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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Welcome to the Kingdom of 'Ish' An older post but worth reposting.

It dawned on me the other day that even though we supposedly hear/speak over 100,000 words a day on average, most of what we hear never truly sticks.  More importantly, a good percentage of that communicative ebb and flow is simply white noise; lacking substance, interest or conviction.  How much of that information do we actually process, understand and retain?  40%?  60%?  More?  I suppose it differs depending on the individual, type of communication, the side of the bed you woke up on, etc.

I thought to myself, ‘Self, what am I doing to ensure my words have substance and my message is clear?  More specifically, what are my colleagues doing to ensure their messages resound in me?’  That’s when something struck me.  Something so simple, yet so critical to communication strategies that it astounded me how many of us were doing it.

I first noticed it in a meeting a few days ago.  Those three little letters that while meaningless on their own, change the entire meaning of a word when added to the end; ‘…ISH’.  As in ‘Soon-ish’ and ‘Now-ish’.  This 3 letter interloper had the power to change specific, definitive responses into the proverbial Magic 8 Ball’s ‘Outlook not so clear’ response.  This had to be one of the most powerful suffixes in the English language.  These 3 letters, used at the right time, could turn a hard commitment into a fluid, wishy-washy outcome.

I scanned the room quickly.  Did others catch it?  Was anyone else hearing this?  Question: “When can I expect to see the sales appointment  proposal on my desk?”  Answer:  “Soonish.”  Awesome.  Commitment diverted…at least for a few more hours.

I was excited to begin using this like a pro. I made a few practice runs at it but then a cold truth crept up on me.  If I started using this in my communications….would I have the strength to scale it back before it became such an ingrained habit that I could never make any solid commitments?  Management 101 tells us to be direct in our communications.  How then had this little 3 letter suffix become the norm in many of our conversations?  We were becoming the Kings and Queens of the Kingdom of “Ish”!

This diversionary suffix has always been present in our society and is growing in popularity amongst today’s youth.  Don’t believe me?  Go check out the Facebook group ‘Adding "ish" onto the end of a word when describing something’ with 800,000 plus members.  The use of vague or non-committal statements has been referenced in pop culture for the last 50 or so years.

Take Isaac Asimov’s classic work ‘Foundation’.  In it, the character Lord Dorwin comes to give the people of the world of Terminus reassurance that the Empire is doing all it can to ensure continuity amongst its subjects.  But for all his promises and commitments, the Mayor of Terminus isn’t buying it.  So he records Lord Dorwin and then analyzes everything that was said during his visit.

“When Houk, after two days of steady work, succeeded in eliminating meaningless statements, vague gibberish, useless qualifications—in short all the goo and dribble—he found he had nothing left. Everything canceled out. Lord Dorwin, gentlemen, in five days of discussion didn't say one @$#%^ thing, and said it so that you never noticed.

As people, we tend to slip into the vagueness void when communicating with the people we know and feel comfortable with.  When the deadline clock is not truly ticking, when we don’t have the sense of impending commitments looming over us, we let details slide ever so slightly as most people do and as recipients of these messages, we tend to simply accept them.  But when the details matter, when requirements must be met, when detailed communication is the only choice, the Kingdom of “Ish” must be laid low.

How does this relate to you Mr. & Mrs. Reader?  Well, I’ll tell you.  If I’m not mistaken, you’ve visited the Kingdom of “Ish” before.  Some of you may even have a summer home there you frequent it so often.  If you rely too heavily on this deviant little suffix in your internal communications, you may quickly find it also creeping into your business communications; your communications with your Clients and your Customers.  While the Kingdom of “Ish” has many loyal subjects, your Clients may not be amongst them.

Take time to really listen to how you commit to a task, project or request.  Are you owning it?  Committing to a date, time or goal?  Don’t lead your Customers into the allegorical Kingdom of “Ish”.

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