"Not My Problem!"

Nerd-to-English Book CoverA brief note: The “Nerd-to-English” book is now available in print and digital editions. Both are on sale at special prices at our online bookstore and are also available through Amazon.com

The following is a short excerpt from the book….


“Not My Problem!”

“If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.”
    ~ Richard Bach, physician

Admit it. You don’t think you have a communications problem.

After all, you know what you mean. If someone else doesn’t understand, it must be his or her problem. Conversely, when someone else is hard to understand, he or she is the one with a clarity problem. (After all, you were only listening.)

On the highway, the vast majority of drivers all believe they are “above-average” drivers; likewise, most people seem to think they are effective communicators. In both situations (driving and communication), we seem to think it’s always the other guy’s fault.

Some bad drivers even believe they are great drivers simply because they haven’t had an accident. They aren’t self-aware enough to know when their safety was preserved by good drivers getting out of their way.

“People are feeling talked at now more than ever, and they are closing their minds.”

Do you think you are an above-average driver? Are you an above-average communicator? After all, what you say is clear to you, right? With so many great communicators in the world, it makes me wonder: If things are so clear to everyone, why do we have so many enormous challenges in this world that began as simple communication breakdowns?

But I Communicate All the Time!

We talk. We write. We read. We listen. We email, text, tweet, friend (and unfriend), instant message, and leave and listen to voicemail. Clearly we are skilled at communication. Or not. Maybe we are only skilled with the tools that carry our ideas, not necessarily skilled at relaying and receiving the ideas.

 “After all, you know what you mean.”

 Being capable of using a number of different tools to communicate does not necessarily make you skilled with any of them. Most of us can use manual tools, a screwdriver, a hammer, scissors, a knife, and pliers. How many of us can use them to build a beautiful, functional piece of furniture? How many could use them to even make a dog house? You can give a gorilla a typewriter and he can punch the keys to type letters, but it won’t make him a writer.

Concerned ManI often see people who think the “latest and greatest” tools will solve all their communication problems. That is a fine example of one of my favorite expressions, “to a child with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Bang, Bang, Bang. Marketers do this with email push advertising. People do this by shoving their ideas on others without considering other perspectives.

Social media is a hot tool right now for many people. A client of mine recently decided a social media site would solve a lot of his promotional problems. The first day his ad ran, it appeared on the pages of more than 4,000 users of the site. Not one person clicked for more information.

Push, Push, Push. People are feeling talked at now more than ever, and they are closing their minds to communication that isn’t a two-way street.When so much time is spent pushing a message, it creates habits that make listening hard. Discussions can turn into dueling monologues instead of an exchange of ideas.

If you feel it is not sufficient to be understood, that you must also be acknowledged as right, you are probably not as effective as you think. Just because you are a successful verbal bully does not make you an effective communicator. It only makes you a bully.

Realizing that communication is more than pushing your ideas on others is a critical step in bridging the Nerd-to-English Gap. Learning to help others share their ideas, without pushing them, is an even more critical step.

Every day, we each face communication problems. Working to make each problem smaller and less destructive takes only two things: awareness and practice.

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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.