Miscommunication is the sand in the gears of modern technology

Here’s the second post of 5 that I’m doing on the book “Verbal Judo – The Gentle Art of Persuasion” by George J. Thompson, Ph.D.

I’m a very visual learner. I like to watch videos on Youtube to learn more about computers, pop psychology, and ant hills. Wait what? Anthills? Hear me out, I promise to get to it by the end of the post.

Working in a modern setting, we have to deal with constituents from all over the place. In order to get anything done these days, you need to rely on a team of people. Nothing meaningful can be accomplished by one person. That’s why we need to communicate so much.

But why doesn’t a single email or a single phone call cut it these days? I’ll tell you why. The channels of communication are so overwhelmed that we need to over-communicate our message to get results – making sure nothing slips through the cracks, letting our colleagues know when, why, and how we need their feedback.

Ken Makovsky gets the point across well:

“Just because you understand something doesn’t necessarily mean everyone else does. So it may bear repeating if, after asking if everyone understood it, someone says “no.” Sometimes people are too shy to admit they don’t understand, so repeating a message is the conservative thing to do. Further, I find that as important as I may think my message is, the minds of the so-called listeners may be wandering. Or the listener may be more focused on his or her retort than taking in what is being spoken” – Ken Makovsky, Forbes

Modern Technology by its nature requires a suspension of disbelief. Why? It’s impossible to know all the deep reasons behind some of the processes we use. We need to rely on the people around us to understand exactly what we are asking for, even if we are using less than ideal words. How do we deal with this? We need to over-communicate.

“We all make mistakes everyday, but listening, empathizing, asking, paraphrasing, and summarizing can go a long way in making you more effective.” – Thompson

And finally, anthills… I told you I’d get back to it.

Whenever I think of over-communication now, I think of anthills. Why? Watch this video with Jesse Schell talking about running a game development studio. He does a great job explaining how ants communicate in their colonies to make sure everything gets done to budget, in a timely manner, and correctly. Check out the following video at 3 minutes and 50 seconds in. “Ants don’t have meetings!”

Got problems? Over-communicate your needs!

How do you over-communicate with your team? Got any horror stories of what happens when you don’t over-communicate? Email me!


Empathy absorbs tension

This will be the first in 5 posts I’m doing on the book “Verbal Judo – The Gentle Art of Persuasion” by George J. Thompson, Ph.D.

A few months ago I finished reading Verbal Judo. How did I find this gem? I had asked my Dad for recommendations on books that strengthen grit and give advice on dealing with people effectively. I’d already read “Grit” by Angela Duckworth and I wanted something more actionable. Verbal Judo was exactly what I was looking for.

Today’s post will focus on the following quote:

“Here is the bottom line of all communication: Empathy absorbs tension. It works every time.” – Thompson

Have you ever struggled to connect with people. Do you wonder why they don’t listen to you? You have great ideas. Why aren’t they willing to listen?

The answer to that question is a lot simpler than you think. They don’t listen because you don’t listen.

“Empathy means “to see through the eye of the other.” – Thompson

I’ve heard this a lot growing up. In order to see how a man sees you have to look through his eyes. In order to know how a man experiences the world, you need to walk in his shoes.

Yes, easy right?

I’ve had the hardest time empathizing because my empathy comes with some kind of agreement that the other person will listen to me next. This comes through much more clearly than you think. You can’t hide it.

Just take a moment here. Think of the last time you were talking to someone and you could just see it on their face. They are ready to say their point without even letting you finish yours.

This is the opposite of empathy.

So how do you show empathy? Stop trying. Just do it.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

Do this next time

Next time you’re listening to someone pour out their heart and soul to you just do one thing. Pay attention. Find the parts they are struggling most with. Locate the points where they trail off. Those are the most meaningful comments that few are brave or willing to follow up on, ask for clarification, and rephrase back to the person in need of empathy.

Thompson suggests the following:

“The next time you have an argument, before you start snapping back and using your words to address your own feelings, why not stop and analyze. What is the problem? How does my opponent see it? How is my opponent different from me? What constraints make it so difficult to deal with him today? And remember to keep a concerned and caring face. That in itself is often enough to deflect abuse.” – Thompson

Have you tried this out? Let me know how it worked out for you.

Hawaii Public Radio is the most intimate medium

I had the opportunity to discuss student employment in Hawaii and the Hawaii iOS Developer Meetup on the latest episode of Bytemarks Cafe.

Two days ago I was invited on to Hawaii Public Radio to be interviewed by Burt Lum and Ryan Ozawa in the first 7 minutes of the Bytemarks Cafe radio show. Follow this link to listen.

Before the interview, Burt and I had a chance to discuss our takeaways from the Purple Prize the Native Hawaiian app building contest we attended last week. Ryan shot, edited, and post produced the video in 2 days! Unreal, hard-working technology connectors and thought leaders. So lucky for this opportunity!

Radio is intense. You can’t mess up. You need to be completely in the moment. Thinking time turns into dead air.

Once the segment I was on was finished, Nicholas Yee, a former DJ at the University of Hawaii’s radio station KTUH spoke very kindly of our mutual friends.

I mentioned that my wife loves public radio and was interested in seeing how it’s all made. Nick was so kind. He heard the request and gave us a tour of the entire operation! We even got to check out the performance space in the studio The Atherton.

The Atherton is a lovely, 70-capacity studio, that is scientifically tuned with bevels behind the wood paneled interior. Nick mentioned that they are recording in the space. I’d just finished filming the Career Fair at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 360 degrees with 2 Kodak SP360 cameras. The footage came out great. He gave me his business card. I hope we can collaborate in the near future.

At the end of the tour I asked Nick, “Do you feel like working at KTUH adequately prepared you for this job?” He smiled and said, “Yes.”

What do you do to ensure the psychological safety of your coworkers?

5173lnlcqnl-_ac_us218_I love Saturday Night Live. I’ve loved this sketch comedy show since the first skit I saw back in the early nineties. Dana Carvey was dressed up as the Church Lady yelling, “Satan!” followed by her catchphrase, “Well isn’t that special?” My very religious grandmother was in the kitchen chopping vegetables. I looked over and saw her shaking her head, laughing looking down. 

Lorne Michaels has steered Saturday Night Live for 42 years. He shares that the trick to setting up the right group of people is counterintuitive:

“You know that saying, There’s no I in TEAM?” Michaels told me. “My goal was the opposite of all that. All I wanted were a bunch of I’s. I wanted everyone to hear each other, but no one to disappear into the group.”

But if everyone is an individual, how do you make sure there’s order in the room? How do you make sure that egos don’t get crushed? The point is made even clearer when Duhigg points out that, “Comedy writers carry a lot of anger.”

The norms a company’s culture cultivates play a huge role in allowing the “I’s” to soar without bringing the whole show crashing down.

“Allowing others to fail without repercussions, respecting divergent opinions, feeling free to question others’ choices but also trusting that people aren’t trying to undermine you – were all aspects of feeling psychologically safe at work.” – Duhigg

So how do you cultivate this psychological safety with your teams? Luckily Duhigg provides us with a check list:

What matters are five key norms:

  • Teams need to believe that their work is important.
  • Teams need to feel their work is personally meaningful.
  • Teams need clear goals and defined roles.
  • Team members need to know they can depend on one another.
  • Teams need psychological safety.

Duhigg goes on to list ways to build up psychological safety in your teams as the leader:

  • Leaders should not interrupt teammates during conversations because that will establish an interrupting norm.
  • They should demonstrate they are listening by summarizing what people say after they said it.
  • They should admit what they don’t know.
  • They shouldn’t end a meeting until all team members have spoken at least once.
  • They should encourage people who are upset to express their frustrations, and encourage teammates to respond in non-judgmental ways.
  • They should call out intergroup conflicts and resolve them through open discussion.

“Teams succeed when everyone feels like they can speak up and when members show they are sensitive to how one another feels. What I’ve realized is that as long as everyone feels like they can talk and we’re really demonstrating that we want to hear each other, you feel like everyone’s got your back.” – Duhigg

What do you do to ensure the psychological safety of your coworkers?

I struggle with this at times as my programming position is a lonely endeavor. I find that doing favors for my colleagues and encouraging them to go for their goals, knowing that we all grow as we push ourselves to realize new goals is necessary, noble, and needed. 

“Leap and the net will appear.” – John Burroughs

Got any suggestions to cultivate psychological safety by example? Email me!

Organizations must understand, use, and control the stories that define them

“Want to develop a sense of belonging and buy-in in your organization? Collect and refine the stories of your group members that best embody the attitudes and outlook you want to promote. Actively tell these stories and encourage others to create and share their own.” – Haven

How important is story to your organization? Do you know the path that your organization took to get here? Are you the founder of your organization? What motivational stories to do you have to share? Why aren’t you sharing these?

“The conclusions of each of these studies shows that stories are an essential and inseparable part of successful organization existence. The question is never, “Do organizations need stories?” or even “Do stories play an important role in organizations?” any more than “Do humans breathe?” is a reasonable question. They do. Period. The question of concern in these studies is: do organizations consciously understand, use, and control the stories that define their beliefs, attitudes, decisions, and actions?” – Haven

When we learn about a new organization that we’re interested in (or are forced to interact with) Stories give our minds a way to process the information.

“Stories reveal causes and consequences that form the foundations of meaning.” – Hirst

We need stories to make sense of the motivations behind the organization’s decisions to do things the way they uniquely do.

As a consumer of products and services from the organization, I want to know why they choose to conduct business the way they do.

“Narrative fulfills critical sense-making function. If you can’t see the story; you won’t learn the content and its meaning.” – Spicer

Remember this important point:

“We humans live, think, and learn through stories.” – Haven

Why are you holding out on us? We want to know who you are before we choose to work with you. If we’re forced to interact with you, tell us who you are. Make it easy for us to like you.

“I believe that the way of storytelling and the ways of conceptualizing that go with them become so habitual that they finally become recipes for structuring experience itself, for laying down routes into memory, for not only guiding the life narrative up to the present but directing it into the future.” – Bruner

Let’s play a game.

Set a timer on your phone for 7 minutes. Think back to the founding of your organization. Why was it founded? Write on this topic for the full 7 minutes.

Connect the reasons with a beginning, middle, and an end.

Stories need these three points to show your readers the characters involved, the motivation behind certain organization-defining-decisions, and the realization of the goals of the organization through struggle, hard-work, and the awareness of their customers and their unique position in the market.

Stop holding back your story. We want to know who you are before we work with you. Make it easy for us. Share your story. Craft your story. Spread it. Share it!

Shape your material into a specific story structure and it will pass through to the conscious mind with few, if any, internal alternatives

“If you shape your material into a specific story structure, then it will pass through to the conscious mind with few, if any, internal alternatives, additions, and restructurings. Your story reaches the conscious mind, not some other story created by the receiver’s own mind.” – Haven

How many times have you heard someone say, “You need to own your story!”? I never really knew what it meant. Then I came across this quote,

“Make sure you set your own priorities. Because if you don’t, people will make their priorities your priorities.” – Unknown

What happens when you don’t advertise who you (or your product) are clearly? Do people even know what you stand for? Actually, what do you stand for? Having a hard time answering that question? Then it might be time for you to do some journaling. If you don’t know your story, how do you expect others to?

Oprah famously said, “You teach people how to treat you.”

Dr. Phil goes on to say,

“Say your bossy friend always picks the restaurant you hate. If you’d rather keep silently resenting her instead of speaking up, then don’t change a thing. (By the way, there is a payoff here for you, too; maybe you don’t want to put any effort into making a decision, or you enjoy feeling wronged.) But if you want to see a different result, then you need to teach her how to treat you.

Why aren’t you challenging her when she ignores your opinion? You’re the one who is refusing to say, “Wait a minute, I’m really in the mood for someplace else.” The only person you control is you—which is great news, because you’re the one who has been letting her call the shots time and time again” – Dr. Phil

In “Story Proof: The science behind the startling power of story,” Kendall Haven writes:

“If you shape your material into a specific story structure, then it will pass through to the conscious mind with few, if any, internal alternatives, additions, and restructurings. Your story reaches the conscious mind, not some other story created by the receiver’s own mind.” – Haven

It’s important to know how your story functions.

It’s important to structure your story in a way that other people will understand you, how you operate, and what you need. It’s even more important to make sure you’re telling yourself the right story.

Let’s play a game.

Take a moment to write out your story. Do this alone. Don’t let someone else tell you what your story is. This is the time you’ve blocked off for yourself to check-in.

Get out a piece of paper. Set a timer for 5 minutes. And get busy answering the following 3 questions:

  • What is my personal story?
  • What is my work story?
  • What is my family story?

Now read over what you wrote.

Does it make sense? Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end? Now go find someone you trust. Read your story back to them. Ask them what parts are unclear.

Make notes of what parts are unclear. Revise what you wrote with feedback from your trusted friend.

Repeat this process with other trusted friends. Keep revising until you get responses that the story is clear.

Now that you have a clear story. Look to see if this really defines who you are. Are there parts to the story that could be integrated better? Are there glaring inconsistencies in your story? Patterns?

This exercise should give you a chance to get clear on what parts of your story are clear and what areas need work. Finally, ask yourself, “What parts of my story can be ripped away?” Old beliefs holding you back?

You write your story. If it’s crystal clear, you won’t leave any room for misinterpretation.

You write your story. Make it a good one 🙂