Posted by: Kristen Ridley | January 2, 2014

NON-New Year Resolutions!

new beginningsI have written before about the fact that I do not make New Year’s resolutions. This year as the calendar turned over, I have been watching my friends on Facebook and Twitter talk about their resolutions, many of which are excellent and laudable, let me say.

But for me, this whole dictated timing for making changes always strikes me as, I don’t know – arbitrary and predictable, and while I am many things – some good and some not so good – the one thing I strive actively NOT to be, is predictable.

That does not mean, though, that I am against making healthy, positive changes in my life! On the contrary, I can totally get behind this concept [heck! the number of times I’ve decided to organize my closets, lose weight, or eat more vegetables could fill a book on making changes, not that anyone would buy THAT book, but you get the point].

The difference for me is that I want to decide when to make a change, rather than having the venerable “they said” tell me that I ought to do so in January [because I live in Canada, and in Canada it is COLD, and DARK in January which is not a conducive environment in which to get all revved up about change, you know?!]. I also want to make a change when I feel really inspired and raring to go with the change, and I just don’t feel like that usually in January.

So, I thought I might share my list of times that have worked for me as catalysts for successful change. They may, at first, seem a bit unorthodox, but hey – we’re talking about change, right?

When I change the bed sheets – the first night’s sleep on freshly changed sheets always feels somehow revelatory to me. It feels SO GOOD to slide between crisp, cool, smooth sheets with no wrinkles and no mussed blankets. I seem to get a terrific night’s sleep on the first night of fresh sheets, so it just seems natural if I’ve been thinking about making a change of some sort to do it on the day after a sleep on fresh sheets.

When I get lost – let me first clarify for those who don’t know me well, I get lost A LOT! I could get lost in my own bathtub because I am the most directionally challenged person on the planet. And when I get lost, rather than getting all bent out of shape about it – because I’d be bent an awful lot if I let it get to me, given the frequency with which it happens – I often use it. I figure getting lost is as good an indication as any that some kind of shift in how I’m doing things might be in order.

When something [or someone] makes me laugh really hard – laughter is cleansing I feel. It takes me out of my own head, and lets me be completely in the moment and unfettered by all the “shoulds” and “ought tos” we let the world impose on us. Right after I laugh fully and without reservation I always feel buoyant and open and as though I could do anything. So, if there’s a change I have been mulling over but haven’t found the right time to dive into sometimes in the laughter aftermath I feel like I can tackle it.

When I’ve spent time with a child – children are the ultimate experts on change! They have no fear of trying something different, and they don’t feel the need to obsess about it, or plan for months before they do it. If it seems like a good idea at the time, they just do it. And surprisingly, whether the changes they make turn out or not, they don’t really stress too much about it, they just keep trying new things until they find something that works. We can all learn a bunch from that approach. So usually, having the good fortune to be around a child boosts my own openness and sense of “anything is possible” that kids inspire. That mind-set is a terrific place from which to jump off the cliff of “new” if you’re considering it.

Spring and Autumn – although any season change *could* work for making a change, for me, spring and autumn are the ones where I can almost taste change in the air, so they work the best for me. Whether it’s seeing little green heads popping up out of the soil everywhere in the spring, or the stunning changing of the leaves in the autumn, these seasonal changes seem to me to be just ideally suited to trying something brand new.

And, finally,

Thursdays – I like Thursdays to make a change because there’s a lot less pressure about the whole thing. I mean, making a change on Monday? Yikes! Like there isn’t already enough going on on Mondays, between “the weekend’s over” and “I have SO MUCH to get done this week” Monday is just not good for me to try something big and new. Tuesday and Wednesday *could* work, but you’re still getting into the week, and doing all the regular stuff you have to do, so they can be complicated for changes. But by Thursday, you’ve got a pretty good handle on the usual stuff, and have probably gotten a fair amount of it already done, so you have the mind-space to think about something new. Plus, the weekend is only another day away, so if the change gets overwhelming right out of the gate, you can put it on pause for the weekend and pick it up again next Thursday!

My list of change opportunities may or may not work for you. But I offer them more as permission to do your own thing than any proscribed dictate of what you *should* do. I’m not much of a fan of “shoulds” or “musts” or “this is the way it’s always been dones”. Instead, I like “Ooooh! This feels like a good idea! Let’s try it!!”

I wish you a happy, successful 2014 filled with changes on your schedule, in your own time, and in ways that work perfectly for you!

If you have other times for change that you’d care to share, I’d love for you to leave a comment and tell me about them!

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | December 4, 2013

12 Days of Christmas – Communicator Version

Christmas drink I love Christmas!  Despite all the acquisitive, commercial nonsense, the family dramas and travel travails, debates over what to call things and whether to display things, at its foundation, this time of year is about love, and loving and celebrating with the people in our lives, however we do that, and whatever we specifically celebrate.

I also love being a communicator [which, if you are reading this you already know, but it bears repeating] so it just seems appropriate to combine two of the things I love at a wonderful time of year, for a holiday-themed post. I did this the first time several years ago and had tons of fun writing a communicator version of Virginia’s famous letter to the editor asking if there really was a Santa Claus, and then last year I wrote about how to survive the holidays and communications using the same tips.

This year, I’ve decided it’s time for a Communicator’s edition of the Twelve Days of Christmas. I have replaced each of the items from that true love person [someone with apparently unlimited funds, way too much free time on his/her hands, and very odd perspectives on good gifts!] with things that will be more familiar, and, in most cases even more irritating, than dancing ladies, leaping lords, and French hens [although, one would imagine the combination of leaping lords, and THREE DIFFERENT KINDS of birds along with the natural excretions they produce would make for a very irritating and messy combination – just sayin’!]  But getting back on topic, obviously, you should sing this – aloud or in your head, as your preference, location, and companions dictate – to the tune of the original song . . . well, mostly to the original, I did take a bit of  musical timing licence 😉

I hope you enjoy reading – or singing! – this as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I wish you all the joy of the season and a fabulous 2014!

12 Days of Communications [Comms]

On the first day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
Employees who don’t care.

On the second day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
Bad grammar sins,
and employees who don’t care.

On the third day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
PowerPoint woes,
Bad grammar sins,
and employees who don’t care.

On the fourth day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
Obtuse Execs,
PowerPoint woes,
Bad grammar sins,
and employees who don’t care.

On the fifth day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
Obtuse Execs,
PowerPoint woes,
Bad grammar sins,
and employees who don’t care.

On the sixth day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
IT Bandwidth roadblocks,
Obtuse Execs,
PowerPoint woes,
Bad grammar sins,
and employees who don’t care.

On the seventh day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
Telling REAL stories,
IT Bandwidth roadblocks,
Obtuse Execs,
PowerPoint woes,
Bad grammar sins,
and employees who don’t care.

On the eighth day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
Being diplomatic,
Telling REAL stories,
IT Bandwidth roadblocks,
Obtuse Execs,
PowerPoint woes,
Bad grammar sins,
and employees who don’t care.

On the ninth day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
Website crashes,
Being diplomatic,
Telling REAL stories,
IT Bandwidth roadblocks
Obtuse execs,
PowerPoint woes,
Bad grammar sins,
and employees who don’t care.

On the tenth day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
Idiotic buzzwords,
Website crashes,
Being diplomatic,
Telling REAL stories,
IT Bandwidth roadblocks,
Obtuse Execs,
PowerPoint woes,
Bad grammar sins,
and employees who don’t care

On the eleventh day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
Idiotic buzzwords,
Website crashes,
Being diplomatic,
Telling REAL stories,
IT Bandwidth roadblocks,
Obtuse Execs,
PowerPoint woes,
Bad grammar sins,
and employees who don’t care.

On the twelfth day of Christmas Comms gave to me:
People thinking they can write,
Idiotic buzzwords,
Website crashes,
Being diplomatic,
Telling REAL stories,
IT Bandwidth roadblocks,
Obtuse Execs,
PowerPoint woes,
Bad grammar sins,
and employees who don’t care.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | November 17, 2013

Do you wanna be “in charge” or successful?!

BossyThe title of this post is a question that’s been top of mind for me recently. There are a number of situations that have brought that leadership dichotomy front and centre, but the most glaring, and painful is what is happening  at the moment with the mayor of Toronto [where I live].

I shouldn’t assume that everyone and anyone reading this is aware of the Rob Ford debacle that Toronto is currently enduring [although, given that every news outlet, from CNN to Jon Stewart, and even The Onion have now covered the story it has gone pretty far and wide, sadly] so for the 3 people who haven’t heard about it, our mayor has admitted to smoking crack cocaine while in office, to drinking himself “into a drunken stupor”, and has been accused of having prostitutes at city hall, drinking while driving, sexually and verbally harassing city hall employees and a host of other clearly inappropriate behaviours for the mayor of the largest city in Canada, and the fourth largest city in North America. And despite the fact that he has been asked to resign or at least take a leave by not only the majority of the city council and large numbers of Toronto residents, Ford has adamantly refused to consider stepping down, insisting that he has apologized, and that’s the end of it – he’s moving forward.

Unfortunately for the mayor, he is about the only one who thinks he can simply apologize [and not even very believeably in my opinion] and go on as though nothing happened. He continues to be besieged by councillors, the media, the citizens of Toronto and a host of others with demands that he step aside since any credibility or capability to effectively run the business of the city is long gone for him. Unfortunately for the city, the structure of our municipality provides no way to remove him from office if he refuses to step down unless he is convicted of a crime. So despite the fact that he has become an international punch-line and a painful embarrassment to the city, we are stuck with him until and unless he comes to his senses and resigns, or until the next municipal election in the fall of 2014.

This painful and ugly situation is a perfect example of the leader who doesn’t understand that communication is a two-way activity. Even if you are “in charge”, whether of a large urban city, or of a team in a corporate organization,  effective communication must involve both talking and listening. And just to be clear, both parties have to talk AND listen!

I think we’ve all at some point come into contact with the kind of leader who believes that because they are “in charge” all they must do is pronounce what they are positive are shining pearls of wisdom from on high – you know, like Zeus from Olympus?! These folks assume that once they have dictated what they want, all the people on their teams will just “make it so” as Captain Picard used to say to Number One on Star Trek The Next Generation TV show.

The problem with this approach is that human beings, particularly intelligent, dedicated human beings, resent being treated like five-year olds or slaves, and while they may follow the letter of what you’ve told them to do – because most employees in this situation know that’s what they need to do to keep their jobs – that is not at all the same thing as having genuinely engaged and actively participative employee ambassadors working with you to deliver on whatever your team needs to deliver. It is really easy for employees to deliver the letter of the instructions they’ve been given, without going to the next level of support and commitment that would really make a project a success. And because this kind of behaviour is always going to be under the radar, it’s hard to fix, unless you accept that you need these people, and treating them with the genuine respect and acknowledgement they deserve is the only way to get them actively working to make your business successful.

Rob Ford’s biggest issue is that his denial of the reality of his situation, and his arrogance about his ability to continue to be mayor is putting him into a bubble of “it’s all about ME!!” And the truth is, whether you are the mayor of Toronto or the manager of a team at XYZ corporation, it is NEVER all about you! There are ALWAYS dozens of other people involved in making any endeavour a success, and you ignore the opinions and needs of those people at your peril. I actually wrote a previous post about how, as a communicator, I need to continually remind myself that in order to be successful, I often have to put aside what I may want, if that isn’t what’s best for getting the job at hand accomplished. The same goes for leaders.

I don’t for a moment believe myself qualified to advise Rob Ford on his situation [and as recent events have proven, he wouldn’t listen to me anyway, so why waste the breath?!] but I do have some suggestions for leaders in corporate environments, because those I know what I’m talking about [after almost 15 years doing corporate communications, I’d better]. These are things leaders can do to make sure they have a realistic understanding of what’s happening “in the trenches” with the people doing the work, because you can’t fix it if you don’t even know it’s happening!

An “open door” isn’t good enough – lots of leaders put that “my door is always open” business into their communications, and there’s nothing wrong with it, as long as your door really IS open. But even that isn’t always enough because depending on your location, and the structure of your organization, not all employees are going to be comfortable strolling into the boss’s office to tell him or her all the things that are not working around here. No, if you really want to know what’s what, you need to walk around and ASK! I have learned in my years of doing this job, that there is little more powerful than the grand poo-bah showing up in the call centre, or the sales floor, or wherever the bulk of his/her employees work unexpectedly and just walking around and talking with people. Asking real questions, and listening actively to the answers is powerful. Not only does it demonstrate that you as the leader really want to know how to make things better, but it takes the pressure off the employees to come to you. It also shows a humility and respect and proves you don’t think you’re too important to go to them, rather than making them come to you.

Encourage and empower the opinion leaders – there are opinion leaders in every business, and usually in every team. These are the people who know everybody, who know what’s going on – good and bad – in the business, and most importantly, these people aren’t afraid to talk about what’s going on. These are the people you as a leader need to find, and talk to on a regular basis. These people can give you a WEALTH of information you will probably never hear otherwise, and if you empower them by letting other employees know that you are talking to those people and listening to what they say, then more and more of the other employees will start telling those opinion makers the things you need to know. Because no matter how much they believe in the company, there are always going to be employees who just aren’t going to seek out leaders and tell them what isn’t working. So by giving them a proxy, you are making sure that everyone who wants to share information to make things better, has a means to do that that works for them.

Put your ego on the back burner – sometimes leaders take it as a personal affront when people suggest that things in the business aren’t perfect. First off, it ISN’T a personal insult or diss to you when employees give you feedback that something isn’t working, or that it could work better. It’s hard for leaders to hear this sometimes, but the employees aren’t actually thinking about YOU all through their workdays. They are busy DOING THE WORK of your organization. So, instead of getting your feelings or your dignity hurt, put aside any thought of the feedback being disrespectful or insubordinate. Instead, accept this feedback for what it is – genuine, honest, helpful information about how to make things better from the people best positioned to know.

Act on what you hear – this is the most important point, and often the one that is hardest to do for some leaders. Nobody LIKES to be told they’re missing the mark or doing something wrong, and leaders most of all have a great deal invested in being the smartest one at the table. But as I said earlier, nobody can be successful alone, and while you probably are very smart and have a great handle on how to run the business, you can’t know everything, so why not take advantage of the dozens, hundreds or thousands of employees doing the day-to-day work of your company and use the feedback they offer. Think about it – the last thing employees want to do is anger their boss, so if they are sticking out their necks to make suggestions for improving business, you should be thanking them and giving serious consideration to the ideas you hear.

So, as things often do when you are a leader, this comes down to answering the question in the title of this post. Because you get to continue to be “the boss” but simply by virtue of holding that title, you do not automatically get to be right all the time. Success almost always comes from encouraging everyone involved in your business to continually be looking for and suggesting ways to make the business grow. And if you are fortunate enough to have employees who want to make things better, all you have to do is listen.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | November 10, 2013

Remember, but also act!

PoppyI was deeply saddened to hear on this week’s Rick Mercer Rant, that our government is shafting our veterans. I have therefore sent the below message by email to my member of parliament, and an abbreviated version [as the PM’s website limits messages to only 2,000 characters] to Prime Minister Harper. I share it here as my way to honour Remembrance Day, and let our veterans know that we not only remember, but support them.

Mr.        ,

You are my MP, and I am therefore addressing to you my outrage about the recent treatment of our veterans by your party as the current government.

I was distressed enough hearing about the government closing veterans affairs offices and forcing our veterans – many of whom are elderly, and may or may not be computer literate – to use only online resources to obtain information or assistance. That is a terribly disrespectful way to treat men and women to whom all Canadians owe an enormous debt of gratitude.

But when I learned this week that the government is removing veterans with medical issues from service just before they would be eligible for their fully indexed pensions – which they must serve 10 years to earn – to avoid having to provide those pensions, I was truly disgusted! Particularly when members of the government are eligible for THEIR fully indexed pensions after only six years of service, the current government, and YOU, Mr.        , as their representative in this riding, should be ashamed! Can you truly look your constituents in the eyes and state that your work is more deserving of a full pension than our service people, who’s jobs involve risking their lives, and being away from their families much of the time to represent and protect all of us in foreign and dangerous places?!

I am a Canadian who has had the good fortune to have lived her entire life free from any personal experience of war. I am eternally grateful to our veterans, whom we owe not only our thanks and respect for the service and sacrifices they have made to give us at home that safety and peace, but the proper and deserved financial and medical support they require as a result of that service. To do anything less is an injustice and a shameful embarassment to all Canadians.

Mr.          , I tell you this in the strongest possible terms – I want the government to do the right thing for our service people! As a citizen, as a taxpayer, and simply as a decent human being – I ask you to provide to our service people the benefits to which they are entitled! To do anything less is a disgrace, particularly as we celebrate Remembrance Day. I want to assure you – as well as Prime Minister Harper, to whom I will also be sending this message – that in addition to remembering our service people on November 11th, I intend to remember what happens with this issue when next I cast a vote for the federal government.


Should you wish to send your own message to your MP and I hope you will, and in case you don’t have his or her email address handy, here is the link to Find Your MP .

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | November 8, 2013

Twitter – Part 2 – Getting started

Love TwitterMy previous post – Twitter – Part 1 – Why I love it, talked about why I think Twitter is awesome. Now that I’ve *hopefully* convinced you to give it a shot, part two gives my suggestions for Twitter newbies to get the most out of it. Just to clarify, my suggestions are intended for individual users. I do not run a business, so my recommendations aren’t created for folks who may want to use Twitter to build or market their business.

That said, I hope some of these ideas will be helpful for people who keep hearing about Twitter, and think it might be interesting to see what it’s all about, but aren’t quite sure how to jump into the Twitterverse and feel intimidated by it. These are things I learned when I first started tweeting and I hope they will be helpful for others. Happy Tweeting!!

The rules of Twitter are:  there ain’t no rules!! – the biggest thing I’ve learned in playing around with Twitter, is that you can, and should, do what works for you. There are plenty of people out there who will try to tell you that it’s “polite” to follow everyone who follows you [more on that further down] or that you “ought” to be tweeting on a certain schedule, or any number of other arbitrary rules that may feel oppressive and confusing, and might scare you away if you’re just starting out on Twitter and feel like you MUST follow them. It could be because I dislike rules just on principle, but my advice is to call “bullshit!” on any rules [including these] that anyone tries to tell you that you have to follow that don’t feel right or sensible or helpful to you. Your Twitter account is precisely that – YOURS!! So you can use it however you like. The point of being on Twitter in the first place after all is for you to get something from it that makes it worth spending your precious and limited time there – so figure out what works for you and don’t spend a second feeling bad about doing just that.

Start in stealth mode – Even if you are active in other social media environments, Twitter does have some unique and, for some, unnerving aspects to it. The 140 character limit alone is different from almost all the other sites. So when you are first starting out, it’s perfectly okay to do lots of looking around and not much else to get a handle on what goes on there. When I first joined Twitter, I think it was a couple of months before I tweeted at all and some months more before I started tweeting regularly. I looked at lots of other people’s tweets, I clicked into all the clickable things on Twitter to see what they were, what was in them and how I might want to use them. One of the cool things about Twitter is that you can look at other people’s tweets without actually having to interact until you feel comfortable. Take advantage of that and do the looking until you feel ready to tweet.

Setting up your profile – as with any other social media site, your profile is how people will see you and connect with you in a social media environment so you want to do all the usual things, i.e. upload a picture, fill in the bio section, maybe add a header photo, etc. The one thing to consider on Twitter that is unique, however, is the length of your Twitter name. Because Twitter has a character limit, if someone else wants to re-tweet, i.e., share, something you’ve tweeted on their own page, your twitter name forms part of the re-tweet, and therefore is included in the character limit. So if your Twitter name is really long, that could make it hard [or impossible] to re-tweet something you’ve tweeted due to length. If you have a long name, or plan to use a cool or clever Twitter handle, do keep length in mind, especially if you like the idea of people sharing things you Tweet [you may not think you care in the beginning, but it does feel cool and flattering when you see people sharing something you’ve tweeted to lots of other people, so making it easier to do that isn’t a bad idea].

Deciding who to follow – This was one of the hardest things for me to get my head around in the beginning. I was lucky enough to have friends who were avid Twitter users and they gave me advice, to which I’ll now add mine.

  • People & Topics – The first thing I found helpful was making lists of both people and topics. People were anyone I am already connected with in the “real” world, as well as people I know “of” and who I thought might have interesting stuff to see on Twitter. Then I logged into Twitter and searched all of them to see if they had a Twitter page, and, if they did, whether the things they were tweeting were of interest to me. Where topics were concerned, I just entered each topic into the search box at the top of the page and randomly looked at the Twitter pages that came back to see which, if any were tweeting things that interested me.
  • Start slow – It the beginning I was very judicious in how many people I followed, but now, if I look at someone’s page and their last 10-15 tweets are all or mostly interesting, I will follow. Keep in mind that unfollowing is just as easy as following [one click], and as I said earlier, I don’t feel guilty about unfollowing someone who stops tweeting things I want to see, or not following someone just because they follow me. My main yardstick for twitter is: does this person consistently tweet things that I find interesting or helpful now? That makes it very simple for me to decide.
  • Look at who your connections follow – once you’ve started to get comfortable with a group of people you  are following on Twitter and you feel like you want more stuff to look at in your feed, go individually into the Twitter pages of the people you follow, and look through the list of people THEY are following and see what those people tweet about. [HOW TO: Click on the person’s name/handle, then click on “Following” once in their page] Chances are, if you like most of what the person you are already following tweets, there will be at least one or two people they follow that might be interesting to you as well.
  • Trends – When you set up your Twitter page, you will have the option to give your location to have tailored “trends” show up on your page. I recommend doing this, as it offers another way to come across topics that may be interesting to you. Once you’ve done this, Twitter will use both your location and the people you follow to suggest a list of subjects that are trending on a real-time basis that you can click on and see all the tweets [whether you follow the tweeter or not] about that topic. It’s an easy way to find new things.
  • Follow Friday (#FF) – on Friday, people will tweet a list of people they recommend as “follow-worthy”. Sometimes they will give an explanation, i.e. if all the suggestions are related to a topic, for example, but often it’s just a list of the people that person really enjoys following.

The above are just a few easy ways to get started filling your Twitter feed with interesting stuff. As you get more comfortable on Twitter, you will find your own best ways to continue to discover new people to follow.

Hashtags – When you use Twitter you will see the word “hashtag” . Basically a hashtag is the number sign – # – in front of a word or words [if multiple words no spaces between words] to put the tweet in with every other tweet by anybody that includes that same word or words. For example, let’s say it’s an election day where you live. If you want to see what EVERYBODY is saying about the election, you would type – #Mycountry’selection – in the search box. You will then see ALL the tweets anyone has sent with those same words in them. This can be fun and very interesting, if some big news has broken. Using the hashtag and continuing to refresh that search will give you continuous, real-time views of how people are reacting to the story. And because it’s all the tweets, you get opinions and perspectives from people all over the world if they are talking about that subject, and you get those opinions instantly.

Don’t take anything personally – At this point I’ll reiterate that Twitter is a vast unconstrained ocean of people and opinions. While the lack of barriers is sometimes a good thing, it also means that people can and will let fly with immediate and uncensored opinions and reactions to things others say. So, if you tweet something and you see somebody you don’t know pop up in your feed with some rude or nasty retort, don’t let it bother you. There are rude jerks on Twitter, just like there are in virtually every other aspect of life. If you feel like engaging those people in a continued conversation – myself I like a good virtual bar-fight every now and then, especially on subjects I’m passionate about, but that’s me – go for it. If not, shrug your shoulders, dismiss the jerks and move on to other tweets – remember, the parade never stops so the very next thing in your feed is likely to be so interesting you’ll forget all about the nasty people.

But try to be respectful – The previous point notwithstanding, I generally find that being polite and respectful on Twitter, even when I’m having an animated discussion, goes a long way to making my overall experience a good one. Most people on Twitter are basically good folk, and if you remind yourself that just because you are interacting online, and aren’t face-to-face with people, you ARE still talking to other human beings, and they have feelings and foibles just like we do. If I’m tempted to let loose with a snark on Twitter, I try to stop and think: “If that person was standing here in front of me, would I still feel comfortable saying that?” If the answer is no, I rethink the Tweet.

Have fun – my final suggestion is to just enjoy Twitter. It can be many things to many people, and it can change depending on the day, the people you follow, and what’s going on at any given moment. But bottom line – most of the people on Twitter aren’t curing hunger or saving the world. It can, and has, been an important part of some of the things happening in the world and that’s exciting. But most of the people I know on Twitter use as a tool to get information, share information, find something interesting, and basically have some fun. For myself, life’s too short to voluntarily do things that aren’t fun. So to reiterate my first suggestion – make Twitter something that works for YOU. You are a King [or Queen] of your Twitter feed.

Happy Tweeting!

P.S. If there are other suggestions for making Twitter a great experience, I’d love for you to add them in the comments.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | November 1, 2013

Twitter – Part 1, Why I love it

Love Twitter“Are you kidding me?! That sounds like the most colossal WASTE OF TIME I have EVER heard of!!” That was my reaction when Twitter was first explained to me. Not that I over-react, or anything! 😉 But I have done a complete about-face on Twitter, and now I’m pretty much addicted to that cute little blue bird.

Recently I’ve had a number of people react to my mentioning my love of Twitter with similar sentiments to my original one, and ask me: a) what I love about it, or b) how they can get value out of it, and since I’ve heard both questions more than once, I have finally decided to answer both questions. But rather than have a single really long post, I’ve decided to break it up into a Part 1 and Part 2. Here in Part 1 I’m going to explain why I think Twitter is worth spending time on, and what I get out of it. Twitter – Part 2 will give my suggestions for how to use Twitter if you’re new to it, or thinking about diving in.

Why I love Twitter:

It’s instant gratification – Anything you can think of no matter how odd or esoteric, search it on Twitter and you will discover people, places, pictures, website,  things and resources focused it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen something on Twitter that was just exactly what I needed at exactly that moment. Then there are the times I’m not looking for anything at all, but as soon as I open Twitter and start scanning my feed, I find a wealth of things I didn’t even know I needed, but which fascinate, challenge or sometimes infuriate me. Regardless, you don’t have to wait around for anything – everything on Twitter is right there, right now. And in our ADD-world that’s a good thing. Sad, possibly, but effective – definitely!

It’s short, fast and easy to digest – at first, I admit, the idea of a communication with a maximum of 140 characters seemed utterly impossible to me. As a communicator, words are the tools of my trade, and I love them – all of them! So it can be hard to limit my use of them, especially to such a brief number, and still say something worthwhile. But when I thought about it a bit more, I remembered that ANOTHER key part of what I do when I counsel my business partners and clients, is to KEEP IT BRIEF! I am forever editing things down and removing extraneous or unnecessary words from documents and reminding them that everyone is busy and attention-spans are short, so don’t use more words than you really NEED to get the message across . . . hmmmm, physician – heal thyself! It was a challenge for me to say exactly what I want to say in just 140 characters in the beginning, but I love a challenge, and it’s been a terrific exercise in editing myself to become proficient in using Twitter. I’m getting pretty good at it, although there will always be more to learn, especially since I try hard to NOT use “text-speak” short-forms but rather full words. The upside is, in recognizing  that miniscule attention-span, when you DO say what you mean in 140 characters, people might actually get your message. Heck, with all that time they saved in reading such a short message, they might even RESPOND!

It’s commitment-free – You don’t HAVE to participate on Twitter to get value from it. Because Twitter is a constantly changing, growing and self-perpetuating flood of information, there is ALWAYS something new or cool or helpful marching by in you feed, but it’s entirely up to you whether you jump in and participate or just watch – friend Isaac Pigott described Twitter to me as being like a parade and that really resonated for me. Twitter has a continuous flow of information whether you look at it or not, and you can pick out the bits you can use, when you can/want to use them, while letting everything else just flow on by. There are days – sometimes even weeks – when I don’t look at Twitter at all and my life goes on just fine. But I know it’s there, and if I want it, there’s a ton of stuff just waiting to march on by!

You can talk to anyone, anywhere – Twitter is about as democratic as it gets – you can connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime, on any subject. Think about your favourite musician, your favourite author, a politician, or, [if you MUST] a celebrity that you would love to talk to – on Twitter YOU CAN!! Almost everyone is on Twitter now, and most of them – including “famous” people – actually participate on it. I’ll give you an example: there’s an author whose books I love, and she’s two books into a series, but it’s been several years since a new one came out. I was wondering if she’d given up on the series, and if the rest of the books would be coming soon, or ever. In the old days, I could have written a letter to the publishers, who might have forwarded my letter to her, and she might have responded – months later! In the recent past, I might have been able to go to a website for either the publisher or the author and posted a comment with my question, but it would still likely be days at best before I received a response, and that’s assuming there is someone constantly monitoring the site. But with Twitter, I searched her name, found her, tweeted my question to her, and she responded just a couple of hours later. I’ve also connected with people who are well-known in my industry, with local politicians and media people and found information or gotten responses on issues or problems in hours rather than days . . . or NEVER!! I think it’s pretty cool that Twitter allows me to have a conversation with almost anyone I like in nearly real-time.

You will discover people, info and insights you’d never find otherwise – because Twitter is a big open ocean of people, there are no barriers between you and anyone else. So even if you don’t know someone, or aren’t already following their Tweets, you can still see their stuff, either by doing a search and discovering someone or something at random, or alternatively, someone you follow will re-tweet [that’s “share” for the uninitiated] something cool from someone THEY follow, that you don’t. And if that something else from that someone happens to interest me, I can then follow them for the future. It’s like dropping a stone in a pond in how easy it is to discover someone or something on Twitter with very little effort. And all that can happen with just one or two clicks.

Hopefully, this list makes some sense, and helps to explain why so many people – including me – are Twitter-addicted. This is my list of what makes Twitter awesome, but I know there are other reasons. I would love for you to comment if you have more reasons to love Twitter for people thinking about it to consider.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | August 26, 2013

10 Most Inspiring Movies – No Women?

Women MoviesLast Friday on LinkedIn, I saw this list of Incredible Movies to Inspire Leaders. I don’t know about you, but I love lists! They are quick hits of fun, educational or otherwise interesting bits of information gathered into someone’s idea of “most/best” whatever.

Lists have the added benefit of being highly subjective, and therefore up for – often animated – debate and conversation about whether the list maker’s choices align with our own. One of the main reasons I started this blog is to start interesting conversations. So I’m a sucker for a list. But I digress . . .

Getting back to the Incredible Movies list from Friday, what struck me as I read through it, was that there isn’t a single woman as the main, or even A main focus of ANY of these movies. Now, in fairness, the author of this list is a man, so I guess it’s only to be expected that he would gravitate to movies driven by men and male characters. Like I said, one of the best things about lists is the opportunity to critique them.

When I looked through that list, as laudable as I think most of his movies are, I wanted to see a list that reflected the fact that movies about and driven by women are also inspiring. So, I decided to create my own list, one that offers inspiration and leadership advice, but from a woman’s perspective. And while my list does focus on women as main characters, I think the advice offered by these movies is really applicable to anyone. Of course, as the reader, you get to decide whether you agree or not, and I’m hoping you’ll weigh in and tell me what you think – even if you disagree with my choices! 😉

Each title links to a YouTube clip of either the movie’s trailer or my favourite scene from that movie.

#10 – The African Queen

If you can hold your own against Humphrey Bogart, I figure you are automatically a leader and an inspiration! Katharine Hepburn coaxes, cajoles, nudges, and occasionally bullies Bogart into doing something heroic. Aside from the fact that Hepburn’s character starts out as a spoiled rich woman who grows into a formidable and honourable person, this movie also demonstrates that having little to work with, and needing to fight through adversity to reach a goal doesn’t have to stop you. As a communicator, I often have to be creative and flexible in how I’ve tried to improve and evolve the communications approaches in my various organizations.

#9 – North Country

Charlize Theron stars in this based on true events story about the first successful sexual harassment lawsuit won in the U.S. As a female miner, Theron’s character is subjected to horrendous abuse from the male miners she works with, including the management. This movie reminds me that while change in most workplaces today is difficult, and irksome to implement, it’s absolutely nothing compared to what many of the trailblazing women who’ve come before me had to endure so that I have the ability, and, more importantly, the right, to complain about my job trying to improve communications in some of my past jobs.

#8 – Erin Brockovich

I love this movie because it’s a reminder that how someone “appears” has little if anything to do with who they truly are, or what they’re capable of. Erin took down a massive conglomerate doing really evil things to a small town just because she refused to give up, and was willing to be creative and inventive in getting what she needed to get the job done. I can always use a reminder that there lots of ways to get things done, and it’s far more important that you do get the job done, than whether you do things “the way we’ve always done it”.

#7 – The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen is a heroine for a younger generation, but her ability to be kind and giving to others even in the worst possible circumstances is inspiring to me. While this is a rough movie to watch, it shows that you can be a kick-ass powerful woman who won’t be beaten down without becoming hateful or bitter. Life can be difficult and put obstacles in our way, and sometimes we have to be firm and make hard choices, but we can choose to keep a small grain of humanity and kindness always with us, and use that to drive your overall actions, because that’s what real leaders do.

#6 – Miracle on 34th street

This movie has not one, but two inspiring women, in Maureen O’Hara and a very young and delightful Natalie Wood. The inspiration here comes from the realization of young Susan Walker that while logic and intelligence are important, they aren’t everything, and sometimes in order for magic and the seemingly impossible to happen, you have to throw caution to the wind and just believe! Communicators face plenty of seemingly impossible hurdles in our work, and some days, my stubborn belief that things that seem set in stone can actually be changed is what keeps me trying and believing.

#5 – Gone with the Wind

I can’t imagine that I even need to explain why this movie is on my list, but for the three people out there who haven’t seen it [and you three really need to watch this movie – “epic” doesn’t begin to describe it!] I will. Scarlett O’Hara is the spoiled, selfish, pampered daughter of the owner of the southern Tara plantation during the time leading up to and through the Civil War. Scarlett’s world of luxury and ease comes crashing down around her with the war, and she’s forced to dig into herself and find the fortitude and grit to look after not only herself, but almost everyone in her immediate vicinity. This one inspires me in two ways: 1) it shows that people can change. If you’d told Scarlett at the beginning of the movie that she’d be digging potatoes from the ground with her bare hands and eating them, or wearing the drapes as a dress she’d have told you “Fiddledy Dee!” but she does that and more to survive; and, 2) Things aren’t always neat and tidy, and sometimes the best choice available still isn’t ideal, and you have to weigh the choices available and make the best one you can, even if that choice isn’t perfect. Both of those lessons stand me in good stead as a communicator on a daily basis.

#4 – The Princess Bride

Full disclosure – you will never see a “best movie” list from me that does not include The Princess Bride. I think this is one of THE BEST MOVIES EVER MADE, and I’m not even going to pretend to be at all objective about its wonderfulness, so there you go. The Princess Bride again offers me two lessons: 1) You can be gentle and quiet and sweet most of the time and still accomplish things. Princess Buttercup ends up in a number of unfortunate situations in this movie, and while she is certainly never going to give Katniss Everdeen a run for her money, she nevertheless asserts herself when the situation calls for it and does what she has to do but always remains ladylike; 2) Humour almost always improves things, and finding the humour in difficult situations can be the difference between losing your marbles in frustrating interactions and being able to laugh, breathe and move forward. Throughout my career, having a healthy sense of humour has been probably the best skill I have – and not just in my work either. Laughing is always better than the alternative. P.S. I wrote an earlier post with The Princess Bride’s lessons for communicators, in case you’re interested.

#3 – Norma Rae

Norma Rae as played by Sally Field in this movie about union organizing making hard-working women’s lives more equitable is my inspiration for those times when making a fuss and insisting on fighting for something important is appropriate. When you work in corporate environments there are a lot of things you have to  just accept, but as a communicator, it’s my job to sometimes push back and advocate for things I know would make things better for everyone. And while I don’t go around jumping up on tables and kicking and screaming the way Norma Rae does [much as I might occasionally be tempted to] I have learned not only when to push but how, so that everybody wins.

#2 – The Help

This film has a whole bunch of inspirational women in it, and the courage of the black characters is simply herculean to me, because I am fortunate to have been born a white woman, and in a time where what happened in this movie is history. But the women this movie is based on battled insane intolerance and discrimination and they did it with grace and dignity, and all the while they LOVED the little white girls they cared for, girls whose parents wouldn’t allow them as “the help”, to use the bathroom inside the houses they cleaned. How much more inspirational can you get?

#1 – The Miracle Worker

This is without a doubt the most inspiring movie I can think of. It is powerful and positive and proves without a shadow of a doubt that no matter what obstacles or hardships life throws at you, you can persevere and rise above them. When I feel whiny about the miniscule – compared to what Helen Keller faced – problems in my life, I think about Helen, compare her battle to my life and I shut the hell up! This is yet another movie where you get a “two-fer” since Annie Sullivan, Keller’s teacher and the person who taught her to communicate and opened the world to her is also a supremely inspiring person. The scene from the movie that the link goes to is my absolute favourite from the movie and I get shivers and tears in my eyes every time I watch it. I feel like there is nothing I can’t manage after seeing what Keller overcame. And after all, that’s the objective of inspiration, right?

Okay, your turn – what inspirational movies would you add to my list? Ideally if there’s a woman in there, that would be terrific, but feel free to add in whatever movies inspire you.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | August 18, 2013

A communicator’s gifts

people postI talk a lot on this blog about how much I love being a communicator. There are a number of reasons for that, and this morning, I was reminded of another couple of them.

My dear friend Cindy Crescenzo, who’s also a communicator, posted a link to an article on Facebook. The article was about the upcoming closing of a local restaurant in her neighbourhood, which has been a beloved icon there for many years.

While the article, [which you can read here], was sad, it was also touching, and inspiring. And after I finished wiping my eyes when I finished reading it, I realized that the writer of that article received two really special gifts from that assignment, gifts that I, too, receive on a daily basis because of the nature of my job:


Communicators have to talk to people in order to do our jobs. Everything we write about involves people somewhere in the mix. And, frequently, we have to talk to many people to get the full story and understand whatever we need to communicate. So communicators have the unique opportunity to talk in-depth and one-on-one with lots of different people, in different roles/department/organizations, on a regular basis. If you think about it, most people don’t have that opportunity. Oh sure, you say “good morning” and “thank you” to the person who serves you your coffee, or the grocery check-out person, etc. So sure, everybody talks to people everyday, but how often do people get to *TALK* to people? I mean REALLY talk to someone and get a sense of who they are, and I mean people outside of the people who are a personal part of your own life?! Not that often, I think.

But because of the job I do, I frequently need to talk to people I haven’t met before, and usually know nothing about, and I need to make them feel comfortable enough with me – because they don’t know ME either! – to talk to me about something they know and I don’t. Even in a business setting when you are talking about business projects [which is the kind of communicator role I am in] the way to get the best information is to create a connection and a relationship with the person you are talking to. And the way to create a connection, I think, is to be genuinely interested in the person you’re talking to, not just the topic you need information about from that person.

I don’t think you can be a really successful communication person if you don’t genuinely LIKE people. Because people are complicated. They have frustrations, disappointments, irritations, confusions, and all kinds of other stuff going on that sometimes makes people a challenge to work with. But I’ve always found that if you genuinely like people, and can be understanding about all that “stuff” that makes them complex, you can work around it, and still connect on a human being level to all the people you talk to. I have found that if I am interacting with someone, anyone, with that genuine level of understanding, compassion and respect, they respond in kind, even if things started out on a difficult note. I almost always come away from the interactions I have with people for my work feeling good about how I connected with them, and in the world we live today, where so much of how we interact with others involves machines instead of faces, my job allowing me to really talk to people is a gift I’m extremely grateful for!

Words can touch people . .  . profoundly!

The other reminder from the article my friend Cindy posted, is that words are important, in spite of how many of them we all see on a daily basis. If they are the right words, written in just the right way, and with the right kind of heart and feeling behind them, they can make others feel too, just like the article about the closing of that restaurant – which I’ve never even been to – made me cry with sadness about its loss.

I don’t know, maybe I’m alone in this, but to me the ability to create a powerful emotion in another person with the words I write, that’s special, and I am grateful on an almost hourly basis that I have not only the ability to write in a way that makes people FEEL [at least, I like to flatter myself that I write in such a way], but that I’ve been lucky enough to find companies who are willing to pay me to do exactly that.

I understand that we have morphed into a world where “lol”, “LMAO” “TTYL” and other chat acronyms have become ubiquitous parts of our language, and I tolerate them because I’m a realist. But I truly believe that the power of real words, words with heart and passion and belief behind them is never going to go completely away. So again, I am so thrilled that I get to do something for a living that lets me write things that will – hopefully – make people feel as well as understand, and care as well as know.

All that from a single newspaper article on a local restaurant closing. Pretty cool, huh? Thanks, Cindy for the inspiration!

I hope your work inspires you too. I’d love to hear what you love about your communicator job, if you feel like sharing in the comments.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | July 10, 2013

Ultimate communicator’s bookshelf

Comm bookshelfI was lying on the floor of my living room the other day (no, it wasn’t a case of too many glasses of wine 🙂 I’d just finished my workout and hadn’t yet summoned the energy to get back up) and it happened that the book shelf where I keep all my business books was at eye-level.

Now, I assume that most communicators love books and that they read more than the average bear (if you don’t fit that description this post probably won’t interest you). Personally, while I read all kinds of books, because my work is important to me, I want to be as knowledgeable about it as I can. So I have a fair number of books on communication.

But in the general way of things, I find the majority of “business” books are not worth the time it would take to read them [I wrote a post about the titles of business books and how silly they are some time back). Still, I’m sure there ARE some great business books that I just haven’t come across. With the number of smart communication professionals out there, I decided (while I was lying there looking at my bookshelf as an excuse not to get up just yet) that we could probably build the ULTIMATE communicator’s bookshelf if we worked on it together.

So, I’m suggesting that we all submit one or two of the best books we’ve ever come across on communication and pool our wisdom. I’ll get us started with some of my favourites:

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots by Brian Fugere, et al. If you think the title is funny, wait till you read the book! It is written by three former employees of Deloitte and they finally got so fed up with what they called “the epidemic of bull” that is corporate writing, they decided to do something to change that and the result is this book. This book will make you laugh out loud all the way through it! But it will also give you really useful examples of “what to do instead” of the ridiculous [but sadly, too real in business today] nonsense-speak that they call out.

KEY GEM: Truthfully, this entire book is a key gem, but I especially loved the “Bull Spotter’s Guide” in the resources which is a glossary of “Bull Words” you find in corporate, and what they *really* mean to the average, normal human. Absolutely hilarious!


The Leader’s Way by the Dalai Lama. I know what you’re thinking! You’re thinking: “What could a buddhist monk POSSIBLY know about leadership and communicating in a corporate organization?! Well, the truth is he knows a surprising amount, and he offers surprisingly – at least, it was surprising to me – incisive, intelligent and usable insight. I actually wrote a whole post about this book a while back, so if you’re looking for more detail, you may want to check that out.

KEY GEM: Business CAN be successful, while at the same time behaving in ethical, responsible, inclusive ways. The book shows you how to do that.


Why should the boss listen to you? by James E. Lukaszewski. This book is especially good for communicators who struggle with how to convince their leaders to take their advice, or, in some cases to even get in front of leaders long enough to GIVE their advice! I wrote a full post on this book too, so if you’d like more detail you can decide if this one’s for you.

KEY GEM: Leaders think about issues and communication from a very different perspective than others in the organization do, and if you want them to listen to you, you need to understand how to think about things and talk about things in the way that will work to convince and connect with them so they will consider and take your advice. The book has worksheets to help you do it.


Getting Things Done When You Are Not In Charge by Geoffrey M. Bellman – The title got my attention, because how often is a communicator in that situation? Only nearly everyday, right? The book lives up to its title too. It give tips on how to enlist help from people in other areas of your business, how to manage politics, and how build support from management for initiating change.

KEY GEM – A 10-step process for internal consulting success. I’ve been using it since I bought the book some years ago – it works!


It’s your ship by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. Think YOUR company is rigidly set in its ways and reluctant to try new things or change? Try working for the U.S. Navy! I heard Captain Abrashoff speak at a leadership conference for a previous organization some years back. His presentation was a shocking breath of fresh air – no PowerPoint, in fact, no “presentation” at all, just him, standing on the stage telling us, simply, clearly and very engagingly, about the lessons he learned in the process of taking the ship he captained from the absolute worst in the Navy to the amazing “go-to” ship for it’s spectacular calibre of sailors and readiness. While this book is more of a focus on leadership, Abrashoff offers many lessons about how to communicate with your “employees” to get their commitment to your objectives.

KEY GEM: It doesn’t matter what kind of company you work in, or how resistant to change and new approaches it may be, there are ALWAYS ways to create a positive, collaborative environment where employees feel respected, trusted and valued. You just have to be creative and thoughtful about identifying and implementing them. If it can work inside the U.S. military environment, it can work anywhere.


E-Writing (21st Century Tools for Effective Communication) by Dianna Booher – When I bought this book and started reading it, I was highlighting what I thought was the really good stuff. By page 60 I realized I was highlighting almost everything. The 5 sections include: Email, E-writing culture, writing on paper or online, Editing, and Guidelines for writing all types of documents.

KEY GEM – The “MADE” formula which allows you to build a clear concise message using four simple components for any type of document in any format (email, written, etc.)


Say It In Six (How to say exactly what you mean in six minutes or less) by Ron Hoff – This book promises “no more everlasting meetings” which by itself was enough to get me to buy it, but the communication process laid out in this book really is fantastic. It shows you how to communicate absolutely ANYTHING – including a major business case presentation – in no more than SIX MINUTES. The author notes that the Gettysburg Address was 2 minutes, 42 seconds. While most communicators won’t be delivering such august messaging, don’t we want people to read and understand what we write? I know I do.

KEY GEM– The say it in six worksheet which is simple to use and helps to clearly structure your presentation (any presentation) quickly and effectively to do what you need it to do . . . in under six minutes!



Well, those are my contributions to our ultimate comms. bookshelf. Now it’s your turn. What communication books would you suggest we really can’t live without?

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | June 29, 2013

Hockey’s lessons for communicators

HockeyI am a hockey fan. Since I’m Canadian, that should go without saying, but not everyone may realize those two things go hand-in-hand, so I thought I would start out by clarifying that, because, as the title suggests, this post is going to explore the connections between my favourite sport and what I do for a living – communications.

The inspiration for this post came from hockey commentator [Canadian icon and really nice guy – if you haven’t read his bio “Cornered” I recommend it] Ron MacLean who, during the coverage of the recent NHL Stanley Cup finals made a comment that really resonated for me. Here’s what he said:

“Life, love and hockey, same rules – you gotta play hurt.”

I just loved that, because it’s so simple, but if you think about it, it actually says so much in just 10 words and it’s powerful. The more I thought about it, as it bounced around inside my head, I realized that list could also apply to being a communicator.

Don’t get me wrong here, it isn’t my intent to be melodramatic – although in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I have been known to do that on occasion 😉 – but by its very definition, a communicator’s job is such that we are very rarely in a position to MAKE people take our advice and do as we recommend [I’ve blogged about this before: “It’s not you, it’s me“]. A a result, we spend a fair amount of our time frustrated or disappointed when the people we counsel – who’s best interests we are ALWAYS trying to further – choose to not take our advice.

So, Ron’s reference to “playing hurt” really grabbed me, because that’s sort of how you have to approach being a communicator if you want to be in the profession for the long haul [which I do, because in spite of everything, I love doing it, and don’t want to do anything else] you need perspective, you need humour, and you need toughness, which is where the hockey connection comes in. So the more I thought about the comment by MacLean, the more I saw some lessons and linkss between hockey and communicating. See if any of these “hockey lessons for the communicator” resonate with you too:

  • You gotta play hurt – in hockey, this is pretty obvious. Hockey is a physical sport, and the players get hurt pretty much every time they skate onto the ice. But because they love what they do, and they are competitive, they play through injuries. Communications isn’t a physically aggressive activity, but there IS discouragement – granted it’s of a more mental and emotional sort, but still – when the people we’re working so hard to help just don’t agree with our advice. So, in communications, “playing hurt” means we take a deep breath, and we start looking for other ways to help our clients and business partners communicate, even if those ways aren’t exactly what we recommended. Because . . .
  • Hockey is a team sport – you can’t win a game, let alone a Stanley Cup, with one player, no matter how great that player is! Good hockey is about having a great team filled with enthusiastic, motivated and connected players who WORK TOGETHER to win, as much as it is about having the best talent. communicating is no different. You can’t communicate successfully without that same great team filled with enthusiasm, motivation and connection. So when I’m frustrated that MY ideas don’t end up being THE ideas we go ahead with, I remind myself it’s about the team, and delivering what’s ultimately the overall best result.
  • Hockey requires fast action but is based on strategy – The game itself is very fast-paced, and the players have to make choices and take action on the fly without stopping to have a focus group, or do a survey about what is the best way to get the puck into the net! But that said, before the players go out on the ice on game night, they have spent plenty of time in practice BEFORE game night, where they discuss with the coaches where the strengths and weaknesses of the team lie, and how best to use the strengths and offset the weaknesses when the team goes out to play. Being a communicator is the same. In truth, our ratio of “strategy to action” is probably different from your average NHL hockey team, because business is sometimes more comfortable with planning and discussing strategy than in diving into the maelstrom and just doing stuff. But business DOES communicate, and when it communicates, being able to move quickly, and change direction unexpectedly if circumstances demand, is just as critical in launching a new product or answering media questions, as it is to leveraging a power-play, or taking the slap-shot.
  • Hockey requires taking the check, but not taking it personally – checking is part of hockey, period, full-stop. It’s part of what makes watching the game exciting, so I don’t want checking to stop. As long as the checks aren’t dirty, it’s okay to let the other guys on the ice know how you REALLY feel, and hockey players – Sidney Crosby aside – don’t whine about getting checked. They just shake it off, get back up and head to where the play is, because that’s how the game is played.  On this point, too, communicators will relate, because while the “checks” in communications are more likely to be emotional than physical [other communicators may have different stories to tell, but, for myself in 15 years as a communicator, I’ve never actually had an SVP hip-check me in the hallway!] the result is the same – we don’t get the play we were “skating” towards with the course of action we recommended. And while that’s a disappointment, you have to shake it off in business too, because we don’t always know everything our executives know, and there may be a really good reason your recommendations weren’t used. It isn’t personal, and if you want to keep doing this job, you can’t make it personal. Just like the hockey players, you pick yourself up shake it off, and move on to the next project.
  • Building a winning hockey team requires looking out at the long-term – hockey is a game that requires both young, fresh aggressive players, as well as seasoned, experienced and aggressive players. A smart team makes sure that they have both on their team, and that they are constantly thinking about the best ratio of new and experienced players for their club, so that they are watching for draft picks that fill in whatever their need is now, and what it’s going to be 3-5 down the road. You need a clear understanding of the big picture. Being a communicator is similar. Although we do a lot of immediate or urgent projects, we also have to be looking at the longer-term strategy of our company, and thinking about what effective communication practices might look like in that same 3-5 year time-frame. Because while the “now” has to get handled, if you aren’t also keeping an eye on the “later” you can’t plan for it, and be thoughtful and creative with the kinds of recommendations you make as part of your role. Being a visionary, and, yes, sometimes, a soothsayer, is a key part of the communicator’s job, and to do that, you need to make certain you carve out time to just THINK – about your company, about its audiences, about the environment you do business in, and how that might change in the coming years. Because much of a communicator’s job involves action, it can be difficult to make the time to think about possibilities. But we MUST, because if we don’t, we can’t be the trusted advisors we really want and need to be for our organizations.

Well, those are the similarities I see between playing hockey and being a communicator. What do you think? Did I miss any? I’d love for you to add to this list if you have other thoughts.

And, in case hockey just isn’t your thing, I’ve written a few posts where I find communication lessons in weird and wonderful places. What can I tell you? I love what I do, so I think about it a lot, and I find similarities and lessons in lots of places. Things like being a mother, watching the movie The Princess Bride, the Academy Awardsfairy tales and even Country Music song titles. So if this one didn’t float your boat, maybe one of the others will offer some insights . . . or at least a laugh or two. Because that’s another thing I find absolutely imperative for a communicator – a healthy and well-nurtured sense of humour!

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