Thursday, April 28, 2011

Follow the Data

I am impressed again by the signal sent to the world by news media. For the past couple of weeks an increasing amount of time has been spent in the "news" reporting on the "birther" issue. A recent New York Times editorial talks about the "embarassment." The reports didn't repeat the knowledge that has always been available, that President Obama was indeed born in Hawaii.

More recently the impending royal wedding in London has become the focus. In a world impacted by unwise and illegal activities involving money, with wars being waged, storms tearing us apart, a huge recession and an important budget, we read, see and hear about the London wedding. Interesting and fun to watch, hear and read about. But when our news gathering agencies devote an inordinate amount of time and energy on this topic you can't help but notice. The emphasis is not on "informing the public" but instead in creating and maintaining the largest possible audience for purposes of profit.

Profits have been winning now for several years. Information is what is needed. That leaves us providing for ourselves in information. We have access to plenty of entertainment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Self Disclosure

Self disclosure is important. The only way others have a hope of understanding who you are is if you tell/show them. There are cultural problems with self disclosure. If you share a well worded, honest evaluation of your excellent skills to an acquaintance they may very well think, "What a braggart." But, if it is important that they understand who you are, then you should be free to tell them.

A key issue with personal evaluations, from your point of view, is when they are very good, the person listening may label you a braggart. After all, Mom always warned us not to brag. If you were an athlete and a walk-on, the primary way the coach is going to decide to "waste" some of his time on you is by what you say. He then will ask you to back up what you've said by performing certain basic activities. Verbal gets you into the possibility of joining the team and nonverbal gets you the position on the team.

We have to learn by practicing what others will allow us to say about ourselves comfortably. They may think or even say, "They are no better than they think they are. On the other hand, they are very good." Bragging? No, an accurate report of personal capabilities. But, the important thing is the opinion they will have after your personal evaluation. Your analysis of what they will do with what you say is critical.

In the business world we expect folk to give us a clear idea of who they think they are. Due to the number of abuses, resumes no longer carry the clout they once did when it was expected that you would at least tell the truth. Even in this world, the verbal is the primary method of opening doors and it is your ability to perform that will get and keep the job.

People around you need to know "who you are" and you are in the best position to tell them. Practice informing others of what and who you are. Become skilled at the process. Then add reciprocity to the process. Practice sharing small amounts of information about yourself and then encouraging others to share a small amount about themselves. After all, if you don't know how they mean, how can you respond effectively?

What should not be said? Certainly early on in the "get acquainted process" you should avoid talking about the dark side of your being. In fact, the appropriate inclusion of some of the dark things that you think, might be better kept to yourself. Be positive and willing to share and learn. Most of us are looking for people like that, so that we can select and build a circle of friends.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Relationships Happen

Beebe, Beebe and Ivy, in their book Communication: Principle for a Lifetime, there is mention of two important concepts: 1) relationships of circumstance and 2) relationships of choice. Like so many things in life both concepts may be present in any situation, but it pays us to note the strengths and weaknesses of both.

Relationships of circumstance are common and may be very important. For example, two students are taking essentially the same courses in college that lead to the same professional capabilities. They actually take some of those classes together on a regular basis. Each notes the others existence, but nothing special catches their attention. Both are busy and have little time for any distractions. But as the year moves along each notices that they enjoy group class activities that includes the other.

After a while they agree that it would be mutually beneficial if they worked together in one of their classes. Each slowly became aware that when the other couldn't make it to the work sessions there seemed to be something missing from their personal as well as their professional life. They found that there were multiple levels in meaning of the phrase, "I missed you."

These two have found the strength of relationships of circumstance. They found someone with shared interests and goals with whom they could feel comfortable. This sort of relationship could easily move into something long-term and close. Good: because it builds on the person (brain) of the other and that tends to be less transitory. Bad: because over a life time you will probably be working closely with a number of people (brains.) One must be ready to make personal ethical judgments about these relationships.

Relationships of choice
are different. You don't simply become aware of the other, you actually seek the other out. There are inherent risks here. Should you be feeling very lonely, you might choose a person who will simply fill the void. Once you have rid yourself of the feeling of loneliness you may no longer see any particular reason to maintain the relationship.

Another possibility is that you seek someone out because it would be a "feather in your cap" if they were willing to be seen with and spend time with you. You didn't really give two hoots about them as individuals (brains) but instead used them to prove your "worth" to others. This clearly involves personal ethical decisions. People aren't objects to be collected, stored, given or thrown away.

An additional risk is that you visualize yourself "living forever after" with someone of great personal attractiveness. If and when they lose their attractiveness there may not seem to be sufficient reason to maintain the relationship. It is likely that there are a couple of considerations in establishing such a relationship: "I'll be able to reshape them into what I need," or "I can put up with what they lack, say or do because they are so physically attractive." Neither of those ideas hold up when you are dealing with a significant other. That would be a recipe for pain.

It should be clear that I think some of the better long-term relationships are built on relationships of circumstance rather than choice. Both circumstance and choice are involved at some level in most choices. Thinking about the entire process in advance might not be natural to humans, but it might very well save us all some grief. Decisions about relationships are complicated and merits our full attention.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Listening: Key To Life

Much of the time we confuse hearing and listening. They are different. Hearing is something that many of us can do with varying capabilities. Some need hearing aids and some can hear sounds that are well in excess of the "normal range." Almost none of us are willing to concede that our hearing is something that we should always protect. Aging robs even those who can hear well. How well you can hear makes a difference. If you can't hear the subtleties of pronunciation then you can't include them in your conversation. If those subtleties are necessary for the proper understanding of what you are saying, then you have a problem.

Listening is much more complicated. It includes the attributes of hearing and much more. As mentioned in the book "Communication: Principles for a Lifetime," listening involves such things as:
1. Selecting certain stimuli out of all the stimuli around us. Not only what is apparently being "said" but how it is being "said."
2. Focusing on a particular stimulus or message. The ability to block out stimuli while paying careful attention to specific stimuli.
3. Assigning meaning to messages. Your meaning, of course, but more importantly what "they" mean.
4. Recalling information(stimuli)that has been communicated. There are barriers here that are often ignored.
5. Responding or confirming your understanding of a message. Now you're in a position to "say" something.

The barriers need some thought. There are many and here is a brief list.
1. Rest: the ability to concentrate on everything that is being "said" verbally and non-verbally over a period of time takes energy. After long periods of listening you really should be tired. Don't confuse physical and mental exercise. They both require effort.
2. Health: clearly, if you are sick, concentration is not a reasonable expectation. All you really want to do is get well, then maybe you can concentrate.
3. Physical fitness: in order to have a reserve of energy you must be physically fit and able to think and concentrate over a period of time.
4. Freedom from stress: if you're having personal problems anywhere in your life it makes listening a very difficult task.
5. Drug free: legal or not, anything that affects your abilities think, focus, recall and respond to what is being "said" will get in the way.

Listening is not simple or easy. The more we know about it the better the chances are that we will be able to listen. The question is, "To whom are we listening?" The list is really long, but some that may hit close to home are: children, spouse, parents, grand-parents, friends, fellow employees, supervisors, officials of all kinds and the list goes on.

Listening is central in many ways to being able to reach your personal goals. In addition, those who can listen well are able to help those around them making improvements to the lives of those around them. Listening is really important.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

We Are Indebted

We are indebted to those who have gone before us. It is tempting to imagine that our accomplishments are our own, but in fact they are not. We use tools, intellectual and physical, created and used by those who have gone before us. In fact is is as if we are standing "on the shoulder of giants"

The more we learn from those who gone before the higher we stand on mighty shoulders. We can think thoughts that they have made possible and we can take actions that would have been impossible for them thanks to them. History studied gives us and those we serve an edge because we can think thoughts we all need now and in the near future.

When we refuse to learn from history we are simply standing lower in the universe of ideas and have further to climb to get where we could have been. Not to know and give credit to those whose "conversations" we have shared with those who went before us means we will be forced to muddle through many of the same situations they have already conquered. George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

When preparing your communication, look back, hold a "conversation" with those who have gone before. Stand on their shoulders, the view is great. And you will be far better prepared to help those you serve everyday.