Friday, February 25, 2011

Adults learn differently than children

Adults follow instructions differently than children. 

These statements sound like common sense; however, managers tend to teach and talk to adult workers as if they are children.  This isn’t the fault of managers; this is how managers learned to manage—from people who taught applying pedagogy practices (pedagogy is the study on how children learn).

For example, at a meeting, I asked the 28 adult participants to move the tables and chairs into a different configuration.  I even drew the configuration on the whiteboard.  Some stood and looked like deer in headlights (they froze), others just sat there, and a few began trying to move the tables without moving chairs—no planning.  It was a disaster with mass confusion.

Last year, I visited a 6th grade classroom at the invitation of my friend, Ken Rubin—the teacher.  He invited me to talk about persuasion to the children.  The first thing I did was to have them reconfigure the room of tables and chairs.  I drew the picture on the board and those children got right at it with no hesitation.  Within minutes, the room was rearranged and the children were all sitting at a table eagerly waiting on my next word.

The adults were still fiddling around after 5 minutes on how to proceed.  They finally started talking to one another, and one person “stepped up” to be the leader and gave instructions.  I simply sat back and watched.

After they finally got the room into my desired configuration, they were unsure where to sit.  Finally, after a little over 10 minutes of fiddling around, we were ready to start the intended exercise.  However, watching the uncertainty and the stress on the adult’s faces, it was clearly a learning opportunity.

I asked the group, why this seemingly easy task became so hard.  I told them about the 6th grade class that completed the tasks in minutes with no hesitation.  Some of the responses were, “I guess we’re not as smart as 6th grades,” “We weren’t sure what you wanted,” “I don’t know.”  One adult suggested that she didn’t know why I was asking them to change the room.  Bingo!

It’s not that 6th graders are smarter; it’s that they are willing to do what the teacher asks without question.

According to several adult learning theorists such as Malcom Knowles, Carl Rogers, Jerome Bruner, and Robert MacGregor, adults need to know the objective of the exercise first: why they are learning the concept, how will it benefit them, and how they can be involved in developing the process to get it done.

They pay off to managers from this example is the following:

  • Give clear instructions and don’t assume the person(s) received the same message.
  • Tell the group the objective of the task or learning
  • Tell them how you plan to reach the objective with their cooperation
  • Invite anyone in the group to offer a different or better idea on how to accomplish the task or learning
  • Facilitate a discussion on the pros and cons of each idea.
  • Settle on one idea
  • Get started
  • Evaluate after the task or learning is completed.

Applying these tips of  Androgogy (the term coined by Malcom Knowles as the study of how adults learn) will make organizations more efficient, build teamwork, and help managers understand that their subordinates aren’t stupid; but, very intelligent critical thinkers.

The pay off non-managers can be applied to relationships:

  • Be more empathetic to your significant other
  • Do not look at her/him as stupid when they s/he doesn’t understand you
  • Realize s/he is simply questioning why you are saying such and what do you mean in context. 
  • Be patient
  • Repeat respectfully,
  • Be open to his/her point of view
  • Avoid defensiveness
  • Avoid personal attacks

Try these tips with family, friends, and at work.  You will see an improvement in all your relationships.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Captain of the World experiences humility

Are any of us really irreplaceable?

“We decided to go in another direction,” I was told by the assistant manager. 

“What does that mean?” I asked after being called into his office.

“Bob and I don’t feel things are working out the way we think they should.”

“I’m not sure what you are saying,” I said with a puzzled face.

“We are letting you go.”

I was stunned.

They are firing me?  I thought to myself.  How could they fire me?  I am the best manager in here.  I’m the only one who knows how to do things right.  I am the only one the employees listen to.  The other managers don’t relate to the employees like I do.  The crew is always asking me about things.  I am the go to guy, I keep this company going.  Surely it won’t stay in business without me.

I protested to the assistant manager, “Why?  Why are you getting rid of me, I am the best manager here.  I have the crew on my side.”  He responded, “That is the reason we are letting you go, you are alienating the employees from the management team.  You are causing a division in the store.”  I couldn’t understand, “They work harder for me than any of the other managers” I protested again.  “What can I do better?”

“I am sorry, the decision is made.”

I was devastated.  They don’t know how many times I saved their butts.  They just didn’t appreciate all I have done; now they will get their due and all of them will be out jobs.

Really, this is the way I was thinking.  I was sure they wouldn’t survive in business without me.

McDonald’s has been doing very well without me since I was fired in 1972.

I started working there in High School and moved up through the ranks to assistant manager.  I was a “know it all” and Captain of the World.  I was the only one who knew how to do things right.  I had no humility.  I was simply the best.

This attitude did not do well for me in the long run.  In a space of three months, I lost my job, my wife left me, had to hide my car so it wouldn’t be repossessed, and was 3 months behind on my mortgage when I received a letter that the bank was going to foreclose.

The Captain of the World didn’t really know too much after all.  The “know it all” was failing miserably in his life.  At first, I blamed everyone for being so stupid.

This humiliating experience of being fired brought me back to “earth.”  It was the best thing that could have happened to a “know it all” bully like me.  I learned a lot about myself in those days; however, the most important lesson I learned was humility.  The ability to admit I am often wrong and I can learn more by listening than by telling.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Are we approaching potential buyers the right way?

Do we entice people to buy on our terms or theirs?

Imagine yourself out in the ocean, just off the coast and you are going to fish for salmon.  The sky is blue with a few white clouds and the sun is just appearing over the horizon warming the air.  The boat is rising and dropping in a slow methodical slide over the series of endless water swells.  You feel fantastic; the air is crisp and fresh.  You take a deep breath and exhale salt air.  It is the perfect day for fishing. 

You arrived at your fishing spot, just turned off the engine, and listen to the seagulls, the light wind, and the splashes of sea chickens diving for a meal and surfacing for air.  You see ball of herring breaking the glass like water resembling rain drops.

Suddenly, your heart begins to pound faster and harder seeing the big ball of herring. Finding bait fish is always exciting because where there are bait fish, there are salmon.

Quickly, you reach below in rushing to get your fishing rod out of the storage area, hook it together, put on the flasher and a hook at the end of the line.  Next, you reach into your cooler, grab a cold beer, hang it on the fish hook, and put the beer baited hook into the water waiting in anticipation that soon you be fighting a 20 pound salmon on the end of your line.

How many fish will you catch today?  You are seriously delusional if you think you’ll catch a fish in this fashion.

It sounds silly doesn’t it?  No fish is going to bite a hook baited with a can of beer—of course not.

However, as silly as that sounds, it is exactly what we do when we are trying to persuade our friends, sell our products, motivate our employees, convince an organization to hire us, get our children to do what we want, etc

We tell our friends why we should go out for Chinese food because “I haven’t been to a good Chinese restaurant in a long time”—beer can on a hook. 

“I think you should buy this product because we are trying to lower our inventory and having a big inventory reduction sale”—beer on a hook.

“Do your job and do it right because my tail is on the line and I don’t want the boss yelling at me”—beer on a hook.

“You should hire me because I am good, I need a job, and I have bills to pay”—beer on a hook.

“Clean up your room, my friends will come over here and think I don’t teach my kids to clean up after themselves”—beer on a hook.

Fish won’t bite my beer baited hook because they can’t open the can and probably would not like what’s in it.  In order to catch fish, I’ve got to put myself in its shoes—I know fish don’t have shoes; it’s a figure of speech—and try to imagine what the fish want.  They want herring, or squid, or a worm, or a fly to eat.  I don’t know what they want to eat that day so when one bait doesn’t work, I try the nother.

We can all remember this when trying to convince people to do what we want.  We must find out what others want first and make sure they get it. 

Empathy is a wonderful thing; we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and try to see the world from her/his viewpoint.  If we can combine empathy with a good dose of humility, then we can persuade our friends, sell our products, motivate our employees, get that dream job, and even get our children to clean up their rooms.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sellin' Ain't Tellin'

Are you a good listener?

“What’s better?”  The customer asked me, “The RCA or the Sony?” 

I puffed up my chest feeling happy about the question because now I could spill out all the knowledge I had been accumulating on the products in the television department.  It was my second week on the job and I had been studying all the products non-stop for those two weeks.  Finally, I could impress someone.

So, I let it rip.  I told that poor customer everything I knew about the RCA TV’s, then everything I knew about the Sony TV’s.  He stood there dumbfounded and listened to my entire pitch.  Finally, I stopped feeling very confident and happy about myself.

The customer responded, “Wow. That was a lot of stuff.  You know your televisions.” 

I stood there smiling when he followed with, “That was so much information, I forgot my question.”

“You asked which was better, the RCA or the Sony?” I repeated proudly.

“And, what was the answer?”

 “The Sony,” I sheepishly said.

“I’ll take it.”

Learning my lesson, I shut up and walked over to the cash register and took his order.

I remember—in my interview for this company—the hiring manager asked if I was a good listener.

“Of course,” I replied, “Sellin’ ain’t tellin’” I confidently told my interviewer quoting a famous salesman, Zig Ziglar. 

He hired me; however, on my first sale, clearly I didn’t listen.  I could have sold that guy a Sony in a minute with one sentence and moved on to another sale rather than trying to impress myself with all my knowledge on TV’s had I simply listened to the question.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Are good manners important in this high tech environment?

Are we becoming inconsiderate while staying "connected?"

“Hi, I am Rod Mattson,” I said while extending my hand to the saleswoman as she entered my office.  She put her smart phone into her left hand and extended her right hand. We shook hands.  She introduced herself.  I motioned for her to sit down at a round table and rather than sitting behind my desk, I sat at the round table too.

“I was expecting you about 35 minutes ago.”

“Oh, I am so sorry, I got behind on a couple of earlier appointments, and I’ve never been to this part of town.  Again, I am very sorry.”

“No need to apologize.” I said, “I have used the time productively, it’s just that our meeting will have to be a little shorter, is that OK with you?”  She graciously agreed. 

We shortened the small talk and got down to business.  She began to tell me about her products.  She represented a publishing company and began telling me about the publications that would help my business.  Skillfully, she was talking in terms of my benefits.

“These books offer the latest information on communication training, ideas for curriculum, and group exercises.”  She continued, “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.  Rather than developing customized training, you can spend your time marketing, while doing your training, and other revenue producing activities.  This will take the burden of writing and customizing off your schedule.”

“What’s that?” I inquired.

“We publish and distribute communication training material.  That’s what you do, right?

“Yeah, but, what’s that?

“Communication training material?  It is books, workbooks, leader’s guides and pamphlets on communication training programs.”

“What is that?” I insisted.

“Mr. Mattson, am I missing something here?  I represent (the name of her publishing company) and we specialize in training material.”

“No, I’m asking what is that?” I repeated while again pointing at the smart phone in her hand observing her fingers flying all over the key pad as we spoke.  This is the first time she looked up at me.  She was talking and texting at the same time and we were not communicating clearly as I asked about her phone while pointing at it.  She did not see my nonverbal communication; therefore, she thought I was asking about what she was saying, not what she was doing.  She became frustrated, embarrassed, and defensive.

“Oh, I’m sorry, this is my smart phone and I was texting my next appointment telling her I was running late, and texting my boyfriend that I couldn’t met him for lunch today as I  was running to far behind.  That’s rude isn’t it?”

I respectfully responded, “That is a judgment call on your part.”

I wasn’t sure what to do; but, looking at this disheveled lady, who clearly set 10 hours worth of appointments into an 8 hour day, I decided I wasn’t going to do business with her.

So I stood up, offered her my hand and politely said, “Thanks for coming in; however, I have an appointment at the top of the hour and I must go over my preparation before the meeting.”

She looked bewildered, took my hand and walked out of the office.  About 10 minutes later, I got an email from her:

Mr. Mattson, i hope i didn’t ofend u…r u mad at me for texting while talking to u…pleez give me another chance, i won’t use my phone in front of u

Maybe I am old school; however, I am sure most of you would agree with me that good manners are important.  Clearly she still doesn’t know what she did wrong and probably thinks I am a jerk.  However, this happens more times than I care to count.  She probably thought she had good manners by letting her next appointment and her boyfriend know that she was running late.

What would you have done if you were her, or if you were me?  Was I rude too?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What is Communication?

Communication is the essence of everything we do in our lives. 

In business and relationships, the number one concern with people is communication; however, when pressed, we can’t seem to define the word, communication.  It’s like the words prejudice or beauty, “I can’t describe it; but, I know when I see it."

Our bosses think they are great communicators; however, we think they are terrible.  Our significant others think they are great communicators too; however, we tend to think differently.

What is communication?

My answer to the question sounds flippant but, it is fun to say:

Communication is the process of Human Beings responding to the symbolic behavior of other persons according to Communication Scholar Ron Adler.

This sounds simple; however, It is very complex.  We have three important words in this definition to consider here: Human, Process, and Symbolic.

Human:  we will narrow the scope of communication for this article to be between or among humans only.

Process:  communication is a process which means it is ongoing.  If we agree that it is a process and a process is ongoing, then we can conclude that we are always communicating.  While we are talking to someone we notice the following:  hair, clothes, looks, body type, tattoos, piercings, body language, etc.  Often times we don’t even listen to them because we are noticing all these things and forming judgments based on our past experiences.

Symbolic:  communication involves verbal and nonverbal symbols.  What are symbols?  Anything we use to communicate—language (written and spoken), signs, gestures, expressions, time, smell, touch, sight, ceremonies, traditions, attitude, etc. The most important thing to take from the notion that communication is symbolic is the following:

The meaning of Words and Symbols lie in people depending on context, situation, and relationship.  Therefore, the meanings of words and symbols are different for everybody.  That is why we so often miscommunicate.  We are interpreting words and symbols differently therefore we behave differently and when we behave differently than others think we should based on their meanings, we have miscommunication.

The way each of us interprets words and symbols become barriers to effective communication.  Barriers to communication are all around us and impede the spirit of effective communication.  Barriers often cause miscommunication and result in different meanings than the source intends.  Barriers are numerous and we can list thousands of them.  The following are a short list of the most common barriers:

Hearing ability
Social Status
Educational level
Economic Status
Drug Users
Sexual preferences
Political beliefs

If we create a picture of communication it becomes very complicated and we can see that communication is complex.

People who can communicate what they mean have the following abilities: Possess a wide range of behavior, have the ability to choose and perform the most appropriate behavior, have the capacity to empathize with others, have a cognitive complexity, and can self monitor one’s own behavior.

There is no ideal way to communicate as we all have different backgrounds, personalities, and interpret experiences differently.  We have different abilities to relate to others and how we communicate depends on the situations we are in.

Have you ever seen someone go up to the boss and say something outlandish and you just cringe because if you said it, the boss would be mad at you; however, in this case the boss laughs with that person.  It is how we relate to others and the situation at the time.  That is why communication is also situational and relational.

However communication, even though it permeates everything we do is not a panacea of a perfect life.  It will not solve all our problems, it is not always a good thing, it does not require complete understanding, more communication is not always better, meanings of words are not the same to everyone, and it is not an easy process.

Often times, I wonder how we communicate at all.