Posted January 21st, 2010 by Steve Alexander
Seth Godin: Marketing Genius – A colleague and friend of mine turned me on to Seth Godin’s site awhile back; I find something useful all the time. If you’re not receiving Seth Godin’s blog, you’re really missing out. Guaranteed to stretch your mind (the kind of experiences we believe keep us creative, exciting and intellectually-stimulated!), sign-up for a test drive and you’re bound to find something in Seth’s words of wisdom as he challenges your thinking.
More to come in future posts. Just a few to get you thinking and experimenting. If you have favorites of your own, pass them along and we’ll take a look and post here what we think our connected world might find useful and interesting.
Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group
I’m a big fan of Seth Godin, whose blogs daily provide inspiration, self-reflection and challenge. He’s compiled a new e-book that’s worth the read, and I encourage you to check it out. It’s in a crisp, slide-driven format that facilitates easy links to the various authors, many of whom you’ll know as thought-leaders, successful entrepreneurs and communications experts.
Check it out. We’re sure you’ll find at least one morsel you can make use of today.
Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group
Interesting opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times about how the American public gets its news and information. What caught my attention, and is a growing theme, is how ideologically partisan the news has become. Event more interesting is how the “middle,” as it’s described in the piece (meaning news that seeks to balance both sides of an ideological position), comes in last out of the two major views (liberal vs. conservative) in the televison news category. This would probably make Edwin R. Murrow shake in his grave, and was predicted in the closing scene of the movie, Good Night, and Good Luck, as something to be concerned about. That time has surely come.
For our fellow public opinion research aficionados, enjoy the piece and let us know your thoughts!
Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group
Communication can be a challenge whenever it involves more than one person (sometimes, we can even confuse ourselves all alone with our own internal self-talk!). A quick tip from the world of therapy can be applied in our day-to-day communications with profound impact. Try it and let us know how it works for you. More to come in future posts.
Make “I” statements – This doesn’t mean looking people in the eye, though that will help also! Start your communications with the word “I” rather than “you.” When you use “you,” it variably puts your listener on the defensive and can be viewed as an attempt to relieve you of your own responsibility in the communication. Conversation usually deteriorates rapidly.
For example, instead of “You really bother me when you don’t show up on time,” try “I get upset when people arrive late.” (Of course, you also want to be aware that you’re responsible for your own feelings and actions, so this statement means you have to look at your own responsibility for your feelings about how you react to what others do; what you feel is an option, not a mandate.) Even better is “I appreciate it when you show up on time,” which represents your thoughts about an issue. It also allows you to make an aspirational statement about what you expect from another.
Next time you’re in dialogue with someone, remember the role you play in talking about yourself, your feelings and your thoughts, and describe both what you want and need from the other person. Your next job is to listen. That’s why it’s called dialogue.
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