communications lessons

dreamstime_xs_35528466By Ruth Atherley

Four new 90-minute Gilmore Girls episodes are set to air on Netflix late in November 2016. I hadn’t seen the original series and after seeing the excitement for the release of this Gilmore Girls revival, I thought I would check it out. And while watching Seasons 1 through 7 over a couple of weeks, I realized that there are some communications lessons worth sharing, hidden in the episodes.

We’re going to assume that you have a working knowledge of the characters so as to not make this post too long with the explanations of who is who.

The top three communications lessons are:

Your critics aren’t the “enemy” – they believe they are doing something good (and if you can get past the conflict of it, you might learn something).

In almost every episode, Lorelai’s society-minded mother, Emily Gilmore, has something critical (and usually nasty) to say about how her daughter lives her life. Now, Emily is an elitist, autocratic snob whose ideas are, in my opinion, outdated, backwards and have no place in Lorelai’s world. However, she operates from a center of good (in her mind), where she truly cares for her daughter and her granddaughter and wants what is best for them.

Almost every communications professional has faced critics on a campaign, project or initiative. And sometimes it can be incredibly frustrating, especially when the criticisms appear to be uninformed or lacking context or knowledge about the subject matter or are self-serving, rather than useful. Taking a step back and looking at the critics and their motivation is an important thing to do. Understanding that they feel that they are doing something good, something important – puts the criticisms or conflict in perspective. It opens a discussion rather than an argument. And, in the show, when Lorelai steps back and realizes that her mother actually means well, she has a different response, which creates a more positive outcome. It doesn’t mean you need to agree or acquiesce, but understanding the motivation is an important tool.

Listen to that little voice in your head, your heart or your stomach – and act on it.

Throughout the entire Gilmore Girls series, we watch Luke and Lorelai pine for each other. During this time, they both have serious relationships with others. In fact, they both marry other people. And they date, they break up, and we all root for them to get back together. And they seem to, at the end of Season 7 (the final season of the initial series). Both of them have that little voice telling them something about who they are meant to be with, but they ignore it, disagree with it or silence it. And they spend years being unhappy, confused and lonely as a result.

I think, as communicators, we need to realize that the little voice we hear is important. There is a reason we chose this profession – we understand that clear, understandable communication takes effort. It also takes empathy, sympathy, knowledge and understanding of the audience or stakeholder groups. We spend our days immersed in this. Sometimes, before we consciously realize something, our instinct tries to tell us this. It’s important to listen when it does. Ask yourself – why am I feeling uncomfortable about this? What is my concern here? Is there something here that doesn’t feel right? Listen to that little voice that is trying to tell you something – more often than not, it knows something you haven’t realized yet.

Money can’t fix everything.

I happen to be a fan of the actor Matt Czuchry who plays Logan Huntzberger, the trust fund kid and boyfriend to Rory Gilmore in several of the later seasons. In the show, Logan buys his way out of most problems, until he no longer can. In the final season, after losing most of his trust fund and millions of dollars of his father’s, Logan is forced to move to San Francisco for a job (granted, he is still a child of privilege, but his days of doing whatever he wants are over).

In the world of communication, if you are dealing with an issue or a crisis, having a big budget isn’t always a solution. Don’t get me wrong… having enough money to do your job well is always a good thing, but the fact is – money can’t fix everything. If there is a situation or incident where someone in the organization has done something immoral, unethical or illegal, if a majority of the community is opposing something you did, are doing or want to do – you need some elements that money just can’t buy. You need transparency, authenticity and a commitment to working through the issues by opening a dialogue, not by steamrolling through it and pushing other opinions and perspectives down.

And one small bonus lesson from the Gilmore Girls that I think most communicators will agree with – Lorelai Gilmore thinks coffee makes everything better. It makes the tough times easier to deal with, the good times better, and it’s a drink for all hours – not just breakfast. Here at the AHA office, we tend to agree with her. Coffee, coffee, coffee!!!!

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DSC_0175This is the second post in my “top communications lessons learned in New Zealand” series, and it focuses on the most fabulous Hapuku Lodge in Kaikoura. Kaikoura is on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It is a beautiful, rugged, wind-swept seaside area that I completely fell in love with.

Hapuku Lodge is a pretty spectacular place. However, today’s post isn’t about the lodge itself (but the lodge is worth checking out, believe me). It is about the two incredible people who run the lodge – Fiona Read and Chris Sturgeon. As amazing as the lodge is, they made our experience there so much more enjoyable and memorable.

Fiona is a bit of a celebrity in New Zealand – she was a favourite on the television show MasterChef New Zealand. She takes care of the food experience at Hapuku and her husband Chris takes care of the stay side. They make a great team. And without realizing it, they taught me a couple of important life and communications lessons during our brief stay with them.

Lesson 1:  Understand your audience/community/peeps.

I am an aspiring foodie and was thrilled that we had a cooking class – and even more thrilled when I learned that our teacher was Fiona. The class was just with Paul and I, and it was clear that I am no expert – but I am enthusiastic. Fiona completely read our interest and knowledge/experience level and she focused in on that. I was really interested in learning and Paul was pretty interested in eating. She balanced it out so that we felt comfortable and the information wasn’t too basic or too over our heads – so that the experience was enjoyable for us. That is an important skill and one that is often overlooked in the world of communication. It is important to understand what the people or person you are communicating with wants to know; don’t just focus on what you want to tell them.

Lesson 2:  Everything matters – especially the small details.

At Hapuku, Chris was very attentive to our needs without making us feel overwhelmed.  It was quite subtle really, but we were paying attention just like he was. Chris asked us about our wine experiences in New Zealand and what our preference was – and he provided recommendations for what we would like. When we sat in the lounge, which sits in my heart as a place of my dreams (I loved sitting there blogging with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, looking out at the beautiful landscape), he made sure the fireplace was just right, he checked in to see if the Internet was fast enough, and he brought us little snacks. He would stop by and check in on us at exactly the right time, without breaking our concentration on our blogging or discussions. The tree house room was perfect – comfortable, luxurious, fabulous – everything we could want was in that room.

The big things were there – fabulous scenery, beautiful lodge, amazing region – and if no one spoke to us at all, this would have been a good experience. The attention to detail is what took it from good to exceptional. For one small moment in time (well, 24 hours), life was perfect. And it was the commitment to the details by Chris and the Hapuku team that created that paradise.

The communications lesson: Sweat the small stuff. You can do big things well, but to be excellent, you need to make sure that you pay attention to the small things and do those well too. Freshly brewed coffee for client meetings, one final, solid proofread of a document, showing up on time – every time – sending thank you notes, checking in when you know a client is experiencing a challenge or an issue just to see how they are… They might seem small from a day-to-day perspective, but they have a huge impact.

Lesson 3: Be yourself.

This lesson appears to be the theme from this year’s New Zealand trip. Fiona and Chris are incredibly interesting, charming and welcoming. And what is most interesting and charming about them is that they don’t pretend to be anything or anyone other than who they are. They are down-to-earth, easygoing and incredibly professional (which is quite a balance, in my opinion).

I watched as they engaged with other guests, each other and with the Hapuku team. They didn’t shift out of one persona into another. They were authentic and that comes across. Hapuku is a luxury lodge, but they are inclusive. While they often have guests who are CEOs, rock stars and celebrities, quite often their guests are regular people like you and me who are looking for a special experience. Fiona and Chris treat everyone equally and stay true to themselves and to the lodge – which is an incredibly welcoming, comfortable, luxurious place to stay. Hapuku felt like we were staying at a close friend’s house (a friend who had an incredibly fabulous home!). That didn’t come from the design or the locale of the lodge – that came from the heart and soul of Fiona and Chris.

The communications lesson here: Authenticity matters. When you embrace who you really are, you will attract the clients/customers/guests who are right for you. 

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