Lean Communication - Uncategorized

It’s All about the YOU

With apologies to my alma mater, it’s not all about the U (especially the way their football team has been playing lately)[1]. In lean communication, it’s all about the YOU. Value begins and ends with the YOU.

The purpose of lean communication is to add value while minimizing waste. Since waste is defined as anything that does not contribute to value, the definition of value is absolutely central to successful lean communication. If you don’t get it right, nothing works, and if you do get it right, you will always have an excellent chance to succeed.

In lean manufacturing, the customer defines value, because value is defined as anything the customer is willing to pay for. It’s the same in lean communication, where your listener defines value. That means that when I communicate with YOU, I don’t get to define value; it’s not what I think is important; it’s not about my reasons for deciding or acting; it’s not about the language that I understand. If YOU are my audience, it’s about what YOU think is important, about what YOU value, and about what YOU care about. I can only get what I want by helping YOU get what YOU want and need.

Although there are 9 keys to Lean Communication, the master key is outside-in thinking, which is the ability to put yourself into the listener’s perspective and build your communication so that it resonates with that point of view.

Cognitive empathy

Most people think about empathy as being about emotion, but there’s also a form of it called cognitive empathy, which is thinking what the other person is thinking. Because lean communication is directed at business communication, it focuses primarily on cognitive empathy. While it might help to feel your boss’s emotions when you’re making a big presentation to the executive committee, you’re going to need a huge dose of cognitive empathy to succeed, and that’s what outside-in thinking is about.

Although it’s not a business example, General U.S. Grant knew how to get into the heads of his opponents. When he attacked Fort Donelson in 1862, he knew that an aggressive approach would work against General Floyd. Floyd bugged out before the fort fell and left General Simon Bolivar Buckner to surrender. Buckner, who had served with Grant in California, told him that if he had been in command Grant would not have gotten up close to Donelson as easily as he did. As Grant later said in his memoirs: “I told him that if he had been in command I should not have tried in the way I did.”

Individual YOU and collective YOU

The interesting thing about the pronoun YOU is that it can be singular or plural, and when you’re presenting something to a group, you need to appeal to both. If there are five people in the room, you have to answer two questions. The first that is on most people’s minds is WIFM, or “What’s In It for Me?” Each stakeholder will evaluate the idea in terms of their own self-interest. As the old saying goes, “where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit.”

But if you appeal only to a collection of individual YOUs, there’s a high likelihood of failure, because everyone in that room has their own conception of WIFM, so the quest for agreement may generate a lowest common denominator that tries to satisfy everyone, which is why committees turn out camels when horses are needed.

When you’re trying to produce a horse instead of a camel, you also have to appeal to WIFU, which is “What’s In It for Us? That’s the collective YOU, and it must address what’s important to the group as a whole. [2] It could be the organization they all work for, or the larger purpose that drives them. When you can master the mix of singular and plural YOU, you can create more value for more people than by simply focusing on individuals, because everyone gets part of what they want and all of what the group needs.

So, if you want to be a true lean communicator, make it a habit always to make it about the YOU. To paraphrase Sun Tzu: “Know yourself and your audience, and you will not be imperiled in a hundred presentations.”

[1] For my readers unfamiliar with American college football, the University of Miami’s team has adopted “It’s all about the U” as its unofficial motto. Although just about every team has “university” in its name, somehow everyone knows who they’re talking about.

[2] Credit goes to The Challenger Customer, by Dixon, Toman, et. al. for this concept.

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