Are you really playing catch or are you just throwing?

People regularly ask me if I am a full-time blogger. This always makes me laugh. I assume that would mean that I blog 24-hours a day. Which would make it really hard to shower. Or trim my fingernails. I actually have several other responsibilities. I am the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. And when I am not blogging or foundering I spend my time husbanding and fathering.

Fathering

I got my fist job as a father in 2005. Since then I have tripled my responsibilities. My youngest son is a 7-year old viking named Magnus who inherited my love for football.  In fact we toss a football around every morning while waiting for the school bus.

Yesterday Magnus must have eaten his Wheaties (which is a reference that you’ll only understand if you were born before 1980). Because every time Magnus tossed the ball he threw it way over my head. So I jogged to pick up the ball, and tossed it back. But after several of these Wheaties-fueled throws I stopped and asked Magnus,

‘Are we playing catch, or are you just playing throw?’

 

 

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Magnus always wants me to go long.

As I asked the question I recognized that Magnus’ approach was emblematic of a common problem that occurs every day in communications. Both personal and professional.

Tossing Marketing Messages

In the most basic form, marketing communications are a simple game of catch. The game starts with a marketer throwing a message to a prospective buyer. The prospective buyer catches the message and throws his or her message back. That message could be, I’m interested, I’m not interested, I’m confused, or Tell me more. As long as you are communicating there is an opportunity to get to a mutually beneficial transaction.

But far too often marketers throw their messages the way Magnus threw the football. Hard. Fast. High. Marketers are focused on their own perspective. In their eagerness to drive results (ROI) they shout what they think is important. They don’t think enough about the person at the other end of the message. Thus, their message sails way over the head of the intended recipient. And there is no reply at all.

Before you throw your next message: 

  1. Know who you are throwing to.
  2. Understand how they like to catch.
  3. Account for the distance.
  4. Throw something catchable.
  5. Observe what happens when you throw your message, and recalibrate accordingly.
  6. Prepare to receive the message that gets tossed back to you.

Remember, communication is a two-way interaction. Account for your audience in everything you do. Make it an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. When you do you’ll be surprised how many people will happily play catch with you.

If you found anything I threw your way useful, or think I am off target, please share a comment or subsrcibe to this blog so we can keep playing catch.

 

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The simple way to make anyone feel like an insider.

I want you to try an experiment. Over the next 24 hours note how many people you encounter that you don’t know. I warn you, it may freak you out. Most of us live anonymously in a sea of strangers. They are everywhere. Like minivans. Yet we have become immune to these strangers that surround us. It’s as if they disappear when we ignore them. Like reality TV stars.

I was reminded of my own anonimity recently at my gym. After I scanned my membership card, the guy who routinely works at the reception desk said, “Have a good day, man”. A normal person would have just done what they were told, and had a nice day. But instead, I had a flashback to college…

It was my freshman year at the University of Wisconsin. I was on the track team, and was lifting weights in the weight room (research indicates that’s the best place for such activities). One of the football players who I saw regularly walked through the room. When he passed by he said, “Hey! What’s up man?”  I replied with something like, “Hey, Man. What’s up?’ I thought nothing of it.

But then he stopped and asked, ‘What your name?’

I said, ‘Adam’ (that’s my go-to answer).

We shook hands.

He said “My name’s Aaron. Enough of this bullshit, saying, “Hey man.” or “What’s up bro?” F-that! I see you in here every day.  We should know each other’s names!’

Aaron ‘Scrappy’ Norvell was right. It was bullshit that we would repeatedly see each other, even greet each other, and not know each other’s names. After this introduction he was no longer a guy I saw. He was a guy I knew. The difference is profound.

I expect I wasn’t the only person Scrappy made an effort to get to know by name (he currently has 4,912 friends on Facebook).  He is  funny, outgoing and entertaining. We would see a lot of each other over the next few years in Madison. Today, he is an actor in Hollywood.  If you ever need to cast a police officer, Obama look-a-like, former college linebacker, or someone who can deliver the line, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ he is your guy.

Now, back to the story…

With this random flashback playing in my head, I asked the guy working the counter at Elite Sports Club, “What’s your name?’  He replied, ‘Andrew’. I said, ‘My name is Adam’ (that’s my go to).  We shook hands. Now, every time I walk into the gym we greet each other by name. We have real conversations. Instead of an awkward, “Hey-Man” relationship.

Insiders vs Outsiders

Everyone we encounter in business, at social gatherings and at the grocery store are either Insiders or Outsiders.  The difference is whether or not we know each other by name.  That sense of familiarity and friendship that can only develop once you know a person’s name makes an enormous difference on this planet, where we are so often surrounded by John and Jane Does (that was supposed to be Doe-plural. But it looks like does, doesn’t it?).

I think about names at work. At the advertising agency, The Weaponry, we encounter people when we visit our clients that we don’t have to know by name. The receptionists. The people who sit next to the conference rooms where we make too much noise.  The IT person who inevitably saves every presentation. But I want to meet them too. So I make a habit of introducing myself, by name. Suddenly we are not just people who see each other regularly. We become people who know each other, by name.

I encourage you to convert more of those people you see or say hello to regularly into people you really know by name. It’s easy. Introduce yourself, by name and ask for their name in return. Write the names down. Start a list with a description of who they are on your phone or in a notebook. Refer back to the list as neccesary. The rewards are profound.  Just ask Andrew from Elite. Or Norm from Cheers.

The one thing you need to know to effectively work a room.

We’ve all been told not to talk to strangers. But I love strangers. The stranger the better. This may be because I have moved a lot. Which means I’ve often found myself amongst people I don’t know. But most people are less comfortable with total strangers than I am. This is probably a good human survival mechanism. A mechanism I lack.

As the Founder of The Weaponry, I know that the ability to talk to strangers is critical for entrepreneurs. If you don’t talk to strangers you are not growing your business. Or helping  anyone else grow theirs. When I meet a potential new client, it is our ability to connect as humans first that leads to us working together.

I believe in building on my strengths. So recently I listened to the audio book How To Work A Room by Susan RoAne.  I figured I would find a valuable new nugget or two.  And I did.

The most important thing I learned from the book is this:

When people find themselves with other people they don’t know, they adopt one of two behaviors:  1. A guest mindset. or 2. A host mindset.

The guest mindset adopts the attitude of the outsider, of the person who waits for others to make the first move. They wait to be introduced, or welcomed or fed. They wait to join or participate until they receive an invitation. If you have a party full of guest-mindsets, you don’t have a party.

The host mindset means you initiate. You welcome others, introduce them, offer them food or drink or a crack at catching the greased pig (depending on what kind of event you typically attend).  You activate the party. If you want to feel at home and enjoy any group of strangers, take on a host mindset.

This is what I do. I just didn’t have a name for it. I don’t wait for someone else to decide whether or not I am worthy to talk to (I probably am not).  I make the first move. I create the introduction. I act as if it were my job to make people feel welcomed.

I’ve found that when you don’t worry about rejection you don’t get rejected. Think of it like a Junior High dance. You just have to walk up to someone and say, ‘Stairway to Heaven is a sweet tune. Let’s dance. And let’s not worry about the fact that this song will gradually speed up, and we’re going to go from a slow dance into a full-on rock song, and we won’t know when we should stop holding on to each other.’ Remember the Stairway analogy. Because holding on to one person too long at a social gathering also becomes awkward.

If you want to enjoy a room full of strangers more, lose the Stranger Danger, and act like it’s your party, your wedding, your conference or luncheon.  Start by introducing yourself to others. Ask people about themselves. So, where are you from? What do you do for work? Where did you go to school?  How do you know the homeowner?  Why are your palms so sweaty?  Why the neck tatttoo?

There are people at every gathering who are just dying for someone else to make the first move. They don’t know they should be doing it. Because they never read this blog. Or How To Work A Room. Or danced with me in Junior High. Help them out. Be a host. They may be extremely interesting or valuable to you. They’re just not comfortable initiating. So you have to be. And you’ll enjoy the rewards.  You never know when that total stranger may have the kindness, connection or kidney you need.

Instantly sound more trustworthy by dropping these words.

I love words. I understand, value and utilize the power they each hold. As a professional creative, I prescribe words like a doctor prescribes medicine. People hire me to find the right words to make their brands, products and services sound as attractive as possible.

Just as words have the power to make people, places and things sound more attractive, they can also make them sound uglier. I know which words make me sound like me is dumb. And I know which words make you sound pervy.

In America, we constantly introduce new words and phrases into our banter to see what sticks. Some of these are interesting and innovative (Emoji, FOMO, Photobomb). Some of them are moronic  (Totes, Obvi). Either way, blame Kanye.

Today, there are two unfortunate phrases that are clinging to conversations like cockleburs on corduroy.  If they haven’t arrived in your neck of the cell tower yet, they are coming. I’m referring to the increased use of, “To be honest’ and her twin sister, ” To tell you the truth”.  I know deep down you know this, but when you tack these unnecessary qualifiers onto any other statement, you have told the person on the receiving end of the statement, “Usually I lie to you.’ Or ‘Most of the time I just make up shit without verifying.’

At The Perfect Agency Project we are especially concerned about removing these phrases from business. We don’t want your salespeople or customers support staff dropping, ‘If I’m being honest’ or ‘To be completely truthful’ on your customers and potential clients.  This undermines the trustworthiness bestowed upon your brand. And that will end up costing both you and I real money.

Please coach your team out of using these phrases. You can do that by sharing this post. Or you could do what I do when people drop these phrases on me. I respond immediately to the errant statement with, “Thank you for being honest with me.” The response I get is always very WTF-y. Because people are not thinking about what they are saying.  But I want you to. I want you to sound smart. And trustworthy. And professional. But, hey, It’s all good.*

*’It’s all good’ has been rated as the funniest cocklebur-phrase of all-time by The Perfect Agency Project. Because it is almost always used in instances where something, if not everything, is not good at all.

The first step to make your team work.

Organizations are messy. Because they are made of humans. And humans are unpredictable animals. If you work in a business that trades in creativity, like I do, you deal with even more interesting dynamics. One of the challenges of professional creativity is that it tries to combine professionalism with non-traditional thinking and behaviors.  These can make for strange bedfellows. (Why do we say bedfellows?  Why couldn’t it be umbrellafellows? Or picnicblanketfellows? Or pewfellows?)

Sometimes teamwork is magical.  Other times it is, well, not magical.

Because when humans are involved things go wrong. In fact, there are things that go wrong in organizations every day.  It is not the avoidance of mistakes that makes a company great. It is how we respond to those mistakes that determines the health and strength of the organization and its culture.

I have discovered a very simple guiding principle that helps organizations thrive, even when things go wrong. It’s The Assumption of Positive Intent. It requires that everyone on the team assumes that the actions, choices, statements and decisions of others were made with positive intentions.

It comes down to believing that your teammates are good people who mean well. Even when their intentions aren’t clearly understood.

At the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, the Assumption of Positive Intent is core to our culture. This simple assumption has a number of positive effects.  First, it makes us all see each other as good people. It makes me feel better to feel like I am surrounded by good people who want to do good things. High morals and ethical standards are important. We should believe in each other and support one another until we have irrefutable proof that we should not.

The next benefit of the Assumption of Positive Intent is that it encourages people to take action. Make a move, make an impact, make a difference. We’ll support you. We won’t crucify you if it doesn’t work out perfectly. Because we assume you want to make great things happen. Even if an attempt fails. So go ahead, introduce New Coke. Have Kendall Jenner hand a cop a Pepsi. Or stick your chocolate in my peanut butter.  One of those things will work.

The word assumption often has a negative connotation in business and other performance-oriented environments. Because it indicates that we make judgements or decide without knowing. We’ve all heard the saying that when you assume you makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.  While that is a clever word play, the statement fails to recognize an important reality.  When you assume positive intent, you give people the benefit of the doubt. You presume the good. You believe in the best or most optimistic scenario.  And when you believe in good, you believe in people. This builds a culture of trust.

A Simple 5-Step Formula.

When you encounter an action that you don’t understand try these 5 simple steps:

  1. Assume positive intent
  2. Talk about the issue with the person or people involved.
  3. Make it clear that you assume they meant well and seek a better understanding.
  4. Listen for understanding
  5. Play back what you heard.

I believe in people. I think we all want to be part of a great team  The best way to set our teams up for the greatest success it to minimize the stress on the relationships between teammates. If we assume positive intent at all times, we will get the best out of each other. We will enjoy the attempts. Even when they #fail.