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Awkward moments

One of the workshops I provide is about answering questions under fire.  Today’s video is an example of what can happen when you are under fire and lose control of where the questions may go.


Communication blockade

With the recent tragic news regarding the suicide of BC teen Amanda Todd, attention has been renewed on the topic of bullying both in media and in casual conversation.  Bullying does seem to be more prevalent now than it has been in recent years (possibly due to the potential for 24/7 harassment over internet social platforms).  Much of the focus on bullying is on teens, and generally they do partake in the more explicitly vicious forms of harassment.  It strikes me, however, that adult bullying is also on the rise.

Seeing as we spend a substantial number of our waking hours at our jobs – and that many workplaces merely feel like adult-populated versions of high school – the workplace becomes prime bullying territory.  I personally know many people who have been specifically targeted for workplace bullying.  This bullying typically came from a manager or supervisor with a higher status than their target.  While teens openly taunt, mock, harass, and attack, workplace bullies are slightly more subtle than that.  In addition to a more sophisticated bullying approach, workplace bullies are often protected by their superior rank within the organization.  Several of my personal acquaintances have been harassed by a workplace bully in the following ways:

    • Given impossible workloads
    • Given workloads far higher than those of their peers with the same jobs
    • Refused any form of support from their supervisor for any of their actions
    • Were openly attacked, antagonized, or otherwise demeaned by their supervisor in front of clients or service users
    • Were set against a colleague by a manager who antagonized the two employees by telling each of them untrue information against the other
    • Were refused vacation or sick leave to which they were entitled
    • Were blamed for problems or errors caused by the bullying supervisor
    • Were increasingly marginalized from their original responsibilities
    • Were relentlessly micromanaged

All of the above circumstances occurred in organizations in a dysfunctional work environment.  This should not come as a surprise; workplaces cannot be functional when employees are the targets for such actions.  What does surprise me is that many managers and supervisors – especially those who engage in bullying – believe that their tyrannical management methods will create a dutiful, compliant, diligent workforce.  The managers I witnessed first-hand engaging in this behaviour seemed mystified when employees avoided talking to them or communicating with them any more than absolutely necessary.  They admonished employees for not talking to them, citing platitudes such as “my door is always open.”

These workplace bullies operate under considerable delusion.  Firstly, they believe that their behaviour is acceptable.  Secondly, they have absolutely no clue that they are responsible for the most fundamental and damaging type of organizational communication breakdown: erosion of trust.

Really effective communication occurs when the parties trust one another.  We inherently listen to and share with people who we believe have a common interest and who we trust will act in a manner agreeable to us.  Bullying erodes trust more quickly than any other action I can think of.  Even habitual lying will not do as much damage as bullying if the habitual liar is generally likable.  We want to think that the likable liar is telling us the truth, so we give them the benefit of the doubt.  We know the bully will continue to victimize us or others, and so we instantly distrust anything they say.  We know that no matter what they do or say, we cannot trust them or their motives.  Add the behavioural dissonance when a bully says that their door is always open but will use anything you say against you, and you have a recipe for a closed, non-communicative organization.

When employees within an organization do not feel they can comfortably talk to their managers or with one another, dysfunction sets in.  People cannot effectively work when they cannot comfortably share information.  The end result is poor performance and high turnover, which is costly at best and ruinous at worst.  If a manager feels that they need to rule with a strict hand and through malicious tactics, they should be prepared to have their subordinates leave them out of the loop.  They should also be prepared for employees to quit after a fairly short period, and – if the bully’s own supervisors have even one iota of sense – for their own tenure at that organization to be brief.

When newscasters pray

Today’s dose of silly provides both hilarity and a lesson.

The hilarity occurs within the first 1:30 of the video, a double dose of writhing embarassment at Romney’s awkwardness and a laugh-out-loud moment at the newscaster’s reaction.

This is followed up by a good commentary about keeping true to your style and personality when speaking in public.  If your natural state of being is a boring stiff, you’ll look like a complete goober when you attempt to play the smarmy comedian.

Poor Romney.  His comedic timing really is atrocious.

Fully Present

This past weekend was the Canadian thanksgiving holiday, which I spent happily cocooned in a triptophan-induced semi-coma.  Thankfully, I had the American presidential debates to giggle over while recovering from the turkey binge.

Political debates are quite possibly the best fora to observe the spectrum of speaking and rhetorical competency.  The unpredictability of the politicians’ performances makes debates endlessly entertaining. The most recent presidential debate was a wonderful demonstration of said unpredictability.  Romney spewed non-facts littered with outright fallacies. Yet he managed to out-perform The Orator, Barak Obama.

Okay, I’m being polite.  Romney thrashed Obama. He showed him up like the Cheerleader showed up the Chess Club Nerd during the homecoming queen competition.  This makes me sad, because despite his superior performance, Romney was spewing drivel. I hate to award the “Best Delivery” prize to someone with wretched content, but in this case I am forced to do just that.

While I could go on about how Obama failed to rebut Romney’s statements or neglected to tear down the BS “facts”, President Obama’s biggest pitfall was his apparent detachment from the whole debate. If a speaker expects to engage their audience in their rhetoric, the speaker himself must demonstrate the level of engagement he wants from that audience.  Obama didn’t appear engaged.  He looked bored.

Or tired.

Or aloof.

Or all three.  Really, it doesn’t matter which one of the above adjectives describes his demeanour. What matters was that he failed to demonstrate the level of engagement and energy expected from someone in his position. He was physically present, but he wasn’t really there.  

In the days of radio, Obama may have fared better. But we’re a visual species dealing with a visual medium. Speakers rarely have the luxury of relying on their voice to deliver the bulk of the message. When people are watching, the body must match the words and the message.  The speaker must physically demonstrate that they are fully present in that moment. It doesn’t matter how tired or bored they may be. That’s the challenge to which he must rise.

An offering of silliness

In order to make up for neglecting to post a ridiculous video for you last Friday (the new parent broken sleep exhaustion is catching up with me), I present you three very silly clips:

#1:  Stating things simply is often the best way to present our message.  It doesn’t get much simpler than this:


#2: Our children are beaten over the head with the message “It’s what’s inside that counts.”  Our outsides, however, cause people to make assumptions about our insides.  The cat appears to be very contented, but until it learns to stop frowning, people will assume otherwise.  For your viewing pleasure, I present to you “Grumpy Cat”:


#3: We should ensure that our external appearance matches the message we want to send.  Grumpy Cat has a feline soulmate in Colonel Meow, who is in bitter rivalry with Boo the Pomeranian:




“Content is king!” has been a blogger battle cry for some time now.  With so much information flying from every corner at audiences, attention has become a precious commodity and a powerful currency.*  All bloggers and online info provider (myself included) like to think that our content is high value, high impact, unique, or otherwise special in some way.  After all, we’re smart people – we know that content is king.

So why, pray tell, do so many bloggers fall back on the ultimate excuse for lazy content provision, namely The List?

You know what I’m referring to:  the internet list.  The piece of pithy work that will tell you the ten best, the eight reasons, the twenty most wanted, the five hottest XYZs.  These “articles” promise to shed light on matters complex and mundane.  They will give us direction and the ability to make better decisions.  They will boil down our questions and dilemmas into a series of bullet points summarizing the good, the bad, and the ugly of just about any conceivable topic.  We info consumers reflexively click on the promising link, reading list after list and taking in drivel that, despite its repetition and homogeneity, continues to sucker us in.  I’m as guilty of this as the next person.

Here’s the rub: what lists provide in terms of readability and ease of creation, they almost always lack in actual content.  When was the last time an internet list promising you “10 ways to lose weight for good” actually gave you any substantial information in terms of current research?  Has the “Top 20 Tech Trends” list introduced you to some truly innovative products that are not quite market ready?  I’m willing to bet that the greatest degree of development presented on that one was the latest iPhone iteration and its main Android competitor.  You think of the topic, there is an internet list about it masquerading as a valuable article.

This trend has been brutally evident on the LinkedIn groups I am subscribed to.  These groups, which are aimed at communications professionals, are frequently used to promote members’ blogs.  Many LI discussions are actually links to blog posts.  The number of blog posts that present god-awful lists like “25 Things to do in a Job Interview” containing drivel such as “Be 10 minutes early for the interview” is staggering.  What I find more extraordinary is that these lists are populating the daily discussion boards of groups dedicated to communication.  Surely we can find more interesting things to write about!

Unfortunately, The List is a rather popular type of online article.  They contain information that is comforting in its simplicity and familiarity and they don’t tax our ever-shortening attention spans.  I’ve come across many advice articles on blogging and freelance writing that openly advocate generating List-type posts when you can’t think of anything good to say, when you are pressed for time, or when you want to crank out content stat.  Apparently these articles are such an easy sell in terms of freelance website content generation that they are considered one of the better types of articles to shop around.  But when audience attention is the highest form of payment, what statement does generating fluffy List articles say about our opinion of the value of our audience’s attention?  That it isn’t worth generating content with real value?  That our garbage, I-don’t-know-what-to-write work on which we spent a minimal amount of effort is worth our audience’s time?  I think that it doesn’t say much for the writer’s opinion of their readers.

This rant does make some very generalized statements and certainly cannot be applied to every List type article out there.  There are some that are highly entertaining and have great comedic value.  I will also admit that I have seen some that provide excellent content, well written with valuable information.  But for every one good List article, there are fifteen dreadful ones.

Don’t fall into the trap of using lists as an easy way to generate content.  If you have something good or important to say and a list is the best structure to present it, then go ahead, but make sure you take the time to  create something of substance.  If content is indeed king, make damn sure your emperor is actually wearing clothes.





*Hat tip to Seth Godin

Up Front Communication

Up Front Communication delivers high-impact training in key communication skills such as public speaking, persuasion, and presentation delivery. Let experienced speaker and trainer Lauren Sergy help you and your employees better your communication skills through challenging and entertaining one-one-one coaching and group workshops.

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