Think with a pen? Or pixels? Or a microphone?

Executive summary:  Thinking styles, communication styles, and management styles are too often at loggerheads. Understanding how your people think and communicate is the key to getting the best out of them in the least time.

Example of a storyboard

Image from Creative Commons 2.0 License


“Just give me the slides.”
“I don’t want a document, management won’t read it.”
“Don’t send sketches to design, they’ll think they are requirements.”
“Don’t waste your time recording example narration, that’s the animator’s job.”

I have heard variants of these sentences across almost every high tech company I have worked for or with. (No, not just you, G.M.) Which is a shame, because the content, idea, and message brilliance of many folks I have worked with remained hidden. Why? Because the recipient of the drafts could only parse them from one point of view or wouldn’t invest the extra 30 seconds to 1 minute to thinking about the different communication style some of their team may have. Really, it is just persona analysis. But in this case, it’s an analysis of your teams and vendors, not of your customers.

Here are a few examples of how managers need to understand the communication modalities of their teams, and how the teams need to understand the modalities of what they need to deliver. My teams have experienced these things many, many (did I say “many”) times over the years. (Current team, don’t think this is just about you. It’s about me as well.)

1. Providing vendors more than words: Working with an animator, instead of just sending them a draft script, send them (amateurish) storyboards and a draft script recorded in an audio file.  Do this to better communicate our thoughts and ideas. It takes extra time to develop, but reduces the animator’s delivery time and increases the precision of our messages.

Yet, in more than one job, I have been told by managers not to do this, as it wastes time and is the animator’s job.  Actually, it is our job to control the message and express, as best we can, those ideas to the animator (or artist, or agency) and let them reflect their creativity and expertise based on our “best foot forward” starting point. Animators and voice-over people can indeed work solely from printed words.  But if we have team member who can provide them more words, that will help, not hinder, the process.

Lesson: Be sure to understand how the vendor wants input, and to describe how (and why) you provide your input in the way that you do.

2. Some people start with the slides, others start with the document: I’ve pretty much given up trying to get people to use less PowerPoint.  But the process of developing slides is different with different people.  Some people need to write text, sometimes long text, and then convert those ideas into a crisp PowerPoint.  Others need to start with PowerPoint (really, it can act as an outlining tool) and move to longer form writing.  Still others need to draw sketches on a whiteboard or in a notebook before moving into other modalities.

As a communications leaders, we have to understand and accept that different people start in different places.  As team members, sometimes we have to realize that if our management team demands “slides” we have to provide them without the antecedent artifacts we used to create the slides.

Lesson: Be sure to understand the format the recipient wants, and if necessary, don’t share the materials you used to get there with them.

3. Confounding the language of requirement VS language of specification with user experience/user interface (UX/UI) folks  When working with seasoned UX/UI teams, it is essential that we explain the problem to them, not the solution. But how do we present the problem statement?  Some people use just words. And other use sketches.  One challenge with sketches and drawings is that they can often be interpreted as a demand for a “solution” rather than just a tool to more accurately depict one perspective of the problem.

Lesson: Be sure to be explicit, even going as far as to repeat the message on each page or deliverable, that this [document, drawing, recording] is being used to enhance the explanation of the problem, not to enforce a solution.

4. Working with ad agencies (and other creative agencies)

See #3.

Do you have any other examples of situations where you need to overcome communication format mismatches, and how to overcome them?

Best to all,