Discover Benelux | Business | Columns
What communicates? TEXT & ILLUSTRATION: JOSIAH FISK
Do you walk to work or do you carry your lunch? In filling out forms, answering surveys or taking tests, we’ve all come across poorly constructed questions like this. They are examples of the most merciless principle in communications: the curse of knowledge. By a cruel trick of fate, the human brain is far better at making sentences that correspond to an intended meaning than at detecting the presence of unintended meanings. The result is that everybody else sees the other meanings before the writer does. Knowing what you wanted to say keeps you from recognising what you said. In tests and surveys, this can be a big problem. A few poorly written questions can undermine the validity of test scores or research results, creating mayhem and wasting money. This is where Ashra Sugito comes in. Ashra is a language specialist at Teelen Kennismanagement, a training and testing company in
Wilp, the Netherlands. Finding and fixing muddled questions is her speciality. Here’s an example she provides from an actual test: Why does the national meteorological institute record the temperature at a large number of measuring stations every hour? Clearly the writer had a particular answer in mind, but what? Is the “why” about the recording, the temperature, the large number, or the hourly frequency? We have no way of knowing. How to fix this? Ashra suggests rewording the question as a statement, then adding a spe-
cific follow on question, such as “Give one reason why they do this every hour”. If the question was meant to get at multiple issues, you would simply add another question for each Josiah Fisk issue. As solutions go, this is pretty basic and humdrum. That’s the point. The work is in finding the problem — meaning, not just finding failures of clarity but figuring out exactly what’s wrong. The curse of knowledge isn’t irremediable. With practice, it can be overcome quite effectively. But it’s hard. In the meantime, there are people like Ashra to keep you out of trouble. Josiah Fisk is the head of More Carrot LLC, a clear communications company with offices in Boston and Luxembourg.
Some simple ways to lead TEXT: STEVE FLINDERS | PRESS PHOTO
Most great leaders don’t get there overnight but if you give it time and focus, I believe many of us can learn how to lead well. Here are some ideas. Ask three questions. A young South American manager working for Nestlé in France once told me: “I ask my people three questions every week: 1 “What do you think I’m doing right?” 2 “What do you think I’m doing wrong?” and 3 “What do you want me to do more of?” Listening to and acting on their answers helped him a lot. It takes courage, but can help us all lead better. Say what you do. Developing people is a critical management function: it helps you, your people and your organisation. But sometimes even good leaders have problems telling other people how they lead. So: 1. Think about what you do as a leader so that 2. You know what you do (and asking those three questions will help) so that 3. You can say what you do, and then 4. You can tell other people what you do. Achieving skills transfer in this way raises individual
80 | Issue 12 | December 2014
and team performance and makes you more articulate. Define your next challenge/s. No doubt you have been given targets by your organisation. But what about your own professional and personal targets? What challenge are you putting off as too difficult, complicated or terrifying? Presenting to 5,000 people? Negotiating in a foreign language? Taking over the big project? And personal challenges? Jumping out of a plane? (with a parachute); white water rafting? Don’t wait until your bucket list is as long as your arm. Write down one professional and one personal target every six months and, as you stretch yourself each time, your ability to overcome your fears and dare further will develop too. Keep a diary. To write down your challenges and other achievements of which you’re proud. As you look back through your diary over the years, you will see and feel positive about your progress. By asking those three questions, being able to tell others how you do what you do, setting yourself regular challenges, and recording your progress, it won’t be so long before you start to amaze yourself and others too. Best wishes for your future leadership career.
Steve Flinders Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, consultant, writer and coach who helps people develop their communication skills for working internationally. He’s also a member of the steering group of Coaching York which aspires to make York the coaching capital of the UK (www.coachingyork.co.uk): firstname.lastname@example.org
Promoting Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg.