Breast Implants, Abraham Lincoln and Impactful Functionality: Communicate to . . . Well, Communicate
By Barry Maher
You can certainly adapt to someone’s style of communicating–you can accommodate that style—and still be 100 percent you. If she’s businesslike and formal, she’ll be uncomfortable if you’re too relaxed too quickly. If she’s more casual, she’ll be uncomfortable if you’re too rigid and businesslike. You don’t want to approach a get-to-the-facts, cut through the BS type the same way you approach a socializer—or someone who just happens to be in a socializing mood at the moment.
If you’re dealing with a slow talker, you’re going to lose him if you talk too fast. With someone who speaks rapidly, you’re going to frustrate him if you talk too slowly.
Here’s a flash. Men and women are not the same. It’s becoming a new cliché, but good communicators know that—as a general rule—there is some truth in the idea that it’s better to stress information and solutions when communicating with men and emphasize relationships when dealing with women. Still if women are really from Venus and men from Mars, then the two planets and their inhabitants are far more alike than they are different.
Nowadays we all understand how badly you can screw yourself up—and how easily you can offend—by relying on ethnic or cultural stereotypes when trying to get your message across. Still different cultures are, well . . . different, whether across national boundaries or within them.
The average volume of a breast implant in the United States is 33 percent larger than the average volume in Europe. Bankers and bikers tend to have different cultures, though the great thing about America—apart from breast size–and the great thing about human beings in general, is how much overlap there really is. Still, you need to be able to relate differently to a 28 year old, long-haired biker than a middle-aged investment banker struggling with the gears of his first Ferrari.
When you’re comfortable doing it, speak to people in their own language: noting the terms they use and the concepts they’re comfortable with. This is called communicating.
Be careful, however, about misusing jargon. If you don’t understand it, don’t use it. You’ll just be verifying your ignorance and confirming how different you are from the person you’re talking to. It never hurts to toss in a bit of your own industry jargon to show expertise, but the operative term here is a bit. And make sure it’s understood if it needs to be.
Jargon, euphemisms, psychobabble, unnaturally elevated business-speak, all raise barriers in people more frequently than they lower them. Even people who might mistake them for signs of intelligence are often turned off by the pomposity.
I was having a drink with a product manager at a corporate cocktail party when her boss came by and asked her, “What did you think of my presentation this morning?”
“As usual, Hank. You made me think of Lincoln.”
“You always say that,” he smiled.
“Just something about you.”
“Lincoln?” I asked after Hank left. I’d heard the presentation. The Gettysburg address took seven minutes to deliver. Hank may have taken longer than that to thank the woman who introduced him: something many in that room will never forgive her for.
“Lincoln,” the product manager insisted. “Every time Hank opens that over-worked mouth of his, I think of Lincoln and what Lincoln said about another politician: that the guy could compress more words into smaller ideas than any man he’d ever met.”
Bean counting becomes so much more impactful, so much more impressive and precise when you say metric instead of number or measurement or system of measurement. A protocol that possesses functionality will run rings around one that merely has a function—not to mention one that simply does something. And that half-billion dollar high tech start-up that’s never made a penny in five years? No problem: they simply need to monetize their operation.
In its annual report, an airline company listed the millions of dollars it had received in an insurance payment as “involuntary conversion of a 747.”
The plane crashed.
Aside from their inherent silliness, pretentiousness and lack of clarity, far too often these kinds of phrases turn out to be euphemisms designed to camouflage a nasty reality. And we’ve all come to realize that. Though I’m sure workers who lost their jobs through right-sizing felt much better about it than those who were down-sized out of a job. Or merely laid off.