In January 2009 I wrote a short piece about demystifying communication called Economic Intelligence for Eight Year Olds. In part the piece was about how writers for The Economist magazine use words and a writing style that can be understood by someone aged 8. Fantastic idea! Ever since then I’ve waited patiently for The Economist to deliver a front cover that meets the same criteria. It’s happened. My daughter Keira took one look at the latest front cover and voila! OK Keira’s seven and a half but you get the idea.
Like a lot of folk I meet plenty of interesting people, talk and share ideas, make proposals, follow up enquiries. It’s part of what is commonly referred to as looking for work, or looking for purpose, or maybe even looking to learn. I then spend time following these things up, Sometimes a conclusion is reached, and often, at some point the dialogue just fizzles out. Calls aren’t returned, emails aren’t responded to.
I’m not talking here about speculative approaches – ones where I think I might have spotted an opportunity and take a punt. On the rare occasion I take that kind of approach – I do so with no expectation of response. No – what I’m talking about is situations where I’ve been asked to submit something to someone else for consideration, feedback, follow up conversations and so on. I’m not the only one who experiences this – am I? Does this happen to you too?
People’s plans change all the time, mine included. I understand that, and when my plans change, I let people know. It would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? Putting the simple lack of courtesy to one side, this course of action burns energy and wastes the time of the person following up. I read a very interesting piece by Alexandra Samuel on the Harvard Business Review where she talks about new opportunities which come our way and the need to think carefully about which to engage with, and which to say no to. Alexandra’s advice is quite simple, we need to learn to say no, politely and effectively.
What really hit me as I read the post, is that not saying no burdens the recipient of the proposal or enquiry too. Perhaps not as much as the person doing the following up, but the recipient still has to read the approach, ignore the approach, think about not returning that call. This stuff takes time and effort and consumes energy. We can all do without this so I think it’s time to get over the anxiety of delivering so called bad news, and as Alexandra Samuel recommends, just learn to say no. Politely and effectively.
I wrote this post in 2010. At the time I called it ‘Yes or no, but not nothing’. I’ve updated and retitled it now, in January 2016. Six years since writing this remains one of the biggest challenges I face. With help – I’ve got better at parking these stalled conversations, and even so – I’d much rather they were dealt with, rather than left to hang around on the edges of my mind, like unwelcome guests at a party. If this is something you experience and you have a useful way of dealing with it – I’d love to hear from you please.
I can live with the no far easier than the silence. A no, or even a not now, helps me plan, so let’s make 2010/2011/2012/2013/2014/2015/2016 the year of saying yes, or no, but not nothing. Thank you.
I was recently told that writers for The Economist have to use a writing style, and words that can be understood by someone aged 8. Fantastic! I don’t care if it’s true or not, I’ve taken out a subscription in an attempt to have the world of high finance demystified. Communication is an art, an integral ingredient to a positive customer experience. Listen. Repeat. Create a common understanding.
This concept reminded me of an extract from “White Riot”, the first single by The Clash, who I just happen to think are the best band ever to stalk this earth. “All the power in the hands of the people rich enough to buy it. While we walk the streets, too chicken to even try it.”
Two minutes of blistering pure punk fury expressing itself with a clarity that few have matched since its release in early 1977. But I would say that, wouldn’t I? I’m an Englishman. The song is written by an English man about England. Were we really too chicken, or did we just not understand? What might a foreign correspondent think? Shall we ask The Economist?
“When a Briton says, ‘I hear what you say’, the foreign listener may understand: he accepts my point of view. In fact, the British speaker means: ‘I disagree and I do not wish to discuss it any further’. Similarly the phrase ‘with the greatest respect’ when used by an Englishman is recognisable to a compatriot as an icy put-down, correctly translated as meaning ‘I think you are wrong, or a fool’.
When a Briton says ‘by the way’ or ‘incidentally’, he is usually understood by foreigners as meaning ‘this is not very important’, whereas in fact he means, ‘the primary purpose of our discussion is…’ On the other hand, the phrase ‘I’ll bear that in mind’ means ‘I’ll do nothing about it’; while, ‘Correct me if I’m wrong’ means ‘I’m right, please don’t contradict me’.”
Is creative, flowery prose the way forward? How about stiff, stuffy formality? Or perhaps we should have left it to four angry Englishmen from West London? Whichever, in order to create that positive customer experience, we need to get it right.
Listen. Repeat. Create a common understanding.
What do you think?