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A Loss of Communication?

September 17, 2013 - Ernest Hohmeyer
In all of this chatter, are we losing our ability to communicate?

How many times have we been hit with emotional and sometimes down-right vicious e-mails or texts? How often has a small issue exploded because it is too easy to type a response before we think about it? How many times have I had to go to a community meeting because some form of on-line communication created such a raucous we had to meet to talk about – what we were talking about?

It is not that face-to-face meetings can’t be scathing as well, but I think seeing a person face-to-face, being there with your colleagues, friends or neighbors tones it down a bit.

What is Communication?

And sometimes seeing a person’s reaction, their eyes, body language and tone can give you more a feel of where they are coming from. Did they really mean it that way? Looking at their body language, we can perhaps empathize with them – or wow, they really do mean it that way! Either way we are more certain it seems sometimes with face-to-face conversation than on-line chatter.

In the cyber world there is little of this other form of, ironically, “social” communication that speaks to us. Here, we just have the words to look at – all the same size and color. Perhaps we spend too much time looking at these words, giving their space and size too much meaning. How many times have we laughed or cringed at critics or professors who gave way too much interpretation to a poem or a story. We liked what it meant to us until we were told by others it really was about something else.

A “Sorry State”

Apparently some of this communication has gone far enough that we need a reminder on how to apologize.

I was struck by an article in this month’s Entrepreneur magazine titled “A Sorry State of Affairs.”

“Apologizing is generally inadvisable…” writes Ross McCammon who is an articles editor at Esquire Magazine. “…we’ve all got things to do. If you’ve caused offense, change your behavior.”

Change our behavior? That’s an interesting twist.

“So, apologize only if it’s warranted” McCammon writes. And, “when it is warranted, you have to apologize in a complete and unadulterated way.” Saying it in a way that you admit responsibility but not with remorse or regret may convey the opposite feeling - that you are actually “justifying your actions.”

Criticism or Opinions?

When someone disagrees with us, especially when it comes to our businesses or community matters, it can be difficult to remain calm or objective. When you have to apologize for something it can be just as trying. We try hard to live by the axiom “The customer is always right” but in today’s world of reviews and opinions it may no longer be about that.

Is the customer’s “opinion” an accurate representation of what we are - the real question? Dealing with opinions is a whole different story. Perhaps it is not so much about right or wrong as it is about perceptions.

How you deal with that can be quite different.

In a previous post, I quoted how the first 10 seconds of meeting someone or walking into a place of business can create impressions that are hard to change later on.

Are they right or wrong?

Or, does that even matter?

Sometimes, we may spend too much time answering these criticisms by talking about how someone is wrong, or on the opposite extreme, just babbling on with some apology. Perhaps we should focus instead on explaining who and what we are.

Answering criticisms can be a way to tell people who you are and this is what your community organization or business is about. It may help others who have not visited your organization understand what you are about. You have the opportunity to form a more accurate perception of what you are and perhaps just as important, what you are not.

Now, going in to meet you, they may have a frame of reference already in their head that is re-enforced by that first 10 second impression.

Who Are You Answering?

You have the opportunity to take criticism and use it as a marketing tool or to build the impression YOU want. The objective is not only to answer your critic, but to potential customers looking at these reviews later that are trying to form an impression.

Their key question may be: is the kind of experience I am looking for? What can I expect? So, use your responses to talk about your experience as accurately and clearly as you can when answering these criticisms, opinions or reviews. And if they do agree with you, respond as well to re-enforce that impression.

Answer the good, not just the bad.

What Are We Not?

A big problem sometimes is that we try to there for everyone. We don’t want to say no to our members, customers or our community. The reality though is that we are small organizations that can really shine in only a few areas. Saying sometimes this is what we are not, or being clear this is who we are, can also be helpful when responding.

An Apology

When you do need to apologize, McCammon offers some advice: • Be sincere • Do it yourself, not through someone else • Eye contact important • Try not to mutter • Respond quickly • Don’t include the words “if” or “but”

McCammon is adamant that an apology consists of 3 parts: 1. Acknowledgement 2. Explanation 3. Expression of remorse.

“If you’re not covering all three, it’s not an apology” McCammon concludes.

Don’t Assume

It is a different time. Everything is coming at us faster and faster. We are communicating so much; we assume everyone knows where we are coming from. We have web sites, blogs, and Facebook among others.

Of course, everyone knows who we are – right?

But we can only process so much and it is more important than ever to remind folks this is what you should expect –and perhaps what you should not – as a constant reminder in this world of chatter.

And to remember that our on-line actions are forming impressions that you may not want. And, they can carry on for a long time in just a few key strokes. However, what you are may need to be re-enforced in consistent, and sometimes out-of-the-box, opportunities.


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