What Are You Really Trying To Say?

People remember about 10% of what you say and 90% of how you make them feel.

This phrase is true in any conversation, one on one or one to many.  The emotional interpretation of what we say to each other is a powerful component in how we determine intent and thus the resulting relationship.  In verbal or physical interactions we have a natural understanding of how to decode vocal inflection or facial cues to assist in that interpretation.  Most of the time, that serves us pretty well.

In the technology era we have become ever more reliant on "written" communication such as email, online chatting, texting, twitter, facebook, and instant messaging.  In many office work environments, email has become the defacto or even required communication platform.  In 2005, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study called "Egocentrism Over E-Mail: Can We Communicate as Well as We Think?" (by Justin Krueger and Nicholas Epley)  In it they conducted numerous experiments that revealed that we are grossly overconfident in both our ability to communicate emotion or meaning in email and our ability to interpret it.  In general, we only have a 50-50 chance of getting it right.

"Without the benefit of paralinguistic cues such as gesture, emphasis, and intonation, it can be difficult to convey emotion and tone over electronic mail (e-mail). Five experiments suggest that this limitation is often underappreciated, such that people tend to believe that they can communicate over e-mail more effectively than they actually can. Studies 4 and 5 further suggest that this overconfidence is born of egocentrism, the inherent difficulty of detaching oneself from one’s own perspective when evaluating the perspective of someone else. Because e-mail communicators “hear” a statement differently depending on whether they intend to be, say, sarcastic or funny, it can be difficult to appreciate that their electronic audience may not."

This is some very interesting research and it raises the question of how to become more proficient at including the ancillary emotional cues when writing?  Is this an issue with the English language or just our command of it?  Do all languages have this same issue, or does the English language make this more difficult?  Do we need to evolve language in general to be more conducive to the written form?

For those of us who are less eloquent with the English language, here are some tips to follow that will help avoid unintentionally sending an offensive email:
  • Avoid the one-liner.  Well developed tone lies in the context of what you write.  There is generally not enough context in a single sentence to avoid multiple meanings.  Our misguided urgency to hit the send button will be offended by this, but it only takes another 30 seconds to add two or three more sentences.
  • Use an emoticon.  This is frowned on in more formal writing, however it can go a long way to take the edge off of an otherwise ambiguous statement.
  • Re-read the email for tone before you hit send.  Just pause and attempt to divorce yourself from how you "hear" it.  If you read it out loud, is it easy to read with a completely different intent?  
  • If you are emotional or even frustrated when you write the email, simply step away from the computer for a few minutes before doing this.  If you aren't sure what the tone is, don't send it.
  • Make a phone call instead.  It's surprising how often we could just pick up the phone or walk down the hall to the person's office and have the conversation.
Leave a comment about other techniques that have worked for you.

Photo taken by: Ben Ward.  Enjoy his work on Flickr.

Please Introduce Yourself

It is rather ironic that in this flood of technologies and web services that are social centric, so many are missing the most basic of social components.  An introduction.

If you are a new company, make sure that when someone lands on your site for your ground breaking new product or service, you explain how the user will use the service or how the product will enhance their life. Don't make them suffer through the registration process and force them to experiment with your service to determine if it is meaningful. 

FriendFeed and Plaxo do this well. They even include a tour or video that shows you how the site works.

Why Everyone Should Blog?

Whenever I talk about new social media technologies like blogs, facebook, or twitter with someone who is new to the conversation I always get the same response.  It goes something like, "That is a complete waste of time!  Why would I want to read all the pointless babble that people are saying about themselves?"

While on the surface the "babble" that is so prevalent on these platforms seems meaningless, one could argue that this sort of information sharing makes up a significant part of any typical face to face conversation.  We'll have to debate that some other time, because the real question here is "Why should I join the conversation and blog?"

Everyone tends to focus on the business driven reasons to start a blog and how to do it right or wrong. Marketing a product or service, self promotion, communicating with your company's community, etc.   If it isn't for business, then the stereotypical judgement is that the blogger is some self absorbed ego maniac that wants to share the afore mentioned babble and is convinced that everyone else cannot wait to read it.  There is one reason that I hear very little about that should motivate everyone to start a blog regardless of whether they have any "business reason" or not and it doesn't even matter if anyone is listening.

It's for the exercise that you get from explaining an idea.  For learning how to develop your thoughts, communicate your point,  and to lead a conversation around it.  Blogging is the perfect weapon to avoid being caught on the hamster wheel of doing and get back to some quality time thinking.  It is one of the most powerful business and personal development tools available today and you can do it for free.  (probably why it is so underrated)

If you lead a group of people and you're wondering how to kick start the thinking process, give each person on your team the task of posting to a blog several times a week.  They won't be good at first, but give them some time.  You will be amazed...and so will they.

And by the way, it works as a great marketing tool too.  Who knew?

Big Understanding

Chris Brogan makes a very good point about communication in his post "Not Rocket Science". I cannot tell you how tired I am of the standard corporate cliches that are thrown around the office or from the platform at a conference. If you're going to throw out the big words or use the cliche phrase and you want to have measurable impact, make sure you follow the statement with what it means or how you see it being executed.  It actually makes you sound smarter if you can break it down to the simple phrases.
Business value is not in big words. It’s in big understanding. - Brogan

Social Networking Online - Why do you do it?

Why do you use Facebook? MySpace? Twitter? FriendFeed?
It's always interesting to me to talk to someone about social networking online who isn't currently in the conversation. The most common response is "I don't get it. Why would you want to do that? I already talk to everyone I want to talk to. Why do I want to read that 'So-in-so is putting their socks on'?" 
Yet, any time someone decides to just try it out they get sucked it immediately and for each one the draw becomes something different. Why do you use them and what networks are you on?

This is a blog post by Robert Scoble's wife. He is a trailblazer in the social media scene and it's fascinating to hear her more 'normal' perspective.

Your Community Doesn't Want A Lecture...

Seth Godin suggests a great idea for changing up the powerpoint presentation and turning it into a more engaging conversation based presentation.

The Modern Talking Pad
  1. Create a presentation...
  2. On every page, remove some of the information.
  3. Go through the booklet page by page, writing directly on each page.

I've also found this to be very effective at training sessions. It takes a group that will listen and forget and turns them in to a group that is taking notes and remembering.

Word of Mouth

I've started several small business over the years and I found, as anyone will tell you, word of mouth marketing can be crucial to getting off the ground. It can be the least expensive and most powerful, generating the most loyal of customers. As a small business owner, we go above and beyond to make sure the customers we have are so happy that they'll tell all their friends about us.

I find it interesting that as a company scales (gets bigger) an attitude of arrogance begins to develop. The idea that the knock your socks off service is not as important because the marketing budget can purchase an endless supply of customers. As unpleasant as it sounds, in the old days this may have worked. Today, this is an extremely dangerous path to tread. It only takes one upset customer who takes their complaint to the internet for a PR firestorm to erupt overnight! Once that happens a company needs to think very carefully on how to respond. If they don't know how to interact in the social media world, what may seem like the right response will simply throw gasoline on the blaze.

While it is true that keeping customers satisfied can avoid problems, the positive affect of building consumer advocacy can have a profound affect on your business. Instead of creating a negative PR firestorm, why not put some effort into creating a positive one? Reaching out to your customers who are passionate about your product and/or your service and partnering with them to spread the word can be the most efficient and powerful marketing programs your company has ever seen. Word of mouth is still the most effective form of marketing, large or small.

Advertising has to reach hundreds or maybe even thousands of people to influence one person to purchase your service. A happy customer only has to tell one other person to generate a sale. What is the cost and time difference? Huge! A group of advocates can reach and influence so many more people than you can ever hope to and with much more effectiveness. It doesn't take much, all you need to do is give them something great to talk about.

thoughts inspired by Seth Godin's post this morning: "Who Spreads Your Word?"