No ‘maybes’ about it

I was raised to be polite.  In 10th grade, after I’d answered a teacher’s question with what I thought to be aplomb, the smartest person in class turned around and said, “You know what you are?  You’re obsequious.”

I thought of course that she was paying me a compliment, but I wasn’t quite sure.  She saw that I was smiling still and said, “You don’t know what that word means, do you?”


“Look it up.  You’ll see.”

And it was me!  I was in fact, ‘subservient to a fault’.  I still am.  I find it easy to put myself in a service mode – a parent, a client, and, as it turns out, even people working on my behalf.

Because of this blessing-curse, I found myself, as a Producer of corporate media, able to harness the talents of people – often much older than me – through the use of humble requests.   ‘If you have time, do you think you might be able to…’   It’s what I call the ‘little-boy-lost’ approach.  “Maybe you could help me…”  It worked beautifully for my sales efforts, and, I thought until recently, for carrying out my desires from those supporting my production efforts.

Well, as much as the idea of the ‘request’ (vs. an order) is still, in my view, the only way to engage others (respect for the individual and all that), I’ve recognized that I was taking this subservience to a level that was unnecessary, and, worse yet, counter productive to clear communication of my desired outcome.

Example: “Maybe you could spend an hour or two developing something…”

Maybe?  Perhaps?   I realized these simple words of politeness were leaving open the possibility that I wasn’t sure what I actually wanted to have that person do.

“I thought I asked you do that,” I’d say, miffed that my authority was being undermined.

But when I went back to the emails, it became clear.  I was leaving it ambiguous, giving the requestee an option.  Thanks to my Business Partner and other coaches, I’ve been issuing more direct requests; ones that allow me to hold the person more accountable and better insure that things get done.

“Can you please spend an hour or two…,” still sounds polite, but it forces the recipient to be accountable.

It’s semantics.  But, in communications, it’s usually the communications that are the problem.  As it is with so many aspects of life, directness in business communications can be a valuable trait.


Is the exclamation point dead or just wounded?

Since my headlong plunge into ‘business media’ via LinkedIn and the invasion of a band of summer interns, one of the most important things I’ve discovered is that there are some people – well, a lot of people – who seem to feel the exclamation point is often overused. And a mirror’s been held to my face.  Guilty as charged!  I mean, Guilty.  Period.

Attitude for me has always been the most important aspect of a business relationship.  As long as we’re both positive, or at least constructive and moving forward, then things get done.  As Stevie Wonder said, ” ‘Cause when you’re livin’ in the positive, your destination is the brightest stah-ah-ar.”*  The exclamation point has always been a way for me to say, “I’m loving this business thing.  It’s fun.”   I can see now how, with the right word choices, the exclamation point can actually get in the way of the message.

So let’s say good-bye to some of the heavy punctuation and start assuming a positive attitude is present in each of us doing the business of a Smarter Planet. Though I feel I am losing something, I think I’m communicating a bit better.  And that’s what really matters, right?  Can I get an amen?!

Stevie Wonder – Masterblaster MP3