Communication and the Fine Line between Success and Failure

After biking home from the Kenwood house today, I decided to move the car into our brand new spankin’ parking space behind my building. As I was pulling out of our parallel parking spot on the curb, a car at the stop sign decided he absolutely needed to pass me to make it to the red light at the end of the block – I glared at him as he tried to avoid eye contact. He lost and, as he looked over, he took a double-take. Then, a car parallel parked 2 cars behind me backed up and pulled out like a bat out of hell as I was pulling out for the second time, oblivious to and then startled by my actions, he swerved into oncoming traffic before stopping, waving slowly and apologetically, and staring awkwardly at me. I waved back. Finally, I pull the car out, go to make a right hand turn into the alley and there’s a postal worker smiling at me. I smile back and then she put both palms of her hands on the top of her head – it was then that I realized I was still wearing my biking helmet.


Every person, whether intentional or not, communicates. Verbal, non-verbal, positive, negative, neutral. The way we communicate directly impacts how we are received and, therefore, how accepted we are in any given social circle. When I say “social circle”, I’m not referring to a cocktail party vs. a bar crawl – I’m talking about every place where social cues come into play from grocery shopping to giving a presentation. How you communicate matters. Effectively communicating is not enough, you also need to communicate cordially. If you want to be successful, people have to like you. Especially when managing projects – how you communicate and your ability to effectively communicate can make or break the results of your project and how your performance is perceived by the people who matter most.

In hopes to not confuse efforts with results, here are some core values I abide by in order to communicate successfully:


1. “How are you?” Yep, I said it. You should ask it and mean it. Very rarely will someone respond with more than a short sentence. We’re dealing with people, right? So be personal. You are not perceived as mysterious for not caring how anyone is doing. This applies to every one on one greeting – in person, over the phone, via sign language. Care, it won’t kill you. A little goes a long way.


2. Bring Food. Running an important project? Bring food every once in a while. I bring my laborers lunch every Friday. Sometimes I make italian beef, sometimes I just bring pizza. Now, when I walk in the house everyday, 75% of them smile at me – on day one, only one of them bothered to look at me. Bringing food says three important things without saying anything at all: 1) I care 2) This is important 3) We’re in this together. Why do you think people bring food when loved ones pass away? So, when you have a kick-off meeting in the office for a new project or a big proposal – bring coffee and pastries. It sets a tone – more important, it sets a positive tone.


3. Respond. Okay, folks. If you take anything away from this – please hear me. Do NOT leave anyone in the abyss. When someone leaves you a voicemail or sends you an email with direct action items, respond. The response should be something like this: “Got it, thanks.” If you want to make it more professional, great. Don’t drag it out. All I’m saying is that you need to validate that you have received the email/voicemail and you are working on it. My old boss and I used to say: “Word.” Succinct and effective. I spend so much time calling people who have not responded to my emails to follow up and make sure they received my emails – it is annoying and wasteful. I know that many people who have left me (or clients of mine) in the abyss merely wanted to respond only when they had something meaningful to say – while this is good intention, it is a terrible habit.


4. Be flexible. Everyone communicates differently. Don’t expect everyone to conform to your style. At best, they may be awkward. At worst, they’ll be non-responsive. Each person has a different way of managing themselves. Even if people seriously need some time management classes, don’t make this your daily problem. Work with it. Do you know that a team member has no concept that only 60 minutes exist in an hour? Well, then give that person plenty of time. Don’t put them under a tight deadline and then act surprised when it’s not done (e.g. SQUIRREL!!!!). Do you have a team member that sends mile-long emails? Well, then call them up or walk over to their desk when you need something. This is how many of the laborers communicate with me:


I don’t get them paper, I pick up a pencil.


5. Pause. Interacting with humanity can be challenging at times. Pause. Take a breathe. Do. Not. Interrupt…Ever. Especially during negotiations or contentious meetings, pause before responding. Give yourself a moment to prepare your response so you don’t have to be thinking about your next sentence before the person across from you has finished their first one.  You might miss something important in the last few words and then have to back-peddle the response you preemptively prepared. Sometimes interactions get heated, pause. Think twice before responding – this goes for emails too. Did someone make you angry with an email? Wait as long as you can before responding, half a day is great. Don’t let emotion cloud business communication, keep it factual and respectful.  Also, things are not always as they appear. Pause and try a different perspective. When I picked up the crock pot from the house last Friday, this is what I found in the box of stuff:


My initial reaction was “Are you kidding me? They used my crockpot as a trashcan?” Then I thought about it and realized paper towel was under the utensils – they were wiping their hands before touching the ladle. They finished a pack of cigarettes after enjoying my food. Then they left a rusty nail/hook/thing. Much better.


So, there it is. While this may not cover every interaction you have, I hope it builds a solid base for a consistent, successful approach. As I was moving the trash cans behind the Kenwood house, I happened to look up:


Can someone please explain why there are random shingles missing from the only part of the house that hasn’t been touched?

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