Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Connect the Dots

Did you do Dot-to-Dot puzzles when you were a child?  Many were like this where some of the picture is provided and you finished it yourself by connecting the dots.  If you were experienced, you might have even guessed what the picture was before you finished the puzzle.

Leaders, especially senior leaders, are often frustrated that they have to "connect the dots" for their teams.  They've provided the outline and believe that, like the picture above, it's enough of a head start such that their employees can take it from there. 

In reality, what they get looks like the result of a dot-to-dot that wasn't numbered.  Either a completely different result (picture) than what was expected, or no result at all because people didn't know where to start.  

Take for example a strategic plan.  If you deliver the plan to your teams with no further direction, you've basically sent them a dot-to-dot with no numbers.  They need to know how to connect that plan to their functions, roles, and responsibilities.  When you number the dots, you provide the direction such that they can see what you expect, they know where to start, and they know when they're done. 

One of the best ways to connect the dots to a strategic plan is to set individual and team goals in performance plans with wording that specifically ties to the plan. 

And it's not just strategic plans, it's internal communications, directives, policies, etc.  How does that information relate to your team?  What, if anything, do they need to do differently?  WIIFM (What's In It For Me) says the team, and the leader responds by drawing the dots and numbering them.

What's obvious to senior management is not obvious to junior management is not obvious to individual contributors.  Invest the time to connect the dots up front and then sit back and watch your organization reap the rewards.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Blah, Blah, Blah

One of the many reasons why a coach is hired in regard to communications, is that they are are asked to work with an individual who is perceived as "long-winded".  It may show up in presentations, during meetings, or even in one-on-one conversations.

The most typical explanation for the behavior of the long-winded is that they crave the spotlight.  And indeed there are those who pontificate because they love nothing better than the sound of their own voice. 

However, I think most people who struggle with succinct verbal communications fall into less boorish categories.  See if you can recognize your favorite long-winded speaker (or maybe even yourself) in one of these:
  • They are detail oriented.  They value data and they assume that you do, too.  Their communications are prefaced by facts, dates, figures, definitions, and names that justify their final conclusion.   
  • They have a strong need to be understood.  These folks are best recognized by the fact that they say the same thing several different ways.  This means that it may take them 3 or 4 times longer to communicate their ideas while they use a variety of descriptions and examples to ensure that you comprehend what they are saying.
  • They don't see/hear/recognize social cues.  This is actually a mixed group.  Some who fall into this group simply don't have the skills to pick up on social cues such as body language, facial expression, or verbal cues that indicate that it's time to stop talking.  Others in this group may possess the ability, but they also require it.  For example, if you maintain a neutral expression as you listen, they will continue until you either nod, or smile, or provide some indication that they have been heard. 
  • They are isolated.  We all need connection and a media in which to express ourselves.  When individuals who work in an isolated area or group finally find an audience, their cup runneth over.
  • They are verbal thinkers.  Some individuals create as they communicate, their ideas just now coming together as they talk with you.  They often possess self-awareness of this and may even say "I'm thinking out loud as I say this...". 
Having an understanding of the source may help you in your work relations with the long-winded for those situations where you have influence.  It may help you to have patience in those situations where you don't. 

The reality about human communications, though, is that we need clarity in order to reach comprehension.  And in most cases, the more precise the message, the better your chances of being understood.   

'nuf said.