In my experience…actions really do speak louder than words
I like to talk. (Step one is introspective evaluation.)
Sometimes I talk too much. (Step two is acknowledging there may be an opportunity for improvement.)
I’ve started evaluating what and how much I say after every meeting / presentation. (Step three is a willingness to learn and improve.)
Those steps are made-up, but I do tend to be overly verbose and have been consciously trying to be more efficient with my words, regardless of audience and topic. In most interactions it’s easy to find something to say, even about topics I’m not completely familiar with. That was a capability learned through frequently being thrown into unfamiliar situations and told to figure it out. Oh, and also being told to never admit to the client that I’ve never done this before.
Putting together a coherent sequence of words and not looking like a fool is a skill that can be taught. In my experience though, actions still speak louder than words. There are so many platforms for words that it’s easy to get desensitized to and distracted from reality. At the end of the day, if your words don’t match your delivery, the words become meaningless.
Two principles come to mind that I learned from my parents growing up. They're as applicable in business and life as they are in parenting. First, don’t tell…show. Second, follow through.
Don’t Just Tell…Show
There are several ways people learn, and while I’m not an expert in the different methods of learning, I know what works best for me. Certain things I can learn by simply being told. However, I learn much quicker, with better retention, by being shown how to do something. Thank goodness for YouTube! I’ve learned how to use software, swap the motherboard on my treadmill, fix an oil leak on a power washer and patch a tire, to name a few successes from watching YouTube videos.
This approach also works well when I’m helping a colleague or client. Taking the time to show them what to do and, just as importantly, how to do it can be much more valuable than just telling them. It’s also more appreciated since there’s an element of personal interaction and support in dedicating time and attention to something important to that person.
How many times have you heard a parent tell a child, “If you don’t do XYZ then you won’t get to ABC”? The trick is ensuring that statement remains true. If the child doesn’t do XYZ then the parent needs to make sure they don’t get to ABC. Otherwise there are no consequences and the words are false. Over time the child is conditioned to know that what is said doesn’t match what actually happens and can take advantage of the disconnect.
The same is true in business. I’ve worked with folks who want responsibility and / or make promises, but for one reason or another don’t or can’t deliver. As this happens over-and-over again that person’s colleagues see the pattern know that the words don’t / won’t match the actions. We learn who follows through on their words and commitments and everyone knows who gets things done and who doesn’t.
It’s not easy to follow either or both of these principles 100% of the time. I’ve caught myself about to say an If-Then statement and realizing that I won’t / can’t follow-through on the Then piece and need to change my words to something I can deliver. Additionally, when possible and appropriate I take the time to show and not just tell. Sometimes that’s for selfish reasons, like the fact that I don’t want to have to explain something more than once, so I hope that by demonstrating it there isn’t any further follow-up needed. Most times though, it’s the right thing to do to get the desired result.
Special thanks to Mark O’Renick, who is excellent at taking the time to show, and not just tell, and he lives that mantra in his consulting approach, and to Terry Campbell, whose word is as good as gold when he says he’s going to do something, he follows through.