Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good Communication

There is one thing I actually heard Pastor Morris Venden say on my wedding day, as I stood before him with my handsome groom by my side and stars in my eyes: “The key to a successful marriage is communication. I’ve found this advice to be as sound for relationships with my colleagues, friends, and children, as it has been for my relationship with my husband. And writers are all about communication. It's what we do! Here are a few keys to successful communication. See if you can figure out how they apply to writing:

Find time for personal contact. In this age of technology, we often find ourselves emailing or texting our words. For basic communication, there’s nothing wrong with a quick conversation; however, if you have something important to say, you need face to face interaction. When people meet in person, they can read facial expressions and body language, which may prevent miscommunication. There is nothing like the connection created by personal contact.

Be nice. Liz Strauss, over at Successful Blog, loves to say this, and if this sounds like something you learned in Kindergarten, that’s because it is. No matter what you’re saying, it sounds better in the context of “please” and “thank you.” If you’re discussing something that is sensitive or emotional, it is more difficult to maintain an attitude of courtesy, but courtesy shows that you respect and care – even though you may be upset.

Be consistent and clear. Again, this is more difficult to achieve when emotions are involved. It may be helpful to have a conversation with yourself first, to ensure you know what you want to say and what you don’t. Have your conversation out loud. Sometimes hearing yourself say something will clarify just how straightforward or confusing your comments are. Make sure your words are appropriate for the audience. Children sometimes require different words that adults, and spouses sometimes require different words than friends. If it’s important enough to say, make sure you say it clearly.

There are at least two sides to every story. If you can remember this going into the conversation, you’ll come out on a much better path. Conflict resolution is never about a right and a wrong side. It is always about the perception that led to the conflict and the ideas behind the action or reaction. Whether you’re talking to children, a spouse, a colleague, or a friend, find out what their perception of the situation is before explain your own. You may find some issues become invalidated once you understand each other more clearly.

Before you say a word, listen. I admitted earlier this month that listening is my goal for 2009. Good communication has always been about good listening, and it still is. No matter how you’re feeling inside, be sincerely interested in what the other person is saying. Listening validates the speech, which validates the speaker. When you listen, you’re basically saying “I respect you enough to give you my time and attention.” There will come a time when it is your turn to be heard. If you give someone your complete attention, they’ll be more likely to return the favor.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What I Learned by Getting Burned

I guess it's a sign of the economic times, but a lot of freelancers seem to be talking about getting burned by publishers. Susan Johnston at the Urban Muse posted a couple of pieces along these lines after she got burned last year. Then today I read an article by Jenny Cromie at The Golden Pencil about the same problem.

That's all fine and dandy, but I always assumed these freelancers were talking to other writers. It wasn't going to happen to me, because I'd been careful. Well, in honor of hindsight, here is my addition to the pile of lessons learned from getting burned:

1. No matter how careful you are about selecting publishers, you may find yourself without payment. This is because no matter how "great" a publisher may be, these days no one is above running into financial trouble. When it happens to them, it trickles down to you.

2. Losing a client you were really happy with can be a good thing. I've been distraught for the past month because one of my most steady publishers suddenly stopped paying me. Eventually (after great anxiety) I had to get over it and move on. When I was able to think clearly I realized this was going to be a good thing for me. This particular publisher took up a great deal of my time with enormous projects that kept me from doing some smaller jobs that were equally important to me. Now I find that I have time to do a lot of other projects that I wanted to do last year but didn't have the time for. Additionally, although the work was steady with that other publisher, the pay was really below what I can make elsewhere. Sometimes we need a shove to get us out of a comfort zone--in this case, of steady work.

3. Sometimes it takes getting burned every now and then to shift your perspective. It's a tough way to learn, but when things are always going our way, we get complacent.

What's your take on all of this?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Listening in 2009

Last night as I was driving home from work I was talking with my mother. She asked how the kids were and related to me a comment made to a friend of hers by his grandson. The little boy said, "Grandpa, I like to come to your house because you listen to me."

"I hope we listen to our kids," my mom said. "Do we listen to our kids?"

It's funny she should ask that. Last weekend my son was watching the football game with my husband in the family room (he's a Chargers fan), and I was watching TV in my bedroom. About every 15 minutes or so he'd come running in, so excited or anxious (depending upon the play) that he could barely contain himself, relating to me the play-by-play.

I couldn't care less about football--ever--but every time my son came in I'd pause the TV and just lay there in awe looking at him and watching him relate every detail of this sport that is so important to him. I honestly don't remember what he said, but I do remember what I was thinking.
I thought how awesome it was that he cared enough about me to come rushing in after each play and tell me exactly what happened, knowing how little I care about football. I thought how wonderful it was that something so ultimately simple could excite him so very much. And I wondered if the day would come when he would stop wanting to tell me about the things that are important to him, when it would no longer occur to him to share things with me. I hoped not.

I came very close to gathering him up in my arms that night, squeezing him, and whispering in his ear "Please don't ever stop telling me about football." But I knew he'd probably say "oh. . . kay" and give me the look he gives me when I act in that confusing way all moms act when they're thinking about something very far away from what's happening right now.

Here's to becoming better writers in 2009 by becoming better listeners.