Communication can be a drag

    Most business owners or managers will tell you that good communication skills are a key to their success.
    I canít say I disagree, but I do wish theyíd stop talking about it.
   Everywhere you look, someone is preaching the value of communication. Every business publication seems to have an article on the subject, and every piece of junk mail seems to want to sell me something which will improve my communication.
   In fact, Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, just handed me a brochure for a one-day seminar titled "Power-Packed Communication Skills for Women."
   "You want to go to this?" I asked incredulously as I scanned the literature.
   She nodded, obviously unable to communicate any further.
   I looked at her with sympathy. She ignored me and pointed to a line on the brochure. It promised the attendee "8 steps you can take to make sure youíll never be tongue-tied or at a loss for words again."
   I had never thought of Ms. Ferguson as tongue-tied but perhaps we werenít communicating as well as I thought. Still, this seminar didnít look like the answer and I told her so.
   She pointed to another line: "How to eliminate power-robbing speech habits, words and gestures that say "Iím a light-weight."
   "I like your power-robbing speech habits, words and gestures," I responded, pushing the brochure away and about to close the subject.
   Her eyes turned a strange color and her lips disappeared. She pushed the brochure back to me and pointed again: "How to quickly defuse an emotional confrontation with your boss." I looked up but she was forcefully directing my attention to another line: "How to avoid crying when youíre really angry and what to do when you canít cry."
    "Ok, ok, you can go," I said, cowering. "But I doubt youíll get much out of it."
    "Oh, yeah?" she replied, smiling, as she took the brochure and skipped out my office door. "Iíll at least get a day away from here."
    Good point. But my guess is her communication skills, which are obviously already very proficient, will not improve. With communication, you either have it or you donít and there is very little ability to change.
   Sheíll pick up a few tidbits from the seminar, try them out a few times, see the horrified look on her co-workerís faces when they realize sheís turned into a phony, and then sheíll go back to her old self.
   And thatís the way it should be. I believe great communicators are born, not bred. One of my former bosses was a great communicator. He would wake up in the morning, start dictating memos and continue until he went to bed. He never had a thought he didnít want to share with someone, anyone.
   No one was spared. His wife, his kids Ė theyíd get memos, too. It was sick, but very effective. Iíve never known anyone who got more things done than this man.
   Iíd put myself on the opposite end of the spectrum My communication skills are adequate, I suppose, but they fall far short of great. My office door is always open, but Iím never eager for anyone to walk in and communicate.
   I talk when I feel the need, listen when necessary, and write memos occasionally. If I suddenly started sharing all my thoughts with everyone, not only would people wonder if I was still sane, but also, knowing most of my thoughts, Iíd be wasting a lot of peopleís time.
   No, my great contribution to the art of communication is my monthly staff meetings. Key managers and supervisors gather in our conference room to discuss various projects, report on the previous monthís results and (a wildly popular feature) listen to my words of wisdom.
   There are "minutes" from the previous monthís meeting, with tasks that need to be done by various managers. These are checked off and those that havenít completed their tasks are ruthlessly embarrassed.
   When all business has been completed, and I have completed my communicating, I go around the room, asking each manager if they have anything to add.
   As it is usually late in the day and the group is eager to go home, everyone invariably says no, Ms. Ferguson included.
   If by some chance this seminar changes her into a great communicator, thereís going to be a lot of tired and angry co-workers come the next staff meeting.


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