Every day, and possibly many times each day, we encounter situations in which we can choose how we respond. Often, we make the choice that seems to lead to the shortest path to our preferred outcome. Unfortunately, many of these paths have obstacles along the way that become evident only when we encounter them. In analogy to driving a car or a scooter or a motorcycle, or riding a bicycle, we choose paths that have speed bumps. Speed bumps are most noticeable when we've already driven over them. Too late then for slowing down to do any good.
The good news is that many speed bumps are avoidable, with just a little care. This post is the beginning of a little catalog of choices that might lead to better outcomes if we watch for speed bumps.
- Notify me either way
- It's risky to arrange with others to notify you (by text or voice) if X occurs, or not to notify you if Y occurs. Instead, arrange for them to notify you either way.
- One problem with no-notification-if-Y is that no notification is indistinguishable from other ways you could fail to be notified. For example, the notification text or email might not go through. Or your partner might have forgotten to tell you that X occurred. Or you might have forgotten to check your messages. Or a million other things.
- Have your partner notify you either way. Much safer.
- Make semi-permanent notes
- Important but tiny bits of information come our way all day. We commit most of them to memory — call home, send that text to the Cleveland office, jump through this or that hoop, and so on. We commit them to memory, but our memory isn't always as good as we need it to be. We err so often that the phrases "fell through the cracks," and "dropped the ball," are familiar.
- Instead of Speed bumps are most noticeable when
we've already driven over them. Too late
then for slowing down to do any good.trying to remember these numerous tiny bits of information, write them down. Key them or voice them into the notes app on your smartphone if you're fast enough. If not, write them on actual paper with an actual pen. Although a written record is more reliable than memory, you can still commit them to memory if you like. I like spiral notebooks for this purpose — steno size at my desk, or small cards when I'm moving about.
- Another advantage of committing this information to writing is that you're creating a record. You can review that record later if you need to, to resolve a mix-up, or to confirm that you did or didn't do something. And you can use the data to improve your personal process by learning to anticipate error-generating patterns that might otherwise escape notice.
- Doing nothing, at least for now, is an often-overlooked choice. Letting the situation evolve by leaving space for others to act can change things enough to open new paths forward that you might not have recognized. Or worse, your own action might have obscured paths that would have been revealed if you had waited.
- Waiting is an especially powerful move when you sense that the situation could evolve into something for which you have in mind a very workable response.
- "I agree"
- Use this simple statement to avoid several other troublesome approaches to expressing agreement. The troubled ones go something like, "Correct," or "That's right," or "True," or "100% correct." The problem with these ways of expressing agreement is that they do much more than express agreement. They also claim that in the context of the present discussion the speaker has authority to adjudicate Truth. They place the speaker in the position of evaluating the opinion of the speaker's partner. To the speaker's partner, this can feel like a usurpation of authority for the purpose of evaluating the personhood of others.
- Sometimes we say, "Correct" to avoid the ambiguity of "Right," a word that we also use for direction, as in left/right. That's an example of the language causing us to make an innocent choice that has unfortunate consequences. Sigh.
- A simple "I agree" will suffice.
These are four tactics that cost nothing or almost nothing. Yet they can produce dramatic savings. They have an enormous return on investment. More coming next time. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- Let Me Finish, Please
- We use meetings to exchange information and to explore complex issues. In open discussion, we tend to
interrupt each other. Interruptions can be disruptive, distracting, funny, essential, and frustratingly
common. What can we do to limit interruptions without depriving ourselves of their benefits?
- Questioning Questions
- In meetings and other workplace discussions, questioning is a common form of conversational contribution.
Questions can be expensive, disruptive, and counterproductive. For most exchanges, there is a better way.
- Columbo Tactics: I
- When the less powerful must deal with the more powerful, or the much more powerful, the less powerful
can gain important advantages by adapting the strategy and tactics of the TV detective Lt. Columbo.
Here's Part I of a collection of his tactics.
- Monday Morning Minute Message Madness
- As a leader of a large organization, if you publish a "Monday Minute Message" to help employees
identify with the organization as a whole, there are some practices that might limit the effectiveness
of the program. Six suggestions can be helpful.
- Logical Presentation Can Be Ineffective
- Although logic and reasoning are useful tools for problem solving and decision making, they're less
useful for exchanging ideas among collaborators. Effectiveness in presenting one's own views to others
requires more clarity than logic.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 27: On Working Breaks in Meetings
- When we convene a meeting to work a problem, we sometimes find that progress is stalled. Taking a break to allow a subgroup to work part of the problem can be key to finding simple, elegant solutions rapidly. Choosing the subgroup is only the first step. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
- And on October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
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