Dilbert and Communication Success

Competence is one of the keys to career and life success that I discuss in several of my books: Straight Talk for Success; Your Success GPS; and 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success.  If you want to succeed you need to develop four basic, but important competencies: 1) creating positive personal impact; 2) becoming a consistently high performer; 3) dynamic communication skills; and 4) becoming interpersonally competent.

If you want to become a dynamic communicator, you need to develop three basic, but very important, communication skills: 1) conversation, 2) writing, and 3) presenting.

I get a kick out of the Dilbert cartoons.  I like the longer ones that appear in the Sunday newspaper.  I was cleaning out some stuff in my office the other day and came across a Sunday Dilbert I had cut out and saved.  Check this out… 

Dilbert approaches his boss (you know, the one with the tufts of hair that look like devil’s horns) and says, “The security audit accidentally locked all developers out of the system.”  The boss says, “Well, it is what it is.”

Dilbert says, “How does that help?”  The boss replies, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  Dilbert, obviously frustrated, says, “Congratulations you’re the first human to fail the Turing test.”  The boss says, “What does that mean?”  Dilbert replies, “It is what it is;” to which the boss says, “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

There really is such a thing as a Turing test.  Dictionary.com defines it as follows: “A test proposed by British mathematician Alan Turing, and often taken as a test of whether a computer has humanlike intelligence. If a panel of human beings conversing with an unknown entity (via keyboard, for example) believes that that entity is human, and if the entity is actually a computer, then the computer is said to have passed the Turing test.”

This is pretty funny.  It is also kind of sad as it is indicative of the lack of communication in today’s business world.  Scott Adams, Dilbert’s creator, really gets it when it comes to workplace dysfunctionality. 

There is a bok out called  Beyond Bullsh*t, by UCLA Anderson School of Management Professor, Samuel Culbert.  Professor Culbert defines bullsh*t in the following way.

“It is telling people what you think they need to hear.  It may involve finessing the truth or outright lying, but the purpose is always self serving.  And while I appreciate the role of some bullsh*t in keeping the corporate peace, it makes people feel beaten up, deceived – even dirty.  When people talk straight at work, companies make out better because the best idea usually wins.  In contrast, when people are bullsh*tting, they hide their mistakes and the company suffers. Straight talk is the product or relationships built on trust.”

Phrases like “it is what it is” are not straight talk.  They are part of the inexplicable jargon that has overtaken us.  Dynamic communicators say what they mean, in an easily understood manner. 

Remember Elliot Spitzer?  I read an article about him in Time Magazine that began this way: “His visage described discountenance.”  Eliot Spitzer wrote those words about a character in a short story for his high school literary magazine.  People would have more easily understood what him if he described the character by saying “he was unhappy’.”

I’m not holding Elliot Spitzer up to ridicule for something he wrote when he was in high school.  However, there is a point about dynamic communication to be made here.  Dynamic communicators don’t show off their large vocabularies.  Instead, they choose words that are the most easily understood and still get across their point.

The common sense point here is clear.  Successful people are competent.  Dynamic communication is an important career and life success competency.  Dynamics communicators eschew, I mean don’t use, jargon.  They avoid meaningless phrases like “it is what it is” to explain something.  They use the simplest words possible to get across their ideas.  And they don’t bulls*it.  They say what they mean.  Follow these four rules in conversation, writing and presenting and you’ll become known as a dynamic communicator.

That’s my take on simple language and communication effectiveness.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  If you have a favorite Dilbert cartoon about communication skills, please share that with us too.  As always, thanks for reading.


BONUS COMMUNICATION ADVICE – from my friend Suzi Pomerantz, Executive Coach and Author…

I received an email from Suzi the other day that had this footer – everything was spelled correctly by the way…

“This message was sent from my iPhone, please pardon brevity and errors.”

I think this footer is great common sense advice for communications that come from hand held devices.  Hand held devices have small keyboards and it’s easy to make typing errors when using them.  While it’s best to not have typos in the first place, letting people know you are using a hand held device and asking for their forgiveness for brevity and errors distinguishes you as someone who cares about them as readers.

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