Thursday, November 19, 2009

Speak Easy Note # 12 - Truth Is Better Than Fiction

It has been a demanding week. My IRS audit was postponed until next week and the IRS examiner asked that I provide photos in addition to the previously submitted floor plans of my personal and business spaces to substantiate the percentage of professional usage I claim on my tax filings.

When I initially received the audit notification, one of the biggest concerns I had was that the IRS would disallow the percentages I had claimed. I thought of many creative ways to position my claim and realized finally that the truth is always the best place to be. When I took the photos of the work and personal spaces yesterday, the pictures showed all that I needed to support my claims. My percentages were exactly right and the TRUTH was the best tactic possible.

It is clear to me that the topic of the week for my blog posting is TRUTH and so I am including this excerpt from SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success:

(Southern charm definitely has its limitations)

The tendency to enhance or withhold the truth is a common occurrence which inevitably undermines optimum communication. In childhood, I was taught the importance of always telling the truth. In contrast, I was also taught the contradictory concept that telling a white lie is okay if it protects someone else’s feelings or advances a certain benign type of self-protection. Growing up in southwestern Virginia, I often observed a style of Southern disingenuous charm that veiled the truth. “Y’all come see us, ya’ hear? (pronounced ‘hee-ah’)” often actually meant, “We don’t really want your type crossing our doorstep.” Embellishing or distorting reality leads to trouble. Just like the children’s story of Pinocchio whose nose would grow every time he told a lie, the effect of avoiding or obscuring the truth will take over and the stage will be set for distortion or misrepresentation. It will become increasingly difficult to remember what you’ve actually said and the truth will become dangerously elusive.

If the truth is your first constant, your goal can then be finding the right and best way to tell the truth. The promise of honesty is a significant one to make to yourself and to others. Never distort. Never misrepresent. Trust the compass of truth in all of your communications.

There are three key elements to remember to ensure the potential of having a direct communication:

1. Always start with the truth.

2. Define and identify what you most want to express.

3. Examine what you say to make sure it feels authentic and in sync with who you are.

If you look at the key elements of what you want to communicate and find neutral language that avoids irritation or aggravation, using a level tone of voice, you will find that telling the truth is easier and better than an elaborate fabrication you invent to make the communication seem more palatable for you and the other person. People will thank you and appreciate hearing the truth, directly, in the right way. Reminding yourself of the equal two-way street of communication and of the importance of validating the other person remains the basic foundation for accomplishing the goal of truth in communication.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I may take next Friday off from blogging. 

Until next time,
The Wordsmith

Friday, November 13, 2009

Speak Easy Note #11 - Words of Wisdom: Living an Informed Life

This week I received an email from a dear friend who wrote and questioned:

  • “The whole of my life is burnt into these days with my daughter and grandchildren. Everything I have ever done, thought and experienced seems to be concentrated into the moment. I am now waiting for my sense of the rest of my life to come into the moment as well. I think it will. Then the whole of my life will be concentrated into every moment that I live. What is this sensation? Is it aging? Is it just that things long passed are recalled with such frequency and clarity as one gets older? Is it the sense of a life? Is it the getting of wisdom? Is it having learned how to live?”

Many thoughts blended into questions … When I read my friend’s words, I was immediately reminded of the Rilke quote about not searching for answers but living the questions so that one day you will discover that you have lived into the answers:

  • ...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
With age comes wisdom and acceptance. Most of all though, it is only through age that you can have a certain perspective and wealth of experience that cannot be available to you in the same way earlier in life. This varies from person to person. Some never get there at all or never come to exist on any deeper level of consciousness.

Life will always be full of mystery and unanswered questions no matter how old you are or what your experiences are. And so we come to two golden words:


This above all else: It is about LETTING GO, knowing and accepting what IS and what remains outside of one's control to change.


It is about the perspective of valuing what life is in full measure - of having lived an experienced life that informs and provides the KNOWING.

And so I bring you two words this week to savor and to live, rather than providing the mechanical techniques to enhance communication that I frequently share from SPEAK EASY - The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success. It will be through living these two words deeply that communication can reach the highest level of enrichment possible. Communication improvement techniques are wonderful to learn and practice; they can bring much benefit. It is the LETTING GO and living an INFORMED and CONSCIOUS life that matters most of all.

Until next Friday,
The Wordsmith

Friday, November 6, 2009

Speak Easy Note #10 - Avoidance Is Worse Than Confrontation

This week I finally finished reconstructing three years of tax records. It is liberating for all of that to be behind me. I feel a great sense of accomplishment from having created 29 Excel spreadsheets as detailed and pristine financial records for the audit that is taking place later this month. I have begun to tell people that they can call me “Excel Girl”. In preparation for my meeting with the tax attorney tomorrow, I attached these spreadsheet documents to emails and sent them to him. I attached them to three different emails - one for each year. On the last one of these emails, I wrote one comment: “I hope you are impressed!”

As I was doing this grueling tortuous work, I thought frequently of Ann Lamott's wonderful book, Bird By Bird - Some Instructions on Writing and Life. The title comes from a childhood memory Lamott has about a report her brother had to write for a school assignment. The report was about birds and he had brought home many, many books so that he could write his report. The books that he had had for many weeks were piled high in front of him and the deadline was the next day; he had not begun to write his report yet. Overwhelmed with anxiety, without a clue how to tackle this massive assignment, he desperately asked his father for guidance. His father said simply to his son that the only way to get this done was: bird by bird.

It was comforting to remind myself of this touching story and pure advice which I could apply to my gargantuan task, spreadsheet by spreadsheet, receipt by receipt. As much as I hate detail and record-keeping of any type, I found great comfort in bringing order to chaos. I created color codes and other innovative devices to make this very unpleasant task artful and even a bit enjoyable. The biggest lesson was to dig in and face the challenge so that I would be able to look back on and celebrate its completion.

As we look at how these lessons apply to communication, we can see that avoidance is usually worse than confrontation.

Here is an excerpt from Speak Easy, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success that looks at the downside of avoidance in communication:

Avoiding communication or using indirect ways to express what you want to say will prolong the agony of a situation and usually be much worse than the actual conversation you’re dreading so fiercely. How many times have you said to yourself, after finally having the courage to say something that you’ve been agonizing over and avoiding: “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be!”? Or even better: “That was so much easier than I thought it would be and I feel so much better having gotten that off of my chest.”? Facing reality and saying what you have to say directly almost always weighs less heavily than avoiding the encounter.

Anticipation quite frequently weighs much more than actuality:

The following relevant vignette opens Speak Easy’s Chapter 3: There’s A Good Way To Say Everything:

Michelle is the Head of Programming for a nationally syndicated radio station based in Northern California.  She also oversees the Traffic, Promotion and Community Affairs departments.

Michelle has a strong work ethic and is dedicated to being the best professional she can be. She’s proud of how well she selects talent. Indeed she has the best hiring record in the station in terms of turnover. It’s rare for someone she’s hired to leave his or her job or be lured away to a competing station.

Michelle interacts with others exactly the way she’d like to be treated by her managers and coworkers. She respects people’s privacy and autonomy. She trusts they will do the right thing and that they will come to her if they have problems. One of her core beliefs is that if you hire the right people, and give them long leashes to do their jobs, the station will run itself. She’s always calm under pressure and believes that everything happens for a reason and that everything will eventually level out, given enough patience and time.

She loves her job, although she often thinks about the old days when she was developing programming concepts and pitching ideas. She’s sometimes baffled by how all of her time now is spent on tedious administrative detail and tiresome management accountability.

Her door is always open. The fact that people rarely come to see her in her office never crosses Michelle’s mind as a concern. She has the “No news is good news”/“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” approach to work and to life.

She’s the mother of two teenage children who describe her style of parenting almost exactly the way her coworkers and subordinates describe her style of management. Her children rarely bring their problems to their mother because they believe she will be disinterested in talking to them or helping them resolve their minor or major dilemmas.

Michelle openly says that she’s conflict-avoidant. She will go 180 degrees in the opposite direction to avoid being part of, observing, or being asked to resolve any type of confrontation or disagreement. She believes that if you turn away from disputes, people will work things out for themselves. She almost never raises her voice or shows her emotions. She has few fluctuations in her even temperament.

When Michelle is one of four executives at the station selected for a 360-degree feedback program, she’s quite pleased. She’s eager to find out what she’s doing well and how she can improve. When she sits down with her coach to review her 360-degree feedback report, she’s rather shocked. It never occurred to her that all of the autonomy she’d given people was seen as disregard and lack of leadership. Michelle is stunned to learn that people see her as inaccessible and unavailable. Even though her door is always open, she sits at her computer facing away from the doorway and everyone thinks she’s engrossed in what she’s doing and doesn’t want anyone to disturb her.

People say that they never bring problems to Michelle because they see her as someone who is uncommunicative and afraid to assert herself. They think she won’t take needed action when there are problems that need resolving. They report that they never come to her with workplace issues or personal difficulties because they think she doesn’t care and won’t do anything to resolve the situation even if she did. What surprises Michelle the most about the feedback is that she learns that her boss thinks she’s not on top of her job and that she’s not keeping him informed at all.

Michelle embraces the coaching support that is provided to her following the 360-degree feedback. She asks the coach to help her be a better communicator and to tackle conflicts head on so she can change the perceptions people have about her. She realizes how valuable it is to initiate conversations and to ensure people she wants to participate in resolving problems. She sees how critical it is to convey what she’s thinking and feeling so people will understand what her views are. She knows that if she communicates what’s important to her and provides people with direction, resolution, decisiveness, and repercussions, she will earn the respect she’d always believed she had and that she merits.

It’s eye-opening to Michelle to learn that without communication and action, her belief system and values will be unknown to others. She’s most appreciative of these new insights when she realizes how applicable they are to her relationships with her children. It’s hard for her to take in what her life would have been like if she’d never come to understand how beneficial it is to be an open and frequent communicator.

She knows that her natural style is to be a silent observer. She now challenges her old belief that this was the way to empower others. She also knows that her fear of confrontation needs to be redefined and reinterpreted to prevent her from slipping back into her old comfort zones of avoidance and isolation. Michelle asks to be able to work with her coach for an extended timeframe so that she can turn her new awareness into consistent communication that’s second nature for her. She knows it will take time, focus, dedication and determination.


I made up this week for how little I wrote last week.  Let's make next week's topic another surprise!  By the way, Speak Easy was featured in the October Kirkus Discoveries Newsletter. 

Until next Friday,
The Wordsmith