Speaking of great communicators

You know that moment when your friend or loved one looks at you with a blank stare, as if you’re speaking complete gibberish? I guess we’ve all experienced it.

It’s the look that says: I think you’re trying to communicate with me, but I don’t have a clue what you’re going on about.

Even when two people speak the same language, they aren’t really communicating without a common frame of reference. Maybe it’s a generational gap or cultural differences. Sometimes it’s related to the region where we grew up. And the breakdown in communications over political dogma these days is enough to make some folks go crazy.

As I get older, I seem to be on both the giving and receiving end of that stare a lot. Unfortunately, it’s more often related to poor memory!

“Who was that woman?”

“What woman?”

“You know, that woman with the red hair…  You were talking to her about that charity event the other day at that restaurant.”

“What woman was that? Which charity? At which restaurant?!”

“You know… The one whose husband, whatshisname, works at that place near the school…?”

(sigh)

Martin Luther King, Jr. imageSome people are simply great communicators — they always try to put ideas into a context familiar to their audience.

Of course, it’s fitting to pay tribute to accomplished orators on the day we honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

As for the rest of us, we could really use a thingamajig that can read our, you know, minds.

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“Well honey, you knew it was coming”

holiday lightsThe holidays always sneak up on me. Year after year. One minute I’m basking in the sunshine on a warm summer day, and the next it’s all a blur of twinkling lights, baking and a sprint to the last shopping day.

One year I lamented to my mother-in-law that I couldn’t believe the holidays were almost here and I still had so much to do. She replied, “Well honey, you knew it was coming, didn’t you?”

Yes, of course she was correct. I do indeed have access to a calendar. Yet it’s still the same pandemonium every time.

I’m beginning to think I subconsciously block it out as a form of denial.

If I just ignore the season, maybe we can skip right to January; no muss, no fuss. And the older I get, the less energy I have for all the fuss.

But more and more, I cherish the time spent with family and friends. That is what the holidays are really all about to me. If only I had more time…

Oops, I’ve got to dash now. So much still to do, you know!

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The fiscal cliff looms large

Perhaps the Mayans were right after all. It’s the end of the year 2012 and we are all about to meet our doom by charging off a fiscal cliff. The “greatest nation on earth” is about to take a header into nothingness like Wile E. Coyote.

wile-e-coyoteTo hear the pundits debate the issue, it does sound like the end of the world as we know it. Granted, this is a serious matter. Whichever path Congress decides to follow will have a significant impact on our economy – either in 2013 or for the next generation. But the U.S. has faced more substantial turning points before.

Why is the fiscal cliff such a big deal?

It’s all about the visual imagery. A persuasive argument has been created with little more than descriptive language that conjures up visceral feelings of panic. In our collective imagination, we will soon plunge into the abyss.

Or will we? Language can be used to create positive imagery just as effectively as it can create fear. Perhaps if we framed the argument differently we could see the outcome in a more optimistic light. For example, by shedding some of our national debt we might lighten the load enough to soar off the cliff and fly to the heavens in sheer economic bliss!

No… on second thought, probably not.

But we just might survive anyway. Wile E. Coyote always does.

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The election is over… Can we tone down the political rhetoric?

Is there too much empty rhetoric today?

Hmmm…  Is that a rhetorical question?

With all of the different communications channels available today – social media, TV, newspapers, blogs, radio (terrestrial, satellite and Internet) – it seems like the level of noise and hyperbole has ramped up beyond belief. Do we really need to shout to be heard?

The world of politics offers a prime example. As news cycles get shorter and shorter, and the parties become more partisan, the ratio of substance vs. hot air is shrinking exponentially in today’s public discourse. Sometimes I think our collective train of thought has completely derailed.

Now don’t get me wrong; the sport of political dialogue can be entertaining. In fact, parsing the nonsense can be a fun diversion at times. But speech doesn’t have to be absurd to be effective, and we don’t need to shout to be noticed.

Effective use of clever, straight-forward language and images, targeted to the appropriate audience, can reap a much greater benefit than shouting or muck-raking.

Words can be extremely powerful when applied correctly… Use them wisely.

rhet·o·ric

noun

1.  (in writing or speech) the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast.

2.  the art or science of all specialized literary uses of language in prose or verse, including the figures of speech.

3.  the study of the effective use of language.

4.  the ability to use language effectively.

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Have we fallen through the looking-glass?

Just when you begin to doubt that truth really is stranger than fiction, someone pushes the envelope.

In Italy, six scientists and one government official were convicted of manslaughter for failing to give adequate warning of an earthquake that killed more than 300 people. Seriously, they have been sentenced to six years in prison because of an unpredictable force of nature.

One can only hope that the Italian justices are simply trying to prove a point of some kind; that they have no intention of following through on this sentence. However, even if that is the case, this is a frightening precedent.

Reason and rational thought is in jeopardy. What can we expect next … Witch hunt trials?

It appears as if we have fallen through the looking-glass with Alice. White is black; up is down. I don’t think the Cheshire cat is amused.

Alice through the looking glass

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All too often, intolerance lives at both ends of the spectrum.

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Reflections: Sorting complex emotions one year later

Grateful; wistful; hopeful; reflective. One year after the Bastrop County Complex fire – the worst wildfire in Texas’ history – the jumble of thoughts and emotions still remaining can only be called complex.

Most of all, I feel gratitude. I am thankful for the support and love of my husband and family. I am appreciative and proud of my community for its collective strength and resilience. I am glad we were home that holiday weekend so we could rescue our cat. I am most grateful that we are survivors.

Yes, every so often I still feel a bit wistful for our loss. The loss of cherished mementos, photos and family heirlooms is regrettable. Occasionally I am nostalgic about a particular lost item, like a favorite pair of well-worn, comfortable shoes – the only thing worse than shopping for new shoes is breaking in a new pair! Sadly, I’ve lost the feeling of being completely safe and secure in my own home; that sense of solidity evoked by the illusion of one’s home as a castle.

For the most part, however, I am saddened by the extent of the overwhelming destruction to an area beloved for its majestic pine trees and rare wildlife. We chose not to rebuild on our scorched land because the natural beauty that originally drew us there is now gone. Instead we bought a home in Bastrop’s historic downtown. We traded the solitude of the forest for new friends, and as much bustling activity as a sleepy small town can offer.

Of course the experience has left its mark. I’m more alert to the smell of fire and the wail of sirens. Windy conditions on a hot, dry day make me uneasy. I prefer to buy books, music and movies in digital form now, and save computer files on a portable hard drive that I take with me when I leave town. On the plus side, I no longer take for granted any time spent relaxing with family and friends. I am more appreciative of each new day.

I’m sure that my feelings are far from unique. In Bastrop County alone, more than 1,600 families lost their homes during Labor Day weekend of 2011. Not to mention the other Texas communities that suffered fires that hot and windy day. And for those who were uninsured or under-insured, help is still needed a year later.

Hope

Yet despite everything that has happened, I am hopeful for the future. Yes, we had a narrow escape from a fast-moving wildfire, and before we could even begin to rebuild our lives, I was laid off from my job just two months later. But our shared experience has brought us even closer, and after 24 years of marriage we cherish our time together more than ever before. Our community is rebuilding, and I’ve found the courage to take my career in a new direction.

In retrospect, if I could be transported back to the security and complacency of my life one year ago and regain all that was lost, I don’t think I would do it. The future is an open book now, and I can’t wait to read the next chapter.

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The more things change…

Today’s communications toolkit looks a bit different from the past. Social media is a must-have for everyone now. Whether you are engaging in online forums, tweeting, posting to  Facebook or jockeying to be a mayor on Foursquare,  it’s important to understand the dynamics of social networking.

But is social networking online really that much different from in-person communications? There is a great primer called The Top 25 Social Media Terms You Need To Know on the website “Social Media Today” that contains all the key terminology. Let’s take a look at some of these terms:

Viral: Anything shared across social networks that gets passed along rapidly… In your grandparents’ day, this was called gossip!

Authenticity: This concept certainly is not exclusive to the online world. When communicating in person, it is even more vital to remain true to your core message and values; otherwise, folks will see right through you.

Trending: A word, phrase or topic that is popular on Twitter at a given moment. In other words, a trend, or something trendy. Enough said.

Engage: Unless you are Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the starship Enterprise, the term engage means to relate or connect with others. This is the most basic concept of good communications both physically and digitally. And equally important is the ability to be polite and gracious when relating to others. No one likes a jerk.

Yes, there are some techniques and technologies that are unique to social networking online, and it is an important weapon to have in your arsenal. But social media is not as scary or foreign as some proponents make it out to be.

The underlying principles are not that different. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

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Contradicting Common Wisdom

In some respects, the world seems to be getting increasingly partisan and divided. In politics, for example, everyone is encouraged to take sides. Left or right, the 1% vs. the 99%, conservative or liberal… Are you for us, or against us?

But at the same time, the world is becoming more nuanced in many ways, less black and white — more gray, so to speak.

Common wisdom dictates that the old and the new don’t mix. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. For instance, witness the Twitter feed of @DalaiLama or the videos posted on his Youtube channel; ancient wisdom delivered at warp speed!

Or check out this Nielsen survey that says Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 are adopting smartphones at a faster rate than any other age group. Way to go, Baby Boomers!

But one of my favorite examples of this dichotomy is cited in a recent post on the Ecoleader’s Blog, titled “The Yin and Yang of Jeju Island: From Swimming Mermaids to Solar Energy.” A new smart grid project is poised to bring state-of-the-art renewable energy to Jeju Island, southwest of the Korean Peninsula. This island is home to traditional Korean haenyeo (female divers) that have gathered seafood for their communities for nearly two thousand years. Now Jeju Island is set to become the world’s largest Smart Grid community, with residential power to be provided by solar panels and wind turbines.

Personally, I love to see old and new technologies come together. Why not reap the benefits of all the resources at hand and take a more balanced approach to find the best possible solutions?

The same goes for a more moderate, less partisan rhetoric. We can all agree to disagree without getting ugly about the matter, can’t we? We just need a little more gray in our daily lives.

*Boxing image courtesy of the Library of Congress
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The “Oops” heard round the world

As we say in Texas, Rick Perry really stepped in it.  In fact, he might have completely annihilated any chances he may have had to win the Republican nomination with one little word.  Oops.

We all have an occasional brain freeze, right?  I mean, no one is perfect.  But Perry forgot one of the three basic tenets of his campaign rhetoric in the middle of a televised debate.  How can a politician recover from a gaffe like that?

When a communicator is left speechless on the public stage, the way they respond to the misstep is the key to whether they will sink or swim.  Even the slightest verbal stumble is made much worse if you fumble around or belabor the mistake.  Conversely, a polished communicator can often recover pretty quickly with the right mix of humor and humility, followed by bridging smoothly to another key message.  And of course, it’s vital to maintain poise and composure.

We all make mistakes, and sooner or later everyone winds up with egg on their face.  The outcome depends on how well you can wear it.

Oops.

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