In Communication, Nothing Beats the Personal Touch

Good morning! I hope your day is starting off well.

My day is starting off with snow – the first real snow of the season. It’s pretty. It’s like a white blanket lovingly placed over the entire area. It’s a visual reminder of the blanket on my bed. And much like the indoor blanket, it beckons me to immerse myself in it. It’s peaceful. It’s pretty. Now it can go away.

It’s on days like this that I enjoy having the option to work from home. I could do it any day of the week, and some of the folks on my team do it every day. But I enjoy being around people, so I usually go into the office anyway. Text messaging is almost as fast as live communication, but it leaves a certain element of intimacy on the table.

Odd that I would use a word like intimacy to describe my interaction with co-workers. Say that to the wrong person and you’ll get an invitation to visit Human Resources. More like a directive. But you folks know what I mean, and so do the people I work with. I just like that personal touch. It’s hard to communicate when you can’t see the person to whom you’re speaking. And vice versa.

How often have you read an email or text message and thought, “What did he mean by that?” It could be as simple as, “Did you finish that assignment yet?” That could mean a few things. On one extreme, it’s a simple question – just a check on your progress. At the other extreme, it’s a loaded question with predetermined consequences just waiting for the wrong answer. You just never know.

One of the things I loved the most about performing stand-up comedy is that I could write funny stuff and then deliver it to my audience in the way it was intended. There was no question in their mind what I was trying to say, because I had the advantage of all the other elements of communication – tone, inflection, facial expressions, body language, and most importantly, immediate feedback.

It’s not that I don’t like text messaging or email. I think both have an increasingly important role in the workplace. It allows companies to seek out talent across the entire nation and beyond, instead of relying on what’s available locally. And it gives those individuals with all the right skills the ability to accept a job without uprooting the family and moving someplace they never wanted to live.

But it’s easy to become so reliant on electronic communication that face-to-face communication becomes “old school.” I see a lot of posts online where parents bemoan the fact that a lot of schools are no longer teaching cursive writing. Okay, it’s mostly the grandparents complaining about that, but you get the point. It’s like handing kids a calculator and telling them to forget about math.

We want kids to learn the old-school manual ways of doing things, for good reason. There will be times in life when it’s good to know, and other times when they can’t solve a problem without it. You know, like when the calculator breaks or they get a letter from Grandma in cursive.

But when it comes to communication, we’ve become increasingly reliant on technology to do the job for us. We send emojis. We send GIFs. We write text messages with word abbreviations nobody has ever heard of, and punctuation that would make our English teacher cry. We send those messages to our managers and directors, and then wonder why our career isn’t going anywhere. Duh!

A few days ago, I met with my Senior VP. It was a meeting I requested, simply to put a face with the name. It’s hard to gauge sincerity and intent when all you’ve got are black letters on a white background. But when you’re sitting on the other side of the desk, you can both get a better feel for what the other person is thinking. That’s more than just important – it’s critical.

I know, a lot of people my age are reluctant to jump into the whole “virtual presence” thing. Maybe age has a lot to do with it. But I still believe nothing beats that personal touch. Whether it’s stopping by somebody’s desk, or picking up the phone, personal communication will always beat electronic communication. Besides, it gives you a chance to smile. And it gives them a chance to smile back.

I’m not saying we should shun electronic communication. It has its place, and that place seems to be ever increasing. But, whenever you have the chance, go for the personal approach. Pick up the phone. Pop your head over the cubicle wall. Walk to the other person’s desk, or go knock on their door. Besides, it’s the only way you can get a hug. Hmmm. And now HR is calling. Gotta run!

That’s all for now. Have an awesome day!

© 2019 Dave Glardon – All rights reserved

If You Don’t Know All the Words, Just Hum Along

Good morning! I hope your day is off to a great start.

Some days I sit down at the computer for my morning post and my mind just goes blank. I know I want to write something, but I just have no earthly idea what that’ll be. It’s something every writer has to face at some point – writer’s block. It happens to all of us. And not just writers. Have you ever wanted to start a conversation with somebody, and your mind goes blank?

My grandson is one of those people who can never seem to have a conversation without planning it from start to finish at least a day before it begins. “I’ll just say this, and if she says that, then I’ll say something equally predictable …” Sound familiar? And in his case, planning may be a good strategy because I’ve seen him work off the cuff. It’s not always pretty.

I think we all tend to plan conversations, at least to an extent. Think about the last time you asked the boss for a raise. How many times did you mentally rehearse that conversation? And then what happens? You step into the office, close the door, and start with your well-rehearsed opening line. “Good morning.” And everything from that point forward goes completely off-script.

Call center employees know this feeling all too well. You have a script. You open the call with a standard statement or question. For every possible thing your caller can say, you have a scripted response with one common goal – no matter what they say, no matter what their objections, you will always end up right where you wanted to be.

The problem with that is, nobody shared that script with the other person. They don’t know what they’re supposed to say, and when they throw you a curve ball, you have to think on your feet. “Um, can you say something else? That one isn’t on my sheet.”

In comedy, we called that “working the crowd.” You ask a question, and no matter what the other person says, you have a witty reply that makes the whole audience fall over in uncontrollable laughter. The conversation always goes right where you want it to go. Until somebody gives you an answer you haven’t rehearsed. Then you’re left with that deer-in-the-headlights blind stare.

So, we were taught to group any possible response into a few different categories. “Where are you from?” They’re either from a major metropolis, the suburbs, the country, or some exotic location. And no matter what they say, you steer the conversation right where you want it to go. The audience thinks you’re brilliant. But it’s just another scripted conversation with a predefined outcome.

And if you stay and watch the late show, guess what happens? The comedian asks a random audience member the same question and, voila! The conversation follows the same pattern as it did previously, and you realize there was nothing improvisational at all at play. It was just another well-rehearsed part of the show.

Every time we go into our local discount club, there are people strategically positioned to intercept every person walking by in the hope of selling them satellite TV service or switching them to another electric provider. And the conversation always starts the same – “How are you doing today?” If you dare answer, you know what’s coming next. “Can I ask you a question?”

Maybe you stop and chat, or maybe you’re like me and politely take a pass. I can say “politely” thanks to my wife who is quick to let me know if I was anything but pleasant. But I know from the moment they begin to step out from the shadows where the conversation is going – they don’t care how I’m doing today, and they don’t really want to ask an innocent question. They just want to make a sale.

When we approach somebody else with a conversation we’ve rehearsed in advance, two things are likely to happen. First, it’ll be obvious to them you’ve put a lot of thought into what you’re about to say. Your tone, your patter, everything about the conversation is scripted. And, almost like clockwork, they’ll come back with a response you hadn’t anticipated. Now what?

Scripts are great for acting and public speaking. But in everyday conversation, a script will never replace a genuine, personal touch. Everybody you meet is different, and the moment you try to lump their possible responses into some pre-planned script, you’re no longer allowing them to think for themselves – you’re just leading them someplace they may not want to go.

As much as I wanted to sit down this morning with some words of wisdom solid in my mind, it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes you just have to play the hand you’re dealt. And the more we rehearse conversational skills instead of the conversation itself, the better we’re able to deal with the inevitable knuckle-ball that’s coming our way.

Nobody expects you to be perfect. Just be yourself and the rest will fall into place.

That’s all for now. Have an awesome day!

© 2019 Dave Glardon – All rights reserved