Archive for February, 2013

Communication across the divide

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I was listening to a radio program based on a book “Far from the Tree” about deaf culture.  It was a phrase that gave me pause; it had never occurred to me that deaf people might have a separate and unique culture.  I listened on and learnt about the nuance of meaning the deaf could convey with a gesture akin to the way we use tonality and the penny dropped.  In the same way as each language enables particular subtleties in meaning in particular areas, so the deaf are able to convey shades of meaning to each other that we can not.  They experience the world differently and share those experiences via a different medium… of course they have their own culture.

This got me thinking that in the same way that there is a gulf between hearing and non-hearing communication, there are subtle gaps between each of us.  We all use words which carry uniquely different weights and resonances for each of us; expressions can trigger a variety of emotions depending on our culture and upbringing.  We gloss over all this in the haste of our daily lives but these micro-failures of communication happen all the time, even with those we love.

If it is important, then take the time not just to say what you want, but also to test what they have heard and how they understand that.

The race you didn’t know you were in

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I was out walking the other day, doing my daily constitutional, when I spied another walker ahead of me on the path.  I thought “I wonder if I can catch them up by the top of the next hill?” and upped my pace.  Bit-by-bit I cut their lead and and eventually overhauled them.  A pointless exercise of male ego or perhaps a little bit of harmless gaol setting, but it occurred to me that it was a metaphor for a rather more serious business situation. 

It is often the case that at one moment in time one company has a decisive market advantage be they they a global giant like Apple or the local firm of accountants.  However, as Nokia found, if you aren’t constantly innovating and keeping an eye not just on your current market but the market of tomorrow then you can find yourself overhauled by someone with a new vision and product like Apple.  Now it seems that perhaps their halo is slipping a little and Google are perhaps the next darling of the tech market.  The only thing you can guarantee is that the advantage will shift.

The thing is if you are currently enjoying a golden period then you need to keep an eye on who might have you in their sights with the ambition to overhaul you!  The day that you rest on your laurels is the day this begins.  It is easier to overtake someone who doesn’t even know they are in a race, so keep talking to your customers and your staff and ask “How could we do this better?” because if you aren’t doing that then some else will be!

What a difference a word makes

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

I was listening to a politician talking and noticed her use of the word “reform” and that got me thinking.  They always talk about reform, which suggests that they are making things better for us, but I suspect that if you asked most voters they would say they either saw no change or no change for the better.  Politicians are always tinkering with the system, but I wonder if they ever make things better.  They use the word “reform” rather than change, because most people feel frighten or at least adverse to change, but surely everyone is for reform?  Their actions don’t change but wrapping them up with a more appealing label is meant to make them okay…

As business leaders get more media savvy, they too tend to shift their language to disguise the content of what they are suggesting.  The thing is people are only fool for a little while and they quickly translate words like right-sizing to redundancies.  People may not like what you have to tell them but they will respect you more if you tell it like it is.  In my experience, they usually know what is going on despite all management efforts to keep things confidential, so maybe next time you plan to communicate with your troops you might like to do it this way:-

  1. Decide what the purpose of this communication is
  2. Know what you want them to do & feel
  3. Understand where they are coming from
  4. Keep you messages short and simple
  5. Give them a real opportunity to ask questions and respond

It makes all the difference.  I did this with a client company the other day and you could see how pleased they were that a proper opportunity was being made to communicate with them.

3 years on… the journey continues

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

I thought that I’d write this for those who took an interest in our story and those who might be in a similar boat and let you know where we are now, three years after Carys died.  It does seem remarkable that it is three years already.  Life has a habit of keeping on keeping on even if you don’t feel ready for that!  A friend of mine recently lost his wife in similarly tragic circumstances and that made me review my journey too.

The children have moved on with their lives, two have now moved out and started the next phase of their lives as independent ladies, my son has nearly completed a degree.  They are all still feel very raw at their loss.  I’m clear that for them it is something they will never get over but they will get better at dealing with the new shape of their lives.  I have done my best to fill in some little part of the void she left for them but it can never be enough.  Meanwhile I set about rebuilding my life.  I seems to me that one of the key lessons is that you must not let your tragedies define who you are or you will hold on to them rather than moving beyond them.  Things like this are an end of something special but they create space for something new that can also be special and good.  I think that the word rebuilding is very apt because it is a job of work like creating a building and you have to put in the effort if you wish to see the change.  You can bury yourself in something familiar and safe but  that is a recipe for every day being less than before and that isn’t how I choose to live my life.

I think there is also a lesson here.  How do we define ourselves?  Who do I think ME is?  If I define myself as the job of work I do, or as someone’s partner or someone else’s parent, then my identity can always be taken away from me.  I have to find a version of me that has its foundations solely built on who I am. I also have to recognise that I change day by day.  I get a little older each day, my shape changes, as does the colour of my hair, but I’m still me. 

One of the real challenges is how you fill your days and nights.  If you have a regular job then a big part of your day is filled for you, but then you come home to an empty house and an emptier bed.  That is tough.  In many ways I think this filling your time is the toughest challenge.  Some of that time will be spent doing jobs that your partner did, jobs you might feel you don’t have the skills to do or that you don’t feel a man (or a woman) should be doing.  I think again this kind of thinking or labelling really makes moving forward tough.  I found myself having to assume all my wife’s household chores, luckily having lived on my own before we got married I knew how to do most of these.  My mum had a rather different experience when confronted with all the practical, ‘manly’ jobs that my dad always did.  I think it is a case of adapt and survive… or fail to do so and die a little bit every day!

“No two animals…”

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

I was listening to the radio this morning and heard a scientist, Professor Brian Cox, say “No two animals see the world in the same way.”  He was referring to how catfish sense things through the murky waters via vibrations on the river bed and a swarm of chemicals in the river. Another example would be how, for instance, snakes find their prey via heat sensors near where their nose is.  Bats and dolphins use echo location, bees and other insects use infra red wavelengths to see markings on flowers that we can’t see.  So he was illustrating that different species have a whole spectrum of senses they each deploy in different ways to map and explore their worlds. 

As humans we are used to the idea that blind people can find their way, unsighted, through environments that are highly complex and would bewilder a sighted person; perfumiers can distinguish an amazing complexity of scents, similarly wine growers have a much keener ability to analyse tastes. 

However, his statement is true at a much more basic, though more subtle level.  We each have our own little world, which we label ‘real’; we have a set of rules of what is right and fair, and how things ‘should’ be.  We have a set of values and beliefs about what is true and how the world is.  Some of these come from our upbringing, our societal and familial beliefs, some from our experiences.  We each build a little inner model that helps us understand and navigate our lives.  However, what is seldom discussed or realised. is each of these unchallenged models is totally different, and we only find out about that when we get into arguments with people about what is right or real.  We often hear about how men and women have different views on what is important, or what is ‘going on’.  That is just one slightly more visible element of these different worlds we inhabit.  There is more information about this here.

We need to be aware of these unchallenged assumptions, beliefs and views as they interfere with our communication and can cause friction and arguments, just think about the troubles in the Middle East.  One really good example is how the Americans are indoctrinated into believing they are the biggest and best nation in the world and appointed by God to keep the peace… their peace, which in fact means waging war all over the world, far away from their homes!

If you wish to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding and stress remember Professor Cox’s words “No to animals..” And that includes you an me.. “ see the world in the same way”