In today’s world of immediate electronic communications we seem to have forgotten how important the written word still is. The mechanics of writing have not changed. We still send written correspondence. We just send it over the electronic media instead of in paper format. We have become almost entirely dependent on the various “spell checker” programs associated with our electronic communications to make sure we don’t commit any writing errors. We seem to be almost to the point where we are no longer paying attention to the structure and grammar of our documents. If there are no highlighted or underlined words and phrases calling our attention to them, then the document must be correct, right?

Such was the case with my last Blog posting on Silence. In it I was trying to draw together several comments from several different people on the use and sometimes necessity of remaining silent during the course of a discussion. Sometimes I personally have a hard time doing this, as hard as that may be to believe. Regardless of that, the point I am making here is that I violated my own rule about rereading what I had written before I posted it. I didn’t reread it. I have been doing this for a while so I just wrote it and posted it.

When I went back to my Blog a day or two later and reread the article, I was embarrassed. True there were no misspelled words, but there were a number of writing errors where it was obvious that I had changed my commentary idea, and I had not gone back and adjusted my diction for continuity and agreement. I had to take down the article and rewrite several sections before reposting it. In the world of written communications you are what you write, and I didn’t want to be a poorly written Blog post.

In a world that continues to be increasingly dominated by Twitter and Texting, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that how well we write contributes a significant portion to how we are perceived for what we have written. The content of the message is important, but the ability to put it into a coherent written format is important as well. How many of us have been the recipient of an important document only to find that writing errors as simple as subject and verb tense agreement, run on sentences, or words while not improperly spelled were improperly applied (such as “the wind blue…”) were contained within the document? What was your reaction to these diction and grammatical errors, and how did it make you feel about the importance of the document?

When I write something that I will sign my name to, I want it to reflect my best effort to communicate information about that topic. I want not only the information, but also the format to be as clear and concise as possible. When I read documents that contain writing, diction and grammatical errors, I can’t help but feel that the author did not put out their best efforts in its creation. It is true that the informational part message has been communicated, but what other messages get communicated to the reader with sloppy writing mechanics?

I admit that it is a little thing, but I can’t help but believe that I am not the only one that notices little things. Sometimes it is the little things that say a lot about us. While I can’t guarantee that I have caught all the mistakes in this posting, I can say that I have reread it at least a few times before posting it to make sure that it is as free of many of the writing errors that I see in many of the documents I receive as I can make it.


It has taken me a long time to learn how to be quiet. Sometimes I still forget what I have learned. I believe that to be a good leader you need to have strong goals, convictions and opinions. It is those things that help drive you on to achievement. What I wrongly supposed was that in having those leadership traits that you needed to express them verbally in the public forum.

Having goals, convictions and opinions have normally in the course of business brought me into various levels of conflict and contention with others who may not have the same opinion set. How and where the conflict was handled has contributed significantly to how I have been perceived in the organization.

Public forums, conference calls, etc. are best used for building the consensus. Conflict here has a tendency to polarize the group and slow progress for all. If there is a disagreement, I have found that I will try to take it off line and address it privately. That way a solution to an issue can be presented to the group, instead of just presenting an issue. As hard as it may be for the people who know me to believe, I am trying to apply the word of Will Rogers when it comes to conflict in public forums. Will had the great phrase:

“Never miss a good opportunity to shut up.”

I have been working on it. I think it is working. However, in these efforts I am also reminded of the story told by Ron White, a standup comedian from here in Texas. Ron tells the story of having a few too many drinks and subsequently being arrested. During the arresting process the police officer started to read him his rights. As we all know the first right is the right to remain silent. Ron White’s comment in this case was:

“I had the right to remain silent. I just didn’t have the ability to remain silent”

Being silent doesn’t mean that you concur or agree with all that is discussed. For me being silent, while difficult, affords me time to examine questions from multiple directions instead of just the first one that comes to mind. I have learned that if I disagree, instead of presenting what can be construed as an open challenge in the forum, that I can get far more done, even in the course of a disagreement, in a less public setting.

I should note that silence should not be the rule in all public business forums. If that were the case conference calls would be pretty quiet and very short. Constructive comments and suggestions for alternatives need to be made. It is the unproductive conflict that should be reduced. As I have said it has taken me a while to learn the difference between the two.

I continue to work on channeling my inner Will Rogers in not missing the opportunity to shut up, in those instances when in the past I would have been like Ron White and not had the ability to remain silent. It’s difficult, but I think it is just as important to the leader as having the convictions and opinions that drive us forward, and cause the conflict.

Friction and Clarity

There is always going to be a certain amount of friction in an organization. When people are involved, differing viewpoints, approaches and personalities will always cause some amount of both business and inter-personal issues. I have found that unless the inter-personal issues are of such a significant nature that they affect the organizations ability to function, they are best left to the individuals to sort out. You can’t make individuals like each other, but they can learn to respect each other in the organization. The business issues between people in the organization, on the other hand, are topics that can usually be cleared up quickly, and in many cases avoided altogether.

In my experience, most of the conflict or friction in an organization has arisen due to a lack of clarity. Most organizations seem to function best when there is a clear and consistent set of goals, well defined organizational and individual responsibilities, and an acknowledged decision making structure. If the business is experiencing any significant amount of organizational or individual squabbling, or a slower level of progress toward the desired goals and objectives, it may be a reasonable assumption to go and look at the clarity of these organizational definitions.

Unclear, or worse, differing goals and objectives will sap an organizations strength and impede its progress. If people are not working toward the same accepted goals friction and conflict cannot help but occur. If one group is working on the volume of sales and the other is focused on the profitability of sales there will be conflict. If one group is focused on technology and design, and the other is focused on costs and manufacturability there will be friction. The idea here is that if organizations are solely focused on only one aspect of the overall goal, valuable time and effort will be lost trying to resolve these goal oriented differences. Making sure that the organizations goals are aligned, and just as importantly aligning the metrics and compensation that are associated with them can reduce the time and effort lost to this type of issue.

Unclear organizational or individual responsibilities arise from a lack of clarity in each organizations definition and role. If one organization has responsibility for price (based on cost and margin), a second one has responsibility for cost (affecting both price and margin) and a third has responsibility for margin (based on price and cost) there is going to be conflict. Can price solely dictate what margins and/or what costs must be? Can costs be the prime criteria associated with the business without understanding and responding to market based influences? Can you strictly look at margins in isolation of costs and price? Again while making sure each individual and each organization functions are well defined, it is also important to make sure that individual and each organization role is are well defined with respect to the other organizations and individuals that they must work and interact with.

The answer is that obviously all these organizations must work together, but then who will decide the issues that arise from differing and sometimes overlapping responsibilities and objectives? If sales wants a very low price for a capability that operations indicates that capability has a very high cost, resulting in what may be unacceptable margins, how does the impasse get resolved. In addition to clear goal alignment and responsibility definitions there needs to be clarity around the acknowledged decision making structure. If it is a decentralized structure there needs to be consistent guidelines detailing the various scopes and spans of control for the decision makers. If it is a hierarchical structure of the decision spans multiple business groups there needs to be a clear and quick escalation process to get decisions made quickly and all organizations back focused on the goal at hand.

It seems that too many times these business issues that cause friction can find their way into the interpersonal issues category and seem to sit and languish. The result can be a sort of perpetual squabbling between people and organizations, and a much slower pace of progress than is possible and needed. By bringing a little more clarity to the business and reinforcing what the various goals, responsibilities and decision making processes are for each of the organizations and how they must work together, you may be able to reduce the causes of business friction in the organization. With that source of issues reduced, you may even be able to help reduce the number of interpersonal issues as well.