Effective Communication: Hey, even Buttermaker learned how to play catch.

Right on. The Giants beat the Dodgers this weekend. Again. And Again. And again. (No bleacher brawls if you’re not a Giants fan.) Solid pitching, timely hits and teamwork sealed the deals.

Okay, where am I going with the baseball schtick? Well, last week I read a great pitching/leadership metaphor post from leadership development expert John Baldoni titled What Executives Can Learn From Fastball Pitchers.

Going from a star fastball pitcher to a coach is always a learning transition. Same with going from a high-performing employee to a manager. John wrote:

As individual contributors, they work on what they do best; as managers of contributors they work to bring out the best in others. The challenge is not in learning administrative tasks; it is in learning a new approach to dealing with others…

Such manager can benefit greatly from a mentor within the organization, someone who understands the situation and can provide guidance. Short of that the individual manager needs to immerse himself in a learning program, starting with observing how other managers do their jobs, asking questions and keeping their options open.

And that got me thinking while playing ball with my babbling 22-month-old daughter: effective communication is like playing catch. (Hey, she could grow up playing baseball like Tatum O’Neal in The Bad News Bears, or be the President of the United States.)

Before some become star players and leaders, we have to learn to play catch first; we have to learn the rudiments of effective and consistent communication no matter who we’re speaking with. These are the exercises of personal growth and teamwork.

First this: beyond the early years of learning hand-eye coordination, playing catch consists of two primary dynamics:

  • Proximity – the differences distance between you and the person you’re playing catch with.
  • Velocity – the contextual tone speed at which you’re throwing the ball back and forth.

These dynamics affect one another in different ways, but let’s just warm up first (a critical exercise in baseball and most sports). Playing an easy game of catch is conducive to better immediate communication and long-term performance.

You can actually have a conversation while warming up. Ever try it?

To force this metaphor on you even further, whether you’re a CEO, a line manager or a back-room employee, to communicate effectively means you’ve got to:

  • Proximity – Warm up and learn the behavioral “proximity” of what kind of person you’re dealing with. Are you talking to a straight-shooter? Don’t dawdle too much. Are you talking to someone who likes a little personable time? Throw them a bone and chat for a few. It gets even more difficult when you’re working with virtual teams and you don’t have physical queues to work with, but you need to learn it just the same.
  • Velocity – Warm up and learn not to throw a fastball at a low-performer’s head, like, “Our revenue per employee has taken a big hit in Q2, and you’re a big part of the reason why, so you better improve.” You don’t have to be nice, but give up some explanatory context and recommendations as to what and how. On the other hand, don’t throw a schmoozing lob at a high-performer as if they’re a toddler, because she’ll throw a fastball back (challenge them). And if you’re that back-office employee participating on a project team, you need to heed velocity just as much as the project manager.

All right, I’ve warmed up enough and ready to play. As John wrote in the above article, having a mentor and learning from others in your organization is crucial to becoming a better team manager-player.

Hey, even Buttermaker learned how to play “catch”. And that was with a 12-year-old girl-pitcher mentor.

Just imagine what your organization could do.


2 thoughts on “Effective Communication: Hey, even Buttermaker learned how to play catch.

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