Before I even start writing this post I know it is going to be all over the place, it’s been that kind of week. So when I don’t know where to start I always go to the end. I like the big picture. There is a certain level of comfort there. Knowledge of the end game makes retrofitting strategies easier, it also makes contingency planning so much more fun.
The week ended in a farewell. It was fun, great company, amazing food and my favourite brand of apple cider was sold at the bar. But it was odd. It was an end and a beginning in collision. There is something humbling about seeing someone else’s farewell when you really don’t know them or their history. There are jokes, looks, comments and, in this person’s case some rather interesting photos that you don’t know the details of but at the same time, being free from those details means you have the privilege of seeing the big picture.
This big picture was fascinating. It was hope, regret, frustration, appreciation, bitterness, kindness and genuine friendship expressed through the chink of beer filled glasses. It made me slightly sad at times. Like seeing a great end of a movie but not finding out what the title was and realising you’ll never know the story behind the final scene. At other times it made me happy because there was a sense of family, real family, warts and all we’ll be there for you family.
A couple of weeks ago the guy who is leaving made a comment to me. It was one of those comments that sends your mind spiralling out of control and things that seemed impossible just unravel in seconds and are suddenly so unbelievably simple. And no I am not going to tell you what he said cos that is not the point. The point was it made me realise some very obvious, embarrassingly rookie mistakes that I have been making. I was caring about credit. In my enthusiasm for my new role and the excitement of being able to achieve a degree of forward thinking strategic communications that I was never quite able to achieve in my previous role I forgot the most basic of basic communications rule. Never, ever care about getting credit for your work. Most writers get this, as we are used to being edited, re-worded, writing for others and unnamed in publication but every now again, when you are really passionate about something, your heart gets a tad too attached and suddenly any sign of red pen makes you want to clench your fists, stamp your feet and throw a childish tantrum.
Enter the Minties. Now for non-Aussies, Minties are a chewy mint flavoured lolly/candy/sweet. They also happen to have one of the best packaging graphics of recent times. Their slogan is “It’s moments like these you need a Mintie” with an array of amusing graphics that capture those little moments in life where you just know you have to laugh cos otherwise you’ll cry.
I’ve been a Mintie Strategist for about three years. I stumbled across the Mintie strategy accidently. A few years back I was invited to attend a conference. When I arrived I was placed, with some other colleagues on a row of tables at the very back. On the table was a note saying that the back table were not allowed to speak, make comments on the proceedings and nor participate in the activities. We were there purely as observers. Also placed on the table was a bowl of Minties. Honestly, I was rather put out. Asking a communicator to forgo all forms of communications is really just asking for trouble and I am sorry but the moment you tell me I can’t do something it is all I think about. Two things made the situation worse. One, the people allowed to participate, well I don’t want to say my colleagues and I were smarter than them but if you wish to draw that conclusion on your own I understand. Two, I was under strict instructions from my boss to behave; he had started to threaten me with Botox if I did not learn to control my facial expressions.
I had not had a Mintie in years. I don’t normally eat lollies but in an effort to occupy my mouth I started chain chewing these little treats. Every time the desire to speak up made my lips part I found my teeth stuck together with minty deliciousness. The Minties achieved in one afternoon what my parents, teachers, past bosses, friends and ex-boyfriends had all failed to do. They shut me up. Suddenly I found myself listening. And I mean really listening. Not to their words and ideas, but to the sentiments behind them; their fears and hopes; their concerns and excitement. In some cases their underlying motivations for power and control. I started to really read the room.
When you communicate you have to think about your audience. You have to consider not only the message you want to share with them but you have to think about how are they going to receive this message, when are they going to receive it, what else is going on in their world that will affect how they hear your message. Most importantly is what they are telling you they want to hear truthful or are they just saying that to look good.
All of us, unknowingly or otherwise, share and receive information with bias. We listen for things that affect us and put conditions and personal meanings into words, tones and actions. As a communicator you have to be aware of that. As a humanitarian communicator you really have to know that. You have to be so very human in your choice of words and message. Sometimes though, as I said before when you are overwhelmed by the task at hand, when you are tired, passionate, excited, frustrated and eager to just blurt out your message it is so easy to forget that. These are the moments when I stop and have a Mintie. The Mintie slows me down, stops me from blurting out something inappropriate and gives me a few seconds to pause and re-read the room.
It creates the calm and stillness of mind that reminds me everything that I am trying to do and achieve is not about me at all. I will and do achieve more when I don’t care about the credit. It brings me back to the end, the big picture.