Monday, January 10, 2011

Every Word I Say Is A Promise

When I cancel time with you so I can spend time doing something else I send the message that I have a hierarchy of friends, and you are definitely not at the top.

To me, being nice means caring about others. It is a high value for me.

There is no such thing as a "promise" in my life. If I say I will be somewhere or spend time with someone then it is the equivalent of a promise. My word is my promise. I will do my absolute best to keep my commitment. And if I cannot keep my word due to emergency, or if I choose to break my word due to personal preference, then my responsibility says I must be up front and immediate with those who I am letting down, and I must accept the consequences of the accountability image I set for myself.

I recently called a friend a "better offer whore" (in a lighthearted tone with all the joking-yet-seriousness I could manage). He had backed out on me for a social event for another social event. When I told him I felt he was taking a better offer than me and that was frustrating because I had spent time and energy on the original plans, he got angry and said he was "making better choices".

I agree he was making better choices - for himself. But making better choices for oneself regardless of how it affects others is not what relational responsibility is about.

Did you consider how your "better choice" would impact others before you made it? If I am not committed to a person or event from the start, okay, but I must let that qualifier be known. If the 'better offer' circumstances are truly extraordinary and I do my best to make it up to or include my friend (or family) in my new plans, then that is great as everyone wins.

Otherwise, living life by the code of "If something better than this comes up then I will back out on you," is not going to cement any trusting long-term relationships. It sends a powerfully negative message about one's values.

When I give my word to anyone about anything I have the highest expectation that I will fulfill my word, and if I don't it should not be handled with just a "Oh by the way I can't." It should be handled promptly, with grace and sensitivity.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Immediacy Rule

The Immediacy Rule is a communication rule I use when training people who work with others for a large part of their time. The rule is:
Other people don't care about your intentions.
Living day-to-day life, the interpersonal rule of thumb is that we simply interact and then react, caring only about about communication results we get from another: what we feel or understand.

To care about other people's intentions is a luxury that is afforded only when taking the time to have a longer conversation about communication with someone else, usually stemming from a misunderstanding or argument we had with them. Too often, "You misread my intention," is something people use as a defense about why their communication created a problem.

This is not to say that intention is unimportant. I believe intention is the primary driver of the emotional response we get from others. Yet as a rule, people do not consider your intention when they are experiencing how clear or impactive you are. They are just reacting to your verbal, vocal, and visual choices.

On a note regarding the receivers of communication, there are x-factors. Sometimes we develop what are called "filters" in our mindset that cause us to more easily and/or severely misread another person's intentions. For example, as we listen to a colleague who has broken our trust in the past, our reticular activating system actively - yet unconsciously - seeks phrases that could be lies, and our confirmation bias hijacks our decision making to decide that they are lies.

Thinking and learning about communication skills assists growth in becoming more conscious in clarity of intention, and also to listen with more openness to others intentions, too.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Funny: instinct > calculation

I am nobody famous. I am not a standup or a comic actor. But, like you and any convict with Internet access I can start a blog for free and write my opinions on things, pretending I am smart and that I know what I'm talking about.

As a life-long standup lover and of comedy in general, I can be awesomely nerdy when it comes to analyzing why things are funny. Style, content, timing, all of it fascinates me. And I am not a comedy snob. I enjoy a good baby farting on Grandma just as much as I enjoy Woody Allen.

So of all the things I believe about comedy, my thesis is this:

Funny: instinct > calculation

Here are some of my beliefs about humor that have tended to hold true over time.
  1. Being consistently referred to as a funny person is not something that is able to be trained. It is a way of thinking we get from our parents and friends from a very young age. 
  2. One's Level Of Funniness can be sharpened with the right kind of experience.
  3. Being funny with family = Level 0; being funny with friends = Level 1; being the funniest of your friends (as decided by them) is level 2; being funny with strangers casually/socially is level 3; being consistently funny in front of crowds of strangers is the ultimate level 4. 
  4. Improvisation is not the same as telling pre-crafted jokes - they are different humor skill sets with only a little overlap. 
  5. Being able to analyze humor is a million times easier than actually being funny. 
  6. Writing funny is a different skill set than talking funny or 'doing' funny.
To earn the phrase of having a "sense of humor" you should have to actually be able to make people laugh. A lot. Otherwise you don't have a sense of humor, you just appreciate humor, like every human on the planet.
    That's it.

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Getting Past The Gatekeeper

    Let's take a look at how we can talk with a secretary, assistant, or "gate keeper" on the phone so we can get to the person we want to reach.

    A little context...
    • I am not interested in lying about why I am calling.
    • I assume the gate keeper does not have time to dilly dally: this is a timed event. 
    That said, I am going to use rapport techniques to try and connect with the gate keeper on a human level, and I'm going to use convincing techniques to transparently and emotionally show why I should be speaking with my intended target.

    1. Be Polite. More people are impressed by those who know how to be polite than by those who self-describe themselves as "no-nonsense and direct" (and who others describe as "ass holes").
    2. Use Friendly Tones. Don't be monotone, add some variety in your inflection. But please: stay natural. Nobody likes Goofy The Dip Wad except for other Goofy The Dip Wads.
    3. Use A Unique Greeting. These can be achieved through tone, rhythm, and word choice. The typical machine-gun-business-call starts like: "Hi this is Steve with Arrowood Training and I'm calling for Frank Anderson?" Uh... okay, thanks, telemarketer guy! Instead, slow down, be clear and articulate, and if you say something, MEAN IT. If you say "How are you?" Listen to their response and respond back to it.
    I used to be an intern at The Actors Studio in New York on West 44th Street. One day my boss Jerry gave me a binder full of phone numbers of actors and directors. There were some huge celebrities in the binder, simply listed in courier font like an old phone book. I recall seeing numbers for Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, Julia Roberts, Robin Williams, and Stephen Spielberg, some of which found their way into my pocket notebook. Jerry told me all the A-list types I couldn't call, as he would be calling them, but he still gave me some people I was nervous about.

    Usually I reached voice mail or an agent, but once I got the wife (presumed) of George Roy Hill, director of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and The Sting. She said "Hello?" and I said, "Is this a real person?" She laughed and after a minute of purely fun social interaction I heard George shouting in the background, "Who is that?" and I got to talk with him.

    I have always felt that building rapport in many business dynamics is more difficult than doing in social dynamics. That's because as the initiator of the rapport building, I am often not only in a timed event with the receiver, but I also run the risk of coming across as insincere in my communication. This can lead to my being seen as manipulative, worsening relationship between them and me, or them and who I represent. My goal is to come across as human versus as 'caller #46'. The only way to do this is by being sincere. If you are not sincere in wanting to interact with the person on the other end, you probably should not be trying to build rapport with strangers.

    1. Offer Transparent Explanation. Be clear and up-front with your intention.  
    2. Use Emotional Conveyance. Show your natural sense of urgency, sincerity, or importance in what you want). It's natural to use both techniques simultaneously, and both require specific choices in tone, pacing, rhythms, emphasis, and word choices.

    When I was in college working with a temp agency, I once was given a list of names to cold-call invite to some newly formed charity business organization to try and get them to join. The company I was temping for was not that concerned if they joined or not, they just wanted the calls made. But I made it my mission to get as many as I could.

    I remember speaking with the assistant for a guy way up the ladder in Coca-Cola, and the way I got through to the guy was just by being really transparent. I ditched the robotic script the company gave me when his assistant answered. "Hello, my name is Steve Arrowood and I'm a temp worker in New Brighton, Minnesota. I'm calling to let David Iverson know about this new charity organization (whatever it was) so it can get started right. I'm not calling for money, I'm just calling for one minute of his time. From what I know about it, I think it is really worthwhile and he might be interested." She paused, "OK, who are you again?" I restated it all in different words and I got through.

    Different people are convinced by different things in different scenarios. Sometimes you can get a read on the person on the other end of the phone and you can best choose your convincing technique. Sometimes they give you an opening like, "Who are you again?" and you need to recognize it and jump in to go one step farther in rapport or convincing.

    Got another example or story of something that worked?