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Put Your Ear to the Ground: Engaging More Directly

Put Your Ear to the Ground: Engaging More Directly


    Get your ear to the ground.

    This approach has been called different things but commonly is summarized as getting close as possible to the interface of the product and producer or consumer. Famous practitioners include Bill Hewlett and David Packard of HP who popularized “management by walking around.” The same approach can be used in your personal and professional life to help you gain fresh perspective on old problems, sniff out issues before they become wildfires, and continue to innovate and create while on a schedule.

    Case Study: Lululemon — From the Folding Table to the Chalkboard

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    It is possible for many people to not know about Lululemon. Yet for those who practice yoga, the brand has risen rapidly in popularity and demand. Lululemon has become a rising star in a multibillion dollar market with comfortable, attractive yoga and athletic apparel. Chief Executive Christine Day attributes her success partially to eschewing conventional market research. Rather than relying on focus groups, website tracking, or customer purchase profiles, the company has designed their stores to eavesdrop on their customers. Folding tables are placed not out of sight, but immediately adjacent to fitting rooms. Sleeves too long? Crotch too tight? Chances are employees will be privy to that information. To allow customers to provide more direct feedback, a large chalkboard is propped up against a wall for shoppers to comment on existing products as well as wish for new ones.

    Take advantage of opportunities to talk face-to-face with people

    When people don’t feel threatened, rushed, or dismissed they are more likely to voice their concerns or frustrations. Rather than maintaining a course towards an iceberg, addressing conflict can prevent them from getting bigger. Likewise, allowing people to voice their honest thoughts can help generate consensus and group buy-in of a proposal even if initial reactions are less than supportive. For example, instead of email-soliciting money from your coworkers to pay for the office water cooler, approaching people known to “mooch” may generate enough guilt or raise awareness to modify their behavior. They may even bring up unrelated but important issues to them which you can support to enlist their cooperation. (“Yes, I’d be happy to remind the other people in the office to not leave old coffee grinds and stale coffee in the drip machine. Having bottled water and taking care of the break room makes work that much more bearable.”)

    Actually experience the good or service you provide

    Every job in the world provides either a product or service to others. It’s too easy to get entrenched in your perspective. Take time this week to actually use your product or experience the service you provide. Personally speaking, as a physician it is incredibly eye-opening and humbling to experience the hospital as a patient. Another example is the Lululemon sales representative who loves a particular brand of pants for the slimming and firming effect they provide without creating embarrassing wrinkles and lines.

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    Put yourself in different shoes to solve complex problems

    Likewise, when you can’t wrap your head around a problem try to approach it from the perspective of someone else. What would the janitor suggest to reduce operating expenses? Does the consumer really value the promotional mailings you provide? What has your boss focused on for other business cycles or projects? Even better is to directly approach the different people involved to solicit their input.

    Case Study: Levi’s Jeans — A Hot Idea from Hot Pants

    Walter Haas — one-time CEO of Levi’s Jeans — stumbled upon a problem he didn’t know about while sitting next to a campfire in the 1940’s. At the time copper rivets were placed at stress points like the crotch area to provide extra strength. Unfortunately, they also conducted heat efficiently and caused quite a few unpleasant campfire mishaps. After being burned, Haas promptly removed the copper rivets. Inspired, he went on to also cover exposed rear pocket rivets to minimize scratch damage to saddles and school chairs in response to complaints by cowboys and schoolteachers.

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    Adopt a new role with your family, friends

    Appreciation is like water to a desert plant. In the interpersonal realm, it’s been established that men and women commonly cheat because of emotional disconnection which can spring from being unappreciated. Have you taken the time recently to realize what your friends and family do for you? Take the initiative to wash dishes, walk the dog, take out the trash, drive the carpool, or organize that birthday party. It may be difficult to do the tasks we naturally avoid, but realize that you are gaining new understanding of your relationships. Gratitude makes life infinitely richer.

    Go where the water is fresh

    In marketing, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of popular trends and ideas. Just like how you need to stay in front of the wave while surfing, you want to develop your ability to sense energy and direction from other people, events, and activities. One way you can do this is by maintaining your hobbies. Do things that excite you and you’ll find that even on a tight schedule, you can work with more energy, enthusiasm, and creativity. Refrain from “dichotomizing” your life into disparate spheres. Try to bring as much of who you are into what you are doing at the moment.

    As you take a closer step to your work, relationships, and the things which make you tick, I hope that you’re able to accomplish more, improve existing relationships, solve difficult problems, and sustain creativity.

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    (Photo credit: Young Man Hearing Sounds via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on February 11, 2021

    Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

    Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

    How often have you said something simple, only to have the person who you said this to misunderstand it or twist the meaning completely around? Nodding your head in affirmative? Then this means that you are being unclear in your communication.

    Communication should be simple, right? It’s all about two people or more talking and explaining something to the other. The problem lies in the talking itself, somehow we end up being unclear, and our words, attitude or even the way of talking becomes a barrier in communication, most of the times unknowingly. We give you six common barriers to communication, and how to get past them; for you to actually say what you mean, and or the other person to understand it as well…

    The 6 Walls You Need to Break Down to Make Communication Effective

    Think about it this way, a simple phrase like “what do you mean” can be said in many different ways and each different way would end up “communicating” something else entirely. Scream it at the other person, and the perception would be anger. Whisper this is someone’s ear and others may take it as if you were plotting something. Say it in another language, and no one gets what you mean at all, if they don’t speak it… This is what we mean when we say that talking or saying something that’s clear in your head, many not mean that you have successfully communicated it across to your intended audience – thus what you say and how, where and why you said it – at times become barriers to communication.[1]

    Perceptual Barrier

    The moment you say something in a confrontational, sarcastic, angry or emotional tone, you have set up perceptual barriers to communication. The other person or people to whom you are trying to communicate your point get the message that you are disinterested in what you are saying and sort of turn a deaf ear. In effect, you are yelling your point across to person who might as well be deaf![2]

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    The problem: When you have a tone that’s not particularly positive, a body language that denotes your own disinterest in the situation and let your own stereotypes and misgivings enter the conversation via the way you talk and gesture, the other person perceives what you saying an entirely different manner than say if you said the same while smiling and catching their gaze.

    The solution: Start the conversation on a positive note, and don’t let what you think color your tone, gestures of body language. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and smile openly and wholeheartedly…

    Attitudinal Barrier

    Some people, if you would excuse the language, are simply badass and in general are unable to form relationships or even a common point of communication with others, due to their habit of thinking to highly or too lowly of them. They basically have an attitude problem – since they hold themselves in high esteem, they are unable to form genuine lines of communication with anyone. The same is true if they think too little of themselves as well.[3]

    The problem: If anyone at work, or even in your family, tends to roam around with a superior air – anything they say is likely to be taken by you and the others with a pinch, or even a bag of salt. Simply because whenever they talk, the first thing to come out of it is their condescending attitude. And in case there’s someone with an inferiority complex, their incessant self-pity forms barriers to communication.

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    The solution: Use simple words and an encouraging smile to communicate effectively – and stick to constructive criticism, and not criticism because you are a perfectionist. If you see someone doing a good job, let them know, and disregard the thought that you could have done it better. It’s their job so measure them by industry standards and not your own.

    Language Barrier

    This is perhaps the commonest and the most inadvertent of barriers to communication. Using big words, too much of technical jargon or even using just the wrong language at the incorrect or inopportune time can lead to a loss or misinterpretation of communication. It may have sounded right in your head and to your ears as well, but if sounded gobbledygook to the others, the purpose is lost.

    The problem: Say you are trying to explain a process to the newbies and end up using every technical word and industry jargon that you knew – your communication has failed if the newbie understood zilch. You have to, without sounding patronizing, explain things to someone in the simplest language they understand instead of the most complex that you do.

    The solution: Simplify things for the other person to understand you, and understand it well. Think about it this way: if you are trying to explain something scientific to a child, you tone it down to their thinking capacity, without “dumbing” anything down in the process.[4]

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    Emotional Barrier

    Sometimes, we hesitate in opening our mouths, for fear of putting our foot in it! Other times, our emotional state is so fragile that we keep it and our lips zipped tightly together lest we explode. This is the time that our emotions become barriers to communication.[5]

    The problem: Say you had a fight at home and are on a slow boil, muttering, in your head, about the injustice of it all. At this time, you have to give someone a dressing down over their work performance. You are likely to transfer at least part of your angst to the conversation then, and talk about unfairness in general, leaving the other person stymied about what you actually meant!

    The solution: Remove your emotions and feelings to a personal space, and talk to the other person as you normally would. Treat any phobias or fears that you have and nip them in the bud so that they don’t become a problem. And remember, no one is perfect.

    Cultural Barrier

    Sometimes, being in an ever-shrinking world means that inadvertently, rules can make cultures clash and cultural clashes can turn into barriers to communication. The idea is to make your point across without hurting anyone’s cultural or religious sentiments.

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    The problem: There are so many ways culture clashes can happen during communication and with cultural clashes; it’s not always about ethnicity. A non-smoker may have problems with smokers taking breaks; an older boss may have issues with younger staff using the Internet too much.

    The solution: Communicate only what is necessary to get the point across – and eave your personal sentiments or feelings out of it. Try to be accommodative of the other’s viewpoint, and in case you still need to work it out, do it one to one, to avoid making a spectacle of the other person’s beliefs.[6]

    Gender Barrier

    Finally, it’s about Men from Mars and Women from Venus. Sometimes, men don’t understand women and women don’t get men – and this gender gap throws barriers in communication. Women tend to take conflict to their graves, literally, while men can move on instantly. Women rely on intuition, men on logic – so inherently, gender becomes a big block in successful communication.[7]

    The problem: A male boss may inadvertently rub his female subordinates the wrong way with anti-feminism innuendoes, or even have problems with women taking too many family leaves. Similarly, women sometimes let their emotions get the better of them, something a male audience can’t relate to.

    The solution: Talk to people like people – don’t think or classify them into genders and then talk accordingly. Don’t make comments or innuendos that are gender biased – you don’t have to come across as an MCP or as a bra-burning feminist either. Keep gender out of it.

    And remember, the key to successful communication is simply being open, making eye contact and smiling intermittently. The battle is usually half won when you say what you mean in simple, straightforward words and keep your emotions out of it.

    Reference

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