Not My Problem


Admit it, one thing most people (including you?) think when someone suggests improving communication skills is probably, “I don’t have that problem.”

After all, we know what we mean. If someone else doesn’t understand, it must be their problem. Conversely, when someone else is hard to understand, it is they that have a problem being clear. After all, “I was listening.”

We talk. We write. We email, text, Twitter, Facebook, Instant Message, and leave voicemail. Clearly we are skilled at communication. Or not. Maybe we are just skilled at many of the tools that can carry our ideas, not necessarily skilled at extending and receiving the ideas.

I say that being capable of multiple tools for communicating does not necessarily make you skilled with any of the tools. Most of us can use manual tools, such as a screwdriver, a hammer, scissors, a knife, a hand saw and pliers. How many of us can use them to build a great looking, functional piece of furniture or a great looking dog house? Craftsmen are skilled with their craft and their tools, whatever tools they may be.

In communication efforts, I also see people who think they have the one best tool and it will solve every problem. It is a living example of the old adage, “to a child with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  Bang, Bang, Bang.  Marketers do this with push advertising.  People do this by shoving their ideas without listening or considering other perspectives.  Push, Push, Push.

Communication is a skill. Skills improve with education and smart practice.  They also deteriorate, even when used, as bad habits creep in to the routine.

In sports, when talent is relatively equal, the individual or team that usually wins the game is the one that is best at the basics, often things as simple as footwork, passing, catching, blocking, tackling or hitting (depending on the sport of course). Now you would think that once you learn these basics they are your skills forever.  They aren’t.

Inexperienced coaches can be more interested in the fancy plays and schemes, thinking these will be the key to success. This is the part of the game that they often see as the more interesting part of the sport.  “Basics are boring, learn them fast and move on.”  They often have a common false assumption that the basic skills, once learned, are set for life (or at least the season).

I spent several years coaching youth basketball. We started the year with the fundamentals, even for players that had played the sport for years. We started each practice with fundamentals. The more time we spent on fundamentals, the more success we had as a team.

In my early years coaching, I knew it was important to focus on fundamentals first but it was not yet a habit in my coaching. As the season would move along, the player’s grasp of fundamentals would drift as they focused on the details of plays or defensive schemes. It showed. Just a single mid-season practice focusing on fundamentals would be obvious in the result on the court the next game. In future seasons, we focused harder and harder on the fundamentals and with greater success.

Do you work on your fundamentals of communication? Do you even think about it? After a presentation, do you write down things to do better next time? Do you leave conversations thinking about what you could have done better?

It is said that in sports, the greatest coaches were always thinking of ways to be better, not to be “just as good as before.” Are you doing the same?


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.