Archives for posts with tag: Understanding

Many moons ago – probably about 280 moons in fact – I was responding to an invitation to tender for the design and production of an annual report.

It was for a national tourist body, and we’d been working for years to get on their roster of companies that they would invite to bid for their larger projects.

I was reading through the brief and there was one sentence I couldn’t understand at all. It was talking about the partners’ hip. Nope, me neither. I assumed it was the partners’ hip since the apostrophe was missing and I tut-tutted my way over and over the sentence trying to make sense of it.

What did they mean by hip? Was that some kind of cultural reference key to getting inside the essence of the brand, I wondered. I debated calling the customer, but was conscious of the fact that we hadn’t really clicked the first time.

I plucked up the courage to call and ask her what she meant by partners’ hip. If she didn’t actually snort down the phone she must have come very close, as her tone was dripping with derision. ‘No, it should say partnership.’

Bloody hell! Bloody typos! It wasn’t the typo I thought it was, it was another typo entirely, the addition of an unnecessary and misleading space turning one word into two, contorting the meaning completely out of my understanding. I had looked at the sentence so many times I overlooked the most obvious explanation staring me in the face.

Suffice it to say we didn’t win the bid, and I don’t remember ever winning any work from that customer. Their typo, my punishment, and an expensive one at that.

It never ceases to amaze me how much confusion there is, and much talking across purposes, when we haven’t agreed the basics in a project.

Especially an internal project. When it’s an internal project, we’re all taking with people inside the business so a level of understanding is assumed. All the more reason to make sure we define what we’re doing and the parts of what we’re doing, to avoid confusion, miscommunication, missed deadlines and frustration.

It’s the best way to avoid this kind of conversation:

“Where’s the rest of it?”

“What do you mean, the rest of it?”

“Well, I kinda assumed you were going to do this, this and this…”

“No, I think this and this was supposed to be all we were doing for today.”

“OK, I need to do a reset with the Chieftain, then. I don’t think we have everything s/he’s looking for.”

Sometimes it’s only when you get into the detail of a project that you uncover the misunderstanding. All the more reason to get your internal naming of parts of a project right, and define what’s involved. Otherwise you end up over-promising and under-delivering. Not good, especially when it’s an internal project.

Poster Epic Fail

Poster Epic Fail

So much of communication is down to execution. If you get the execution wrong, your message is not received, not understood, and not acted upon. Remember the age-old AIDA acronym – Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action.

As I write this, we have some local and European government elections coming up. In the case of the candidate’s poster in the picture above, he – yes, the budding politician is male – is hoping to get your awareness that he’s standing for election, that you will connect with his message, that you will decide to vote for him, and that you will follow through on your decision on the appointed day in the polling booth, when the rubber meets the road.

Hence the epic fail in the picture. The poster has been like that for over a week. Whether blown that way in the wind, or put up that way for reasons that we will never know, the execution of the message has failed – miserably.

This is a lesson to all of us to check that we have executed the communication well. Did you get my message? Do you understand all elements of the proposal? Can you confirm we are OK to proceed?

Always look for confirmation that you can proceed at each step of a process. It’s the short cut to nailing success and avoiding misunderstandings.


Do you remember in the old days of business training? There used to be a phrase, still prevalent today, that ‘to assume makes an ass out of u and me’. We were told never to assume.

This for me is not only out of date, but it’s plain wrong. It should be consigned to the era of conforming, regimentation, uniformity. The era that’s not the era we’re in.

Life’s too short, and the business world moves too fast, for us not to assume. There is too much complexity, too many variables, too little time for us to not to do otherwise, unless we want to left behind with the also rans. And who wants to be an also ran? They have neither choice nor control.

My advice on assuming is this:

– assume, whenever you can

– the first law of management is to check your facts, so do that if it’s possible, and do it quickly and effectively

– then make assumptions around what you don’t know, based on your experience, your gut feel, and preferably both

– then make that decision quickly and confidently

Assuming helps us make quick decisions, wrong decisions, fail more quickly, and learn and improve more quickly.

The latest argument with Mrs D – or, as I like to call it, a robust discussion – reminded me of how important it is in both our personal and business lives to communicate well.  Have you ever been in a group dynamic (dinner party, dialogue for 2, meeting) and noticed how often people interrupt each other?  How often somebody asks a question and the next person chooses not to answer it, and asks their own question or makes a statement pushing their own view or agenda?  Annoying, isn’t it?

I’m no saint, and it’s something I have to work on all the time, but I try to respect the other person and wait til they’ve finished talking, and then either answer their question or further the topic in some way.  It’s about respecting the person and what they have to say, and contributing something that gets you both nearer to where you need to be.  It’s basic marketing isn’t it?  Listen-absorb-consider-contribute.

OK, so sometimes people will ramble, have nothing of worth to say, or love the sound of their own voice, and you need to work with them a little.  But generally speaking (pun intended), it’s a case of ‘I know you’re hearing me, but are you listening?’


The domino chain theory

It’s not just sales people who struggle to get the attention of their customers.  At some point we all find it difficult to get time with other people who seem to be more busy than us, or just busy on other stuff.

That’s because what’s important to us is usually not what’s important to them.

Imagine a line of dominos stacked up and all facing the same way.  You’re one of these dominos.  You can’t see the face of the domino in front of you, the domino whose attention you want.  They’ve got their back to you.  They’re focused on the domino in front of them, whose attention they’re trying to get.  The trouble is, the domino in front has their back to them, and so it continues.

This is why we can’t tie down a meeting, or get a call back, or get a reply to an email, or get that thing we need.  It’s not important to the other person, like it us to us.  They have their own list of priorities and things that are important to them, and they’re going about it in the same way as we are.

Sometimes it feels like an entire supply chain is like this.  Half the battle is understanding the domino chain, and understanding why the people you need something from are not focused on you.

The other half is helping them with what they’re focusing on.  Then you get their attention, they face you, and the 2 dominoes are talking.