Thursday, January 19, 2012

Your Name – Make Sure Others Know It!

It can be frustrating when you introduce yourself, others don’t understand your name, and you must say it again. And again. Yet names that are foreign-sounding (to your audience) or are spelled in an unusual way do pose a real problem for listeners, especially on the phone. And just as you tire of repeating your name, listeners are embarrassed to keep asking.

I’ve got a tip on how to ensure that others spell your name correctly. Also I’ve come across a new resource that allows you to actually record your name and post it for others to hear.

The International Phonetic Code

Pilots and soldiers in the military have long used a phonetic code system whereby letters identify names or words in spoken messages. Below is that alphabet. Instead of saying Obama, for example, a soldier or pilot would simply say: Oscar, Bravo, Alpha, Mike, Alpha.

Prepare your listener to understand your name

To ensure that a listener understands my name, I can use the phonetic code words to be clear about the spelling and pronunciation. I would say the following on the telephone if I am not understood: “My name is Jolinda. I’ll spell it. J as in Juliet, O as in Oscar, L as in Lima, I as in India, N as in November, D as in Delta, A as in Alpha. Jolinda.”

Make sure to preface the spelling by alerting the listener that you are going to spell your name. While the list above is “official,” you can change words if you feel others won’t recognize them. Just make sure the word you substitute is understandable. For example, you might say, “T as in teacher,” (instead of T as in Tango), but don’t choose to use the word “that” which starts with a T but begins a sound “th.”

An online tool for pronouncing names

I just read about Audioname, a start up company headed by Sheetal Dube. She’s an Indian entrepreneur in Oregon who recognized how awkward it was for others to pronounce her name during those critical first minutes of a business conversation. Her free software tool enables users to easily record their names, post those recordings on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, or even add them to blogs and websites.You might find this tool helpful if people have difficulty understanding your name.

Your name is important. In business it can be your brand.  Take the time to help others spell and pronounce your name.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Be Your Team's Devil's Advocate

I’ve been catching up on reading, and a recent article in the New York Times Business section struck me as useful to share: Every Team Should Have a Devil’s Advocate.  Becoming a devil’s advocate at work has some advantages, and good communication strategies can help you take on that role

There is a legitimate place for a Devil Advocate

A devil’s advocate is someone who raises difficult questions and argues a position or viewpoint that he or she may not necessarily agree with in order to engage others in a discussion. The value of such a discussion is to test the validity of the argument or proposed action, identify weaknesses or invalid assumptions, and improve or abandon the original idea or proposed action.

The name “devil’s advocate” was originally given to a lawyer in 16th century  Europe who was assigned to argue against the Catholic Church’s assertion that a certain person should be made a saint (canonized).  The Devil’s Advocate was supposed to be skeptical and critical, and thus ensure the accuracy by the Church of all evidence of saintly acts by the person being considered.

A devil’s advocate is more than a naysayer

At work, we often dislike skeptics, but we certainly need more of them, according to Ori Hadomi, CEO of Mazor Robotics in Israel. Every Team Should Have a Devil's Advocate Often teams of employees are too positive in their group thinking, or they simply nod at whatever idea senior management suggests, without giving the idea a hard look. Hadomi actually appoints one of his executives to play devil’s advocate. Such a person challenges the group’s thinking, asks the hard questions, and punches holes in assumptions.

How to be an effective devil’s advocate

Following are three strategies for being an effective devil’s advocate:
·        In advance of the meeting, inform the meeting facilitator that you are going to raise some questions. That way the facilitator won’t be caught off-guard and misunderstand your misgivings, will expect you to speak up, and will allow you time to voice questions and concerns.
·        Start your remarks by saying, “I’m going to play devil’s advocate.” Others will know, then, that you are going to raise some hard questions or make comments on the proposal, but that you don’t necessarily agree with all the points.
·        Respond to others’ comments or arguments by saying, “Let’s look at this differently.”  Or,  “What if we make a different assumption?”  Or, “I think we should consider a completely different approach.”  

An effective devil’s advocate enlarges the conversation and ensures that all the issues and concerns are addresses.   If you choose to play devil’s advocate and use the communication strategies I bulleted, you’ll be appreciated at work for your insightful thinking and for helping the group arrive at a solid decision.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Liquid Networks and Random Collisions

I recently read Steve Johnson’s fascinating book,Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation The book’s premise is that innovation depends upon the capacity of organisms (and individuals) to make as many new connections as possible, and to be in environments that encourage random collisions among all elements of a system. 

The author covers a lot of ground – from the origins of carbon-based life on earth, to the complex structure of coral reefs, to the science of neurons and synapses in the brain, to the richness of cities, to the intricacies of technological platforms. A common factor that leads to diversity and innovation anywhere in the universe is plasticity and connectivity.  

How does this premise relate to communication at work?

I work with many engineers and managers at high-tech companies. I regularly see people sitting alone for long hours in their cubicles. They may skip lunch, or else rush to the café, get takeaway food, and return to their drab gray walls to work alone. Of course some work requires concentration, but the lack of connections with others outside their immediate teams may preclude them from those new connections and random collisions that spark innovative ideas.

Thus, a conscious effort to engage new people in different ways can be helpful to your work and career.  Engagement is actually easy if it becomes a priority. Sit in your company café rather than return to your cubicle. Take advantage of the company fitness room. Attend the quarterly team building offsite event. Make it your goal to strike up a conversation with someone in the elevator, or who commutes with you, or whose car is parked next to yours in the lot.

A flowing, energizing 2012

My intention this year is to make put myself in new situations, communicate with new people and unfamiliar environments, and thus be open to the creative, liquid flow of possibilities. It does take effort and energy to attend a lecture, dance, sports event, or neighborhood gathering. I try to keep in mind that the others are also hesitant, unsure what to talk about, and convinced everyone else is already connected. Instead I am going to focus on the potential payback: greater insights and a richness of experiences that will prime my brain to link it all in some amazing way to spark a new idea.

I wish you an innovative year.