Monday, November 29, 2004

"Advertisers Attempt to Say a Lot Using Very Little Words" - but please don't try this yourself

You're probably aware of it, even if you haven't recognized it as a trend. More and more, advertisers are saying less and less - with their tag lines, anyway. Examples (courtesy WSJ, 29-Nov-04, p. B1):
AT&T - '&'
Citibank - 'Thank you'
IBM - 'On'
MasterCard - 'Priceless'
Nextel - 'Done'
Verizon Wireless - 'In'
Now, while less actually IS more sometimes (thank you Mies van der Rohe, Buckminster Fuller, and (actually) Robert Browning via "Andrea del Sarto") it's my view that managers are often TOO parsimonious - that is, too frugal, to the point of being stingy - with their words. Now this isn't the worse thing that could happen considering how many bosses just don't know when to be quiet already. But it takes a LOT of work to communicate succinctly AND effectively. And all too often brevity on one's part precludes understanding on everyone else's part.

I've long subscribed to the belief that Effective Communication is "insuring that the message you intend to be received is exactly the same as the message that actually is received." For anyone's whose ever tried, you know that that's no small task. And while staccato sound bites may work for television and print ads, it's NOT how leaders should talk. Not at first anyway. First, you have to be sure that people know what you're talking about - as in what you're REALLY talking about.

Not sure they're sure? Then ask them. But don't just ask if they understand, ask "What is it you hear me saying to you?" That's the better question.

Don't confuse quickly with clarity - especially in your important (read: daily) communications with others. The time you spend on the front-end insuring everyone is clear on your meaning is time you won't have to spend on the back-end cleaning up afterwards because they really weren't.

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Saturday, November 27, 2004

Team Alphabet: Conversation Omega

A digression: The guys originally assigned to creating the alphabet must've been pretty fun-loving bunch. I mean, you'd expect they'd be a creative group since they were creating written language and all. But, I think they were sort of punch-drunk by time they hit the last third of the project…

Team Alphabet, Guy 1: Okay, we're up to 's'. What's next?

Team Alphabet, Guy 2: I like 't'

Team Alphabet, Guy 3: Yeah, but that's another 'eee' letter - and we've already got B, C, D, E, G, and P.

Team Alphabet, Guy 4: Who cares, not meeeee!

Team Alphabet, Guy 2: Oooh, Oooh. Next comes 'u' (get it? Not, meeee, but you!)

Team Alphabet, Guy 1: I like straight lines so let's make 'u' look like a 'v' instead.

Team Alphabet, Guy 4: We could do that, but we're being paid for 26 letters and we're still a few short. So how about if we use both 'u' and 'v'?

Team Alphabet, Guy 3: You don't think that's doubling up?

Team Alphabet, Guy 2: Nah, and, say, that gives me another idea - let's make the next letter a double up - double 'u' that is - sort of like the 'm/n' thing only upside down … and in reverse!

Team Alphabet, Guy 1: Yeah, and that sort of sets the stage for the grand finale, like if the alphabet was a song or something.

Team Alphabet, Guy 2: Nice. That could be our next project. You know, sort of like [in a sing-song-y voice] "ABCDEFG, tell me what you think of ... THAT!"

Team Alphabet, Guy 3: I'd 'x' the 'that' if I were you.

Team Alphabet, Guy 4: Perfect, 'x' is next, then.

Team Alphabet, Guy 3: Why?

Team Alphabet, Guy 4: 'Y' - that's perfect, too! Keep 'em comin'. You're really on a roll.

Team Alphabet, Guy 1: One more, guys, just one more.

Team Alphabet, Guy 1: What do you think of 'Zed'?

Team Alphabet, Guy 2: Of what?

Team Alphabet, Guy 1: I said 'zed', Fred.

Team Alphabet, Guy 2: I like 'zed', Ed.

Team Alphabet, Guy 3: Oh, brother. You're starting to sound like all those 'eee' letters again, guys.

Team Alphabet, Guy 4: Ted's right. So if it's up to me, I think it should be a 'zee'.

Team Alphabet, Guy 1: I agree!

Team Alphabet, Guy 2: Me three!

Team Alphabet, Guy 3: (sigh!)

Well say what you will, but these guys delivered on time, on budget, and to scope. So here's hoping that your team meetings are as productive - and fun - as this one!


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Do You Obfuscate?

Well, DO you?


Pronunciation: 'äb-f&-"skAt; äb-'f&s-"kAt,
Function: transitive verbInflected
Form(s): -cat·ed; -cat·ing
Etymology: (Latin) ob- in the way + fuscus dark brown

1b: to make obscure

I'm reminded to ask this question by a recent comment from Sammy Sosa's agent, Adam Katz. When asked if he thought Sosa and his teammates could make up and play nice together next year after Sosa skipped out on his teammates (and fans) the last game of the season, Katz replied:

"I've said a hundred times that any inflammation that exists I consider manageable. It's not even remotely insurmountable."
Now THIS is obfuscation at its BEST! First off, that the situation is considered 'manageable' does NOT mean that everyone has to sing a happy song together. If Sosa gets traded to another team, as example, that's perfectly manageable, too, isn't it?

But it's that next sentence that takes the cake: "It's not even remotely insurmountable." So 'it's not even' plus 'insurmountable' is a double negative, which means he really means, "It's remotely doable." But then there's that pesky little word "remotely". You'd think that'd mean it's a no-brainer, easy thing to do, right? But 'remotely' means, among other things (see definition 6) "small in degree : SLIGHT". So that means what Katz is REALLY saying is this:

"It's a remote possibilitity that it can actually be done."

And that is 180 degrees opposite of what Katz seems to want us to infer. Bottom Line: This is not the stuff that trust is built-upon.

So I ask again, do YOU obfuscate?

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Mysteries or Headlines?

When you're talking to your boss about a project at work, do you favor mysteries or headlines?

  • If you favor mysteries, you're likely to lay out all the twists and turns you took along the way BEFORE giving the bottom line. It's your way of framing the discussion, of putting things in context so that your conclusion makes sense.
  • If you favor headlines, though, you're more likely to lead with your conclusion and then substantiate how you got there, if need be.

A lot of (most?) people like to give their status reports in mystery format. And they can be quite engaging in doing so. The thing is, though, that not everyone has the time to listen to - or fully appreciate - all of that detail. Often times the boss just wants to know just one thing:

"Are we okay, or not?"

For people like that, the headline approach is far superior. They need to hear what they want to know up front - not eventually, not soon, but, first ... as in before anything else. Could they loosen up a bit? Probably. But the thing is that until they know what they need to know, they not listening to what you're saying anyway - they're just wondering how long you're going to go on until you get to the bottom line. And they're probably getting more and more impatient with you as time passes.

So the next time you have a status report to give, ask the person if they want the headlines first. Maybe they do and maybe they don't. But knowing that little bit of information can really sharpen your ability to communicate in a way that maximizes your positive impact.

Isn't that what you've been striving for?