Part IV of Improving Communication Skills: Examples

Summary of Parts I-III

Parts I and II: Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to be good at something!  Obama and Romney are, by virtue of their accomplishments, good communicators, yet they screw up all the time, in spite of the extraordinary amount of practice they put into communicating.  Recognize that your communication and social skills are not very good (you wouldn’t be working here if it were good), especially once you’re communicating to those outside of your social circle.  Good communicators are able convince those with different values, standards, and vocabulary that they have something valuable to offer them.  How one communicates will have significant impact on one’s career and place in society.  Those who are solely concerned about feelings will be relegated to low-profile jobs.  Those who are concerned about feelings and standards, values, and vision will manage those concerned only with feelings.  Those intensely focused on standards, values, and vision become leaders.  Those who don’t care about (other people’s) feelings or standards, values, and vision are unemployable (even when employed).

Part III:  We develop communication and social skills by practicing asking questions, being logical (instead of emotional) by framing statements as “I think” instead of “I feel,” mirroring others, and explaining concepts to someone with totally different values, standards, and vision (eg. explain database to 8 year old, or trade deficit to a 10 year old, or difference between glycemic load and glycemic index to 12 year old).

Final installment of Communication series provides examples of what we consider appropriate and inappropriate communication while at work.

Examples of Communication

Text sent by employee: 
Since we’re out of mango should be substitute with pineapple or just stick with apples for the kale salad?

Edit: No mango, sub w/pineapple for salad?

Comment: keep text messages as short as possible so it can be read quickly under any circumstances.  Long messages are distracting.  You’re not graded on grammar.  You’re trying to communicate an idea as succinctly as possible so time isn’t wasted and I don’t crash car into ditch.


Text sent by employee

Sorry to keep bugging you, but I’m assuming that you are picking up lids?

Edit: Salad lids?

Comment: Sorry for what?  Sorry for doing your job?  For asking me to do my job?  This is the kind of communication that pisses me off.  First, it assumes that my “break” is a time for me to be idle, a time I shouldn’t be bothered with “work.”  That’s not how I operate and I don’t allow anyone to work with a union clock-watching mindset.  I use “breaks” to work in a different setting with fewer distractions.  Second, never privilege my feelings or anyone else’s over doing your job as best you can.  My feelings don’t matter much to me and I don’t expect them to matter much to anyone else.  The only thing I care about is if you can move us closer to expected standard and vision while expressing our values.  Don’t let other people’s feelings distract you from maximizing your productivity and reaching your goal.  We do our best to bring in similar minded thick skinned people so work rhythm isn’t broken by someone who wants to cry about hurt feelings.

Phone call: 
I’m, uh, I’m may be like, I’m in traffic, I’m stuck in traffic so…
Cuts employee off: “you’re going to be late.”  Hang up on her.

Comment: Be concise, succinct.  There are customers to take care of, work to finish.  More importantly, excuses don’t matter.  Just let me know that you’re going to be late so I can make adjustments.  The reasons don’t matter.  If I’m curious, I’ll ask for reason. If you want to tell me the reason, find a better time to do so.

On the floor
Andrew, would be please get me some beets?
Edit: Andrew, beets.  (use tone and inflection to communicate urgency of request).

Comment: Be concise, succinct, even when it isn’t busy.  Practice to be prepared for busy periods, when wordiness can throw off rhythm and screw up service.  Le Bron James doesn’t ask Dwayne Wade: “Dwayne, would you please pass me the ball as I head toward the basket.”  Nor does he ask:  “please cover your man the best you can so he doesn’t score so easily.” There’s a reason why kitchens aren’t polite.  It’s inefficient and often dangerous to be so (this stock is heavy and boiling hot, get the fuck out of the way NOW).

No Shit Sandwiches
Barry Horowitz on management communicating to employees:

A popular and sometimes effective technique for feedback beginners is something that experienced managers call The Shit Sandwich. The technique is marvelously described in the classic management text, The One Minute Manager. The basic idea is that people open up to feedback far more if you start by complimenting them (slice of bread #1), then you give them the difficult message (the shit), then wrap up by reminding them how much you value their strengths (slice of bread #2). The shit sandwich also has the positive side effect of focusing the feedback on the behavior rather than the person, because you establish up front that you really value the person. This is a key concept in giving feedback.

The shit sandwich can work well with junior employees, but has the following challenges:

  • It tends to be overly formal. Because you have to preplan and script the sandwich to make it come out correctly, the process can feel formal and judgmental to the employee.
  • After you do it a couple of times, it will lack authenticity. The employee will think: “Oh boy, she’s complimenting me again. I know what’s coming next, the shit.”
  • More senior executives will recognize the shit sandwich immediately and it will have an instant negative effect.

Early in my career, I attempted to deliver a carefully crafted shit sandwich to a senior employee and she looked at me like I was a little kid and said: “Spare me the compliment, Ben, and just tell me what I did wrong.” At that point, I thought that I was definitely not born to be a CEO.

We don’t offer shit sandwiches because we don’t hire those who enjoy eating them.

Example of Shit Sandwich (click on link to watch scene from 25th Hour)

Observe how boss interacts with employee, and employee with colleague, employee with low level worker.  How does boss create a “shit sandwich?”  What’s the bread made of?  Is it appropriate for employee to reprimand the mail boy in such a way?  What did the mail boy do wrong?

What If Our Communication Style Bothers Customers?
We tend to not worry too much about customer feelings or sense of decorum.  We’re more concerned about their health and providing them high quality products as quickly as possible.  If some macho sexist douchebag who thinks women are ladies and men are chivalrous and everyone should be treated as such, he can lunch at McDonald’s, where employees are polite to each other. Or Hooters, where gender roles are absolute, never ambiguous.  Put simply, he, or she, can fuck off.  We don’t teach employees to become whiny and fragile.  We prepare them to become responsible and to thrive under pressure.

Thinking About Your Future
How one communicates will determine their place in life.  The higher up you go, the less polite people are, except to those far below them.  The higher up you go, the more concise and succinct the communication style, the faster the pace.  Choose your communication style based on what you want from life.



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