An interesting factoid — 92% of people would rather talk about their dog than any other subject. Ok, I read it in an advertisement for dog treats but I believe that it’s true — or at least it is for me. Ask me about my dogs and I get chatty!
Pets are a source of joy for people — close to their hearts but not too personal to share. Keep this in mind the next time you’re with a group of strangers and need to strike up a conversation. You could ask: “Any four-legged members of your family?” or “Who has puppy stories to share?” or “My dog makes me laugh — how about yours?”
Just as pets wiggle their way into your heart, let them do the same with your conversation. Human tongues will be wagging!
I was asked to teach a Global Business Communication class and said yes, even though I have no personal experience with the subject. Despite that (or maybe it’s because of that?), class is going exceedingly well. I brought in guest speakers each week to bring to life their stories from different countries. I have empowered the students to research and share. We have done debates, a simulation, skits, and case studies that have added to the understanding. We are all learning a lot.
I shared this example with a coaching client to illustrate that he doesn’t have to be the expert in something to be effective. Maybe his talent lies in curation, facilitation, or empowerment. Instead of lamenting that he doesn’t know everything about a subject, he could redirect that energy to assemble a few people who could contribute or crowdsource for ideas on one of many platforms.
It reminds me of the story of Rob McEwen* who purchased an abandoned gold mine and had no luck in finding anything of value, so he shared his seismic maps and offered $500,000 to anyone who could tell him where to look. He received 1400 responses from people using a variety of techniques and found $39 billion worth of gold!
We put too much pressure on ourselves to know it all. The real genius comes from being humble enough to ask for input and a willingness to co-create.
*Source: Create the Future by Jeremy Gutsche, Fast Company Press, 2020, p. 112-113.
My niece recently had surgery and as part of that process, there was a nurse in the operating room texting updates to the family. This was very helpful during the hours-long operation and comforting to know that things were going well (which, fortunately, they did.)
But what if they didn’t?
Would the nurse deliver bad news via text? Or, if they just stopped the updates the family would convince themselves that something had gone wrong — which may be worse than waiting to hear from the doctor when the procedure was finished.
A junior staffer may be able to speak with the press about routine business but do you have a plan in place to communicate the news when a tragedy happens? Your internal newsletter may work well for information and updates, but how will you let your employees know about negative situations?
When you design a process or share information, you need to prepare for undesirable outcomes. Before you give someone the combination to the safe, access to the checkbook, or knowledge of the secret formula, consider what would happen if their morals went astray. (e.g. Can you require two people to be present before access is given or can you receive a notification if a withdrawal of over $X is made on the account?)
It’s nice to assume the best about people and to develop practices that presume good intentions, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. You don’t have to prepare for doomsday, but anticipating an occasional dark side is best done in advance rather than in the moment.
I write my sister a letter every day and somehow manage to ramble for a few pages, but when I write to those on my “occasional letter” list, I sometimes have to think before I can even fill a notecard.
I see the same principle in action with coaching clients: when I meet with them weekly, there is always more to discuss than time allows, but when we switch to bi-weekly or monthly it takes longer to get into meaningful topics. This is also true for 1:1 sessions with supervisor/employee, meetings of project groups or task forces, and most other encounters.
Frequency — and then by default, recency — allows for more depth, emotion, and substantive interactions. You spend less time ramping up and returning to where you ended and can have greater continuity and flow to your engagements. If you find yourself starting with “where did we leave off…” it’s time to connect more often.
In a recent workshop, I provided suggestions for how to have conversations that encourage people to change. One of the participants asked what to say when the dialogue seemed to be at a standstill with both parties having different points of view.
One technique that can be helpful is to introduce a “third party” into the discussion. This may not be a literal third person, rather some information that serves as a proxy for them. It’s different than a pure debate with outside sources and factual research; in this scenario, you are bringing another viewpoint into the conversation. It could be through survey results (“the members said…”), a professional code of ethics (“the association recommends that we…”), an edict from higher-ups (“the administration needs us to….”), input from your constituents (“the students want…”) or something similar.
By bringing in a presumably neutral data point, you may be able to shift the conversation from a continuous back-and-forth impasse to more of a triangle that takes another perspective into consideration. It no longer becomes just you vs. them and just may create a window for both of you to alter your stance.
We recently had a storm move through the area and the next day I received an email from my insurance carrier with the headline: “Think you may have storm damage?” It explained that their weather tracking systems showed I may have been in the path of a storm and provided resources if that was the case. The email outlined not only the steps to take if I did need to file a claim, but also what to look for if I suspected impact from the storm.
Fortunately, I did not have any damage, but I appreciated the proactive move on their part. Even though I know it was all automated, it felt personal and as if someone was looking out for me.
How can you utilize automated systems to create the same effect with your clientele? Maybe you could share resources with families in anticipation of a major event such as “I know your child is moving into their residence hall next week” or “Here’s what to expect from tomorrow’s surgery.” Perhaps you could share post-event resources like “You just bought a new car; here are some tips for maintaining it.” Or you could devise an email campaign that follows an election, pays attention to COVID rates, monitors local sports teams, or is triggered by notices such as birth or death announcements.
Take advantage of technology to craft an “if this, then that” aspect to your communication and add a personal touch to your outreach.
At the County Fair, I noticed that some of the cows had human names like Marci, Mable, and Annie. Others were given pet names such as Cookie, Goose, and M&M. Still others just went by their ear tag numbers: 5531 or 5339, etc.
I wonder if it makes a difference in how the animals are treated. Maybe it is easier to sell #5531 vs. parting with your friend Marci. Or perhaps it is a matter of efficiency in keeping track of the individual members of the herd when using their tag number as their ID.
Whether consciously or not, I think organizations do the same thing. Some groups adhere to formality and call people by their given name. Other groups know their members so well that they develop nicknames or learn the preferred name of people and use those. Still other organizations are so large that they never make the personal connection and refer to people by their account number or some other numeric identifier.
Think of where you fall now — as well as where you would like to be. The 4-H farmers aren’t the only ones who deploy naming protocols. You set the tone by the name you use for others.
I received a text inviting me to learn more about running for public office. Doing so is the furthest thing from my mind, but hopefully, the text will be the nudge some need to take action. It’s nice that organizers are planting these seeds now, giving those who decide to run for local office enough time to do so. And it’s nice that people are extending invitations rather than just hoping people will decide on their own to enter the race.
It’s much more meaningful to receive a call or personal note (or even a text) that has the feel of an invitation rather than a blanket announcement. Those who are invited feel that they matter, that there is a personal connection, and that their lack of participation will be noticed. It becomes a strong motivator to act, many times doing things you would not have done otherwise.
Being invited is a powerful thing — and organizations should do more of it. Whether you are seeking volunteers, participants, or even new employees invest the time in doing a personal invitation. Your chances of receiving a “yes” are much higher when it is phrased as an opportunity just for them.
If you’re serious about wanting feedback, make it easy to give.
The Love’s Truck Stop did just that. As I was leaving the restroom there was a device with three simple buttons — the ubiquitous red, yellow, green — that asked you to rate the cleanliness of the facility. One touch was all that was required.
Think about how you ask for comments from your customers. Some services can be boiled down to a simple three-button metric — or you can at least start there. Help your clientele help you improve by making it effortless for them to do so.
I had a phone conversation with a cattle farmer who is half my age and lives 300 miles away, yet he wants to represent me in the US Senate next year. It is overwhelming to me thinking about a) the vast diversity of interests any politician is expected to address and b) the effort it takes to run for a statewide seat. The primary is nearly a year away and already he’s making calls and hosting events — and, of course, will be eating food-on-a-stick at the State Fair. All while trying to raise his cattle and keep his farm running.
I give him credit for getting my phone number and scheduling a conversation (not a cold call or robocall) to answer my questions and learn about what is important to me in this election. I think all organizations could do more in this regard. It’s so easy to get absorbed in doing the work that we forget to make time to listen to those that we are ostensibly doing the work for.
When is the last time you scheduled a call with one of your clients — not to ask for anything — but to serve as a live connection to your organization and hear what is on their mind? Even though you are not running for office your ability to win a vote of confidence from your clientele could be enhanced with a listening tour. Schedule a few calls instead of another routine meeting and see what you can learn.