In a recent article Saying "No" to an Idea Doesn't Have to Lead to Conflict, Patrick Mullane, Executive Director, HBX speaks about ‘No’ and the struggle we face in the business world.

There are two very common situations when dealing with No.

First, In every organization you have what John Kotter states as the ‘no,no penguin’, someone who shoots down every idea or thought that can aid to progress, solve a problem, or lead to change. 

Second, are the people who don’t know when to say ‘No’ because of the chance there might be a disagreement or confrontation. Too many times it is easier to avoid confrontation by saying 'yes' and in the competitive world that we live in today, we are always looking to seek approval from our bosses, peers, and family members.

What if we look at the word ‘No’ in a different light? In some cultures ‘No’ isn’t even a part of the vocabulary.

Disagreements and Confrontation, can be very healthy when using the right tools and techniques. Provocative debates can lead to constructive feedback, positive progress, and meaningful change...if you don’t provoke how do you progress...


no no penguin.png

When we give constructive feedback we open up a dialogue, we can start to understand people’s thought process so that we can communicate more strategically, leading to more cooperative and efficient conversations. 

How is this done? I always fall back to the Golden Rule "do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We all want to be heard in some way or another, so why don't we listen? When you can accept someone’s thoughts, opinions, and views you are merely giving them what you want. Does that mean you need to agree? No...however it is this acceptance that provides the gateway for them to actively listen to your opinion and provides the basis for a more constructive conversation.

The Battle Between Technical Skills & Communication

A recent publication in Dagens Næringsliv a Norwegian newspaper that focuses on economics, business, and politics captures the importance of effective communication, showing that expertise can only go so far.   

"When meeting with students studying economy it is not their lack of technical skills that are worrying. It is rather their limited ability to express -in words- an understandable economic reasoning."

- Olav Kvaløy, professor in economy. Handelshøgskolen ved Universitetet I Stavanger and NHH. 



If you are like most technical professionals, your communication, whether written or verbal, are filled with lots of technical jargon and pseudo codes to communicate meaning in the most efficient way possible. And that is great when you are talking with other technical professionals. But what happens when you're talking to nontechnical professionals? That's where problems can arise. 

Communication is a key driver when getting a message, vision, or idea through to an audience. To be able to communicate and interpret the "big picture" across multiple discplines, teams, and environments can be a challenge. To be able to express ideas in a clear and compelling manner, you must adjust your language and communication styles to capture the attention of diverse audiences. 



Trade-offs & Effectiveness

Communicating effectively, especially in high pressure professional situations, can sometimes be a balancing act. To some it may feel like you are walking on a thin wire, dangling between two buildings, hundreds of feet above rock hard pavement, with just your nerves and the wind for company. Others may not feel the same kind of pressure, however, they may and most do, feel the the consequences of not performing.

What choice do we present to our audience? What are their perceived trade-offs?

What choice do we present to our audience? What are their perceived trade-offs?

This is where the trade-offs come in. We typically approach specific communication events, situations or challenges by analyzing what it is we really want to achieve? What key do we give our attentive audience to enter the message that we have developed? What face do I want to show? What hat should I wear to maximize my effectiveness in this environment where I do not retain complete control? Therefore we tend to let go of some things and retain others in order to support our own view or approach to what we feel is the most effective means of achieving our ends. This trade-off, is typically a snap decision. A quick calculation that evaluates a host of factors in a split second. Do we speak as fast as we think? Or do we change our voice to reflect this trade-off that we have identified as more important.

When negotiating do I start slowly and build up or do I keep it concise? When forcing through a topic in an internal meeting do I take consideration of the level of empathy for my views in the room before proceeding or do I go with my instinct? These questions in themselves are trade-offs, for simply asking the question creates an opportunity to reflect. A moment to gauge the air around us in those important occasions and develop a greater sense of identity. Not just of ourselves but of the very fabric which forms the communication we share with those around us. How can our message can be interpreted differently if we do not consider the trade-offs that exist in it. It is these trade-offs, the options our message creates in the minds of our audience that can truly influence the perception and actuality of effectiveness.

Technology and the Changing Face of Communication

A sign in a cafe in Annapolis, Maryland that harks back to simpler times...

A sign in a cafe in Annapolis, Maryland that harks back to simpler times...

Thanks to your trusty smartphone we have seen the rapid disintegration of how we communicate. Many experts have spent time seeking to understand what new developments in technology are doing to the way humans interact with each other. We tend to see two facets being addressed, firstly, our primal need for social engagement and secondly, our evolving individualism

The degree to which new technology influences our communication can be seen in behavioral research that seems to point to a diminishing attention span.  The success of apps line Vine and Snapchat, are rewriting what is acceptable and what is the "new norm".  In his new book Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari the famed comedian talks about how our tolerance for time has completely changed.

"Back in my day, if I didn't hear back in a few hours it was okay, once I send a text message. Now if I don't get a response immediately or within a few minutes I begin to worry." 

Technology has always been around to serve us. It is doing that now. It is connecting us like never before and making communication so much more efficient, far-reaching and fast. From that perspective there is only positives to consider, however, like the sign in the cafe, we still need to consider the value of face to face interactions. A 6 second vine can only tell you so much, and the power of interacting with someone on that personal level is so much more sustaining. All technology when it comes to communication, eventually leads us to a one to one interaction. Will you be able to put down the phone and look across the table and maximize that moment, or will you simply retreat into safer territory and anonymously broadcast your views via the interweb?  

How to adapt in the face of adversity

What is adversity? What does it have to do when it comes to communication? When we look at adversity in communication it typically takes the shape of our perception of "how clear we are" or in other words, the likelihood that we expect to explain something once we have spoken or communicated.

When we face a challenge we tend to look back and evaluate our past experiences to see if we have a frame of reference for how to overcome the obstacle that is in front of us. If we fail to find something relevant we seek to associate our predicament with something that is easier to relate too. When we look at communication we see the same conclusions being drawn. We tend to try and understand our situation and then address the expectations that we set for ourselves and if we feel the need, do so in a way that reflects our perception of the urgency that again, we infer from the multitude of factors that we interpret in a snap.

This leads us to not let our message develop. This leads some of us to jump in and clarify, even if there may not be a need to do so. Insecurity in our delivery leads us to question or second guess the way we get to our main point and that is something that we can develop, especially by evaluating what we have done traditionally speaking, and what we can do differently on an individual level looking ahead.

Confidence in our approach is paramount in developing better and more adaptable communication. Knowing where we excel and what we can do differently will give us options when it comes time to actually face a challenging communication event. These options are the tools that will lead us to be more comfortable in the unknown and more dynamic and capable of being confident in our own value as a communicator.