Communication is a Science – We Read Live Data

Communication is a science. I’m frankly tired of seeing it categorized as a soft skill as though it’s less important. Of course communication includes data. The trick with communication professionals is that we read and respond to data live.

Are soft skills “hot air?”

Soft Skills Venn Diagram

I saw this Venn Diagram and was offended at best.

Business people (marketing, sales, finance) are not inferior to software developers, engineers, and/or front-end designers. Every specialty has its training and technical side. Let’s respect expertise for what it is — expertise.

I commented on the blog. The author replied:

Thanks for commenting, Bridget. I did not create the Venn diagram, nor do I endorse it or its labels. It is used as a counterexample for classifying data science in an over-exclusive way.

Firstly, the fact that one didn’t create an image doesn’t remove one’s responsibility for it. What if it were hate speech? Why is it acceptable in the tech community to demean soft skills?

To be fair, this diagram and discussion brought something to the surface that I’ve been encountering since I began marketing as a career.

Data Requires Context

Sure. Pour over the data you have in Google Analytics. Make charts. Create ratios. Create forecasting models. That’s needed. I’m not against data.

But data alone isn’t the whole picture. Recently, a client noticed a drop in leads from Yelp. Is it because Yelp isn’t effective? That was the conclusion all too easy to jump to. Yet, what has changed? Quite a lot, actually. We began advertising on Facebook, we launched a new website with regular blog posts, and we started an Instagram account. Yelp isn’t less effective, it’s simply no longer the only star in the sky of data.

Context, a story, matters when interpreting data. That comes with soft skills. Anyone can collect data. But can you ask the right questions to interpret the data?

Brené Brown is now famous for saying, “Maybe stories are just data with a soul” in her TED talk. Stories give context to data. This is what makes data powerful. Otherwise any data can be manipulated for any purpose.

“Figures often beguile me particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'” Mark Twain

Are soft skills scientific?

They are. This is why behaviorism is a part of psychology. There are plenty of studies that look at inflection, tone, word choice, gestures, facial ticks, and body language. All of this is data. It’s being streamed through our senses and interpreted in real time by our brains.

Soft skills are scientific. We call them soft because it’s hard for us to define.

Those with business, marketing, sales, and communication skills read a different kind of data: it’s human data. It’s behavior and behavior patterns. We analyze body language, inflection, and tone. We decipher patterns and predict behavior in real time in order to adjust the conversation for affinity.

Whether online or in person affinity is key. Affinity leads to loyalty. Loyalty leads to sales. Of course, data is important, but it’s good to be reminded that data is a look at the past, not in the moment. Collected data is the autopsy. Soft skills are the preventive medicine.

“I’ve concluded that that data has the most impact when it’s wrapped in a story. …Data won’t get you standing ovation; stories will. Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire. Tell more of them.” Carmine Gallo, Harvard Business Review

Inspired by:

Engineering Data Science at Automattic

Kari Shea

Trust & Communication: Foundations of Any Relationship

Relationships take on many forms. We have business relationships with coworkers, employees, bosses, supervisors, vendors, and clients. We have family and spouse relationships. We have friends and people that we meet through mutual friends.

Each category of relationship has a different level of intimacy but the same basic element is required in them all: trust.

Communication in the Workplace

“In management settings, trust increases information sharing, openness, fluidity, and cooperation.” Amy J C Cuddy 

It’s easy in this age of technology to take communication for granted — to presume communication. In decades past we overly relied upon in-person meetings. They were deemed a waste of time. And then we moved to conference calls, which have become a total joke. And now, we’re expected to develop relationships and collaborate on projects  solely with text-based tools like Asana, BaseCamp, Trello, and Slack.

I read an article this week called “Let’s end the ‘schedule a call’ culture.’” In it the author says,

“I’m not entirely sure how we’re going to replace the schedule a call culture. Collaboration tools is probably the easiest answer, but … they have flaws too. Maybe we all just put our heads down and wait for the AI robots to take our jobs. But first, let’s discuss this schedule a call culture — albeit briefly.” Ted Bauer

My good friend John Locke and I both commented on this article that addresses both sides and I really liked this quote from his response to mine.

“I LOVE being in web development, because I get to choose who I work with, and though I have several bosses now (clients) it is night and day difference from working for THE MAN, which I did for a little over two decades.

In my current life, I’m happy to take phone calls with clients, because those are the folks I let through, and am agreeing to help. These are true partnerships with a common goal.

The “common goal” is what is missing in a lot of workplaces. Earning a living is reduced to a necessary evil, and there is constant struggle between Mangement and Employees.

We’re very lucky to be knowledge workers in the place and time that we are living in. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of broken workplaces in the digital world too #agencylife. But you and I are both very fortunate to have great bosses.” John Locke

Toxic Communication*

“In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.” Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

If you see warning signs early on in the relationship of unwanted behavior (badmouthing, gossip, indiscretion, inconsistent statements (lying), rudeness (especially to wait staff), irritability, tardiness, addiction, etc.), those red flags should be noted, especially if you notice a pattern.

People don’t improve their behavior as they get to know you; rather, they feel more comfortable and become more “themselves.”

Red flags are warnings to us all. We would be wise to heed them.

*I wish I didn’t feel the need to include this section; but I lived through it in workplaces for decades.

Nonverbal Communication

But how much communication is really verbal? This is wildly debated, but I would argue that if you only rely upon the written word you miss a lot.

“One way of increasing your accuracy is applying the 3 C’s of Nonverbal Communication: context, clusters, and congruence.” Psychology Today

In this world of text messages, email, and Slack, it’s a good time to talk about how much of communication is actually verbal — regardless of where you land on the research — there’s more to communication than the actual words.

So how do you project warmth and build relationships in a (primarily) digital age?

Open Communication

Trust comes from open communication. Open communication occurs when people feel safe. We like to think it’s more complicated than that. It’s not.

You see, if the conditions are wrong, we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other, and that inherently weakens the organization. When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.” Simon Sinek 

How can you make people feel safe?

In their article called “Connect, Then Lead” on Harvard Business Review, authors Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger say:

“A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. Even a few small nonverbal signals—a nod, a smile, an open gesture—can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns. Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them.”

Communication & Culture

Culture comes from how a group relates to each other. This can be good or bad. So, intentional community building is all the rage these days. Companies who are intentional with their culture protect their culture. They seem to do this in one of two ways: either they all work in-house or have regular meetings on video (Buffer, Automattic are two examples).

“There needs to be no advantage to being in the office, and no disadvantage to being out of the office.”” Joel Gascoigne, Buffer (They have since gotten rid of their office in San Francisco.)

Regardless of your preference, company culture is definitely top-down.

When asked how a middle manager can affect company culture at a recent talk with Simon Sinek that I attended, Simon gave this advice: treat those in your realm of influence as you believe important. Meaning, do what you can where you can.

If you feel uncomfortable at your workplace, perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere.

It’s up to you.

Sometimes, believe it or not, it’s difficult to engage in conversations with people. If you want a better relationship, perhaps it’s up to you. Maybe you need to be the person who asks how they are doing, if they watched [insert sports game here] last night, or patted them on the back (verbally, with emojis, or giphys in Slack) for a job well done.



Remote Work: 8 (ish) Weeks In

Remote work is about managing expectations.

If you haven’t already heard, I started a new job, career, and life over at WordImpress in San Diego December 1, 2015.

People seem to think this would be super hard. I get asked by almost everyone I know,

“How do you like working from home? Is it hard?”

I like it. It’s not that hard.

Okay. Backup.

Yes, I had some trouble at first. But it was about expectations – mine, my husband’s, and those of my friends.

It’s a real job.

I am not a freelancer. I am accountable. I’m part of a team. Teams communicate. We use Slack, Asana, Google Hangouts, email, texting, and — wait for it — the phone. It’s great. I’ve had zero trouble communicating effectively with Team San Diego.

But with friends, it’s been a bit different.

I don’t have the option to go out for a two hour coffee. I have tasks and deadlines. Two hour coffee dates are why Saturdays were invented.

Enough said.  Read more Remote Work: 8 (ish) Weeks In