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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

So, What You Meant to Say Was....

Today started with a victory, always a great way to start the day. Even after arriving home late last night from attending the opera with her classmates, my wife and daughter were out the door early this morning with plenty of time to make the first bell! Continued progress, but it was in doubt yesterday when my daughter was feeling anxious about attending the opera based on previous events. In order to calm her nerves, my wife picked her up after school and they hung out at a local coffee shop, doing homework and chatting. Sometimes that extra effort makes all the difference in the world.

Ah, the days of teen angst, where someone passing you in the hallway and not saying “hi” was enough to send your day into a tailspin. When you stop and think about it though, are we really any better as adults? Ask me most days what the most challenging aspect of my job is, I will say COMMUNICATION.

Communication. Whether it is day to day communication with associates, peers, or vendors. Communicating ideas or intent. The communication of our marketing and promotions to customers. It is a real struggle to clearly state your intent. Early in my career, I was able to be relatively unfiltered and off the cuff. As I have progressed, I have learned the need to be more deliberate and measured, while trying to maintain transparency and authenticity.

How am I doing? Each day provides a new opportunity to learn after another stumble.

It really isn’t easy. Think about this. On Sunday, brands will spend millions on commercials for the Super Bowl and sit stunned as the intended message misses its mark. I am sure that the executives at Peloton didn’t intend to insult a large segment of the population when their campaign was interpreted the way that it was. We see examples of that every day and I often act as judge and jury. I am not forgiving bad creative or execution, simply highlighting how easy it is to miss the mark.

Go beyond marketing. Think about the cadets who flashed an upside down “OK” symbol on TV. While most didn’t notice, many knew that it was the “circle game”, and many knew that it was a racist symbol and intent. Which was it? The intent mattered less than the interpretation. Think about what folks post on social media, even try to cram into 280 characters and how that can send the world spinning.

That is what is real today.

It has a tremendous impact on what we do and say. Marketing is sometimes delayed as we try to look at it from every angle. Emails sit in draft, allowing us the ability to painstakingly go through each word, anticipating how it will be interpreted. In meetings, trying to balance authenticity and transparency with being measured so as to not move the needle backwards is a significant challenge. Even day to day communications, knowing that how and what you say can and will be judged can be daunting.

As they say though, that's life.

It can be easy to shy away from communication, tip toeing around, walking on eggshells, but to do so means while you avoid potential conflict, you also avoid any potential for connection, for progress. While not easy, this is what I try to do – and as I say this, please remember I pointed out that I STUMBLE EVERY DAY!

First, I try to accept that WHAT I do and say, and IHOW I do or say it matters. I have a responsibility to understand that and act accordingly. That doesn’t mean filtering myself or not being authentic. Rather, remembering this helps me to ensure that I am being seen and heard as I would like to be.

Second, I have to remind myself that as much as it annoys me when someone takes my words or actions out of context or with the wrong intent, I do the same thing. I have to remind myself to give others the benefit of the doubt and ask appropriately if I am not understanding the intent. Take the time to double back and invest in asking "what did you mean?" This. Is. A. Challenge.

Finally, and I struggle with this the most, the broader your message, the wider your audience, the more likely it is that some will take what you are saying the wrong way. Do what you can, but ultimately you have to be comfortable with this fact. Just do the best you can. Yes, it is painful at times to think of the investment in time to get the communication right, but if you don’t take the risk, you lose the opportunity for the reward.

(You can follow me @rhoniball and connect with me at – and if you aren’t sure of the intent of this post, ask!)


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