Archive for March, 2012

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Relationship Building Technique

We often don’t learn the value of listening techniques in building relationships. Consequently, people might not realize we are listening; this needs to occur in relationship building.

Synchronization is using words or phrasing of the other person to ask, comment or respond. The technique facilitates communications by ensuring he and you are “speaking the same language.” It’s keying in on the person’s pet words and phrases that emphasize key thoughts or emotions. It can be difficult to use since it requires intense listening and conscious avoidance of mocking or mimicking. We might also require some time and experimentation to ensure we are using the person’s words the way he does.

Some examples of synchronization include:

  • Buzz words, for example:
    • “Reorg”
    • “Rush job”
    • “Strategize”
    • “Devi’s in the details”
  • Acronyms:
    • ASAP
    • RFP
    • Industry specific ones
  • Particular to person:
    • Person: “Run this by Sue before doing anything.” You: “Ok, I’ll run this by her first.”
    • Person: “This is an awesome idea.” You (later in the conversation): “I believe this other idea is awesome too.”
    • Person: “This report has some sound and strong recommendations.” You (later in conversation): “The reasoning behind Tom’s idea is sound and strong.”

From a relational perspective, synchronization conveys the feeling that you are:

  • Complimentary through subtleties
  • Connecting, recognizing similarities
  • “On the same page”

The effect of synchronization is to create:

  • Synergies
  • Perception of being on the same wave length
  • Establish and improve common understandings

Synchronization effectively builds relationships when integrated with other techniques.  It ensures that we use words the other person understands, thus reducing miscommunication. More importantly, since this technique, when done well, is very subtle, it promotes the development of relationships on a more interpersonal, emotional level.


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House of Arbitrariness & Conditionality


We often view measurements as unchangeable. A meter is a meter, a pound a pound. We often forget that at some time someone somewhere declared what those were and that they would be a standard. The point is this: arbitrariness underlies almost all objective standards by which we live.

For example, in the January 29, 2011 edition of The Economist, the article, “The Constant Gardeners”, explores the kilogram. The official standard is a platinum-iridium alloy cast in 1879. However, today, its weight seems to vary from its copies by up to 69 micrograms, about half a grain of sand, an important variance when weighing small things. So, the question is this: How heavy is a kilogram . . . really?

The relevancy to problem solving is similar to that which I wrote in my post, “Arbitrariness: The Cornerstone of Conditions”:

By searching for the underlying arbitrary aspect of any apparently objective situation, we can often find the perspective – when altered – that can cause us to see that situation in a different light.

For example, when someone asks us, “What’s the best way to get from A to B?” we often give the fastest route. The assumption being that the “best way” is “fastest” when “best” could have many different attributes. Over time, the best-fastest link becomes the arbitrary point – when altered – that sheds a different light on what route might be best such as the most scenic one or the most fuel-efficient.

As a more sophisticated example, consider our reliance upon “proven outcomes.” What does that mean especially when you cannot scientifically prove that good leadership begets good results? Thus, when we look at what it took to be proven, we often find that it’s subjective based upon who is determining what “good leadership” and “good results” are.


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Someone once asked me, “What are the twenty most influential books in your life?” I listed Roget’s Thesaurus as one. It gives us appreciation for the relationship between definitions and connotations so we can:

  • Defend ourselves since it’s a verbal martial arts guide
  • Find appealing names for initiatives, projects and services
  • Assess personalities better in real time since people’s words tell us much about them
  • Solve problems better since we often think in words

For example, consider someone calling you “stubborn.” Using the Fifth Edition edited by Robert L. Chapman, I immediately find six words from which to choose: persevering, obstinate, strict, tenacious, inflexible and tough. So, in response to your critic, you can reply, “Thank you, I do consider myself persevering.”

Don’t like this selection? Pick one and explore it. Since Roget’s groups words by categories, we can easily find similar groupings of many similar words including “determined.” Using this same approach, we can find appealing names for new initiatives and projects.

Want to gain insight into personalities? Listen to people’s words. Through words’ connotations, Roget’s helps us discover patterns and insights into how people view concepts, plans, things and people. For instance, someone who uses many order-oriented words in a positive way probably won’t like a plan giving people a lot of flexibility in their decision-making.

Lastly, since we use words to form thoughts, by looking at words differently and from many more perspectives, this will expand and alter our thought processes. Rather than see stubbornness as a problem, we might see it as a solution by discovering it is determination instead.

However, don’t be fooled by the increasingly popular alphabetical thesauruses. They don’t group words effectively. Thus, they don’t have nearly the magic and potency of a Roget’s.


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This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Relationship Building Technique

We often don’t learn the value of listening techniques in building relationships. Consequently, people might not realize we are listening; this needs to occur in relationship building.

Encouragement directs the other person to elaborate on a point. It’s similar to an acknowledgement except it’s a clearly worded, short statement expressing a more direct interest. It’s also more effective in directing conversation to a previous point. Encouragement usually occurs as a conversational transition from open-ended questions to closed questions.

Some examples of encouragements include:

  • Short statements such as:
    • “Tell me more . . .”
    • “Explain that further …”
    • “Please elaborate …”
    • “Please explain, I’m not sure I understand . . .”
  • Redirections of conversation such as:
    • “A few minutes ago you mentioned the analysis that was done by the group, tell me more about that and its findings.”
    • “Please go back to your comments regarding when you started the project and tell me more about that.”
    • “You mentioned that earlier as well. Elaborate on it since it’s obviously important to you and the team.”

From a relational perspective, encouragements convey the feeling that you are:

  • Interested in the conversation
  • Closely listening when you are able to redirect conversation to a previous point
  • Remembering what was said earlier

The effect of encouragements is to:

  • Encourage further comments especially from quiet people
  • Substantially increase receptivity when redirection occurs
  • Move the conversation to a more personal or confidential level

Encouragements effectively build relationships when integrated with other techniques.  They promote a more casual, interactive, directed and friendly conversation as opposed to an interrogative one. More importantly, through redirection of the conversation to a previous point, they can dramatically convey to others that you’re listening to them.


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A while back, a manager requested my advice about moving a stalled initiative forward. She had sat down with her boss several times to discuss this, but nothing seemed to come from these meetings. After sharing with me her previous conversations on this, I noticed a trend and asked, “Have you ever asked your boss for help?”

She paused and then slowly responded, “No, I haven’t.” So, I went on to suggest that the next time she discusses this initiative with her boss that she begin by asking, “Nancy, I could use your help on something. May I discuss it with you?”

After her boss says, “Yes,” she is to thank her first, then describe her plan for moving the initiative forward and specifically telling her boss how she can help by asking, “Nancy, can you help me by doing . . .?”

Many times, as this manager did, we just expect bosses to suggest their help when we explain a situation. We might also be uncomfortable delegating upward, appearing inadequate or possibly receiving a rejection.

In this situation, the manager successfully moved the initiative forward by following this approach, but the point is this: bosses like to feel helpful too – they’re human. Of course, asking the right way helps. Bosses are more likely to help if we ask in a way that ties their help to us. This personifies our request. For instance, asking, “Can you help me by doing . . .” is much better than just asking, “Can you help?”

So, the next time a project stalls, an effort becomes difficult or a roadblock appears, ask your boss for help. Not only might you solve the problem at hand, but you might build a stronger relationship with your boss.


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Even though writing down the problem can help us solve it, it’s also a form of defining the problem. Thus, we will tend to define problems according to a nomenclature that we typically use. Since problems don’t care how we define them, our problem-solving approach problem will tend to be clunky and segregated rather than smooth and integrated.

For example, below is a schematic. On the left is a typical functional perspective of business. On the right how a problem has no regard for those functional boundaries.


While obvious, we easily forget. For instance, if we define a problem as, “We need to generate more sales,” we will automatically tend to view it initially as a Sales & Marketing problem. In actuality though, many aspects such as pricing, delivery, servicing, management and technology could exist.

Therefore, in solving problems, it’s best that we assume the solution is an integrated rather than a segregated one. In other words, rather than ask something such as:

  • Is this part of the problem?
  • Does the problem affect this?

We should ask whether we can prove without a doubt that:

  • This isn’t a part of the problem?
  • The problem doesn’t affect this?

Thus, returning to the above example, rather than start from the premise that it’s a sales and marketing problem and then see if any other area is affected, start from the assumption it’s a business-wide, integrated problem and eliminate areas as we conclusively prove that they aren’t involved.

By assuming the problem is bigger and more integrated than we initially perceive it, we expand our field of potential solutions and success. Moreover, since we aren’t omniscient, it’s often better to assume the problem is more involved than it initially seems.


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In response to my post, “Relationship Building Technique #4: Acknowledgement,” a reader emailed the following observation:

I often find this is a simple [technique], which has a very sensitive component to it and is frequently very “fake” . . . . I know of several peers whom I converse with who “appear” to be practicing acknowledging and listening to others. . . . I have noticed over time, for example, although they may seem engaged and interested at the very moment, they are either preoccupied (and do a good job of hiding it) or are insincere . . . . This is often evident in subsequent conversations with them as you realize they have very little memory of prior conversations. . . .

First, these techniques won’t have the same effect on everyone. Obviously, they didn’t work on this person. However, why this occurred isn’t simply a case of the speakers being insincere; it could just be that they were very different from the listener. The latter could have been born with  much greater sensitivity than the others were and thus greater sincerity.

As a result, despite the listener’s view, it’s very possible that the speakers felt that they were sincere. Furthermore, they might not even be self-aware enough to know they were coming across as insincere. It’s also quite possible that they didn’t care.

We need to remember that any human attribute will vary widely across individual humans. That’s why not remembering might be a sign of poorer memories than the listener’s and not just lesser abilities to express sincerity. Thus, the problem isn’t so much one of sincerity or listening but rather one of differences in personalities. It’s going to be very difficult for less sensitive people to convince those with higher sensitivities that they are being sincere.


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The article, “The Modern Matchmakers,” from the February 11, 2012 edition of The Economist contained two major business lessons that I’ve discussed earlier regarding the solving of people-related problems:

  1. What people think they want isn’t necessarily what they will choose
  2. When faced with too much choice, people have less energy to think about them

    For example, the article cites the work of Eli Finkel of Northwestern University on speed-dating in which he found that “people’s stated preference at the beginning of the process do not match the characters of the individuals they actually like.” Furthermore, “that when faced with abundant choice, people pay less attention to characteristics that require thinking and conversation to evaluate . . . and more to matters physical.” In short, just as Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University and Mark Lepper of Stanford concluded that too much choice is demotivating,” Finkel found it can dull thinking processes.

    As I had also done in an earlier post on online dating, we can translate these themes to our business efforts by asking three questions:

    1. How much freedom does someone want?
    2. What does someone really want; what will he really do or decide?
    3. How much (and what kind of) thinking will someone require from a leader?

    These further translate into more tactical questions for managers and executives such as:

    1. How much flexibility or process must I give someone?
    2. What differences do I see between what he wants and what he actually does?
    3. What kind of decisions do I give her to make and what (or when) do I decide for her?

    Complicating this further is the fact that the answers will vary for each employee, requiring deeper and more interpersonal skills from managers and leaders. Are your managers up for the challenge?


    Previous post on online dating:  What the Failures of Online Dating Can Teach Us


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    People often have unrealistic expectations for intuition, sometimes thinking it’s a crystal ball, magic lamp or answer giver. This usually stems from trying to see it as we do cognition. However, if cognition is a map, intuition is our compass. If cognition is our street address, then intuition is our city, state or nation.

    Of course, visualizations help to differentiate between cognition and intuition. I use the schematic below that way. Cognition represents logic and reason, easily connecting each point because one naturally follows the other. One thought connects the next.

    Intuition on the other hand is like trying to find the best line to represent a group of observations. It doesn’t connect them as easily and new points don’t always fall on or near the line; however, taken as a group, our observations form a pattern giving a sense of direction to them. Thus, intuition narrows our possibilities. More significantly, we don’t need many observations to get this directional sense.

    For example, we can predict tendencies of people simply by looking at what they buy. In some cases, if we know their favorite car, beverage, hobby, store and book, we can make predictions about their favorite restaurant. Political campaigns take such consumer information and make accurate predictions about what candidates and issues potential voters might prefer. We can form psychological profiles of people from consumer – and other – activities, similar to what we see on crime shows when tracking criminals.

    While these examples are very conscious, we unconsciously pick up patterns too. These are translated into feelings, emotions and finally intuitions. That is why it’s important to listen to how we feel. It might be our intuition giving us some direction, giving us a north. In this sense, intuition can be our guiding star.


    Related link: My Intuition White Paper (3 pages)


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