Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Assume and Doom!

You know that saying that goes “When you assume it makes an “ass” out of “u” and ’me’. I don’t believe that’s always the case and I wouldn’t quite put it like that because I’m a classy chick but I will tell you that when it comes to communication, many of us assume way more than we should. 

I work with clients on all different forms of communication; job interviews, elevator pitches, presentations and meetings. Recently, I’ve noticed that in all of these different types of communication, people assume that their listeners know way more than they actually do. I think in this day and age we’ve become so afraid of giving TMI (too much information) that we often end up leaving out important details. Assumptions that get in the way of communication come in two forms: Emotional Assumptions (assuming someone feels or will feel a certain way) and logical assumptions (assuming someone knows certain things). Here are examples of one logical and one emotional assumption. Don’t let them doom your next communication.

Logical Assumption: Your listener understands what you do just cause you tell them your job title:
I can’t tell you how many times working with clients on job interviews or presentations, a person will give a job title or brief description and then assume that the listener will know everything they need to know. Most of us are so intimate with the minutia that goes into what it is that we do that we make the assumption that everyone else is equally familiar with it and therefore omit important details that can help your listener truly understand what it is you do. Yes, there is that occasional narcissist who is all too happy to bore you with a blow by blow account of how they watched paint dry but believe me, in face to face communication, those folks are rare.

Some of you may be thinking, “But surely for a job interview or a presentation for my peers, the listener should have some knowledge of what I do. Why would I have to go into detail?" The operative word here is “some knowledge.” Yes, people may know in theory what a title like: Financial Consultant, Marketing Director or Human Resource Manager means. They may know you as the VP of whatever, BUT that doesn’t guarantee that they understand what it is that you actually do. The danger with giving too few details is that it forces your listener to dig into their memory and pull up their own assumptions. Some of those assumptions might be positive, some may be neutral and some may be a turn off. If the last financial consultant they met helped them amass a fortune, terrific. But what if the financial consultant that comes to mind is the one that ruined their grandmother’s estate?

Emotional Assumption: You know how your listener or audience feels about a topic.
Many times in preparing for a presentation, my clients will say things like,”I know you all want” “You must be tired of…” Whenever I hear those kinds of statements a little caution light goes on and I encourage a different word choice. For example: “I know some of you might want” or “Many of you may be tired of…” Why? Because most people hate being pigeon holed or having their thoughts and emotions lumped together with the thoughts and emotions of a large group that they may or may not know. It’s important to bring up negative assumptions that an audience may have about your topic, (it’s called getting the elephant out of the room) But it’s equally important not to categorically assume what people are thinking or feeling. Feel it out by using modal auxiliaries, (might, could, may etc) they’re not called the “polite” forms of speech for nothing.

I'd love to know your thoughts.And contact me if you want to know some other dooming assumptions!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What the Heck is Presence?

When I do one on one sessions, I sometimes go to my clients. I recently did a session at a client's apartment and when I walked in, she exclaimed that my presence was so large it was strange having me in her space. No, she was not calling me fat! That made me wonder what presence actually is and where it comes from. So I went to the dictionary. Presence(n): Impressive appearance, quality or bearing. Why do I have presence? Is it what I do? or what I am? How I dress? Or how I feel?

Having a powerful presence does NOT mean strutting into a room making a grand entrance, striking a pose and speaking at the top of your voice. Doing that is sure to get you remembered but not necessarily for the right reasons. A powerful presence can be the afore mentioned scenario providing that grand entrance, pose and voice are consistent with who you are and what you represent, but a powerful presence can also be a quiet presence. 

To me, people with presence exude confidence. They  seem rooted, secure; aware of and in control of their external appearance and at ease with who they are. Presence, therefore, is communicated both from the inside and the outside. And you can develop a more powerful presence by working on it from the inside out AND from the outside in. When I work with people, I work on both at the same time.
Many people could have (and probably did) talk to me till they were blue in the face about being more confident during my "Shy" period (see previous post), but by my high school drama teacher forcing me to act confident while speaking powerful words was much more effective.

So… is it about faking it till you make it?

Yes, and No. Something about that phrase makes me cringe. The language we use to describe our learning process is very important. One of the most pervasive feelings successful professionals struggle with is the feeling of being found out to be a fraud. It’s a very common and self-sabotaging feeling. So using the word “fake” to describe a way of working on your presence, does not feel helpful. I prefer a phrase that I coined: 

“Own it while you hone it”

So for all of you who want to develop more presence... pick out a "role" or "character" you'd like to play in certain parts of your life and then Own it! Let me know how it goes!