Most business owners
or managers will tell you that good communication skills are a key to
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
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.