Up Front Communication

Helping people and businesses through the art of communication

Proximity and expertise: according to Seth.

You may be aware that I am a bit of a Seth Godin fangirl.  It takes a great deal of restraint for me to not share nearly every one of his daily blog updates here on my own blog (Twitter is a better vehicle for sharing that sort of thing).  Every now and then, though, there is one that is so good that I need to put it up here so that those not yet converted to Godinism read his words of widsom.  Like this:


Never eat sushi at the airport

or sleep near a train station.

Don’t ask a cab driver for theater tips.

Never buy bread from the supermarket bakery…

and don’t ask your spouse for honest feedback about how you look.

Don’t do business with a stranger who calls you at home during dinner.

Think twice before you ask your ad agency how many ads you should run.

And never eat the macadamia nuts in the mini bar.

Proximity is not a stand in for expertise.

Think on that last sentence.  Equating proximity with expertise is a common stumbling block in many industries.  It is rife* in professions where members believe themselves to inherently be Jacks-of-all-trades.  Librarians, for example, are extremely prone to this, so are doctors.  In these cases, the “proximity” is their professional qualification, and it causes them to look inside their own professional body for people to occupy just about any kind of role necessary.

Going for proximity, regardless what form that proximity takes, is rarely a good strategy.


*Rife, not ubiquitous.  There’s a difference.


Honey and vinegar: preferred consumer advocacy tactics

(Forgive me a moment while I brush the dust off my keyboard)

I’m a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde when it comes to how I gear up for a bit of advocacy.  When I’m around my friends or family and telling them about the Thing That Annoyed Me, and how I will be standing up for myself, I’m all bluster.  It really can get quite ridiculous; the more irritated I am about a situation, the more verbose I become.  I rant and rave and pull out every ten-dollar polysyllabic word in my arsenal.  With sweeps of my arm and flashes of my eyes, I illustrate the full, colourful degree of my vexation.

This is a good tactic for me.  Not only does it let me get all my emotion out, it also allows me to puff up my chest and get nicely wound up.  Without a good winding up, I may back out of my plan to stick up for myself and my expectations.  This terrifies my mother, who often worries that my standard approach to lodging complaints is to march in, eyes and guns a blazin’, and rain holy hell on the first customer service agent I encounter.

Thankfully, Mom’s notion of my style of lodging complaints is false.  God forbid I actually go out-of-doors and attempt to confront the irksome party while in full rant mode.  That would be disastrous and would more likely result in me being carted away to the asylum than refunded my money.  I am a firm believer that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and while a story of someone standing their ground and demanding satisfaction is entertaining, a calm demeanour and helpful attitude is much more effective.

The problem with the “stick it to ’em” approach is that it makes the person on the other side of the counter quite defensive.  It doesn’t matter if the defensiveness is borne out of fear or irritation – either way, it makes that person less willing to help you.  But applying honey to your tone and words does not mean simpering or becoming a patronizing twit.  Rather, it involves taking the attitude that your feedback is helpful and the person you are speaking to wants you to be happy and is willing to cultivate goodwill.

The key is to go in without fear of reprimand but also without fomenting anger.  By all means, you can be annoyed; a bit (note: a bit) of irritation in your voice can help get your point across.  Instead of intending on going in there and making the target of your complaint see things your way, go in with the intention of helping that person improve their service for their customers.  This can be difficult to do when you feel wronged or ripped off, as I had in my most recent experience.

In order to keep my cool, I first get very clear about what it is I am complaining about.  Write the situation down, focus on the particulars that you are angry or upset about, and stick to those points.  This falls under my advice to always keep your main point at the top of your mind in any conversation.  If you find yourself getting off track or expanding your complaint to tangentially related or unrelated things, focus back on the thing that initially prompted your ire.


Next, make the following assumption:  The person I am/will be speaking to does not know about or is not directly responsible for my lousy experience.  They are simply the person who gets saddled with my complaint.

This assumption helps me to depersonalize the encounter.  Recall how I’ve spoken about needing to depersonalize high-emotion interactions so that you do not become angry or defensive?  Well, this is the same idea only you are doing the depersonalization for the customer service rep.  You are not angry at them, per say, you are angry at the situation that brought you here.  If you are complaining about a specific individual and have the option to deal with someone other than them, for Pete’s sake, exercise that option and talk to someone else.  This will redirect your anger away from the person you are complaining to.

Third, know what action the person you are complaining to can make to satisfy you as a customer, and ask directly for that action.  The person you are speaking to should not have to magically divine your heart’s desire.  They don’t necessarily know if you want a refund, or exchange, or additional services.  Being straight forward about what you want them to do makes it significantly easier for them to respond to your complaint as quickly and efficiently as possible. Ask for what you want.*

And finally, remember to breathe and relax.  It always comes back to that, doesn’t it?  Well, my constant harping about the power of breath and relaxation absolutely applies here.  There is a reason why we describe people as “huffing and puffing” when they are worked up.  If you are about to initiate a confrontation about a lousy customer service experience, give yourself a second to breathe, focus, and go in with a more neutral mindset.  It really does do wonders.



*Of course, you might not get what you want, but at least the person you are complaining to will know what will appease you right off the bat.

Off the Introspective Cuff

One of the keys to being able to ramble out a good, solid off-the-cuff or spontaneous speech is introspection – and lots of it.

The purpose behind this introspection isn’t to indulge in endless navel-gazing.  That’s what Facebook and Instagram are for.  This self-reflection is to develop an acute awareness of your values, your personal drivers, and your thoughts on life, the universe, and everything.*

When making spontaneous speeches, we need to rely on tidbits of information that we hold in our head.  There isn’t time to ponder and compose an answer, and we may be lacking data critical to making an informed argument.  We can, however, always give our opinion on matters.  This is where the introspection comes in: if we spend time thinking about how our own brain works, we can address subjects from a personal angle.  This may not result in a speech with heavy hitting evidence and data to back up your opinion, but it will result in something (relatively) thoughtful.  You can speak to how you think about the topic or situation, about what affects your views and opinions, about how it relates to your own context.  And – prize of prize – you can do so with sincerity because you are ultimately revealing a part of yourself to your audience, and you take the time to think about yourself and your context.

Speaking is about sharing. We don’t always have the luxury of being able to share facts, but we can always share a piece of ourselves.  But in order to share ourselves, we must understand ourselves first.





Precious time

Time is important.

We all know this.  We lead busy lives. Our days fly by. Time is valuable. Time is precious. Time is money. We bill hourly and count down minutes.

The premium on time is what makes it so powerful.  Time is a gift. It is respect. It is consideration.

You need to give time to get it. While we are constantly on the hunt for time savers, often what we need to do is give more time to the communication process. This is true for speaking, for teaching, for explaining, for convincing.  We don’t need to speed up and jam our content into less time, we need to slow down and give the message the time it needs to be delivered.

Give your words space. It takes time to gather our thoughts, to put them into words, to speak them, for the listener to hear them and process them. Breathe. Time is a blessing. It enhances the most important part of messages and demonstrates that you value the conversation you are having.

Taking time may be as simple as slowing down how quickly you speak (contrary to popular belief, making speedy, quick, snappy retorts often does not make you seem more intelligent; in many, many contexts or situations it can make you appear panicky and reactionary or worse).   It may mean keeping your mouth shut and giving the other person time to speak.  It might require filling the air with silence instead of words – one of the hardest things to do.  It may even mean giving a long chunk of time for your message to be digested. Step outside the room, sleep on it, give yourself or the other person hours or days to think about the conversation and build a calm response instead of blurting a fast reaction.

Time is one of the most beautiful communication tools. Make the most of it.

So little space

We live in a hyper-connected, info-flooded world.  This is no secret.

We have limited space in our brains to take in all the information and connections available to us.  This is also no secret.

Limited brain space affects the speaker (or writer) as much as the audience.  The onus is on the receiver to decide what is worthy of their attention.  The onus is on the speaker to create content worthy of that attention. This doesn’t mean making packing as much valuable content in as little space as possible.  It does mean being very selective of what content we do give at any one point in time, and then ruthlessly editing it down until our message comes across clearly, plainly, and memorably.

This hit home today while I was prepping a new set of business cards.  There’s so much I want to say about myself and my business, and so very little space in which to do it.  Someone needs to pick up the card, have something about it stick in their brain, and then remember my name and one contact method.  That’s a tall order for a piece of paper that usually gets a glimpse less than one second long.  I’ve got six lines, each less than three inches wide. It isn’t much, so I need to decide what’s important and what’s important has changed.  Email, telephone, and website obviously get some real estate.  Do I need to give a physical address?  Not really – people are going to email or call before they send a letter.  How about my Twitter handle?  Something that last year earned my derision has proven its usefulness to me and I deemed it worthy of a line.  My father would cringe that I would add such a thing, but my business world is very different than his.

Six lines, each less than three inches wide.  That’s not a lot of room.  Neither is two minutes for an elevator pitch, or ten minutes for a business presentation, or an hour for an educational lecture.  Decide your most important point, write down everything that you want to say, and then ruthlessly hack back anything that doesn’t support or drive that #1 point home.   Our jam-packed brains will thank you for it.