(These thoughts were partly prompted by the video of Chris Anderson’s presentation How web video powers global innovation at TED, and this interview with him at beet.tv about the power of the spoken word: Video is a “Reinvention of the Spoken Word”).
Communication is not words, or images, or ideas – it is the sharing of such words and ideas and images from one person to another, shared in a “total communication package.” There is something inherently different. “better” about the quality of a communication encounter between two human beings conducted in each other’s presence, face-to-face.
A phone call, a blog post, an e-mail, a set of PowerPoint slides on a screen – none of these have the power, the impact, of a face-to-face encounter. Such an encounter allows for facial expressions, emotional connection, evaluation of motives, in a way that all other forms can keep hidden.
The spoken word, spoken to one other human being, with little to “hide behind” in any part of the moment, is the most powerful and the most honest communication.
Think about some really powerful examples of this in movies. I could list many – I will just list one. In the crucial scene between the characters played by Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men (the one in the court room, the famous “You can’t handle the truth” scene), it is as though they are the only two people in the room, or even on the planet. The close-ups, the eyeball-to-eyeball nature of the coversation, the unwavering, undistracted focus on the “other,”… it is the most powerful of moments. Watch it again: notice the absolute focus of the two participants on each other. Notice their “presence” to each other in the conversation.
Now I love the convenience and the possibilities raised by modern communication methods, the technology of the modern era. But here is a simple question: are you comfortable with, and good at, face-to-face communication? Are you good at giving undivided attention in a conversation to another human being? If not, this is something to work on. It will help you at work, in your community, in your most important relationships.
The world really does move forward in the midst of focused conversations. We even have books describing the importance of such moments; Crucial Conversations, Fierce Conversations. And, to state the obvious, to have a crucial, a fierce, conversation, you first have to know how to have a conversation.
(and, yes, “I’m talking to myself”,” also).
update: right after I posted this, my blogging colleague Bob Morris posted Jenny Ming (President and CEO, Charlotte Russe) in “The Corner Office”. It completely reinforced the underlying premise of these reflections. Here’s how it ends:
Bryant: And what was the lesson?
Ming: I learned very early on to communicate, to set expectations and not be afraid to tell the truth.
Folks, a lot of people got killed last night. Let’s try to keep our eyes on the ball, okay?
(Fictional President Andrew Shepherd, The American President, after the press corps wants to know more about his private life than about the international incident that prompted the press conference).
If Aaron Sorkin wrote a business book, I would immediately buy it, consume it, and then most certainly put it at the top of any list I compiled as the best business book ever. Not because he knows much about business (I don’t know if he does or not), but because I am addicted to anything/everything he writes and puts on the screen. Take your pick: The West Wing, A Few Good Men, The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, and of course the greatest program in the history of television that never found enough of its audience, Sports Night. (and this is not all).
I realize this is a business book and business issues blog. And I’m quoting from an article by Sorkin written about quite a controversy regarding a Newsweek contributor’s opinion regarding a gay actor playing straight — definitely not on subject for this blog.
But… the article is Now That You Mention It, Rock Hudson Did Seem Gay, written for the Huffington Post. And, here’s the paragraph:
When I need the audience to know that a piece of information they’re about to hear is important, I can use words, a close-up, a push-in, music… when the authors of the no-longer-private-lives “A” story want the audience to know that something’s important, it shows up on our Yahoo homepage. (The third story on my homepage yesterday was that Britain, our closest ally, has a new Prime Minister. The first story was about Justin Bieber. Unless the new Prime Minister is Justin Bieber, something’s obviously gone wrong.)
And here’s the lesson. It is an old lesson. A society that becomes consumed with trivia is a society that really does need to pay attention to the right issues. And Sorkin rather passionately makes that argument in this article.
And for business people, the lesson is this: focus on the right things, and do not, ever, get bogged down on the wrong things. Your moments are incredibly precious. Do not waste any of them on inconsequential trivia. You’ve got important matters to think about and plan and implement. Stay focused and get to it!
Let’s try to keep our eyes on the ball, okay?