Archives for category: Communication

Do as I say, not as I do. This is the standard coaching refrain. We expect the people we coach to put our instructions into practice. We demonstrate by our words not our actions. This can be for a number of reasons:

  • They’re better at it than we are
  • We can’t do it that way
  • We cant do it that way any more
  • We don’t do that way because we do it in an engrained way we can’t or won’t get out of
  • We do a short-cut version of it because we know it inside out but we need them to learn all the steps and how the steps relate to each other before they’re good enough to expedite the whole thing

This is a tough ask in coaching because we’re trying to lead by words, not by our actions which is the standard way to inspire people. At some point every coach will hit this if the people they’re coaching become better at it than they currently are. That’s what you want as a coach, at least a good one.

In business this is slightly different. We’re supposed to coach rather than manage, otherwise our direct reports don’t get a chance to learn it for themselves and grow into the role, eventually expanding beyond it. In business you can’t expect to instruct someone how to follow a process and then not follow the process yourself. Chances are they won’t follow the process you want them to and they won’t respect you either.

The answer, in sports as well as business, in fact in everything as well as business, is to come clean and be honest. ‘I don’t do this myself because [insert honest reason] but I’m advising you to do it this way because it is the best way, and you will get the best results from it.’ Then you have to let their actions, and their results, do the talking.

 

I was reading an article on the BBC website the other day and came across the ‘backronym’, which I’d never heard of before and which I immediately loved. I looked it up right away on wikipedia.

It is at its heart a reverse acronym, created to echo an original word or acronym. So, to borrow from wikipedia, where Radar is an acronym for Radio Detection and Ranging, the Amber Alert program was named after a girl called Amber went missing, but was later changed to stand for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, a backronym.

Cool, eh? We can create any number of our own humorous backronyms and use them to mock our ‘acronymic’ institutions.

Here’s the thing though: the backronym the BBC used in its article was the most interesting of all. Apparently, the word camp in its adjectival meaning is derived from kamp, standing for ‘known as male prostitute’, and harking back to the dingy old days when homosexuality was illegal. Not sure about that, myself, but was delighted to learn of the existence of the word backronym.

Towards the north-west of Ireland is Knock Airport in the county of Mayo. It’s a handy airport for those of us on the western coast of the country, since it flies to a few UK airports and the odd holiday destination too.

It has a slightly amateurish, making-it-up-as-we-go-along feel, which I’m OK with, since it’s small and therefore you can get through to the gate quickly.

The one thing that has always irked though is the ‘development’ fee of €10, payable by everyone 12 and over leaving. It was introduced when the airport opened, and, rather like the Forth Road Bridge toll, is still there. It’s not well advertised, either by the airlines or the airport itself, and catches out a lot of first time travellers. It also leaves a poor taste in the mouth, giving you the impression that both the airport and the country is chancing its arm and fleecing you because it has you over a barrel. My mother has recently taken to presenting a bag of coppers to the counter when paying her fee. It’s about the only statement you can make, since the office staff must have skins of titanium by now.

Anyway, I was talking to some staff the other day and they pointed out that Knock receives less government support than other airports like Shannon, and wouldn’t be able to keep going without it. I didn’t know that. So, in addition to it being not very advertised, it’s not very well explained either.

If the airport worked harder to educate its passengers about the fee, many more would leave feeling more disposed to the place, and more inclined to depart from there again.

I’m all for brevity and impact. I’m sure you are if too you’re a regular reader of blog posts. It would be awful to fall foul of TL;DR syndrome, which is Too Long; Didn’t Read if you didn’t know.

My favourite exchange, the most brief an impactful example of dialogue I can think of, which could work for letters, emails, chat and so on, is the following:

From: Someone

To: Someone Else

Subject: Re: ?

!

(That’s it; this isn’t part of the exchange.)

In other words, to the question ‘how did it go?’, comes the reply, ‘It went great!’, in the most economical way possible.

Sometimes, punctuation can be so effective, it can be used instead of words, like this…

Signs on the road – literally painted onto the road, as opposed to ones on a pole which itself is on or by the road, if you get my drift – confuse me. Why they are upside down? Or perhaps it’s back to front?

The huge majority of people in the western world read from top to bottom and left to right. We start top left and we finish bottom right. Yet road signs start from the bottom left and finish top right, perhaps assuming that you read the nearest word first and the word above it second.

Let me give you an example. When I’m driving and I come across this sign on a road:

AHEAD

SCHOOL

CAUTION

I read it ‘ahead, school, caution,’ rather than its intended meaning, the much more helpful ‘caution, school ahead.’

Perhaps the best solution is to arrange the words in the same order as they currently are, but further spaced apart, so as I’m driving I read the words separately, rather than together, and I’m less inclined to treat them as one clause and start at the top.

It’s the little things…

 

 

 

 

Pore over this, if you too are similarly mistaken.

You learn something new every day. It’s always a pleasure for me when I learn something new about the English language.

I’ve often used the term to ‘pore over’ something, meaning to take in all of the detail of something. Finally, a hundred times after I’d used the term or heard it used in conversation, I saw it written down in a story on the BBC website. My initial reaction, arrogantly, was that the writer had made a mistake and that I was right. 15 seconds later I was proved wrong. How could I have doubted the August BBC?

I had always assumed it was to ‘pour’ over something, as in the example of pouring gravy on my roast potatoes, or pouring our eyes over a document or painting. But no, different root word, different etymology, different spelling.

As a marketer I like to participate in market research if I’m asked, and if I’m allowed – people from a marketing background can sometimes be excluded from participating in surveys. I know how hard it is get intelligence on a market.

Generally it’s a very short call, which is fine. Sometimes, I get called by a big research house in Dublin to help with a state of the market survey they do periodically. How’s my business doing, how do I think it will do, and so on. I avoid their calls these days.

Here’s why: it’s an unfair exchange. Firstly, the call is always about 15 minutes long, which is far too long and contains loads of repetitive questions. 15 minutes is a really long time to tie someone up on the phone. Secondly, I get nothing back. Not a copy of the research, nothing. In fact, it’s not just an unfair exchange, there’s no exchange at all. It’s all one way, coming from me.

Many companies doing research will offer a voucher, or a copy of the research, or entry into a draw for a device, in return for your time and attention. These guys don’t. They just persist with the phone calls.

If it’s not a fair deal for both parties, it will never last. It will simply cause resentment and close doors for good.

 

There’s a new-ish kind of road sign on Irish roads. I like it. The sign combines a speed camera and an instruction.

When you’re travelling along a road with a certain speed limit, the sign shows you the speed you’re going. If you’re going in excess of the speed limit, which is also displayed in the sign, the speed shows red. When you dip under the speed, it shows green. Crucially, after it shows you your speed in green it then posts a ‘thank you’, also in green.

These are signs with manners. They thank you for obeying their rules. But, crucially, they remind you about the speed limit in a creative way and also encourage you to drive below the limit. You comply, and you get your reward, someone’s – or something’s – thanks.

I have no data on this, but I would imagine that these new-ish signs are effective, certainly more effective than other kinds. Until, perhaps, we tire of the novelty factor. But will we ever tire of someone using good manners?

What’s the opposite of ‘swimmingly’? What do you say when something’s not going swimmingly? It’s hardly ‘sinkingly’, is it? It doesn’t strike me as having a natural antonym.

We have so many different words to describe what is essentially ‘well’. Many writers and communicators say that an adverb is unnecessary, lazy, superfluous. But sometimes it can also add colour, emotion, or accuracy.

None of which helps with what you say if you want to convey the opposite of swimmingly. The positive implies both buoyancy and movement, so the antonym could be buoyant but not moving – ‘floatingly’? – or neither buoyant nor moving, so perhaps sinkingly or ‘flailingly’.

These are the thoughts that trouble a troubled mind. WordPress at any rate likes none of them, inserting an ugly dashed red line underneath each one to suggest that they’re not words.

Or, that they haven’t been coined yet

They’re a dour, ass-covering, bet-hedging lot, those weather folk, aren’t they? A bit like astrologers or tarot card readers?

Hiding behind non-active verbs like might, could and so on, they’re forever on the fence, at least to my mind. But that’s not why I write this post.

Why do they always describe the weather as ‘partly cloudy’? What’s wrong with them saying ‘partly sunny’? If it’s partly cloudy, the corollary of that must be that it’s also partly sunny. It’s the same thing isn’t it, only one is markedly more downbeat than the other?

Partly sunny is like ‘glass half full’, full of optimism, promise and possibility. Partly cloudy is your glass half empty, negative, pessimistic, defeatist.

That’s what I mean about weather forecasters being dour. They’ve allowed their language to limit our expectations and our moods.