Career Track, the huge, personal development organization, recently sent me an advertisement for one of their seminars with the above title. Their (survey) research revealed these are the “toughest communication situations.” Since these “10 hurdles” have only one fundamental use—to sell the firm’s services--and since Career Track has made big bucks for years based on their marketing, I suspect the language is useful for guessing what’s bugging business people about communication.
So here are the Career Track “10,” with a few of my off-the-cuff comments.
. . . Confronting or criticizing others. Giving negative feedback seems to be a managerial requirement and it also seems to be terrifying to the givers. And typically useless as a developmental process for the receivers.
. . . Not being taken seriously. Since the workshop is oriented to women, this suggests that it is, peculiarly, a woman’s issue. But plenty of men have the same response to their managers. Perceived competence, the underlying issue, is tough to deal with—at least for many professionals.
. . . Feeling self-conscious. This has the ring of the last century. Do Gen-Y women feel nearly as self-conscious? And what proportion of men have similar responses? (Ummm, yeah. I know. Men wouldn’t normally use that language or the language above.) And, for that matter, what’s the overlap with not being taken seriously?
. . . Dealing with other people’s anger. Since the middle-class allergy to anger seems to be culturally endemic, this issue never goes away. The usual response is fight or flight. Typically, flight wins out. Of course, there are far better ways of dealing with anger. But they’re not readily learned. I mean by that that it just takes time to learn how to handle other people’s anger.
. . . Speaking in front of a group. It continues to amaze me how many engineers and info tech people realize after a few years of employment that a communication class would have been more valuable than some of their technology classes. Ummmm. Anybody can do the hard science. It’s the soft science [like talking intelligently] that is ultimately impenetrable to the majority. (Or as one of my smart-ass daughters once responded when I noted that she’d gotten A’s in science, “Awww, Dad. That’s just about memory. Not much more. Just memorize 24 hours a day. No more requisites are necessary.” She was the same one who got a fabulous research job, primarily because she had “great stories.”) I think I just vented my spleen.
. . . Controlling one’s emotions. This is definitely 20th century “speak.” But it’s still the way the majority of people think about emotions. How about “channeling” or “using” one’s emotions. Laid back only gets you so far today. Besides, emotions are a lot more interesting than mere facts without emotion. Actually—and technically--mere facts without emotion are impossible.
. . . Receiving criticism. This takes a lot more than learning a new skill. It’s all about a person’s structures of reality and her self-confidence. It would be helpful if at least a few psychologists and coaches talked about “structures of reality”—those underlying, yet fundamental orientations to life which “back” or “drive” our emotions. In short, ultimately self-confidence grows out of our reality structures. I think the world is fundamentally trustworthy, so it’s OK to fail and be on the receiving end of a critique, versus. . . .
. . . Getting cooperation. This single hurdle has changed drastically over the past 25 years as organizations have gone from a more hierarchical, individual worker orientation to less hierarchy and teams orientation. Thus cooperation and collaboration have become the sine qua non of management expertise. You get promoted if you’ve got great connections and work exceptionally with teams, otherwise you’re in deep shit with a stalled career. At bottom, this is all about your conversational capacities.
. . . Setting limits. Career Track doesn’t define this, but I assume that it’s about the demands that can be made upon an employee and the employee’s ability to say no to various expectations or demands.
. . . Taking the floor. I read this as speaking up, making contributions and being influential. It’s all about credibility, personal power and career success. The processes are all about vocabulary, invention, uniqueness, connections and insight.
In the long run, these menacing ten “hurdles” don’t represent external obstacles. Instead they are our internal limitations—our ignorance, incompetence, fears, hubris, and habits. They are demons to be conquered.
Flickr photo: by PShanks