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The Say Do Paradox: A communication challenge contest

8 Jun

Recently I have been spending some time with a group that consists mostly of engineers.  Of course, we have been discussing the say/do ratio.  One of them pointed out rightly that from a mathematical perspective the say-do ratio is incorrect, that it is in fact the do-say ratio.  Aaaa – paradox.

Mathematically it is the do/say ratio for in fact the denominator is say.  A person with a perfect relationship between say and do, always doing what she says she will do, will have a ratio of 1.00.

But, from a longitudinal and grammatical perspective it is the say/do ratio as this is the order in which the events occur.

Anyone of you out there who can come up with a way to resolve this communication conflict, in a manner I find compelling, I will sent a postage paid copy of Beyond Luck. The contest ends on June 22.  Let the cleverness begin.  Please post your entries.

By the way, another paradox.  The say/do or do/say ratio is not an exhaustive set.  There is another powerful option: the “do only ratio” (?).  Consider the effect of actions, positive or negative, that are not accompanied by words.  Interesting, eh?

Sorry about missing last week, I seem to have misplaced a day.


Communications: Situational Shyness

26 May

Last week I was at a reception for the annual Fastest Companies Award in the Corridor, and had an interesting experience. A young, very capable woman I have worked with mentioned to me and my social director that when she met me the first thing I said was that if she continued to use tanning machines she would surely get skin cancer.  My lady later reminded me I often make such social faux pas in some situations.  OMG

By coincidence, the same day there was an article on this subject in the Wall Street Journal titled “Blush, Babble, Cringe: The Shy Social Butterfly.” Apparently research by psychologists shows 95% of people report this happens to them (the other 5% are probably lying) and many people are aware of the conditions that elicit this behavior.  As 95% of you may have had this self-inflicted experience here are the suggested techniques to help you immunize yourself against future social blunders:

Mentally prepare for such events, think about what to say, have a sentence or two to introduce yourself, practice talking to strangers in the grocery store, have quirky social  rules (say hello to everyone in blue) for yourself at such events.

Make statements – don’t ask questions.  It may seem a polite way to draw others out but it makes them do the work.

Don’t beat yourself up if you are uncomfortable or conversation doesn’t flow, chances are others are also feeling shy and will not be focused on you.

For more on this go to the WSJ.  It is a fun and informative article.

Listen to an interview with John about Beyond Luck.

Communication Practices Self-Test

14 Apr

Last week the say/do ratio and the 6 Word Rule were considered.  These are key self-tests to assure your integrity is sparkling.

In an information-driven economy, management practice with knowledge workers must be trust-based.  The first of two core management principles in a trust-based system is exemplary communications:

The better-informed people are, the better they perform.

You can cast this principle into a self-test to assure the quality of your ongoing communications:

Do my internal customers have the appropriate information to do their jobs capably?

This principle is easy to state and hard to practice. Consider that communications move up and down as well as sideways in organizations.  This is largely driven by the information needs of your internal customers.  Who needs what information when?

The most basic and necessary information  is timely, accurate communication about job performance.  Go to , click on Preview The Book and scroll to pp 14 “One-on-one feedback is vital to your employees” for a practical process.

Consider this.  In a recent survey by Gallup of thousands of employees, nearly 70% said they had not had feedback, positive or negative, from their immediate manager in the past six months.  Satisfying this information deficit is potential source of huge productivity gains.

Maintaining a consistent stream of information is a day-to-day challenge.  Keeping your people informed is an essential ingredient to employee satisfaction.

Listen to an interview with John about Beyond Luck.

Going to NO!

30 Mar

Recently in a meeting of managers we were discussing succession.  The discussion was flowing until a person who had been silent bluntly communicated his discontent with the ideas.  Although the meeting staggered on, he essentially killed the conversation.  Later, in a debriefing with a vice-president we discussed how some people seem to be hardwired to “go to NO”.

Ask yourself:  Do I go to NO?  We all do occasionally, but some people seem to be trapped in NO.  They become roadblocks to change and in positions of responsibility they essentially suppress the free flow of ideas.  Therefore they only hear what is safe for others to share with them, rendering them uninformed about what they don’t like – the very information needed to make good decisions.

What to do?  If you work for or with someone who quickly goes to NO, try to feed ideas to them in a context that is safer for them – because they react in a rapid, visceral manner and need time to consider ideas.  Short, carefully crafted memos can do this.

If such a person works for you, one-on-one feedback is essential to help them better accept new ideas.  You may suggest instead of saying NO (in one of it’s many versions) they try “interesting.”  This gives them a graceful way to slow the process that somehow elicits the NO behavior.

Any ideas out there?

Listen to an interview with John on Iowa Public Radio about Beyond Luck

E-media & Internal Organizational Communications

17 Mar

In a meeting last week the following question surfaced:  How has the development of information technology/e-media changed the nature of communication in organizations? What problems have been introduced?  If you are interested in examining this issue please help start a conversation with a comment.

Pump Primers:




Smart phones





For insights on the massive accumulation of data go the cover story in the February 27th Economist:  The data deluge.

Thank you for your insights – jl

On the too large number of mushrooms

13 Jan

My editor has been finding references to mushrooms everywhere in Beyond Luck. One or two he tells me severely – but no more.

What is a mushroom?  The species I am speaking of is not a fungus, rather:  “I must be a mushroom – managers keep me in the dark and feed me BS.”  We know mushrooms are not very productive and are prone to mischief.  Why then do managers keep their direct reports and executives keep hordes of people ill informed?  The answers to this would take a book, but:

Communication is hard work.

Effective management is principle driven.  Consider this general communication principle:

The better-informed people are – the better they perform.

It is almost always better for people to know than not to know. Not a bad philosophy and exceptions are rare.  When people are informed it:

Reduces uncertainly and fear.
Permits better decisions making.
Cleans up the grapevine, some.
Makes people smarter.

These are good things.  Unfortunately managers cannot communicate everything to everyone.  So one of the tasks of managers is to ascertain what information people need to do their jobs.  The second is to use identify and use the optimal channel to communicate that information.  Interesting problem.

Two thought questions for managers:

If I can’t explain a decision maybe I should reconsider it?

Do the appropriate people have the appropriate information to..….

KISSing and CHUNKing is not Chinese sex

5 Jan

Ever noticed how some people are very effective in both oral and written communications whereas others seem unable to communicate anything clearly?

KISS = Keep It Short and Simple – but why?

In 1956, the psychologist George Miller wrote a classic article titled “The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two: Limits On Human Information Processing Capacity.”

In this article, Miller defined what good communicators intuitively understand: People mentally store and retrieve information in “chunks,” and the maximum size of a chunk is 7 ± 2 and fewer is more effective.

Our ability to organize ascending and descending chunks makes our information processing capacity huge.  The ability to do this effectively is called cognitive efficiency.

The communication principle:  Fewer is better, less is more

Here are some of the many places where this works:

  1. Processing:  look for the core ideas in a paper or the key take-aways in a meeting.
  2. Speaking:  Using no more than 2 or 3 ideas and reiterateing them to assure reception (redundancy).
  3. Writing: Using as few bullet points as possible,  doing executive summaries.
  4. Participating people in a meeting: 7 ± 2 maximum
  5. Improving personal performance: Don’t put too many things on your work plate.

    Get the point.

    Pop Quiz: Who Said, “If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written You a Shorter Letter?”