If You Have To Ask, You Can't Afford It

"Do you love me?"
"No." After 25 years, my husband gets to say that when I ask a stupid question.
"I have a question to ask. Can I interrupt you for a minute?"
"Why is it that you always call when I'm trying to write?"
"I'm trying to be more collaborative with you. And we're in the store and I want to buy these shoes, but they're $89.99."
"Are they new?"
"Well that's the thing, they're a little bit used. But I checked eBay and we can make a $300 profit for sure."
"Nothing is for sure. Put the shoes back and leave me alone. I'm writing."
"Spoilsport."
* * *
If you have to ask, the answer is no. One time my boss put it this way:
"If you're coming to me, I can guarantee that the plan is a little bit wonky."
Let's play Family Feud, shall we? Where Steve Harvey says:
"What kinds of questions do you ask, where you already know the answer is going to be 'no'?"
  • "So can I have your number?"
  • "What's your timeline on making a hiring decision?"
  • "Do I look fat in this dress?"
Consider how we deal with questions in consensus-building.
Only a doofus walks into the meeting cold and asks, "Hey, what do you all think?" For about ten years, I was that doofus.
As a colleague recently reminded me, highly evolved consensus-builders work the room in advance of the group convening. They approach each person one at a time, soliciting input in such a way that the answer becomes the listener's idea rather than the asker's.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
  • Decide on a goal.
  • Do your homework.
  • Then calculate the risk of jumping.

If you still have to ask another person, you know you've overshot the mark.
Photo credit: Sasvata (Shash) Chatterjee / Flickr

Say Less - Earn More


"That's great! Have a good night!"
That is me, tiptoeing backwards. Because the other person won't stop speaking.
Sure, there's a technique for handling this. But unfortunately not one that I ever mastered.
"Did you say goodbye? I have a great story about goodbyes."
Oh no. Oh no.
"Hang on just a second, I'll walk with you."
It's not that I'm reserved with words. Actually I like to talk, a lot. But not all the time, not with everyone, and generally not at work. I'm there to work.
Executives do not talk a lot.
  • They're busy.
  • They're afraid of saying something wrong.
  • They're immersed in the culture of power.
Powerful people know: The more available you are, the less valuable.
That is why - although communicators bang their heads against the wall trying to get executives to speak - they are normally very restrained. They:
  • Say less.
  • Write shorter emails.
  • Avoid extensive interaction day-to-day.
If you want to actually become a rich executive, you first have to think and act like one.
Hollywood agents know it - now you do too.
Overexposure kills the brand.
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: Alden Jewell / Flickr

Tell It To Me Like I'm Stupid

"OK, let's get him on the phone." 
That's radio talk show host Kane. It's the 99.5 FM radio segment "War of the Roses," it plays around 8 a.m. on weekdays, and it's really fun to listen to him and Intern John catch cheaters in the act.
In the script, Kane plays a guy who owns a flower shop. 
"Hello, my name is ____, I'm calling from __ Flowers. Is Pete there?"
"This is Pete."
"We're doing a promotion today, just for picking up the phone, you get a bouquet of roses sent to anyone of your choice."
"Who is this?"
"We're your local friendly flower shop, just trying to drum up some local business and compete with the big boys, y'now?"
"How did you get this number?"
"We subscribe to all the local customer lists."
(Sounding confused) "Oh."
"So who should we send them to?"
"Um, let me think about that for a second. Hm. Yeah, you know what? I know. You can send them to Rachel."
"YOU GODDAMN PIG."
That was Pete's actual girlfriend, Karen.
"YOU GODDAMN PIG. HOW COULD YOU? IT IS OVER. I MEAN IT. OVER, PETE. OVER OVER OVER OVER OVER OVER OVER !@#$@#%!@#$."
"What the f****?"
"Hi Pete, let me explain. My name is Kane, and we do a radio show where we catch cheaters in the act. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"
"Karen. Hey Karen. I can explain this. It's not what you think."
"OH REALLY. OH REALLY!"
It is at this point that I'm usually doubled over on the steering wheel laughing.
Because Pete will spend about ten minutes trying to tell Karen that she is crazy, he didn't do anything wrong. "Rachel" was just being "helpful," she "comforted" him in a time of need, yada yada, et cetera, and so on.
Intern John will say something like, "That dude was crazy. How did he ever think he would get away with that?"
For the audience it's a funny but useful reminder. 
The truth is usually pretty simple.
When people have to complicate things to make them sound good, a personal agenda is at work.
We all know people with a lot of excuses, people who are windbags, people who make up every bullshit in the book.
Like my mother used to say,
"I'm sorry, I don't understand. Tell it to me like I'm stupid."
It is easy to say this and to nod your head. In real life it gets a lot harder.
You deal with people who mystify the facts, who pump up the action and their role in the action, confuse meetings with results, add jargon where they could use plain English, name-drop and acronym-lay and generally wrap a Ph.D., MBA and JD all in one around information that should be straightforward and basic.
Whether it's your doctor, your lawyer, your kid's school or your own organization, you have to be willing to confront the possibility that the emperor is walking around totally naked.
What you do with that information - if you can find it, because you'll invariably be discouraged - is your business.
At the very least, have the courage to ask. 
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: Petras Gagilas / Flickr