When I was growing up I was a huge fan of the Cosby Show. I appreciated the antics of each character and the solid message that came out of each episode. There were times when I thought it was too cheesy, but that was due to a narrow minded perspective.
There was one episode that really resonated with me as it taught me a very powerful and meaningful lesson: Presentation is everything. Simply stated, the episode was about the Huxtable’s oldest daughter bringing home her husband after they were already married. If you are a father I am sure you can only imagine how you would respond to a situation like this! As she tried to describe how wonderful this young man was to Dr. and Mrs. Huxtable, her words fell on deaf ears. They were cold and distant towards him. When she asked why they were so cold, Dr. Huxtable summarized his feelings with a metaphor.
Dr. Huxtable, in the most compassionate, yet serious tone, said something like this to his daughter. “Think about it this way. You are at a nice steak restaurant and you order the best cut of beef they have to offer. You see the waiter as he brings the simmering slice of beef and you simply can’t wait to tear into it. However, he serves it to you on a lid of a dirty trash can. Although the steak was a premier cut, it looked far less appealing because of the presentation. Honey, your husband very well may be a great guy, but you didn’t give him a chance because of the way you presented him to me.”
Presentation is everything….
I have recently been reminded of this key nugget of wisdom as I have forgotten this golden rule of communication. I have had to present some key changes and ideas for improvement to my staff the last couple of weeks and in my excitement, anxiety, or nervousness, I forgot some key guidelines that would have alleviated some stress and prevented feelings of frustration:
- Clearly and succinctly state the purpose. Many are open to new ideas, but knowing the purpose definitely helps with buy-in and can increase the number of supporters of the change.
- Clearly and succinctly state what is changing. Many simply want to know what you, the leader, expect from them so that they can meet the expectations. In fact, if clearly presented and shared properly, your expectations will easily become our expectations.
- Clearly and succinctly state how things are going to change. While it is difficult to outline every jot and title, it is important to at least provide a roadmap to get the process started, knowing that it will be an evolution over time as you engage members in conversation, gather feedback, and answer questions.
- Clearly and succinctly state when the changes are to occur. It is impossible to have all the answers. However, provide a flexible time line that will allow dialogue, training, and implementation.
- Provide adequate time for questions, conversation, and resources. If the change is significant, you have to provide data to support why you want the change to occur and provide a channel for dialogue to take place. Additionally, you have to ask yourself some key questions:
- Will this help us fulfill our mission and vision?
- Is this what’s best for all students? How do we know?
- Will this help us accomplish our specific goals as a school?
- Is this in line with our values as a school?
Whether we are talking to students, teachers, parents, the Board of Education, or community members, we not only have to focus on what we present, but also how it’s presented. What tips do you have?