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You Gotta Know When To Fold In

Congratulations to Catherine O'Hara on her Golden Globes win for her role as Moira on Schitts Creek. I've been a fan since her movie career peaked in the 80's and 90's, and I will still watch any Christopher Guest mockumentary where she and Eugene Levy are playing opposite each other. One particular scene from SC demonstrated why I love her performance on this show so much, as she's trying to demonstrate a recipe to her son, David.

Hilarious, right? I've worked with a Moira before, although mine didn't suffer from a case of incompetence; just the opposite, my Moira was very analytically and mathematically smart. The problem was that my Moira couldn't translate that intelligence into meaningful communication. It was a classic case of the curse of knowledge; my Moira assumed that everyone around them knew as much as they did and quickly shut down communication (instead of ramping it up) when that assumption was violated. When I would ask questions to gain understanding, my Moira would shut things down further by saying, "Well, you should know that by now" or "You obviously don't understand our business." After multiple attempts to coach my Moira into better communication, I pulled a David and we parted company. I never bothered to follow up on how the project went for Moira, but I'm guessing their communication skills never improved.

In our attempts to communicate, we often take for granted simple phrases that can be interpreted multiple ways. As a communicator, it's helpful to put yourself into the mindset of the receiver of the communication. Ask yourself, "How MIGHT this be interpreted?" or better yet, "How MIGHT this be MISinterpreted?" Following a class lecture on this vein, one of my students sent me the following video on misinterpreting instructions: 

Equally hilarious, it really drives home how easily our simple messages can be misinterpreted. Of course, it takes a level of humility to admit we may not be communicating clearly and a level of curiosity to ask our communication receivers where the breakdowns are and where we might improve. As an instructor, I go over each semester at the end and look at where students ask the most questions for clarity; those lectures become my highest priority for upgrades the following semester. As a project manager, I look at where my team and I may not be on the same page, and I make inquiries to determine how we might make it better.

How is your communication? Where are you finding people misunderstanding you? Where are you getting frustrated? Now, how can you step back, break down your message into its simplest components, hone the clarifying points, and "fold them into" your conversations? By doing so, you can better brand your messaging (and yourself).


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