Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

Interpersonal Communication

The Porcelain Elephant In The Room

We need to talk.

We need to talk.

I subscribe to Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) Management Tip of the Day and, every business day, I get a one-paragraph idea for improving my communication and management skills. It’s an intriguing way to get exposed to a wide-range of ideas in short period of time. (Click here to subscribe).

A recent tip summarized how to “Avoid Fighting With Your Spouse When You Get Home From Work.” The article notes “It’s unrealistic and unhelpful for couples to expect that they’ll automatically be in sync when they arrive home; different needs, different recovery times, and different experiences…make it more likely that you’ll be out of sync.”

It’s a good point and it reminds me of a story from a young colleague of mine named Molly. Molly and her husband have been married for just a few years and they both work outside the home. They’re settling in to their careers and their jobs are demanding. They noticed that, when they arrive home, their emotional states are often “out of sync.”

Sometimes Molly would arrive home after a tough day and notice something askew in the house. She might stew on it a bit and, when her husband arrived home, she would “pounce” on him. Sometimes, it’s the other way round – husband arrives home first, stews on something, and pounces on an unsuspecting Molly when she arrives. I suspect that all married couples have had similar experiences.

What makes Molly and her husband different is that they realized that neither one of them was at fault. It wasn’t his or her fault. Rather, it was a question of timing and the degree to which they were in or out of sync emotionally.

So they decided to … buy a porcelain elephant. They also agreed to a timing-and-discussion protocol. The porcelain elephant normally sits on a bookshelf. However, if either Molly or her husband is stewing about something, he or she moves the elephant to a coffee table in the living room. It’s a quiet signal that “We need to talk.”

Let’s replay the same scenario. Molly arrives home in a bad mood, notices something askew in the house, stews about it, and … moves the elephant to the coffee table. Her husband arrives home and notices the elephant. He can immediately ask her what’s wrong or – if he’s really not in the right mood – he can ignore it for up to 12 hours. They’ve agreed that, when the elephant comes out, they’ll have a meaningful conversation to resolve the issue, but not necessarily upon walking in the door.

I think it’s a genius move and a very mature strategy for a young couple. It ensures that the conversation happens while leaving some flexibility for both parties to get in sync emotionally. As the HBR article notes, don’t have the conversation “…right when you get home. Set aside some time to talk when you’re both feeling more relaxed.” Molly and her husband have figured out exactly how to do that.

Fundraising: From Observer To Participant

What's your opinion?

What’s your opinion?

Let’s say that you run a non-profit organization that wants to build stronger relationships in the community. You want to reach out to existing clients and to people that you haven’t served before. You want to build long-term relationships and a strong base of support.

You’ll probably want to start by enriching and expanding your communication programs. You might invest more in community outreach and in public service announcements. You could launch a newsletter. Volunteering to speak at various events and civic clubs is also a good idea.

Many communication programs, however, are rather passive. People in the community can see what you’re doing but they’re not interacting with you. They’re observers rather than participants.

It’s good to be seen. To build a strong web of relationships, however, you need to do more. You need to entice people to interact with your message and your program. Interaction leads to involvement. Involvement leads to commitment. Commitment leads to lifelong passion and support.

Building passionate support takes time and persistence. You can stimulate temporary interest with a catchy campaign. But deep, rich, long-term support requires a different level of commitment. You should start long before you need the community to passionately support you.

Think of a community engagement campaign as a wedge. Too often, we aim at the wrong end of the wedge – the thick end. We want to “move the needle”, “shake things up”, and “put our organization on the map.” We hope that a moving message and a clever campaign will quickly create the support we need.

Too often, such campaigns fail because we forget about the difference between observers and participants. Even a brilliant campaign with a well-crafted message allows our clients and potential clients to remain observers. People may remember a catchy slogan, but they haven’t interacted in any meaningful way. Like a pop song, a catchy slogan is quickly replaced by a brighter, fresher campaign.

The trick to building commitment is to start at the thin end of the wedge. Start by asking for small commitments, not big ones. Create activities that entice people to interact, not merely observe. Build stepwise programs that start small and gradually grow larger. Take your time.

Here are two ways to start small. They’re not clever or slick. In fact, they’re rather mundane. But they both ask community members to interact with your program, not simply observe it.

1) Telephone survey – your organization probably impacts the community in several ways. You construct a phone survey that itemizes your impacts and asks for feedback. The survey is simplicity itself: “Our organization impacts the community in three ways: A, B, and C. Which one of these is most important to you and your family?” You’re not asking for money or time; you’re simply asking for an opinion. Respondents hear your message and give an opinion. They’re no longer observers. They’re now participants. They’ve taken the critical first step. They’re on the wedge.

2) 25 words or less – your next step might be to sponsor a write-in contest with an interesting prize. Ask community members to write an essay of 25 words or less (or maybe 50 or 100) with the topic, “Why NPO X is important to me”. The best essay wins the prize. You’ll get some great ideas. More importantly, you’ll entice hundreds of people to nudge themselves into deeper and broader support. They’re moving up the wedge.

(By the way, don’t make the prize for the essay contest too big. You want participants to think, “I’m writing this essay because it’s important to me” rather than, “I’m writing this essay because of the prize.”)

What next? I’ll have some thoughts on that in future articles. In the meantime, start getting your clients to participate rather than observe.

Rhetorical Jujitsu

Lovely place Brixham

Lovely place Brixham

The United Kingdom is deeply embroiled in the Brexit debate. It’s the classic question: should we stay or should we go? Polls suggest that the electorate is almost evenly split. What can this teach us about persuasion?

Let’s take an example from a man with an opinion. Michael Sharp is a fisherman from the lovely little port of Brixham on the south coast of England who favors leaving the EU. The New York Times quotes him as saying,

“I definitely want out. … All those wars we’ve had with France, Germany — all the rest of them since God knows when, since Jesus was a lad — we’re never going to get on with them, are we?”

Now imagine that you support the opposite side – you think the UK should stay in the EU. How might you persuade Mr. Sharp to agree with you? Here are four different rhetorical approaches you might try:

A) “What a silly thing to say. We’re friends with France and Germany now. You’re 70 years out of date.”

B) “What a parochial and small-minded attitude you have. You should broaden your horizons.”

C) “All the experts say we should stay in. The top bankers and managers say it will wreck the economy to leave.”

D) “I know what you’re saying. But I’ll tell you what I’m worried about. The Russians. If we’re squabbling with the French and Germans, the Russians will divide and conquer. That’s what they’re good at. It’ll be worse for all of us.”

Which alternative is best? As always, it depends on what you want to accomplish. Let’s look at the choices.

Alternatives A & B – in both cases, you strongly suggest to Mr. Sharp that he’s wrong, stubborn, and not very smart. If your goal is to feel superior to Mr. Sharp, this is a good strategy. On the other hand, if wish to persuade Mr. Sharp to your way of thinking, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.

Alternative C – an appeal to authority can work in some situations. But not here. Many Brexit supporters think the authorities – better known as the elites – can’t be trusted. “They don’t care about us. They’ve sold us out. If they say we should stay, all the more reason to leave.” In this case, quoting the elites is self-defeating. (It’s probably a poor tactic in arguing with a Donald Trump supporter as well).

Alternative D – this is a rhetorical technique known as concession-and-shift. You begin by agreeing with the other person. In this case, you concede that Mr. Sharp is right. This makes you seem open-minded and reasonable (even if you’re not). Then you shift to new ground and bring in a different perspective. Since you’re open-minded, Mr. Sharp is more likely to be open-minded in return. He’s more likely to listen to your thoughts and understand your position. That’s the first step in persuading him to your point of view.

Concession-and-shift is a form of rhetorical jujitsu. You don’t push back. You don’t deny the other person’s position. You don’t try to humiliate the other side. Rather, you accept their position and move on. In its simplest form, you say, “You have a good point. But have you considered …”

Concession-and-shift can work in many different situations. It’s a useful tool to master and remember. And it helps us achieve the ultimate goal of rhetoric – to argue without anger.

Always Be Conversing

He was so young!

He was so young!

In the 1992 movie, Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin played a very hard-nosed sales manager determined to teach a bunch of rookies how to sell. He used intimidation, fear, stress, and money as motivators. He didn’t believe in being nice. He believed in closing.

Baldwin also introduced a term that I’ve heard many times since: Always Be Closing or ABC. The idea is simple – you’re always looking for prospects, qualifying them, moving them through the sales process, and closing them. Then you start over. You’re like a shark – always moving, always eating.

Always Be Closing is associated with pushy, high-pressure sales tactics. You might find them in use at car dealerships or time-share condo conventions. We’re all familiar with them and we all profess to hate them.

Now what about nonprofits? Is Always Be Closing an appropriate technique for raising funds for a nonprofit organization? I don’t think so. For me, nonprofit fundraising is all about relationships. It’s about building for the long run, not closing in the short term.

So I’ve created a new ABC for non-profits: Always Be Conversing. A conversation, of course, has two parts: talking and listening. Always Be Conversing suggests that we’re always ready to talk about our nonprofit organization (NPO) and listen to our constituents’ needs. By conversing with constituents, friends, and our broader network of acquaintances, we build relationships. Over time, those relationships allow us – quite naturally – to ask for donations.

Always Be Conversing also implies that we actively seek out conversations. To create rich conversations, we need to prepare ourselves. Here are some pointers:

  • Always have a story – people love stories – they’re easy to understand, relatable, and memorable. When you tell a story, you’re not being a pushy sales person. Rather, you’re building relationships, awareness, and interest. Tip: focus on outputs, not inputs. If your NPO donated a million dollars for scholarships last year, that’s an input. It’s an interesting fact but not a story. On the other hand, if you can describe how your scholarships changed people’s lives, that’s the output of your investment. It’s also a memorable story that most people will be eager to hear.
  • Use conversation starters – how does anyone know that you’re passionate about your NPO? How does anyone know that you’re a source of information and assistance? The simplest way is to wear some identification. If you wear a lapel pin or a brooch or a jacket with your NPO’s logo on it, people can identify you and have a conversation. It can happen at random times, so always have a story ready.
  • Don’t ask, offer– my NPO is the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. When I wear my NMSS jacket to the grocery store, people frequently ask me about my connection to the Society. Then they often say, “My (wife, cousin, mother, neighbor, etc.) has MS.” I typically respond by saying, “How can I help?” As it happens, NMSS can help in a variety of ways, from insurance advice to exercise programs. But I’m also invoking the reciprocity principle – you’re more persuasive if you offer a favor before requesting a favor.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll write more about fundraising for nonprofits through story telling and relationship building. In the meantime, start telling your stories. You’ll be surprised at the impact you can have.

(My NPO is the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. If you need information about multiple sclerosis or help in dealing with it, just drop me a line. I want to Always Be Conversing).

 

Posture, Attitude, and Amy Cuddy

Power Pose.

Power Pose.

Suellen and I went to the Tattered Cover bookstore (a Denver icon) last night to hear Amy Cuddy speak about her new book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges.

I’ve written about Cuddy before (here, here, and here) and use some of her work in my Critical Thinking class. We all have a general understanding of how the mind affects the body. Cuddy asks us to consider the reverse – how does the body affect the mind? Cuddy points out that the way we carry ourselves – our posture and body language – can affect our mood, thoughts, and performance. She introduces the topic quite well in her famous TED talk – the second most watched TED talk ever.

Cuddy writes that our posture affects our power over ourselves (as opposed to power over other people). When we adopt an expansive posture – making ourselves big – our power to manage ourselves and perform optimally increases. When we adopt a drawn-in posture – making ourselves small – we give away power over our own performance.

Cuddy has covered this ground before (here and here, for instance). So, what’s new? Here’s what I learned in last night’s talk:

  • It’s not about outcomes; it’s about process – Cuddy gets thousands of e-mails from people who explain that they didn’t do well in a challenging process, like a job interview or an audition. But they’re not asking for advice on how to change the outcome. Instead, they’re asking how to perform the process better. This strikes me as being akin to decision theory — judging decision quality focuses on the process, not the outcome.
  • It’s about your authentic self – when we are present, our body language and our spoken language reinforce each other. When we’re not present, our body language tells a different story than our spoken language.
  • Two minutes is overemphasized – in her TED talk, Cuddy explains that holding an expansive posture – a power pose – for two minutes will change our hormones in positive ways. She explained last night that two minutes is not a magic number; even a few seconds is helpful.
  • Animals helped us develop this idea … — Cuddy noted the influence of the naturalist Frans de Waal who explained, in his classic book, Chimpanzee Politics, how chimps adopt expansive postures to get what they want.
  • … and we can, in turn, help animals – a horse trainer (@seriouspony) who was familiar with Cuddy’s work tried posture therapy on one of her Icelandic ponies who was suffering from “profound depression”. Here’s a video that shows the results.
  • It has an impact on PTSD – Cuddy mentioned her friend and fellow researcher, Emma Seppälä, who has used posture therapy on combat veterans with PTSD. The results are encouraging.
  • Gender – little boys and girls are equally likely to adopt expansive poses. But by the age of six (roughly) girls are starting to adopt more drawn-in poses while boys continue to be expansive. Cuddy suggests that, if we want to promote gender equality, we might start by changing this learned behavior.
  • Imagination – it’s not always convenient to strike a power pose. Cuddy believes that simply imagining yourself in a power pose can be beneficial.
  • Even the master needs reminders – Cuddy explained how an Internet troll had put her in a funk. Her husband reminded her to check and change her body language. She now carries a copy of her own book with a hand written note: “Remember to take your own advice”. Bottom line – we need to think about our body language; it doesn’t just change by itself.
  • Where to next? – Cuddy’s many correspondents have noted that people on the autism spectrum and people with dementia both tend to adopt drawn-in postures. They make themselves small. Cuddy wonders if helping them learn to make themselves big would help.

Cuddy is a fascinating speaker – her body language definitely reinforces here spoken language. I recommend the book. Just remember that were you stand depends on how you stand.

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