I saw a Road Runner today. A real one. Did you just inwardly ask if they are real? That’s generally the response I’ve had.
I was sitting in a meeting with 10 executives having an extremely robust discussion around solving a particular problem when suddenly a mythical creature from the cartoons of my childhood ran along the window ledge at full speed. A Road Runner. Yes, a real one. Yes, there are real ones. I nearly squealed, but in the context of the meeting, I thought I should at least try to hold it together. Luckily, the other participants in the meeting understood the significance of this event for an Australian. We have no animals that look like a Road Runner, and as I discovered later that day, many Australians do not actually know that they really exist outside of Looney Tunes. And a chorus of “meep, meep” goes up to helpfully explain what I was witnessing.
Following the meeting I phoned several people back home, including my husband and my Mother (who used to live in the US), to tell them how excited I was about having seen a real live Road Runner. Everyone I spoke to said a version of ‘are Road Runners real??’ It got me to thinking. How many things do we just take as fantasy that actually do exist, just out of our scope of vision?
It draws my attention to the meeting I was having as the road runner materialised. I was listening to the content as if it were empty promises. As if it were platitudes designed to make me be quiet and go away. But what if they aren’t? How different would my approach be if I entertained – just entertained – that those undertakings may be real? That the imagined occurs, only where I cannot see, but nonetheless affects my day to day experience?
One of the challenges as managers and businesses is that where there is a history of not delivering on promises – or indeed out-and-out lying – there is an expectation that anything you say is likely to be a furphy (It’s been flagged this is in fact Australian slang – see wiki for explanation). And as such, the value of your words is significantly diminished.
So, what can we do to make our mystical mutterings seem like genuine undertakings?
1. Acknowledge past failings
There is little to no point pretending that previous failures have not occurred. In fact, in not speaking about them we are actually giving vicious gossip momentum. By acknowledging previous failures and discussing what went wrong, you are able to create a level of credibility in your current dealings.
2. Explain areas where full disclosure is not possible
It is not always possible to be 100% transparent – however you can always be 100% honest. Where you cannot tell someone the whole story, tell them so, and tell them why. The vast majority of people will understand the need for confidentiality, and appreciate the openness in acknowledging that everything has not been said.
3. Communicate often
When you communicate frequently, and openly, rapport is formed and people will start to believe in you and what you say.
4. Be genuine
When you present yourself genuinely, and are really acting in the best interest of the business, people will be more receptive. Genuineness is so rare, and so valued, that it will add instant credibility to your communication.
In short, as listeners I think we need to work to not bring pre-conceived ideas about outcomes, intentions and agendas to the table, and to listen openly to what is really being said to us. As communicators generally I believe we need to be open, honest and consistent in order to produce the respect and authority to make people believe in ideas – even when they sound fantastical.
And by the way, did I mention I saw a Road Runner? Yes, a real one.