In the course of the nearly 40 years I have worked in this incredible field of organizational development, I've had occasion to talk to thousands of people about very important things. And occasionally I leave these meetings thinking that I hit a home-run. I return to my office to respond to the inevitable questions, "Well, how did it go?" I proceed to ramble on about how effective I felt my presentation was and my personal certainty that the encounter would result in the desired response.
When nothing happens, I begin to second guess myself. Was I really that bad? Could I have missed something when all the signals they gave in word and gestures seemed only to confirm my belief that they really were impressed? What went wrong?
After analyzing too many of these kinds of encounters, I have come to the conclusion that there are two assumptions we all make in development and both of them are terribly wrong.
The first of these assumptions is that when we say something everybody just "gets it!" Our incredible communication skills were so good that they picked up on every nuance, every word was understood, and the underlying message was crisp, clear, and totally comprehended. Now if you believe all of that the one thing I can be certain of is that you've never had a teenager live in your home!
People just don't get it. We paint vivid word pictures, create precision diagrams on the back of place mats, and share scores of powerful anecdotes to confirm our message. We've concluded that there is simply no way anyone could possibly have missed something this obvious! It's altogether too much like the child who acts without consideration to warning after warning delivered in countless ways over several years and who looks totally mystified when asked, "how could you ever have done that? If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times not to!"
People just don't always get it. In fact, the rule of thumb needs to be, they probably didn't!
But the next assumption is just as critical and developmentally even more devastating. Let's just assume, for the sake of keeping this little article interesting, that they did get it. The second assumption we make that is totally invalid is that even if they do, you can't assume that they will expend the energy to try to figure out how to deal with what you just told them!
There's simply too much going on in everyone's life, too much competition for attention! The individuals we talk to are bombarded by all kinds of messages and most of them have "turned off" and refuse, not out of indifference or irresponsibility, but out of necessity because the brain simply chooses to process so much information.
I've changed my approaches to accommodate what I probably knew (that these assumptions did indeed exist and are true) and begin to change my approach in talking with others. Here are just two ideas:
1. Make sure, regardless of what you are asking for and how significant or insignificant you perceive it to be, that you provide someone with something they can take with them. It may be a personalized proposal, a brochure that goes into detail describing what you said, or evidences of validation of the message you sought to communicate.
2. After you've stated your case, conclude with a statement like this, "I hope that what I have shared with you this afternoon has stirred your heart. Let me share with you 5-6 ways you can be a part of what is happening in our organization." Then list, on a card that they can take away, various options from which they could choose in acting upon the vitally important message you shared with them. Encourage them to think about what you shared with them and return the card after considering whether or not they would like to participate in someway with you.
Development is a continuum. You want people to make decisions on your behalf (you want them to say "yes"), keeping the door open for even deeper and more satisfying relationships. Your encounters are not an end in themselves, they are a string of encounters that over time can be used to build your organization to what you envision it could become.