Posted October 6th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
In the cacophony of this intense political season in the US, it’s worth taking a pause from all the noise to reflect on the values that matter in our lives. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of this stuff. Even more, to become ‘righteous’ about it.
Hence, why the story I shared last time about this humble man named Sixto Rodriguez must have captured the imaginations and yearning in so many. I can’t otherwise explain everything that’s happened since.
We received so many responses to the last post about the amazing documentary about Sixto Rodriguez, it seemed a sequel was in order. And for those who thought it was just a movie review, this man’s amazing story serves as an inspiration to all of us who work, live, socialize and otherwise interact with others of the human species!
The story of Rodriguez is almost unbelievable of itself. What has happened in the short time since my last post is, to me, even more so. First, I sent my blog to one of the documentary’s main characters, Stephen Segerman, the person who really ’started it all’ with his search for Rodriguez. Turns out there was a connection there with one of our strategic partners, Orit Ostrowiak, who was born and raised in South Africa, and who is a worldwide speaker, coach and professional development trainer. We discovered Stephen and Orit shared the same tennis club in Johannesburg (albeit a few years apart).
Stephen posted our blog on the official “Searching for Sugar Man” website, commenting that he felt it captured the spirit of Rodriguez and what they were trying to express through the movie.
Now, just a couple of weeks later, the latest news is this story appearing in The Wrap, was forwarded to me by my friend and Cinema Society of San Diego director Andy Friedenberg. The story’s title is, “‘Searching for Sugar Man’ Rodriguez: From Poverty to Carnegie Hall.” It’s a must-read and gives additional insight into why I was so inspired by this man’s story.
Now, it turns out, ‘60 Minutes’ will feature a story about his incredible journey on Sunday, 7 October 2012.
I can’t help but continue to feel inspired by this story. I’ve come across numerous others who were in some way touched by his music, his life, and now this unfolding story. He is playing to sold-out venues throughout the country and is touching a part in all of us through his gentle, quiet, humble notions about his newly-reclaimed fame.
Worth a listen, worth a look; I encourage you to check-out his story. There’s a message in it that’s timely. And maybe, for if even for a short time, it will take you away from all the ’stuff’ that tends to take over when we’re on the fast track of our typically full and often over-stimulated lives.
If nothing else, I promise you’ll have ‘met’ a man who’s a modern-day soul that simply defines humility in a way I’ve not heard or seen in a long time.
Just a movie review? Perhaps. You be the judge.
Posted August 18th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
Every now and then a film comes along that, from what you hear about it, promises a morsel of wisdom, insight and perhaps a message that will affect us and endure beyond its hour and 30 minutes. “Searching for Sugar Man” starts out as more than a morsel – soon delivering the whole cake – and ends up a banquet of emotions, messages and motivation that leaves no human heart untouched.
When I received the email from my dear friend and Cinema Society of San Diego Director Andy Friedenberg early Friday morning, I thought, “Hmmm, it’s rare that he’ll drop me a note this clearly telling me to see a flick, so it must be good.” I checked and found the local showings and set aside the afternoon to see what the buzz was about.
A small film about a songwriter musician with the talent of Bob Dylan and the gentle tenderness of a holy man, the story of Rodriguez will leave you in a daze long after the last of the credits roll. In fact, the theatergoers sat silently after the film, and much like the character memorialized in our hearts in that hour and a half, shuffled out in solemn reflection of what they just experienced.
Searching for Sugar Man is about the human spirit, humility and a brand of self-deprecation reserved for saints. You have to see the picture to understand it. And you have to experience it to receive the gift of the personal lessons it may hold for you.
You’ll probably never see Rodriguez, and the film that portrays his life, at the Academy Awards. Unless they include a new category for the Most Creative and Inspirational Film of the Year.
In today’s world, filled with so many recent senseless shootings, unpredictable violence, worldwide turmoil, economic uncertainty, name-calling and blaming, we find Rodriguez, and the many other real-life characters who fill the screen, to be refreshingly honest, open, and heroes in small, special and powerful ways.
The backdrop is the early 70s, an era in South Africa when apartheid was at its peak. Juxtaposed in a way that makes sense when you see the movie, the Detroit music scene, this talented, gifted musician and the songs he writes take on a meaning extending far beyond his failed commercial journey. It heralds the beginning of white South African anti-establishment awareness, since the National Party government heavily censored all media.
We ask ourselves, “Why we didn’t know about this?” And it helps us to remember that, even today, we get so caught up in the business of our own small worlds that we forget we are part of something bigger than ourselves. That there is a connectedness to things beyond our immediate sphere.
A common theme to my posts has been the encouragement, the urging, to take the time to look around, to see and appreciate the experiences of others, to touch deeply those around us, to hear their hearts and share their struggles… and their successes.
The irony of what happens in Rodriguez’s life, and how he and his family handle it, is a lesson for us all. The lesson is timeless, and it crosses generations, cultures, economies and countries. Each of us, in some way, big or small, affects the lives of others. Each of us has an opportunity to pause, take a moment and be present for those we love, those with whom we live, work and socialize.
Sometimes it doesn’t even require much more than a few simple words. A touch. A notion that someone matters. And that’s worth acknowledging. Who knows? You may leave a lasting impression, affecting someone in ways you can’t imagine. You can even change their world.
Just like Rodriguez.
More lessons from a 10-year old: The case of the missing ‘dial-tone’
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!
Where is Elmo when we need him?
Posted November 18th, 2011 by Steve Alexander
I recently attended another Cinema Society of San Diego event run by my friend Andy Friedenberg. I’m not sure how he does it; his timing is impeccable when it comes to delivering movies just right for our times. Thanks, Andy!
After posting my recent blog about dysfunctional group dynamics, and receiving so many responses about how useful it was to folks, personally and professionally, Andy delivered with a touching, tender, poignant and timely movie called “Being Elmo” that was right on point!
So, why Elmo? The movie (releasing late December 2011, and you won’t want to miss it) is about an eight-year-old boy’s dream; a dream to become a puppeteer. More than that, it’s about the soul of this boy and how his character, whom we later learn is Elmo, reaches full expression in his life. Through Elmo, he touches a world of children and adults with love, compassion and care. His message is one of acceptance without judgment. No labels, criticism, put-downs or name-calling. How refreshing. And how timely.
The heart and soul of Kevin Clash, the tender, compassionate, caring boy whose dream actually becomes Elmo, is the heart and soul of this character we see develop on screen. We learn how congruent this is for Kevin and Elmo’s lives, if you will. By the way, Kevin is not a ventriloquist, putting a voice into a lifeless puppet, he’s a real, live human being putting his own heart and soul into Elmo. Touching lives. Caring. Carrying a message that says, “We’re basically all alike, regardless of who we are and where we come from; take the time to see that in others, see their dreams and hopes, and encourage and care for them.”
I never watched Sesame Street, Elmo’s home, only because I was from a different era. Learning about Kevin Clash, and his “Elmo,” gave me an appreciation for how much we could use his message in our tension-filled world, and in our distracted lives. How much we could all use a little compassion, unconditional acceptance and positive regard.
And maybe a re-visit to Sesame Street.
One of the many benefits of Cinema Society is we often meet the writers, directors, actors, producers and others connected with a film. We did that night. And also met 51-year-old Kevin Clash, who fulfilled his dream, and still carries that heart and soul on his sleeve, and, of course, in Elmo.
Listening to him talk, watching him connect with the audience, both in and out of character, was an inspiration. I’d like to take him to a few meetings with me; the tough ones I facilitate, where opinions and egos get in the way of sharing, caring and collaborative, mutual gains problem-solving. Kevin (in the character of Elmo) has a lot to say, and do, to help us in these challenging times, when communication has become so tragically dysfunctional.
I walked away that night with a refreshing sense of hope. I was touched by Kevin, even more, his Elmo. And it made me wonder if he couldn’t inspire in all of us a little more, to find that place in our hearts and souls, for reaching out to someone, friend or foe, and practicing in our own lives a little more… of Being Elmo!
Can we just all get along?
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.
Get a helping hand from a kid this week
Posted March 19th, 2011 by Steve Alexander
A good friend of mine recently arranged girls’ night out for her birthday and kid duty became a challenge, so I got the call. Watching a nine and ten year old. Seemed manageable. My night was supposed to include a quiet, relaxing premier of the latest IMAX release, Tornado Alley, with the Cinema Society of San Diego, run by my dear friend and fellow movie lover (in his case, expert!), Andy Friedenberg. I grabbed a couple of extra tix from another friend who couldn’t make the show, and it seemed like a snap. This would be easy, right?
I figured, what the heck. A couple of kids should get a kick out of the show. And maybe learn something, too. Plus, the theater is close to Bronx Pizza, one of the few good East Coast pizza joints in town, and, I was told, a favorite place of theirs. So, off we went.
What I realized soon into the event is that the one doing all the learning was me! Watching the world through the eyes of a nine and ten year old transported me back to that time in my own life. The relationship between me and my brother, also a year apart. The things we used to do that could keep us fascinated and engaged for hours. The little things that we appreciated. How simple life seemed. And maybe was.
As we got out of the car, one of the kids asked if I liked doing stuff like this, and why I was doing it with them. I replied that it was like there were three of us that were nine and ten, not just two. That this was as much a treat for me as it was for them. They transported me back to that earlier time as if it was yesterday. Good memories of a great little brother (who I picked on too much!) and a mom and dad that loved us and encouraged our learning, intrigue and curiosity with a world that was so full of wonder. The capacity for laughter over even the simplest of things. Boy, is it easy to forget, even worse, lose all that with the years of responsibility, change, loss, sadness and just the pressures of an adult world.
But they brought it all back in a heartbeat. As we crossed the parking lot, the younger one grabbed my hand. I’m not sure if it was to keep her safe. Or if she was making sure I was okay. In any case, it was like we were three little kids about to be treated to a great adventure. And that it was.
After the movie we played the scientific games at the Science Center. For a couple hours I was transported to another time, playing, laughing and becoming a ten year old all over again. Until we got kicked out of the place for being the last to leave!
So, what I learned, as has been written so well by George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”
For those of you who have kids, and have the privilege of playing with them as a regular part of your life experiences, take a moment and thank your kids for that gift. For those who don’t have children or the opportunity to spend time around them, figure out a way to do so. Borrow a friend’s kids. Do volunteer work. Rent some. Whatever it takes. Just don’t let the chance slip away as an important part of your life. You won’t regret it.
And for a memorable, transporting night that brought laughter (and an invisible tear to my eye), a big thanks to my two little friends for letting me be part of your own joy and fascination. I hope you’ll let me do it again soon!
My best friend of 40 years recently passed away…
Posted November 2nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander
For those of you looking for a strictly business-oriented post today, you’ll have to decide if you can find some kernels in this one. Perhaps some of the thoughts, issues and characteristics about my relationship in this post will touch you, push a button or turn on a light that’s been off for awhile. Taking the journey is up to you. Nonetheless, I invite you into a part of my life that has endured and influenced who I am and what I do every day.
Paul T. Kamide, my best friend for the last 40 years, passed away in October. I just returned from memorializing his life on a quick trip to the Boston area this weekend. Paul and I shared the kind of relationship that significantly influenced my life and my work; I believe he would have said the same. It was an unusual relationship for us both. We met in 1971 at Merrimack College, where he was the head of Campus Ministry. Paul was an ordained Augustinian priest and I was a rebellious college student; imagine the contrast: me, fresh off of hitchhiking up and down the coast, patched jeans, long hair, Woodstock ‘graduate’ concerned about a country at war, idealistic, in search of my own spirituality and the meaning of life; Paul, from a conservative upstate small NY town; preaching God’s word in a traditionally Catholic college; well-formed views about theology, spirituality and his life’s direction dedicated to God. In so many ways different, and yet underlying, we found a common bond, a thread that wove between us across four decades: a quest for true spiritual meaning in our lives, the love of family and good friends, the unwillingness to accept injustices and the mistreatment of others, a desire to give back more than we take from this journey and a thirst for doing what’s right and what we believed in even the face of criticism, doubt and sometimes fear.
Over the past decades I’ve stayed with or visited him in all the various places and parishes he’s been and lived. Though he wore a collar, to me he was a plainclothesman, just a man, a fellow traveler with all the same issues each of us count as part of our make-up. And that’s what made our relationship different, and special.
Early in our relationship, Paul’s mom died, and a few of us loaded in a car and made a trek across the snow-filled Berkshires to head up to some of the coldest country I’ve known in my life, Carthage, NY, on the Canadian border. That was a defining moment between Paul and me. Since that time, I’ve always made a point to value that time in others’ lives when they’ve lost a parent. Paul later shared with me how profoundly the loss of his mom, and the visit from those of us who were there to support him, affected him. I learned that none of us is immune from what that life transition means, and when it happens to our friends, it’s important to be there for them.
Paul was a risk-taker when it came to people. He was willing to trust his instincts when he saw good in someone, in spite of outward appearances and public perceptions. Bear in mind, this was an era of turmoil in our country. My long-haired, outspoken style was a challenge to the administration at this small, private, liberal arts college run by the Augustinian Order. Nonetheless, Paul gave me a job in Campus Ministry to help me pay my way through college. We designed programs that would connect the community surrounding the school to the students attending. We called it People, Plus… and it was a way of building a thread between students and local families. Today it’s among the roots of my work with others, helping to build connections and communication where it’s challenging and unexpected.
I only had enough money to pay my way through my first year of school, so Paul introduced me to the then-president, Reverend John Ahearn, who helped underwrite my college journey, based on his confidence in Paul’s judgment of and faith in people. I learned the importance of faith, confidence and the importance of acceptance of differences in others, no matter their views, values, cultural, societal or other differences. Those who were willing to take a chance on me taught me to be open to others as well, and that judgment only clouds our ability to love, to give and be generous of spirit and thought.
Paul left Merrimack to work at the Newman Center in Winter Park, Florida, and I decided to complete my studies early and join him there. We worked together for six months, and through countless hours of discussion, dialogue, interaction with numerous itinerant travelers and visitors, we both learned more about one another, people, the world, our faith and subjects and issues that stimulated and challenged who we were, what we believed and how we lived.
Forward to 1977, Paul was my best man in my wedding (an unusual duty for someone in his position). We continued to visit and stay in touch, always challenging and learning from one another, sharing history and memories as well as exploring and growing as life changed, new people and events occurred in our lives, and opportunities for both of us came, were pursued and achieved or not. My concept of friendship was chiseled out of this intellectual, spiritual, emotional relationship that endured the years, the distance and the life changes. It served as the centerpiece of my work today, where I encourage and train others as a facilitator, motivator, trainer and coach.
When others would hear us on the phone talking and catching up, nurturing and growing our relationship over a 3,000 mile chasm, they’d always comment about the gut-level laughter they heard as we teased, provoked, reflected and challenged one another. The ability to laugh and joke and not take oneself so seriously was the hallmark of this successful, adored, yet humble man. It’s a trait I admired and still emulate.
Paul died last month after struggling (stubbornly, as was his nature) with diabetes. It wasn’t like him to ask for help after spending a lifetime helping others. The cornerstone of his life was learning and teaching how to live a life based on the abundance theory. (Recall from prior posts how important I believe this is; Paul was an inspiration to me for that.) He always sought ways to give, rather than to receive, and to share his heart, his encouragement and his support with others, rather than seek his own glory or credit. The more he gave away, the more abundantly he lived with the love from others.
I’m not sure how many lives he touched given his life’s work, I only know he taught me well that we have to take every moment in our lives to appreciate and enjoy those around us, and to do what we can, when asked or not, to give support, encouragement and nurturing. We never know how we might affect that life in even the simplest of moments, with the slightest of effort.
During Paul’s memorial service, I talked about the importance of these kinds of relationships in our lives. As I reflect on the importance of these life-long relationships, I recall from an old movie the quote, “In life, we don’t get a second chance to make new ‘old friends’ so we better value and honor the ones we have.”
In the legal world, there’s a concept called, ”privileged communications.” These are communications and relationships that are sacrosanct, untouchable by others and private to those who share that privilege. My relationship with Paul was like that, and the two of us enjoyed a safety and peace in knowing how unique and nurturing that was. As we shared our stories, challenges and perspectives on people, life, politics, religion and so forth, we knew our conversations were our own and beyond intervention by others. Extraordinary in this world. Joyfully, we recognized this, and we cherished it.
These are rare relationships. If you have them, you, too, are privileged. Don’t wait to remind yourself and those with whom you have them of how meaningful and priceless they are to you. You don’t know how long each of will be around to appreciate them.
In my typically youthful ideological way (of course we knew everything at that age!), I remember telling Paul at Merrimack, “Well, all these folks coming and going from school who promise to stay in touch will eventually lose track of one another. After all, time and distance change all relationships.” He never let me forget that. And each call or visit, when we’d end our time together, he’d always remind me that we might not speak again, because, after all, “Time and distance change all relationships!”
For forty years I heard his voice echo that teasing refrain. And now no more. Our relationship, as we once knew it, has forever changed.
In closing my reflections at the memorial service, I shared this poem by Sally Huss. I’ve had it for almost all the decades I’ve known Paul. It reminded me so of him, and the many others that have come and gone in my life.
“Around me I wear an invisible coat of many colors, fabrics and textures. It is made of friends and family here and no longer here, far and not so far. They are all part of my coat which keeps me warm wherever I go.”
Paul will always be a part of that coat. I’d like to think I was part of his while he was here. His inspiration will continue to be a part of my life, as I hope I was of his.
For those in your life with whom you have a special relationship, I encourage you to share your own story, how you value that relationship and how it affects who you are. Taking the time to do so promises an abundance in return. And Paul would have liked that.
Good-bye, my friend. May you rest in peace, and know forever how much you meant to me.
We are not our audience!
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!
Why do we let email get the best of us?
Posted August 29th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
Just did another senior management training last week and the topic always comes up – what about email? How do we manage it, use it, control it, keep from getting buried by it and fix communications that get broken by it… the list of questions, comments and consternation goes on and on. The 29 August 2010 Sunday column, Corner Office by Adam Bryant, includes a comment about email (along with a number of other key insights Bryant’s weekly column provides) from Kasper Rorsted, the CEO at Henkel, a consumer and industrial products company, so I thought it was time to underscore some tips from an earlier post and make a point about email and the importance of face-to-face communications.
Email is NOT dialogue! It is not a substitute for honest, open, transparent communication. Email is two-way monologue, where one person gets to make their point, state their case, convey information, thoughts, feelings or whatever, without the benefit of the other person being present. Email is NOT a short-cut for communication. It is a form of communication, however, designed for one-way transmittal.
Remember: There is no substitute for direct, face-to-face communication, especially when an issue warrants it. For example, anything that affects your organization’s mission, vision, values, goals and deals with major strategies, decisions or compromises them requires direct, real-time communication. Personnel issues, challenges and coaching opportunities – set a meeting. Major problems with a product or service – set a meeting. Customer/member/client complaints – set a meeting.
Don’t let email get the best of you. It’s your job to manage it, rather than it managing you. Use it wisely as a tool for information transfer, not as a comprehensive communications program. There’s no substitute for getting up from your desk and making contact, or setting up time to communicate, face-to-face, with people! Use your email wisely so it’s not being misused by you or others.
P.S. Try adopting Henkel CEO Rorsted’s tip on deleting ALL email where you are only in the cc line. His point: being in the copy line is often only for someone’s ‘cover’ and if they want to connect with you, those emails should be To: you. Try it for a couple weeks and let me know if your email flow is more manageable, and if it helps make your communications more productive, valuable and meaningful.
Micromanaging: Check your ego at the door!
Posted August 8th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
A common issue in my work with boards and chief executives is the challenge of micromanaging. It’s something that happens as well with parents, supervisors, co-workers, peers and others. What’s at the root of it all and how do we know when it’s happening? Truth be told, micromanagers are often aware of what they’re doing; like any addictive behavior, they just can’t seem to help themselves!
If you’re a micromanager, ask yourself what the underlying emotion is that drives the behavior. Using the ‘think, feel and do’ exercise from an earlier post, call a meeting with yourself. How we act is more a result of what we feel rather than what we think. If we’re ‘feeling’ frustrated, for example or overwhelmed and out of control, we’re more likely to ‘think’ we can ‘do’ something about the little things, and sometimes even the big ones, however, these are not often the important things.
So, we ‘manage’ the details instead of stepping back, recognizing what’s really going on…and most importantly, and letting go. Empowering, rather than managing, others.
We all have our tell-tale signs. I bet if you take that meeting with yourself, you’ll be able to write down a few of yours.
And if you’re the one being micromanaged, remember, it’s not about you! Work with your supervisor, board, spouse, parent and ask the more critical question: What is the result or outcome we need in this situation? Then, when you’ve created clarity about that, encourage the micromanager to empower you to come up with some acceptable solutions (not how you get there and myriad of details along the way!) and offer an agreeable timeline for delivering results.
Let me know how it goes next time you experiment with your new behavior!
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