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?

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Doing Without Knowing

    Say you know someone, perhaps in your profession, who you admire - whose skills you would like to be able to do or whose types of creations you wish you could create.

    In the training and education industry, I see trainers use each others curriculum, stories, games, and methods ALL THE TIME. Even when the content isn't open source, it gets taken by contract staff and participants who simply go out and do it so that it soon becomes open source - rarely is educational content original or documented to the extent that it truly belongs to someone.

    So there is the ownership issue, but there is also the personal issue. All legalities aside, what happens to us when we see someone or something and we try to emulate without understanding the reasoning, history, or theory behind it?

    I believe that through this behavior we stop being ourselves and start being a version of ourselves we wish we were. We do it because we want to create the same results we saw them get. Yes, imitation can help us learn and get better results, but if we stop there - copying without improving and making something truly original - we only achieve a light shade of the source, and that makes us appear disingenuous.

    There will always be those who are content to peddle carbon copies of things they saw and heard, but as an educator, a learner, the challenge is to steal what is legal and morally conscientious, and to do it for the purpose of building something better.

    Monday, July 12, 2010

    True North

    Over the past year I've done some work facilitating youth learning programs for a Danish education company called True North, and in April I joined them full time as CEO (/facilitator/curriculum developer/staff trainer/everything). Small company. You know.

    The work is fun and meaningful, and the people I work with care about quality and give me lots of trust and autonomy, so I am having a great time.

    So now I am in the exciting position of wanting to move to Copenhagen as soon as my wife and I have our baby boy in October and are able to sell our house. (If anyone wants to buy a house in Oceanside, California, let me know.)

    One of the fun challenges of working in a small business for me is recognizing which area to devote time to in the company at any given moment: marketing, sales, development, staffing, etc. I have gained a lot of good execution ideas in various company areas from reading and talking with people who have been in similar positions, but with a never-ending stream of company needs and far more to-dos than time, the priority question is constant.

    Earlier in life I learned how to check-off to-dos, now I am learning how to delete them.

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    How To Use Tiger Woods To Manipulate Your Friends

    A guy I know just asked this question on his Facebook feed:

    Are you a fan of Tiger Woods: Yes/No

    My first reaction was to think not about my answer, but about the question. Why was I uncomfortable with it?

    Exploring the question's design, the question asks me to consider emotionally charged, polarizing topics (adultery + celebrity fandom), then cram-wrap my answer into a yes/no format by presupposing there is only one black-or-white definition of "being a fan".

    While I know there is no true answer to this question because it is an opinion, it still left me considering how people - intentionally or unintentionally - ask these Loaded Questions.

    Loaded Questions are questions which presuppose ideas or facts. In the 'Tiger Woods fan' example, it posits that I think of myself as either a fan or not, with no other possible alternatives. And it asks that I give a definitive "yes" or "no" first and foremost, which leaks 'emotional bleed-through' onto the remainder of any explanation I give. Loaded Questions unfairly manipulate the responder/audience by projecting a contrived reality onto others.

    Why do people use loaded language?
    1. It gets easy ratings/attention. The emotive response makes it tempting to use for people in the public eye (e.g. political talk show hosts, public speakers, media, bloggers).
    2. It less directly promotes your own perspective. It is more of a soft-sell tactic than a hard-sell. "I'm just asking questions, your honor!"
    3. It is easier to use than logic or reason.
    At 1:45 of the below Crossfire clip is an example of a Loaded Question when the interviewer asks Jon Stewart about political candidate John Kerry.

    Stewart's first response is to devalue the over-simplified question by using humor to 'misunderstand' it. Stewart then redefines a more honest and informed question for the interviewer, which results in the interviewer rephrasing the question at 2:15. (And if you're interested, Stewart then proceeds to deconstruct the show's loaded format entirely.)

    Maybe you are sitting there thinking, "Hey, I want to learn how-to / how-not-to load a question!"

    Here are a few ways to load questions and language in general:
    1. Offer the person a narrow set of responses. "Yes or No?" "Who is best?" "Did you or did you not?" If you are in an adversarial position with the responder, when he responds within this frame you are able to either (a) cry foul on his answer because he is lying/denying, or (b) say "I win" because he agreed with you.
    2. Use subjective phrasing. "Why would you harass me like that?" "How do you justify saying that to me when I am just trying to help you?" "Have you seen how bothered some people get by what you just said?"
    3. Use words with emotional pull. "How would you feel if a young child was in the room when you said that?" "As an American, it is my responsibility to ask you..." 
    4. Faux-pliment. "You're a trusting person; could you loan me your car for the weekend?" "I have always admired your integrity; can I take you to dinner so I can get to know you better?" Or, "Thank you for being respectful and paying attention by sitting up straight," said to a group when they are not.
    5. Use circumstantial/anecdotal evidence. "How can you say that, when everything I know from my 36 years on the planet says otherwise?" "Your eating habits remind me of a young boy I knew who tragically lost his life when he was much too young.""99.9% of people would agree that..."
    6. Speak fast. A physical technique, simply speaking fast can induce faster response time from the responder, which produces less critical thinking and lower quality responses.
    Got more? I'd love to hear them or get links.

    My next post will be how to deal with people who are using loaded language.

    PS: Thanks to Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and all the other talented media, politicians, and humble, patriotic folk who "tell it like it is". You inspire me so much when you tell all your friends what a great blogger I am.

      Friday, January 29, 2010

      Words Fail Me

      Easily the most common technical mistake I am still apt to make while verbally communicating is to drive at a point, re-drive at the point in different words, and then ensure the death of the point with even more driving and rewording.

      'Words + Words • Time' is a great recipe if you want to inspire boredom.

      This 'Death of Words by Speaking' situation occurs for various reasons. We may like hearing our own voice and think we have a big bowl of important things to say. We may believe if we constantly fill the silence we will look confident and certain. And some of us think we are supposed to talk all the time when we have a listener.

      Still, words lose meaning very fast when there are a lot of them. Some listeners can hang with us longer, but we all have listening limits, and the limits of listening to talk are short. Even the greatest actors in the world are ineffective at holding attention if the narrative is uninteresting.

      Speaking needs constant variety to keep audience engagement, and therefore comprehension.

      Variety can be achieved in many ways, from facilitated choices like orchestrating purposeful audience movement, topic-based partner or group sharing, or the use of visuals. Variety can also be heightened with presentational choices, including how we use our verbals.

      Here are a few strategies that have worked for me in most situations:

      1. Prepare specific phrases for certain points. I tend to dislike scripted talks, but a few prepared phrases work well to nail a point and cue me to move on.
      2. Use periods. Many phrases are more effective when followed by a pause, resounding more loudly without a bunch of 'noise words' after them. 
      3. Allow acuity to affect delivery. It is damaging to sell people on a point when they are already sold, need a different dynamic to understand, or just need more time to consider what you are saying. Constantly see and hear your audience; are they with you or do you need to change your pattern?
      4. Appreciate that words are musical. Musical climaxes cease to be impactive when they have a bunch more music at the same volume after a peak - climaxes just become plateaus. Monitor your rhythms, paces, and volumes, and accept that every group has limits on how long they can listen to one person talk. 

      Perhaps I've said too much already.

        Tuesday, January 26, 2010

        Goal Setting Is Personal

        I have a little secret that I rarely talk about, except with friends, because it is so apt to be misinterpreted:

        I dislike setting goals.

        There, I said it.

        But sometimes I teach concrete goal setting models to youth. Is that hypocritical?

        For me, I am fine teaching things that hold potential value for others, even if the thing does not work for me. Teaching from a place of "Let's explore this and see if it works for you" is a delightful place to live and gets good results, in my experience.

        I want to be clear that I am not unproductive. I consider myself efficient and happy with my efforts the majority of the time. I just don't feel a connection to writing down specific accomplishments in a concrete way; it has not worked for me in any sustainable fashion. Benchmark thinking has always felt false for how I interpret the world.

        I'm not saying that goal setting does not work for many people, but to throw concrete goal-setting and "writing it down" at people as an answer to leading a productive and lovely, successful life of achievement? Barf-o-rama.

        For me, personal efficacy entails:
        1. What is my direction? (in my work, relationships, endeavor 'x')
        2. What values do I want to embody? 
        3. What is my moral code? 
        I apply these qualities to my interests and have been very happy with the results. It is a less concrete, more open-ended formula (if I can call it a formula at all) that matches my thinking styles to my approach. The most meaningful things in my life have been ongoing processes or personal growth, and I haven't thought of those experiences in terms of achievements, but rather emotions of satisfaction and meaningfulness.

        All I can do is give my best effort. Where I end up is not always up to me.

        It would surprise me if there were not others who shared similar ideas about goal setting, but I have only met one person who has expressed this to me. Honestly, I don't go around sharing this model too often, so I haven't opened many doors for conversation on the matter. Perhaps this is because my way of goal-thinking can feel more nebulous, or I have not found the right way to explain it effectively.

        Maybe I'll set a goal to figure out how to do that.

        Tuesday, January 19, 2010

        Pocket Hands

        A friend of mine pointed me to this blog post by a woman named Shamelle, "12 Words and Phrases that Automatically Kill Your Self Image". On a side note, the author offers a class called "Title Writing: Save the Drama for Your Mama so You Don't Perish in Flames and Lose Your Family to Wild Dogs". It's pretty good.

        Besides laughing out loud at one poster's comment about how his son says the F--- word more since working at a Chevy dealership, the article reminds me of a time when I had just finished an hour of coaching public speaking at a Wyoming school principals conference.

        After my hour, I was approached by a professional speaker who told me that he had some advice for me. He said that I made the mistake of speaking in front of a group while having either of my hands in my pockets, and that I did so twice.

        It was true. I did have my hands in my pockets a couple of times. In this case, I was aware that I was doing it, and it was purposeful to the extent that although it was not planned, it was a posture that matched the message I was conveying.

        It is fine for a presenter to have their (own) hands in their pockets as long as:
        1. the posture matches the occurring auditory 'track' (i.e. pocket-hands is sometimes an unconscious move when I am deeply listening to someone)
        2. the presenter is in a more conversational, less formal moment
        3. the presenter is in a personally vulnerable moment
        4. the presenter is consciously matching a hostile audience's emotional state with his/her body
        5. the presenter is playing a character
        To me, effective public communication is not so much about being professional as being real. There are almost always norms and procedures we need to follow in every presentational dynamic, but in my world of public speaking, "genuine" almost always achieves more than "rules".

        The challenge is learning how to be genuine in the midst of craft.

        And finally, be wary of people promoting sound bites or 'easy fix' communication tips like "never put your hands in your pocket" or "always speak without 'um'". Audience style, speaker style, and event dynamics are all valid considerations that should influence our behaviors.

        There are very few pervasive, simplistic communication keys. While there are a great number of easily understood strategies, most of them have unexplored room for the creative communicator to grow.

        Tuesday, January 12, 2010

        How Do I Move to Hold Attention?

        Clint Eastwood, speaking about how to act on camera said, "Don't just do something - stand there."

        Eddie Murphy told Chris Rock to pace the stage like a stalking cat during his standup routines.

        Regarding how we move our body in front of an audience, how are we supposed to know which advice to follow?

        My personal take is that although purposeful walking/pacing back-and-forth can work as a gimmick or for short segments of frenetic energy, stillness holds up better with time. It's more natural and less presentational.