Friday, October 8

Being Teachable: Better Communication

You can teach a old dog new tricksOne of my friends reminded me of an interesting story yesterday. The story, by John R. Noe, tells how one employee became frustrated by being passed up for promotions despite 20 years at the company.

Charlie was passed up three times in all, each time by people who had been with the company less time. So Charlie decided to confront his boss. He demanded to know why he was being passed up despite "20 years of experience."

"No, Charlie," the boss said. "You have been in the job 20 years, but you do not have 20 years of experience … you have one year of experience twenty times."

The Art Of Being Teachable.

Noe attributed the lack of promotion to making the same mistakes over and over. But mistakes are just reminders that you have plenty to learn. There are many people who never make mistakes, but still never gain experience while they drift along. They simply imitate the actions of the day before, never budging from the complacent comfortability they carve out for themselves.

There are dozens of reasons. Noe cited three: pride (the assumption they already know), skepticism (the doubt that anything can be improved upon), and lack of time (being so busy with the routine, there isn't time to expand horizons).

You have to give these things up to be teachable. And for some people, it isn't easy. Complacency is a drug, more addictive than crack. It might feel good for weeks, months, or years, but eventually it will kill you dead. Maybe not literally. But then again, maybe it will.

Why Being Teachable Is Important For Communicators.

When public relations people or communication folks complain about not getting a seat at the table, I always chuckle. Generally, the only reason they don't have a seat at the table is because they haven't earned it. They bring nothing of value.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean they are not valuable. I mean that they don't bring anything of value to the executive team, even though they have every tool and skill set at their disposal. They can conduct market research, run competitive analysis, scour industry articles, listen to people within the company, and come up with breakthroughs. But most of them don't.

Most professionals misapply a bad habit they pick up in school. They try to force other people's case studies onto the business or over a situation. So instead of becoming strategic thinkers, they strategically imitate what everyone else does. You can see it online, all the time. The most popular posts are laundry lists of things you can imitate. (That's not to say some lists aren't insightful).

You can turn all that on its head, though. Look outside your profession and listen, observe, read, test, experiment and see what will really work for your situation and circumstance. Some of the best ideas I've learned over the years come from areas one or two steps removed from what most people think I do. It's also a path directly opposite of advice that tells you to specialize.

If you want to be a better anything, the ratio of listening vs. talking (or doing) is about 80:20. That's why things take a little longer for some. Communicating (or writing) is only about 20 percent of the job. But there are plenty of people who can plunk out colorful copy if you prefer. Those are the folks with one year of experience 20 times.
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