How ‘constraints’ help create meaning

How ‘constraints’ help create meaning

It is fascinating to me that the whole idea of ‘constraints' feels like more of a limitation than a liberation.

Nobody – me included – likes being kept in physical or intellectual shackles and yet they are incredibly powerful. Liberating, even.

If we trust a simple set of constraints – rules – we can invest our thinking energy where it has most impact.

In the case of preparing communication, this means creating greater meaning as economically as possible.

This has been more evident than usual in my coaching sessions in past weeks and I wanted to share an example with you.

When coaching a finance executive yesterday, we went from making bland and frankly boring statements to communicating impactful ideas by using constraints.

In this particular case, our main message needed to be a recommendation rather than an observation. Let me show you what I mean:

Observation – We are allocating unspent funds to teams that have demonstrated that they can be compliant with the ABC policy funding agreement

Recommendation – We recommend allocating the unspent funds to teams that have invested in a step-change in talent development

The second version is so much more meaningful – and interesting. It is also the result of sticking to some simple rules, or ‘constraints' that push for clarity and insight.

Similarly, we have been talking about constraints in the problem solving context during the recent Clarity in Problem Solving program.

I was delighted to see in a recent HBR article that I am not alone in encouraging people to stick to some simple constraints.

>> Click here to access the article and another recent one by me on the topic of constraints also.

I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

The power of ‘why’ in getting more done quickly

The power of ‘why’ in getting more done quickly

This is what happened to Chad.

Chad is a software developer at a trading firm.

Although fluent, English is his second language and this makes him nervous about his communication abilities.

He has also had feedback that his communication can be too aggressive, which has heightened his anxiety.

However, when I meet with him I find a warm, engaging and enthusiastic person who does not seem the least bit aggressive.

So, what is going on here?

To illustrate, I will first outline the situation that led to a lengthy and frustrating email chain, then offer our before and after emails before offering two questions you can ask to avoid putting yourself in Chad’s position.

The situation that led to a lengthy and frustrating email chain

When Chad and I worked through an email chain between him and some overseas colleagues, the issue slowly became apparent.

His communication was polite and detailed.

But it missed one critical ingredient.

Instead of explaining why something needed to be done, he jumped straight into how the overseas colleagues needed to do it.

This, in turn, led to a ten-email chain debating the details of the task, with a heavy overtone of ‘do it yourself’ from the overseas team.

Let's have a deeper look at the issue by reviewing the original email and an alternative.

Our before and after emails

Even though the information is technical, I think you’ll see what I mean when I show you the original (sanitised) ‘so what’ message versus the revised one:

Original – We need your help to come up with the implementation that supports System A in filtering the symbols and foreignID.

Revised – Given our own ABC filtering mechanism leads to a configuration that is hard to maintain, we need your help to implement ‘System A’ in filtering the symbols and foreignID.

Interestingly, the rest of the email changed dramatically too. 

It no longer consisted of a list of reasons why the suggestions from the overseas team were wrong, it included a list of reasons why he needed their help.

On reflection, he decided that if he had drafted this email in the first place the whole chain of about 10 emails would have been avoided.

And the problem would have been fixed much sooner.

So, how to avoid this happening to you?

Two questions to ask to avoid putting yourself in Chad’s position

This experience raises an important issue for me that I hope will help you also.

Before ‘smashing out' your next email request ask yourself these two questions so you are sure about your audience's situation:

  1. Are we certain that the people we are asking to help us know why we need their help, not just how we want them to help?
  2. How much time would we get back each week if we routinely slowed down and stopped to think about our audience's situation before we hit send?

I hope that helps.

Have a wonderful week.
Davina

Keywords: strategy, emails, ESL

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Clarity and insight are not the same thing

Clarity and insight are not the same thing

This week in Clarity First we have been having lots of discussion about things that are both core to communication and on the fringe of it.

One big ‘aha' moment came during Thursday's Accelerator Workshop.

‘This isn't just about communication. It's about negotiation', said one new participant.

This was a magical penny drop.

The same penny drop occurred in three other corporate workshops I ran. 

To craft a clear message is a critical and useful thing to do.

To crafting an insightful message is not the same – and frankly harder to do.

It involves both doing and not doing a number of important things.

Crafting insightful messages requires you to do many things, including the following five:

  1. Be crystal clear about your value-adding purpose. This is where negotiation skills start to play a role.
  2. Understand your audience deeply. People skills, stakeholder management, business acumen as well as negotiation are key here.
  3. Summarise the right data accurately. Critical thinking plays a key role here
  4. Draw out useful insights. Ditto here, along with synthesis and again business acumen. Think carefully as to whether your message will hit the right notes at the time it is delivered.
  5. Tie all of those things together to craft one single, powerful, insightful message that packs a real punch.

All of this means doing, at a minimum, the following three things:

  1. Creating meaningless titles in Word and PowerPoint that look like this: Finance or Sales or Risks
  2. Blindly filling in templates without constructing an overarching narrative for the whole communication
  3. Holding back from sharing a point of view.

I hope that helps. Have a great week.
Cheers, Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

A BIG week indeed …

A BIG week indeed …

You know your stuff.

You have been working on it for a long time.

You have been promoted.

But now you need to deal with more senior stakeholders and nobody seems to be able to articulate what they need from you.

And, in looking at your predecessor's communication you can tell it's not how you want to communicate.

But … how do you communicate to your new leaders?

So, what if you could go from here to:

  • Nailing two major approvals in one week (involving millions in funding)
  • Getting fast and consistent ‘yesses' from leaders
  • Being awarded for overall excellence in your role

But, enough from me. 

Cerise should tell her own story.

First, the email then the short video.

 

Learn how Cerise achieved this.

Hear from other program participants

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Bonus Hacks …

Bonus Hacks …

I am loving this journey of becoming more intentional about how I spend my time so I can multiply my impact.

The conversations of the past weeks with my client Steve and newfound collaborator Richard Medcalf have been enlightening.

So much so that I wanted to share just a few more practical tips with you that have emerged this week in the hope that they may help you also.

#1 – Auditing my time was far more useful AND fun than just filling in a spreadsheet (thank goodness). Each time I made an entry I became much more conscious of my priorities and ways to spend less time doing what I was doing. Download here if you haven't tried it yet. I can thoroughly recommend the exercise (instructions inside).

#2 – Richard's idea of using prisons and fortresses in freeing up time is golden. I am experimenting with some ways to do this that I thought might help you also, as well as some organisation-wide tactics being employed by some of my clients.

First, my own two experiments:

My prison – Locking away 90 minutes late in the day each Friday to do the admin stuff. No more checking who has paid us first thing every day, working out which invoices to chase or edit, or tidying up loose ends as they decide to loosen themselves. I am finding the reduction in context shifting useful but finding it hard to be disciplined!

My fortress – Saving Thursdays for my ‘flow day'. This means no meetings, coaching sessions or any other interruptions if I can possibly help it. I'll move the day when needed (especially for the rest of this half year as I have existing client bookings I can't move). Next year, however, I'll lock it away universally. So far, the very idea of having a whole day with no meetings feels luxurious, making Thursdays (ie today, when I am writing this post!) feel a bit like a sanctuary.

If you want more information on how these work, listen to my interview with Richard in our free Clarity First Base Program. Register here and you will be taken to the library. Search the word ‘hack' and you'll find the interview in the third post in the series.

He has some really great ideas: it's worth listening.

And to three other interesting ones I have heard of recently:

  • Facebook holds ‘Meeting Free Wednesdays' to enable their people to dive deeply into their work. In working with them over the past couple of years I can confirm they stick to it and find it productive.
  • Endeavour Drinks does this differently. They block out between 1-2 hours early in each day where meetings are banned. Given the fast-paced nature of retail businesses, I can see these smaller chunks which taken together equal about a day of time, working well. Their need to be responsive to customers means locking away a whole day would not work for them.
  • Steve, the client who gave me the ‘strategy hacker' idea, locks away two, two-hour blocks each week to solve problems and work at his whiteboard. He has found that between 10am and mid day on Tuesdays and Thursdays work best for him. This enables him to clear his desk and mind of urgent things first and then ‘grab a cup of tea and a biscuit' before heading to his office to hunker down for a couple of hours.

#3 – Using an electronic time tracking tool is also becoming surprisingly useful. I had not realised how much time I spend emailing for one thing. I am still getting the hang of it, but am finding RescueTime offers me a low-effort yet insightful view on both how I spend my time. It also allows me to tell it how productive I am using each tool I use which gives me a crude measure of productivity too.

#4 – For this to work, I need to get better at delegating. I don't just mean willing to do it, either. I mean knowing how to do it. Some of my efforts here have borne fruit, others need me to be more specific, particularly when working with new team members.

Again Michael Hyatt has come to the rescue with his tips on the subject. He offers four levels of delegation, which you can learn more about here

I hope you have found this useful – do let me know how your own experiments have gone.

Please note, this post contains affiliate links, and as RescueTime Associate I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. This helps me cover the costs of delivering my free content to you.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include mid to upper level experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US.