Sunday, March 22, 2009

Simplicity and Sincerity

We like to be thought of as smart. It is so much nicer than the alternative. Sometimes we want to SHOW that we’re smart, and that is not an altogether bad idea either, IF it is done in a way that doesn’t make other people feel…well, NOT smart.

Since our objective is to make others feel safe in talking with us it is important to express ourselves clearly and to actively try to be easy to understand. My friend Dr Jon Wesick is one of the smartest people I know and he has a real knack for describing complex concepts using language that is easy for me to follow. I see it as a real gift, and always enjoy talking to him. It is never intimidating or difficult. Now I am sure it COULD be intimidating (Jon’s PhD is in physics and he is a poet and science fiction writer), but he works hard to keep things simple. In doing so, he keeps me engaged and open. I am reminded of a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”. It takes considerable effort to “right size” the level of language for your audience. Not doing so (using jargon , acronyms, or inside jokes) will often lead to them feeling excluded and no longer willing or able to help you in achieving your objective.

Sincerity (authenticity) in your conversations is critical. Most people have well-developed radar for distinguishing authentic conversation from that which is not (sometimes called “phony”, “manipulative”, “fake” or worse). I discourage people from using wording or approaches offered by others (including those offered by me) UNLESS they understand the PURPOSE of the approach and can construct an equivalent approach that fits THEM. I spend a considerable amount of time teaching the purposes BEHIND the words so people can accomplish this critical process.

I have spoken about sincerity and authenticity before, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me repeat myself to help reinforce this critical aspect of communication.

Authenticity is behaving in a manner consistent with your feelings. This needs to be done with respect and high purpose. For instance, without hurting another person’s feelings and for the good of your organization, you will need to tell just how you feel. Try this: Picture the person you love most in the world (your child, or spouse, or parent, or a dear friend). Picture the way you might behave in breaking some devastatingly bad news to them. It is hard, because you know how the news will hurt them. It affects you badly to have to tell them this, but you have to. You plan something to say and start to break the news, and when you see their reaction, you can’t help but feel genuine empathy for them. That feeling is an authentic feeling. There is nothing manufactured or calculated about it, and your behavior is completely consistent with that feeling. Now imagine you are delivering GREAT news to that same person. As you do, you feel amazing joy for them. You may laugh or cry, but whatever you do will be an authentic extension of your feelings. It is THAT unabridged connection between your feeling and your actions that portray authenticity.

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