Do you make these 9 common management mistakes?

 

BlindleadingblindsmallTake any project you’ve worked on and think back.  How could it have been better?

There’s so much you can learn from a job done badly that I’ve compiled a list, which is by no means exhaustive.  There are many ways a project can be dragged out,  botched up,  and overshoot the budget.

My engineering clients chipped in with this compilation and you can apply the following situations across all technical realms.

Let me know below:  what have I missed?

  1. Too many clashing agendas from all the business partners
    The problem is many leaders don’t use their communication skills to sort out conflicting aims before they become a problem.  Negotiating and setting expectations are key.
  2. Too many people at meetings that don’t stick to the point
    It’s pretty unlikely that a 2 hour meeting really does involve 15 people.  Pick out what’s relevant for whom and only have them present.  ‘Meetings’ can be just as effective one a one-to-one basis, while the kettle’s on.
  3. Too many meetings or lack of agenda and actionable outcomes
    Sometimes the outcome of the meetings is….another meeting.  Who’s doing what by when?  Do they have the capability and know-how?  Have you checked they have the resources?  Individuals need varying levels of delegation and nothing’s going to get done if they need more from you and it’s not given or benchmarked.
  4. Mismatching the skill set with the role, e.g., process engineer delivering electrical deliverables.  It’s like hiring a nuclear physicist as a lawyer.  (Of course, they could probably blow up the opposition for you but I’m not sure it’s legal where you are).
  5. Lack of or incomplete scope of work
    I bet you know this one:  Client:  ‘Here’s the job.’  1 month later:  Client ‘I forgot to add this.’  2 weeks later…’There’s this as well.’  Then they get rankled when you mention pricing and delay of completion.  Part of the issue is the way information is extracted from the client / partner.  It comes down to asking the right questions.  Another point is that managers may take little time out to think how lessons learned in the past can be integrated into the current project.
  6. Roles and responsibilities ill -defined
    Team friction is often due do the scope of the project changing (see no.5 above). Roles and responsibilities shift, causing ambivalence and conflict.
  7. Absence of risk mitigation or contingency planning
    Not reflecting on lessons learned from previous projects dulls the foresight you need to spot and mitigate risks.
  8. Exchanging personnel on a regular basis
    Not everyone does hand overs well, and some staff don’t do hand overs at all so subsequent team members have no idea what’s what.  All you can rely on is management being in the know.  They’ll possibly be out of the loop on small details that can make a big difference unless they’re in close proximity to their teams.  If you know you’re going to have to change people round, ensure the right people are involved when the baton’s passed.
  9. Lack of control of work done resulting considerable amounts of rework
    If the hand is off the steering wheel, the car will end up in a ditch (if you’re lucky).  Likewise, letting projects run without a detailed schedule, risk management and a more collaborative approach, results in having to backing up and follow a new road from the beginning. This adds to cost and time.

 

Management is sometimes leading, other times collaborating, and balancing that with knowing when to step back. .

What’s missing?  Add your own experiences below!  Looking forward to seeing them…

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The 3 Communication Pitfalls for Technical Experts

hidingbehindscreenSome time ago, I walked into a client’s office to ask who the new CTO was:  all I could see was the top of his head behind the barricade of 2 massive computer screens.

Was he expecting a volley of fire from enemy territory or did I catch him in a game of hide and seek?

Whatever the reasons for his visual masking, one of the Directors seemed a bit concerned:  how’s he going to forge links with other departments and sell up services?  We only see him between the cracks of his fortress.

The new CTO seemed to be under the impression that for anything more than a face to half-face meeting, an email would suffice: a clear example of the challenges with which technical experts struggle, when they suddenly need to manage people, push strategy and develop business links.

Here are some of the 3 main obstacles these specialists need to overcome:

 

Over reliance on email

Sitting behind a screen shooting off emails or slugging through reports can have a pay off: firstly you don’t have to get up,  except for coffee,  the phone or the loo and secondly,  you are protected from the vagaries of pesky humans.

Unfortunately,  you can’t use an instruction manual to help you navigate their utter unpredicted lack of perceived rationale,  the proof of which lies in that email you’re replying to now.  You know as you press ‘send’  it’s like throwing a missile but sod it.  A point has to be made and you’ll be making it.

Unfortunately,  that email is not really a missile but a leaky boat –  and you’re both in it.

The best way to really ‘get’ what someone’s intention is by seeing them.  So if you want to get through those choppy little waves,  you better row yourself over to their desk and save yourself a mauling by a shark later on.

 

Too much detail

That PowerPoint with the 70 slides,  accompanied by aerial and close up photos of the processor you’re proud of is going to bore the pants off commercial when they see it.

They know you know your stuff, they just don’t know how it’ll affect them.  To know how much to tell them seems like a telepathic skills. However, all that’s necessary is that you find out what their problem is and how you can be the solution.  To do that,  ask and the way will be obvious.

 

Not communicating the bigger picture

Having mixed commercial and technical teams in workshops is always an eye opener: they realise that they’ve been working with only half a map in front of them.   Neither has the full picture and both realise how much they benefit from the missing half.

Management don’t communicate the bigger picture to tech teams: they think it either doesn’t concern them or they don’t care to know.   So,  technical teams need to be more proactive.   Ask questions such as:

  1. How does this affect the business in the long run?
  2. What difference will it make to you when this is completed?
  3. What’s  the rationale for this?

The last question could be replaced by ‘Why? But that could provoke a defensive reaction,  especially in email.

The developers and coders need this information – and want it – so it’s important to ensure that the context is filtered through the teams.

Once this information is clear,  tell everyone –  not just the decision makers.   Knowing why we do what we do and what difference it can make,  means teams can be more proactive and driven.

 

What other specific communication challenges do you think technical experts have?

Let me know right here…

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Why stories work

tell them your story

A story replaces information overload

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today,”

(Robert McAfee Brown)

There are two ways to share knowledge: either you can push information out or you can pull people in with a story.

Whether you need to sell a product or change behaviour, stories are vital to your success.  Here you’ll find 5 reasons why having an anecdote up your sleeve will immediately change how people perceive you.


1. Stories can simplify the complex through a metaphor.

For example, the tale of the pig farmer who realised that overnight his stock was worth half .  On the strength of the potential sale, he’d taken out loans for barn repairs and equipment.  The debts stayed the same but his income was halved, pushing him into further debt.
This story was used to explain the effect of the devaluation of oil in Russia.  A metaphor that those unfamiliar with macro economics would be able to digest.


2.  They make no claims so aren’t threatening.

So instead of saying, ‘If you don’t buy this anti-virus package for your computers, you’ll be in trouble’, you can tell the story of how using BungleBoo Anti Virus system allowed a virus into your computer like water though a sieve, destroying your client base, all your documents and forcing you to have to purchase a watertight new laptop.


3.  Want to change the way someone is doing something? 

Tell them about the time that you didn’t buy travel insurance, broke your legs in Albania and ended up paying an arm and another leg to get home .   Much better than dishing out the advice with ‘you should/shouldn’t’, which just tends to get up people’s noses.


4.  If you want to make a strong point, this becomes easier to internalize and remember by building a sense of anticipation.

When I give short seminars on cross cultural presentations, I tell half the story of Richard, who worked for a large US bank and was trying to tie up a deal in the United Arab Emirates. He had to fly to Abu Dhabi several times before he won the deal.  However, it wasn’t his PowerPoints that won the day but 3 small adjustments he made to how he communicated.  I start the story at the beginning of the presentation, and by the end, they’re dying to know what happened to him so that’s when I complete the tale.

If you make your audience want to know the outcome, they’re more likely to remember it.

Click here to see me telling the story.


5. Fires imagination and provides role models for action.

For those that need a bit of encouragement being resourceful when resources are limited, the story of Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, could be encouraging.  The logo of the Body Shop is entirely down to the fact that when she opened her first shop in Brighton,  it was cheaper and easier to find a green colour to match the mould-riddled signage.  Purchasing new signage wasn’t in her budget.  That decision gave birth to the globally recognised Body Shop brand.

Such a story of resourcefulness can make you think  ‘Goodness, if she can do it, so can I.’


6. Potential customers can identify with an issue and are more likely to then want to buy from you

Instead of ‘selling’ a product or service you give a case study of a problem that existed before e.g. boring presentations or bullish managers.

People can relate to a commonly shared problem and will act on an issue to which they can relate.  If they empathise with it, you only need to say how you’d work with them because they have an instant picture of what you do and the challenges you can help them overcome.
By the way, the tales you tell reflect your experience, knowledge and what’s important to you, adding to your credibility.
And for those of you who say you’ve got no stories, I bet I could help you find one, even if it’s not your own…

Look on the courses page here or contact me and I’ll help you find your story.

 


So much for the melting pot…

touching headsYou go on holiday to the quaint country of Kapistan and expect the locals to be friendly and warm on this island.

In fact, many of the inhabitants live in mountain villages, cut off from main roads until 20 years ago, they’re cold, suspicious and unhelpful.

What you don’t know is that they warm up if:

a) you express your love of the antelope;

b) you know all 20 words for rock and

c) you nod a lot.

Although this is a fictional land, the spirit of the rules – if not these particular ones – is worth knowing in an increasingly complex world, where we’re expected to already know the etiquette by sniffing it in the air. That’s not very practical so here are a few tips to see you through the multi-cultural maze.

 

What it means to you is not the same for me

Andy was infuriated with his manager, Jacques, for pointing out unsatisfactory work in front of others at a meeting.

Deciding not to make his anger known to the group, Andy resolved to approach Jacques about his behaviour. However, Jacques was confused. He couldn’t see why Andy should be upset at being reprimanded so openly.

The fact that Jacques is French and Andy was American had much to do with the conflict of management style.

In France, managers are more concerned about professional jealousy and try to mitigate against that by reproaching in public and rewarding in private.

In the States, this is reversed.

 

‘Surely we show interest in the same way’

No, we don’t: coaching a Japanese Banker in Presentations revealed an interesting difference. We were discussing how to tackle difficult questions when he said that if his particular audience of Senior Managers in their late 50’s and 60s were to start asking him any questions, he would know that he’d already lost the game. However, this may not be the case with a younger audience.

 

Collectivism versus individualism:

The collectivism more common in Spain unsettled Ferdy, from Germany, when the Engineering company to which he was seconded had a team picnic at the beach. Not only were the team there, but the families: children, partners, fiancés: even a dog turned up with the crowd.

 

Directness versus indirectness:

The Indian clients I’ve worked with have thrown up several paradoxes that can cause problems in the West.

The Indians tend to be more direct in some circumstances than, say, in Britain, but the Brits are more pointed in other ways and this can very confusing unless someone decodes the behaviour.

For example, when presenting at senior level in India, there’s a huge expectation to embellish your talk with stories and side points .   In the U.K., it’s more like ‘We’ve only got 5 minutes left. Could you make it quick?’   New York will be 5 seconds on a quiet day.

However,  Indians can be more direct when making requests, and very much so when expressing an opinion. In order not to alienate a whole team, I’ve had to teach indirect requests and embedded commands. (To check out the Indirect Requests, go here…)

 

How does your body talk?

Since so much of how we communicate is non-verbal, are you aware whether your body language is telling people to ‘get lost’ or whether it’s saying ‘OK’?

I was watching a Japanese tour guide in a restaurant, as she was organising the orders of 25 Japanese tourists in Chihuahua, Northern Mexico, with the Mexican staff.

With tourists, she kept physical distance, even though she evidently knew them quite well. However, when conversing with the Mexican staff, she was physically closer and more tactile. When I say more tactile, she wasn’t launching herself in their arms, but there’d be a short touch on the forearm and longer direct eye contact.

There was conflict between Naaz, a male Indian client from Bangalore and a female British-born Indian woman, Sandra, who complained that Naaz dismissed her decisions.   Naaz, on the other hand, claimed she never seemed committed to her opinions.

What Sandra needed to realise was that in Indian culture, where gender imbalances are so distinct, it’s often the case that a women would need to come across with ‘more steel’ than in British culture. I’ve found that to be the case from Italy to the Middle East.

Much of this comes from three non-verbal cues:

1) direct and prolonged eye contact
2) depth of voice
3) physical commitment e.g. strong gestures rather than fidgeting

However, when you’ve put your foot out of sync with culture, you won’t always know. When people do make their dissatisfaction clear, they can’t always tell you explicitly what you’ve done to so offend.

It’s your choice whether you adapt to another culture, but finding someone who can help you through the cross-cultural maze will allow you to get your message across and keep relationships bubbling away at the same time.

One of the main reasons for couples to row – and for workplace tiffs

Such is my influence that in the following video, I’ve managed to rope in Kevin Bacon, the Hank Hill family and even Clark Gable with Vivien Leigh – even though the last two are no longer with us.

All for one purpose:  to reveal one of the most common reasons that couples argue and what to do about it.

No, I haven’t gone into relationship counselling.  This issue also pops up at work but the effects are more dramatic at home.  Either way, this behaviour can be very irritating.  

Click below and my glowing supporting cast and I will help you…

 

 

‘It is what it is’ and other meaningless palliatives

Forgotten how good it can be?

Forgotten how good it can be?

Years ago I saw the film, Baraka.  It’s a visual treat, showing some truly beautiful aspects of nature and culture alongside the ability of ‘civilisation’ to destroy what is precious.

I remember one scene in the film showing a native tribe in Brazil, rowing along the Amazon. Next shot, native tribes boxed in tatty blocks of dark flats, squeezed against each other, perching precariously on a deforested mound.

Yet those families, who had been running free not so long ago, looked quite content in their cramped homes. It’s a testament to the enduring human spirit or rather, how we can get quite used to a crappy situation.

What we are often seeing is not the victories of the human spirit but the amnesia of the human mind.

We forget how great we can be, how rewarding our jobs can be, or, our lives, affecting the possibility of businesses and individuals to more than just ‘manage’.

 

 

1. Hit ’em in the gut

Persuading people to change means showing reminding them of two factors:

1) Exactly how crappy things are now;
2) Exactly how great it could be for them.

When presenting and persuading, you need a balance of the analytical – facts, data, evidence – and the emotion.

The reason for this is that although the numbers will convince, we’re ultimately stirred into action by emotion, a concept that Chip and Dan Heath wrote about in their book, ‘Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard’. They picked on a Deloittes survey that analysed the decision making process of 400 people in 130 companies across four continents and proved that when you hit people in the gut, those feelings will be more likely to generate action.

 

2. Make it tangible:

Something that can be seen is more persuasive than concepts.  In trying to prove how having numerous suppliers for any one item was reducing a company’s ability to attain competitive prices, a graph plotting the expenses could be projected on the wall.

Alternatively, throwing the identical and variously-priced objects on the board table,  the point of wasting money through decentralised purchasing decisions is made more succinctly.  It’s visual and real, allowing people to see and feel, in both senses of the word.

To read a case study of Joe Stegner did this at Deere, go here.

 

3. Focus on the individual:

When charities plead for money, they don’t show you a matrix of data but a face of a child (usually). In their literature, they will then focus on the story of this one individual to explain the issues. Take us for a moment into the life of another and we can walk in their shoes without having to take ours off.

 

4. Build an imaginary contrasted future

Paint a vivid picture of the situation now:

a) What are you seeing now that isn’t working?
b) How will this problem make everything worse?
c) What else will go wrong if we carry on like this?

Paint the enlightened future:

a) What would we see that will tell us the situation has improved?
b) What else would get better as a result of this?
c) What are the first steps to make this change easy, whereby we’d get our first small wins?

 

How to use these techniques:

You could apply them:

  • in a pitch or presentation
  • to change behaviour in feedback situations
  • in persuading teams of the benefits of forthcoming change
  • for marketing or advertising products

 

So when will you use one of these methods and how will you apply it?

Let me know here!

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Why do boneheads get bonuses?

 

Peep-o!

Peep-o!

Being seen means you’re keen

Andy was seething between slurps of his Americano (formerly known as plain old ‘black coffee’).  “There’s this guy at work and he got a massive pay rise this year and now he’s managed to hop over to another company and he’s on £95k a year. He’s not heading a department or anything. He’s got a team of two and he’s coding and stuff.”

“He must be damn good then.” I suggested.

“No. He’s a bloody idiot, actually”

“So how come he’s doing so well, financially speaking, anyway?”

“One thing,” said Andy. “Visibility.”

Visibility is the key. Every time this guy – let’s call him – Guy (yep, my imagination is on freefall today) – achieved a milestone, set something up, resolved a problem he’d send an email out to managers.

 

Snatching credit vs. giving credit

Sitting with me was Andy’s girlfriend, Yolanta who voiced something that many of you may share:

“Doesn’t that make you an utter tosser, announcing every single thing you’re done. I mean, that’s like the whole Facebook thing: ‘look at me in a restaurant/on a beach.’ It’s so smug.”

I’d say there’s a thin line between having high visibility and being a total cretin and Guy crossed it regularly, appropriating a Wiki initiative that was set up by Andy as his ‘own project’.

 

Protecting your achievements

Since our conversation, Andy has created coding for a huge client with Guy regularly hovering over him wanting to know when it was ready so he could let management know about it (for which he’d take the credit, not Andy).

Andy lied, telling Guy he wasn’t sure the coding worked and there were a few bugs, thereby protecting his intellectual copyright.  Time passed and Andy suddenly announced the successful completion of the project to all.

What made Andy look more like ‘leadership material’ was not only the fact that he informed senior management of a completed milestone, but that he also named and thanked his team for helping him, copying them into the email.

As a result of his increased visibility, Andy has been rewarded with a handsome pay rise.

As for Guy the thieving Magpie, snatching triumph from below the noses of others, we’re sure that his high paying role is nothing but danger money for he has flown unknowingly into a highly adversarial atmosphere: no ping pong in the canteen there but a magpie fest of feather pulling where Guy comes off looking rather forlorn and burned out.

There now, that’s better: a little schadenfreude to help the coffee go down.

 

 

5 reasons to avoid a promotion

The poisoned chaliceSuch is the reward for being good at your job: the poisoned chalice is all yours.   Going from numbers, codes and mechanisms to the murky world of people is like jumping from being a great Mechanical Engineer to Chief Architect.   The skills needed for one role seem to have no bearing on the other.

As you stare into the screen and bite your lip, you realise 5 reasons that you should have said ‘no’ to the offer of a step up:

 

No. 1

Suddenly I’m managing my peers.  I used to sit and take the p*ss out of management, complaining about stuff with them.  Now I realise that: a) I’m going to have to get rid of Bob/Jo/Mo if they don’t buck up their performance b) they expect me to do something about whatever we were grumbling about.  As some of those concerns were related to difficult people, I’d rather be playing Candy Crush Saga and not making difficult decisions.”

If you avoid a problem, you could risk this becoming a crisis, so it’s important you know what to challenge and when. With a few techniques and help in developing understanding about how your teams work, instead of avoiding challenging conversations, you’ll learn to face them with confidence.   That doesn’t mean you’ll bound out of bed in the morning, elated at the thought of slapping your colleagues down (although I know one or two who rather warm to this idea). However, the dread does subside and a clearer sense of resolve results.  The outcome is greater respect from those around you.

 

No. 2

This leads to my second quandary.  I’m now appearing at Senior Management Meetings and have to prove myself but they’ve an entirely different way of conducting meetings and it’s all so political.  It’s like an episode of The West Wing, and I’m nothing more than the notepad, such is my ability to influence them.”

There are many techniques for influence and persuasion, some of which you’ll find here.  Every situation is different and yours is unique so you may need help in getting clarity on your specific situation.  It’s worth thinking about how you the impression you may be giving others, non-verbally as well as verbally.

 

No. 3

They’re talking to me about Business Development.  What?  Was I trained in a souk?  How the hell am I meant to go from code to drumming up business.  What are Sales and Marketing doing?”

They need you to translate the technolingo to suppliers, distributors, resellers etc.  and you’ll probably be doing 121 and team meetings and presentations, if not already, very soon.  Also, if you were to look at who you’ve already been working with, you’d realise you’re the best person to make the contacts: people know you and trust you.   Building on that secures opportunities for you and your team.  Even if you understand the rationale behind Business Development in your position, one IT Director with whom I was working with was at a loss at to how he could gain from networking.  With a bit of coaching he was able to recoup the £1000s he was spending on a major trade annual networking event in won business and surprised himself by having a lot of fun in the process.

 

No. 4

I’m hiding behind two 22 inch computer screens at the moment but I know they’re going to find me.  I can’t run and I can’t hide.  I’m now accountable to the forces that be for how my team perform.”

Managing up, as well as across and sideways are essential skills for you to develop if you don’t want to be that supplicant, begging to your boss for mercy as you see a metaphorical blade in suspense above your head.  Get good at the managing up and it will help you manage down and across.

 

No. 5

Apparently, my focus needs to shift from detail to ‘big picture’: manageable short term tasks to reach those obscure long term goals.”

Suddenly, you have to be more bi-lingual than you were before, being able to understand the large goals, how they translate into your remit and spread this across to your people.  Motivation is increased when you know why you’re doing something and it’s meaningful.  This also means, a finer grasp of the relationships between departments.

All 5 of the toxins in the poisoned chalice have one characteristic in common:  communicating with others.  It’s not the technical challenges but how you handle others to achieve that’s more important in a new role.

Ella Fitzgerald created a message especially for you but Bananarama’s is the version that I sing to, so here they are (and, oh my, you’ll just love the hair!):

 

 

Click here to see how I’ve worked with different teams to get them back on track in their interpersonal communication.

Give them a Wallop!

Sock it to them!

Sock it to them!

Getting cut short in your prime

You get in front of senior management, having prepared your 30 minute presentation, having practised your body language, eye contact and tricks to engage the audience.  You’re ready to go: all psyched up and beating with adrenalin.

OK.  That’s what you imagined.  One participant on my 2-day Knock Out Presentations course asked:

“What happens once in the Board Room when they’re running late, like they always do.  You’re 10 minutes from the end of the meeting and you’re asked to spit out your message there and then”

Here’s what you can do:

  • Tell them exactly what you want – but without the rationale you’re more likely to get refused;
  • Whizz through your slides, talking twice as fast.  You’ll sound like Mickey Mouse on amphetamines and they’ll take in nothing.
  • Chuck your handouts across the table – if you’re lucky they’ll go through them before forgetting about the contents. The worst scenario is that the pages will be made into paper planes flying towards the recycling bin.

 

Walloping the Board when you’ve little time

Instead, try this technique, ‘The Wallop, Down, Up, Please’ approach. Before I explain, I would love to take the credit for this but must, reluctantly, give this to Andy Bounds author of the ‘Snowball Effect, Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable’. My pride is dented but I hope to get Karma points for not saying it’s my own original invention…

Here we go:

1. Wallop – Give the impact of the situation, usually negative. This hits the ‘pain’ button, telling the audience the impact of not doing something;

2. Down – Make the situation worse (“And, as a result, this will also happen…”);

3. Up – Give the alternative that improves the situation;

4. Please – Now make your request

 

 

And an example:

1. Wallop – We’re spending £230,000 per month on X

2. Down – Even worse, the number will increase over the next couple of months. Projected needless waste will cost £2.8 million this year. This will increase to over £5.6 million in the next couple of years.

3. Up – We can reduce these costs by over 75% – that’s a potential saving of over £4 million – by implementing x (Spend 2-3 minutes explaining your proposal, using ‘What, Where, When, How)

4. Please – Given that successful implementation could deliver £4 million of savings, please can I ask you to Action X?

 

(Thanks, Andy, for your example. You may nick my model below for your next book).
A similar model is the PROEP, so you’ve got two tools you can use when they say “Sorry, but could you just give us a quick overview. We’ve run out of time.”

You can find the PROEP structure here.

What do you do when you need to get your point across quickly?

Got a request you want to wedge into this structure?

Let me know in the comments!

Speech, the Greatest Barrier to Communication

Over those millions of years since the Big Bang, many believe that evolution has done a rather spiffing job of turning us into the creatures we are today. We learned how to walk, to think, to learn, to fight and all in the name of survival. But why did we learn to talk and use language?

If we look at the modern human, it would appear that talking is a method of communication that aims to avoid any communication at all. With speech, we all have the ability to talk nonsense with friends, tell lies and generally blur the lines between conversation and noise.

Has this conversation ever happened between you and your boss?

Your boss: “Is the report ready?”

You: “Nearly!”

In this example, the ability to speak meant you replied without replying. If it weren’t for speech, you would have needed to say no. Probably by banging your club on the ground and not presenting a report you would have accomplished this.

This is all made so much clearer when we look at politics

Interviewer: “Is your party going to reduce interest rates next year?”

Politician: “Interest rates form part of our policy and following consultations with stakeholders a white paper will be released”

If the politician began humming whilst simultaneously releasing their belt buckle, they would have conveyed the same amount of information. But they didn’t, they decided to fill the gap with a combination of words that could have been the answer to any question ever asked about interest rates since 1973.

The fact of the matter is, speaking is not necessarily communication!

Take this excerpt from the popular 1980s TV programme, Yes, Prime Minister for example.

Although many fantastic words are used, they convey nothing more than one simple fact. The communication can be made in two words but a long speech is used. Of course this example uses exaggeration for comic effect, but many politicians of the time could relate to it.

It appears that the most versatile and potentially specific form of communication we have as humans is the one we use to confuse, deflect and mislead with!

How do you dig between opaque comments, bland statements and meaningless words? Firstly, you need to acquire the self-confidence to cut through the language.

An Admiral on a nuclear submarine, new to her role, sat her first meeting and understood none of the gobbledegook and acronyms that were being banded around the table with utter conviction. She asked questions about specifics, exact meanings and precise definitions. The trick was doing this in a way which seemed neither challenging or naive.

It soon became as clear as day that those people, at that meeting on a submarine carrying enough power to blow large parts of the world to radioactive dust, had little understanding of the discussion.

I’ve seen this with educators, engineers and technical experts at all levels. Radioactive disaster was not the potential danger here, however it did make you wonder how they all did a job when nobody understood each other.

Challenging with confidence is very much about knowing which questions to ask and how. Consultants need this, colleagues must acquire this task to manage their peers and suppliers need this with the same urgency as buyers, educators and their students.

Clear language shows a clear head and asking questions and the techniques of reflecting back, reading body language and voice intonation help to unearth any lack of clarity.

In the words of Beatrix Potter, “The shorter and the plainer the better.”

And when greeted by vague language, high-blown phrases or jargon, use your right to refine the art of questioning, a skill which is as vital as giving the right answers.

Have a look here at the programmes designed to help you and your people develop this ability.

Got an experience of being mislead with language?  Have a query about how to get behind the words?

COMMENT OR QUERY BELOW AND I WILL GET BACK TO YOU!