#224: The Chronic Undervaluing of Analyst Communication Skills

Episode Transcript

[music]

0:00:05.8 Announcer: Welcome to the Analytics Power Hour. Analytics topics covered conversationally and sometimes with explicit language. Here are your hosts, Moe, Michael, and Tim.

0:00:22.5 Michael Helbling: Hi, everyone. Welcome. It’s the Analytics Power Hour, and this is episode 224. Let me start with a story. I was riding back to the office from one of the first meetings I’d ever had with an executive audience. It was really early in my career. My coworker Michael Morris, turned to me and said, “Hey you did a good job today but here’s some feedback for you: Always know your audience.” And at first I really didn’t understand that and he explained that basically, most of the people in that room had cared about what I had to say but they didn’t understand all the minutia in the way I had explained it. And I would get a lot more traction if I leveled my language to their understanding or their level. And so that was, in my mind, one of my first lessons in building communication skills. And it stuck with me throughout my career. And I think as data and analytics professionals, we can sometimes leave these kinds of skills for others without thinking about how important they might be to our success. So we wanted to talk about it, analyst communication skills. Hey Moe, what do you think about it?

0:01:32.5 Moe Kiss: Oh I’m just, I know we… I feel like we talk about communication so often but it’s at the core of what we do and I’m really excited to get stuck into it.

0:01:44.1 MH: I think so too and I’m excited to talk about it with you and, Tim, this one I think, as the quintessential analyst, I don’t know if you know how great your communication skills are, but do you think about that stuff?

0:02:00.6 Tim Wilson: I open every time I’m presenting to stakeholders with kind of like a ggplot tip from R, like that’s kinda my go-to. It doesn’t matter who the audience, I figure like, tell them how to throw a, something into an aesthetic in a ggplot, and they are, they’re loving it. Eating out of my hand. Perfect for the executive audience.

0:02:17.4 MH: That’s right.

0:02:18.8 TW: Hey. Whatever works.

0:02:21.9 MH: Whatever works. Well since we’re podcast hosts, we didn’t need a guest to talk about communication, so we’re gonna fly solo because we’re all excellent communicators. No, but I think to sort of get the conversation flowing, sort of when you think about that, like how do you think about communication skills, like in terms of like the toolset of an analyst? Like in your mind, let’s talk about that just as a starting point.

0:02:48.6 TW: I mean Moe, you have a team, so I feel that’s where you… I really wanna hear what you think ’cause you’ve got, I assume you have the poor communicators and the great communicators somewhere on a spectrum, which means you’ve, I assume you’ve got, you see it.

0:03:05.2 MK: It’s definitely on a spectrum and it’s hands down the most difficult thing to coach. And particularly, as people get more senior, if they’re not good at this skill, it’s actually even more difficult to coach them on it because you kind of, like when someone’s a junior, right? You can shadow them in meetings and give them observed feedback through their interactions with their stakeholders or whatever, and they’re learning, they’re quite receptive to feedback. I think as people get more senior, it’s harder because as their manager, you don’t wanna be like, “I’m gonna shadow you to all your meetings and… ” But it’s honestly sometimes that’s how you can… You have to see someone communicating to actually help them improve. And so, it just gets really tricky the more senior someone gets, in terms of refining that skillset. We do scenario stuff, I do with some of the senior team members, but it’s not the same as observing someone in the moment and how they’re explaining something or taking a stakeholder through something.

0:04:11.1 TW: Well, what do you mean by the scenario? You actually.

0:04:14.0 MH: Like role play?

0:04:15.6 TW: Scenarios… Like role play as, that are artificial or kind of like as a way to prep for an important…

0:04:23.3 MK: Both. So typically, if someone’s presenting to a senior audience and especially if it’s one of their first times, even if they are a senior team member, I would do prep sessions where they are… I’m like take me through your deck, talk like I’m your audience, practice on me. But we also sometimes retrospectively will go through and be, “Okay, this conversation didn’t go well. Tell me about it. Who was in the room? What happened? What was their body language like? How did things start? How was your mood when you were starting the meeting as well?” And we’ll kind of, I guess, do a retro on it and then try and ask questions to get them to identify themselves on what they could improve. But it’s hard, right? Because then you’re also relying on their memory and their interpretation of what happened, which is very different to, if you are sitting in the room as kind of a neutral observer. And yeah, the summary is, it’s really freaking hard. It’s really hard to coach.

0:05:22.2 TW: But it does seem like just awareness of it… I mean do you talk to your team in a group or an individual setting of, look, communication is a real part of the job, where let’s talk about not the results, not the analysis that we did or not what we were reviewing, but let’s just focus on how we framed it and how we communicated it?

0:05:52.9 MK: Yeah, and I also think the biggest or the most helpful thing for people is evidence, right? So one of the things, especially with the senior team members, that we focus a lot on is, when we have communicated something really well, they know, the result is normally very positive or it’s well received or accepted, or the recommendation is listened to. And so then, that’s something we’ll discuss as well. ‘Cause you’re, if this has been well received ’cause we’ve done a good job of communicating it, we discuss it, and basically that helps them collect evidence that working on communication skills is worthwhile. I still, it’s still fucking hard though. I feel like I’m talking like I have all the answers and it’s so not true because it’s still, I would say, the thing I spend most of my energy on, myself personally, but also in terms of getting everyone on the team there.

0:06:48.7 MH: And before we get too far along, Tim, I’d like to hear your answer to this as well. In terms of sort of like how you approach it or how you think about it? ‘Cause I’m just curious. Like you may have a slightly different take and that might hit a whole different segment of our listenership.

0:07:05.6 TW: Well, I guess, I struggle… I think there’s the mechanical aspects of communication, which are data visualization, presentation development, data storytelling. And I say that’s mechanical, it’s not formulaic, but there is… There’s all the collateral that you’re using in the communication. And then there’s the actual delivery. And I struggle with the person, I don’t know how much is me. I have high anxiety equivalent to the stakes of whatever the discussion is. Once I get into it, I tend to relax more quickly than I would’ve expected. You guys know, I will pop off the random analogy or the thinking out loud, I will inject humour in most situations, but I also watch people who… But I also still take it seriously, so I struggle with how much of the communication is just trying to be thoughtful and present, and let your personality be part of it. It’s like you can’t tell people like, “Oh, you need to be funnier.” That ain’t gonna work and you’re gonna have somebody… Obviously, you have some, somebody… We said the spectrum, there are people who are on the autism spectrum and…

0:08:32.4 MK: It’s like saying be less nervous.

0:08:34.7 TW: Yeah, exactly.

0:08:35.6 MH: Yeah. It’s not gonna work that way. That’s right.

0:08:37.1 TW: Yeah.

0:08:38.8 MH: Okay. So that’s interesting ’cause I think similarly, like a lot of the things you just described, Tim, are all sort of what I would like call tactics. Like using humour or injecting different things or analogies. They’re all like different ways of maneuvering, basically. That’s sort of what you just described, Tim, in my head. And that’s the thing, I think over the years, what I’ve come to embrace is, I feel like a lot of times, we think of like, especially like verbal communication, which and maybe a lot of this show will be about, more so than other… We’ve covered the other communication topics like presentation and visual presentation more, but I think we sometimes think in our minds that that’s sort of like we have a fixed level of it, and we don’t necessarily think of it as changeable, but it’s actually like, is full of tactics and strategies you can leverage. And so like my first experience with that was when… And my story at the beginning of what, that’s why it stuck with me was like, I can do something about this, I can think about who’s in the room.

0:09:44.8 TW: Do you remember the specifics of kind of where you went wrong on that? I mean the…

0:09:49.4 MH: Oh, I went way in depth on some kind of Webtrends tracking minutia, ’cause this was way, way back when I was doing…

0:09:56.3 MK: Sounds like a barrel of laughs.

0:09:57.8 MH: Webtrends… Yeah, it was… I was way deep in like, or…

0:10:01.8 TW: “So our aggregate table, the reporting table limit was only a thousand so… ”

0:10:04.9 MH: Exactly. It’s something like, we had…

0:10:06.8 TW: You had a cardinality issue.

0:10:07.9 MH: So you have two tags that form a scenario in Webtrends. The WT.si_N and the WT.si_, so that kind of stuff was what the executive audience was not super like down to hear about. Right? And so like, that was what I was learning about. But as you go through life, not only are you learning sort of like, how much information should I put out there in this moment, based on who’s there, but also how do I sell my idea in. I remember, when I was younger, I am, and I still have this to this day, I don’t particularly enjoy picking up the phone and calling people. I don’t actually like talking to people I don’t know. It’s a weird thing. I’m actually an introvert and a lot of people think I’m not, but it’s, I actually am. And so you learn these skills, you learn and so you get more comfortable because you learn those skills. And so when you were answering, Tim, that was sort of what I was hearing was like, I think you’ve built up a set of skills that you’ve used, and you’re a great analyst, so you’re watching, “Okay, hey, that kind of helped alleviate the tension when I said something funny and made everybody relax a little bit. I’m gonna use that again. Or I’m gonna try to figure out how that’s gonna incorporate into, as I discuss and describe things with people.” Because at the end of the day, and Moe, I think you kind of brought this front forward first, was.

0:11:35.4 MH: When we present an analysis or something like that we’ve discovered, an insight, we’re usually talking about changing or modifying something that’s happening. And so that’s a very risky place to be. We’re in a place where the winds could shift on us at any moment. Someone could come flying in and be like, “Well, you haven’t thought about X, Y, or Z,” and suddenly, our whole analysis is dashed and our credibility at that meeting is thrown out the window. And it could be really devastating for a junior analyst to sort of be put in a position where they’re dealing with those things. But that’s where I think, thinking about it in terms of, there’s skills I can learn, and there’s tactics I can use, then that sort of puts you in a place of, “Okay, well, today, I might not feel really strong, but I can actually develop a set of skills and maybe I’m not gonna be… ” I don’t know, who’s the most amazing communicator you can think of. Maybe like President Obama or something. Right? Just an amazing communicator.

0:12:38.6 MK: Oh yes.

0:12:38.6 MH: And, okay, I’m never gonna be as good as him, but for me, I can develop more and more. Right? Or something like that. Right? So that’s kind of the way I think about it.

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0:12:47.5 S1: All right, it’s time to step away from the show for a quick word about Piwik PRO. Tim, tell us about it.

0:12:55.3 TW: Well, Piwik PRO is easy to implement, easy to use, and reminiscent of Google’s universal analytics in a lot of ways.

0:13:01.1 S1: I love that it’s got basic data views for less technical users, but it keeps advanced features like segmentation, custom reporting, and calculated metrics for power users.

0:13:10.2 TW: We’re running Piwik PRO’s free plan on the podcast website, but they also have a paid plan that adds scale and some additional features.

0:13:16.3 S1: That’s right. So head over to piwik.pro and check them out for yourself. Get started with their free plan. That’s piwik.pro. All right, let’s get back to the show.

0:13:26.3 TW: Can we combine? I wanna put Michael on the spot with the observing somebody who’s senior and who may not be super receptive to feedback. And I’m pretty sure this example, we have alluded to it in the past, but there’s kind of a, Michael and I will both take to the end of our careers, when we were working together, one meeting with the CMO, I had a client that I lost him, like it was going horribly to the point that the…

0:13:54.9 MH: It wasn’t going horribly.

0:13:56.9 TW: Well, the client was getting pretty frustrated to the point that he basically got up to leave the room. He was like, “I’m done.” And it was, I think my assessment would be, well, and this was kind of, there were unreasonable requests. He was trying to look at things that weren’t gonna get him where he needed to go. And we had not been able to steer him to like, “That’s not productive.” And he was getting prescriptive and I had done what he wanted and it wasn’t giving results. And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s kind of what we thought.” And he was getting up to leave and Michael like actually grabbed him, which I think was largely, this was like from an emotional intelligence and a listening and understanding what was happening, I was probably getting a little bit limbic like, and Michael managed, you managed to grab him and pivot the conversation and then have a discussion with him. So I don’t know if you can think through, that was definitely a communication failure on my part. You were observing me. It did fail and you managed to recover. All of it was kind of… I mean, it wasn’t gonna lose the client. He would, the guy would’ve stormed off and we would’ve been fine later. But what was your take on what went wrong?

0:15:05.3 MH: So again, like I can’t remember so much about that specific situation except, whenever I’m in a room like that where that kind of conversation is happening, and even when I’m talking to a group of people, I’m extremely mindful of the cues that people are giving off. Like I’m watching them a lot to see like how engaged are they with what I’m talking about? ‘Cause that’s, that whole thing in a meeting where the most senior person picks up their phone and starts fiddling with it while you’re talking, it’s pretty impolite frankly, of that person to do that. But it’s also an excellent cue to you to know, okay, I’ve lost the most senior person in the room. If I want them back, what do I need to do? And so that is sort of where we were in that conversation. Tim was like, I had observed sort of like okay, a growing disconnect and I kind of knew from some of the questions that were coming his way, I was interpreting them slightly differently. I think, ’cause I’m dumber than you, Tim. So I was more on his wavelength. So I was interpreting them a little differently. And so I think I had a different way of describing it. And that was, in that particular situation, what turned out to be the nice synergy we had between us, was basically, I was just sort of like, oh, I think if I explained it this way, it might click with him a little better.

0:16:23.5 MK: Do you know what’s really funny, exactly what you just explained is the dynamic I have with someone in my team, where he’ll be like, oh Moe like you explained that really well to stakeholder X, Y or Z. And I’ll be like, I literally took the analogy that you had or the explanation you had and because you’re way smarter than me, like you were able to explain it to me. But then I’m able to, let’s go with simplify it a little further for a stakeholder that doesn’t have our background.

0:16:53.0 MH: And if we didn’t wanna use, if we didn’t wanna use false humility, Moe, what we would say is basically empathy is the driver of that for us, right? So basically your empathy is helping you understand what that person needs and then you communicate effectively with them because you are seeing the world through their eyes a little bit more.

0:17:11.5 TW: That’s so, I definitely will not concede this whole smarter bullshit, but that’s, but it’s, actually funny ’cause I was saying, oh, so what you’re saying is that both of you were listening better, which I think is actually a myth. It’s not…

0:17:26.4 MH: No.

0:17:26.5 TW: ’cause I think empathy is the better… Well, I mean I think there is some listening involved, but I think that’s a…

0:17:29.9 MK: I think Helb’s just a better listener, I’m not a great listener. She says as she interrupts.

[laughter]

0:17:37.6 TW: But I think listening and then empathizing, right? And I, and that’s, and this is something I learned through one of my son’s therapists, like the friend, I think I’ve said it on here before, like the fighting the tendency to judge, to kind of judge where they are, it’s like empathy is super, super important. The everyone is doing the best they can, in the moment. So if they’re not understanding what you are saying, it’s, don’t just say more, don’t assume that they’re stupid, or don’t assume that they’re out to get you. It is much, much more productive to take a breath. I guess that’s the other thing is to actually slow down. There’s, I think, there’s a tendency to say, “No, let me give you more, more, and more. Let me explain… ”

0:18:27.2 MK: Yeah. More…

0:18:27.2 TW: The other minutiae of the Webtrends as opposed to saying, “Wait a minute, timeout, let’s reset.” And if I can say, “I am not communicating this well, help me… ” I mean whether this is explicitly or just what’s going on in your head, “I need to figure out more where you are,” like.

0:18:45.3 MK: Do you know what…

0:18:45.4 TW: The active listening Yeah.

0:18:45.6 MK: Do you know my thing at the moment? Is analogies. I don’t know why, but I would say the last kind of 18 months where we’ve had lots of success is where we’ve come up with a really relatable analogy for something that we’re trying to get our stakeholders to understand or something that we’re trying to explain. ‘Cause once they get that they can use that as a jumping point to understand the more technical thing that you’re discussing. And I swear, I’m generally, like me and the leads in marketing data are like, okay, what’s the analogy we need for this particular concept we’re about to introduce or this particular methodology that we need senior leadership to get behind.

0:19:29.5 MK: And I feel like there’s been a step change where I don’t think I’ve focused so much on analogies as I probably have in the last 18 months.

0:19:35.5 TW: I think I finally realized in the last few years, because people would call out ’cause I tend to spontaneously do analogies. And for whatever reason, more often than not, they actually hold up. You have to be careful. But that’s also a way to get humor in, right? Like if you start, it becomes relatable, it can be humor, it can point out some of the… If it’s a good analogy, it can point out, things that would be ludicrous. Like next steps to do. I’ve been doing some writing and I’ve got a whole weight loss analogy. Well this would be silly. I find when they come spontaneously, sometimes they’re sillier and more fun and they lighten the room or lighten the tone and that can get people. But I also definitely think using them, but they can also kind of fail. Like when somebody tries to push it. If as an analyst you say, I’m gonna use this analogy, and then you get oversold on it and try to push it too hard. And all of a sudden it feels forced.

0:20:42.6 MK: Yeah. Make fit when it doesn’t.

0:20:44.7 MH: Yeah. Yeah.

0:20:45.2 TW: But I, 1000% agree. And that’s also, I think just from a retention, that analogies go into storytelling which go into memory and sustaining and giving us. I mean, there’s a whole… I’m sure there’s a lot of sort of brain science that’s gonna help with retention of the idea.

0:21:03.1 MK: Well, the really nice thing as well about an analogy is there is normally that storytelling component, but then there’s normally a way to represent it visually or some… So you can normally appeal to lots of different communication styles using the same thing, but just like tweaking it slightly based on someone’s personal preferences.

0:21:20.7 TW: And then you’ve really hooked if the audience says, well, what if… If their question, if they frame it in terms of pushing the analogy and it doesn’t matter whether it holds up or not, ’cause it shows that they’re trying to fit. And a lot of times it actually does hold up and you’re like, oh yeah, the analogy actually holds with that thing. I mean, there’s another, Rusty Rymer who I think we’ve had him on the podcast. But it’s funny, even secondhand, I’ve heard of a sinking ship, a Titanic analogy that he’s used. That’s like the level of staying power that… And I honestly don’t know the specifics of the situation, but it’s like, well, that shows the power. And I don’t know that he was actually thinking about it ahead of time.

0:22:06.1 TW: He just used it and said, it’s like the boat is sinking and we’re bringing on water. And so our solution is let’s go put another hole in the boat to let the water out. That’s not helpful. And I don’t really know the context of it, but you’re like, well, yep, that gives somebody imagery. But that starts to blend into, I mean, that’s… Michael in your terms, that’s a tactic and I think that’s a storytelling tactic.

0:22:32.5 MK: Yes.

0:22:32.9 TW: But man, it’s really useful and it does seem like there are people who are really good. I mean, you really get the double whammy if it’s an analogy that is either really relatable to you as a person. You know, if I used a…

0:22:46.4 MH: Oh yeah.

0:22:47.0 TW: Depending on the audience. Or it’s relatable to the audience.

0:22:52.6 MH: If I know anything about the people in the room, I will try to craft my analogies around their interests and points of things that they are fascinated by, right? Because it makes more connectivity, makes it easier.

0:23:04.7 TW: Again, a fine line. If it’s… You know somebody’s like an avid golfer and you’re not an avid golfer and you try to use an analogy and it’s like, it turns out to be a shitty analogy ’cause you don’t understand the game.

0:23:14.1 MH: But that’s where you use humor, it’d be like, well, I’m not a great golfer, like so-and-so. ‘Cause that’s the other thing in communicating things is, you can… What’s the right way to say it? The way I learned was called verbal judo. It’s basically not…

0:23:31.8 MK: I’m intrigued.

0:23:33.4 MH: Well, what it means is sort of like, whenever you’re in a situation that has potential conflict in it, how do you kind of disarm people before they become a problem? And so there’s these tactics, little things you can do.

0:23:47.9 MK: Yes.

0:23:48.0 MH: I always like to use the one where I make it their idea. And so you’ll be like, well, so and so had this great idea to analyze this, this, or this. And so we did that. And so now that person who might be an objector is now kind of like, well, I can’t really go against my own idea now.

0:24:05.6 MK: Oh shit. I need to practice that.

[laughter]

0:24:08.7 MH: Or you say something like, you know, you take something they said and then you build on it as if their thing was the first part of the thing you’re gonna say, which then makes them a part owner.

0:24:20.3 MK: Oh, that is so good. You know when you’re like I need to write that down? And then I feel when it comes to this tactic stuff, you have to make a conscious effort to try them out.

0:24:32.3 MH: Well, I think the thing you said early on Moe, where you do the role playing piece of it, as smarmy and weird as that might feel in the moment, that’s a perfect place to actually pick tactics, leverage them and then feed them back to each other and say like, okay, I loved how you did this, right? So basically someone comes in with an objection, you’d be like, well, that’s a great point. And you know, and as you have often said, and then you give, you bring in something they say or do and make it sound smart. Then they’re kind of are like, oh, they’re giving me a compliment or they’re on my side, so I can’t now be opposed to them necessarily. So there’s little things like that you can do. And so you just have to learn little skills like that.

0:25:16.7 MH: And it’s not always… Like at this point in my life, I consciously do some of those things, but I think the first times I ever did it was sort of like an accident and I was just sort of like… Again, I don’t think I’m like everybody else, in that I will replay conversations in my head for days.

0:25:35.9 MK: Me too.

0:25:36.1 MH: Especially the ones that I don’t think I did very well in. And I’ll be thinking about, and it goes back to like the whole, when you’re a kid in school yard thing, and two days later you come back with that, you come up with a cool comeback. You’re like, oh, what I should have said was… Or whatever. I was never good at those.

0:25:50.8 MK: Me neither.

0:25:52.1 MH: But, that’s the thing, is you could start to build up a skillset around those. And again, that’s more for dealing with oppositional moments in communication.

0:26:01.1 MK: Okay. But Helbs, one of the things that I’ve been asked a bit about previously was to do with like, I don’t know, when someone says shitty comments to you in the workplace that you’re not comfortable with or whatever. And that school yard explanation of not having the come back right then, that is totally me. And what I’ve learned to accept is that it’s okay in that moment ’cause I’m not always on the spot person. And this is true if someone says something inappropriate or it’s just a comment in a meeting that you’re thinking about days later that you’re like, I could have handled that better. With Harry now we have do-overs. And sometimes I say to him, I don’t like how I just did that. Can we have a do-over? And adults can do the same. You can go back to your stakeholder and be like, “Hey, I was thinking about that meeting we had two days ago. I didn’t like how I handled X, Y, and Z. Here’s what I’ve been thinking.” And I actually think there is a lot of self-forgiveness in that, in…

0:26:55.6 TW: Yeah.

0:26:56.1 MK: Instead of beating yourself up about not handling it perfectly that moment of like, okay, I can go back and reframe something or have another try. Anyway, that’s…

0:27:06.5 MH: Yeah, it also helps me with my whole, like I’m pretty petty.

[laughter]

0:27:12.5 MH: And so whenever I do that to people on purpose, I really like it.

[laughter]

0:27:18.9 MH: Because it’s a socially acceptable way of handling a difficult situation without actually confronting someone or have to get in there. It’s sort of like, and that’s why I call it verbal judo ’cause it’s using their own momentum against them a little bit. Anyways, yeah.

0:27:32.5 TW: Well, but I think that’s… There’s sort of two, there’s the manipulative way to do it. I’ve learned the skill to sort of to take it and then there’s… But parallel with that is it does force you to recognize, they actually did have a good point. This was the source.

0:27:48.8 MH: Yeah.

0:27:48.9 TW: This was the… And I think defensiveness is terrible. I will say the coming up and doing a do-over, just literally last weekend I was at a big family reunion. And I’ve got a second cousin who, it’s funny, she lived in Sydney, she was in Manly and I visited her the couple of times I was there. Then she moved to Hong Kong. So, she was down the road from Josh. Now she’s in Hawaii. Her husband couldn’t make it for the trip, but her husband has worked at the trade desk for years. And I see her every four or five years.

0:28:18.7 TW: And somehow at this family reunion, AI came up, and she was like, “Oh, Dave.” And her husband wasn’t able to come. Great guy. And she’s like, “Dave’s doing all sorts of cool stuff with AI.” And she was like, “I know Tim, you think he’s evil. You think the media is evil. You think the trade desk is evil.” Which is true. And I kinda ran with it.

[laughter]

0:28:39.9 TW: So we had like a two minute interaction and I just basically ripped this guy’s career. I felt horrible about it. I literally tracked her down the next day at the next thing. I was like, “Oh, Kat, I am… That was not… ” She was like, “You’re fine.” I was like, “I don’t want my interaction to be slamming your husband’s… ” But, I replayed that like that. I woke up kind of early in the morning and I was like, “Why? What? To what end were you taking your little hobby horse?” That fine, on your little analytics podcast you can rip these organizations, but maybe not the right place with somebody you really like, and her husband who you really like who’s not even there to defend himself. So, yeah.

0:29:21.9 MK: But that is self-awareness. I think that where I struggle is when, say, there is a conversation like that, that doesn’t go particularly well. And the data person, doesn’t get maybe they’re part of the problem.

[laughter]

0:29:39.3 MK: Or they need to improve, and it’s kind of like, oh, well, our stakeholders are tough or their expectations are unreasonable, or they’re asking X, Y, and Z and it’s stupid. That’s my like… That one really gets on me. ‘Cause I’m like, they have less information than you about this topic. If they’re asking for the wrong things then it’s your job to help them try and understand what the right things to ask for are. But yeah, I guess I wanna steer the conversation a little bit towards around like, when things aren’t going well or when people don’t have this skillset nailed down. And like you said Helbs, it’s always a continuum and people can always improve, no matter how great you think you are. I think there are lots of people that think they’re good at it and they’re not. And that could be us.

0:30:27.0 MH: Yeah. [laughter] No, no. I would say I probably come out of situations about 30-40% of the time satisfied with how I communicated. Most of the time I still think I’m not… I don’t like it. So it’s, trust me the imposter syndrome it’s hanging out real strong.

[laughter]

0:30:46.9 MH: But, you’re right. So, again, this goes back to sort of like, yeah, if you don’t think you have anything to learn, then you probably don’t. And you can’t learn new things. And there’s gonna be… Your upside is inhibited as a result of that.

0:31:01.2 TW: Wait, but no, if you think you don’t have anything more to learn, then you definitely have less to…

0:31:06.7 MH: Well, you do, but in your mind then you don’t. So it’s sort of like the…

0:31:09.5 MK: Like you’re not open to it.

0:31:11.7 MH: The idea of competence that you don’t have, sort of the Dunning-Kruger.

0:31:16.0 TW: So basically the listeners who most would benefit from this podcast already skipped it.

[laughter]

0:31:21.1 MK: This is okay.

[laughter]

0:31:22.5 MK: So this is what my sister says to me, whenever I’m concerned about a kid thing. I don’t know, let’s say it’s sleep. And she’s like, “If you are thinking about it and reading about it and trying to come up with a game plan ’cause you’re worried about it, then you actually don’t need to worry about it ’cause you already care.” And it’s like the people who are seeking out information to improve their communication skill or listening to the podcast about it, are probably the ones that are pretty good at it already. Whereas the ones that aren’t…

0:31:46.9 MH: Well, they’re on their way.

0:31:48.7 MK: Yeah.

0:31:49.7 MH: I think our listeners self-select. So people who don’t…

0:31:52.5 MK: Everyone self-selects.

0:31:53.6 MH: But I’m saying, people who don’t need to learn new things, don’t need to listen to this podcast, so they probably don’t.

0:32:00.6 MK: True.

0:32:00.7 MH: So, there you go.

0:32:01.8 MK: But okay. I’ve gotta ask. It’s been kind of, this always happens when we’re doing an episode and I’m like, “Ooh, I wanna try this thing with my team.” And then I’ve got a few Tims in my team and I’m like, “Is there going to be a revolt around this?”

0:32:16.6 MH: I’m so sorry.

0:32:19.7 MK: Because everyone’s like, “Moe, for fuck’s sake, stop experimenting on us and give us a fucking break.” So we talked about role playing, is it worth a team… We do technical training sessions and we have training sessions where we share code and there’s a whole process around peer reviews and yada, yada, yada, to hone your programming skills. Is there, I guess what I’m trying to say is, as a people manager, should we put more emphasis into, I guess, a curriculum for this? And potentially getting your team into a room and being like, right, these are the scenarios that we’re gonna role play that often come up with our stakeholders. Here is a bunch of tactics that we can use and test them out. Let’s all have a go at trying out these different tactics. Or would they kill me?

0:33:07.7 MH: Do you train or educate on visual data presentation, like…

0:33:14.7 MK: Totally.

0:33:15.9 MH: Okay. So then how is that any different than verbal communication or nonverbal communication?

0:33:22.2 MK: I totally agree. I think that one, when it comes to making time for this stuff, it often gets put at the bottom of the list. I’ll be like, “I should do this.” And in a year’s time, we’ll be talking about it again and I’ll be like, “I really should have done that.” But I also think it’s like, you have people on the team that are just kind of like, “Oh, this isn’t important.” Or like, “I’m already good at this, eye roll, I’m not gonna participate.” And I think that’s hard.

0:33:46.7 MH: I feel like the big turning point for me on this stuff was… I don’t know. Does Radiolab still exist, Tim?

0:33:53.8 TW: Yeah. I mean, it doesn’t now, Robert Krulwich is retired, but…

0:33:56.3 MH: Okay. But there was this Radiolab I listened to a long time ago about decision making. And basically how they had tested people who lost their connection between their two halves of their brain, the corpus callosum. And they had asked them to choose a brand of toothpaste in an American supermarket. And so like, there’s 40 different brands, and they thought that because now the person had no emotion attached to their decision making, the logic would allow them to quickly select the toothpaste that they wanted to buy. And the opposite was true. They were completely unable to make a choice. And so the research sort of showed that emotion plays this extremely significant role in decision making.

0:34:44.4 MH: And so that, and like the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, I was reading that book around the same time. And I think that for me was like this major turning point, inflection point in my career, of realizing, oh my gosh, like all of the data and logic and information that I’m able to communicate means absolutely nothing if there’s not an emotional connection to what I’m talking about and what I’m recommending that we do. And it sort of turned on a big light for me because, you know, like I say Tim’s the quintessential analyst, and I do mean that, but like, I always joke and it’s sort of true, I’m not the strongest statistician or analyst or math person. I think I’m decent, but I’m not great like some of the people I’ve met in my career. But that was the way that I realized I could contribute to great analysis was I could be the connector of the people, between the idea and the statistics and the logic and the emotion to make the decision to move forward.

0:35:49.5 MK: The data translator, if you will.

0:35:54.7 MH: Well a lot of people have tried to come up with words for it, and none of them have been sufficient for Tim up to this point. But yes, in a way like… And so that was the big moment for me. And I don’t know if you can create that moment for other people, but there’s science behind this. There’s absolute science behind this.

0:36:12.1 TW: So I think there… But Moe there, I think there are two things. And Michael, you just… There’s one recognizing that it is important. And I think about the way that I… When I do training or coaching on even data visualization, I always start with, and actually Michelle and I kind of had a shared thing. Like let’s explain a little bit of the neuroscience behind how memory works and how decision making works. This is definitely locking me into what my last call’s gonna be, now based on this discussion.

0:36:42.7 TW: So that’s part of it, is the intellectual. This does, and I think the Heath brothers, Nancy Duarte, Lea Pica, there is an abundance and I’m sure there’s the perfect TED talk that is, okay, let’s communicate to the team that this shit really does matter.

0:37:00.1 MK: Like Simon Sinek?

0:37:02.0 TW: Uh, sure.

0:37:04.3 MH: Before he got super popular, yes.

0:37:05.8 TW: And then there’s the second part which is, okay, how do we get better. The role playing or the how do we go about it. To me, as you were heading down that, if I had a team and was doing it, it almost feels like it’s similar to this discussion. Like, well, we could all sit in a room and make this a workshop. Let’s talk about whether it’s… What’s… Everybody shares one thing they think they do well or a tip or something they’ve seen somebody else. Just to force the brain to kick into the analytical side of like, what have you seen John do that you think is really effective from a purely communicating point. To me that’s where, getting a team to collaborate on coming up with what those tactics are. It shows that everyone has different strengths. It shows that you can always be improving. You know, the analogy thing comes up. Well, sure, maybe three people in the room. Maybe no one has the light bulb clicked other than you Moe, that like, “Holy crap, we’re starting to use analogies. And that really seems to be working.”

0:38:15.0 TW: To me, baking that into the culture, this is all theoretical to say, that’s gonna be part of our every other team meeting we have, we’re gonna spend 10 minutes coming up with what we’ve seen that was effective communication, what we’ve done that seemed like it was really effective or what really didn’t work and we don’t understand why. Or something… Like it feels like something that needs to be baked in as a, you’re gonna constantly be getting better. But if you haven’t gotten over that first hurdle where Michael was like, wait, you weren’t getting over the hurdle. But I think…

0:38:48.1 MK: Yeah, like if someone doesn’t think it’s important.

0:38:50.4 TW: If they don’t think it’s important, then all that other stuff is, is wasted. They’re not gonna absorb it. They’ll be, the jackass is saying, what do you mean the data speaks for itself? Why does it have to be clearly communicated? And then I get violent.

0:39:04.7 MK: Okay. We’ve got to revisit a comment from our last episode because I was gonna, like literally after Helbs did the intro, I was gonna go straight to this because I’m so dying to talk about it. And we didn’t really get enough. It’s actually part of what inspired this particular topic. But Dr. Janet Bastiman was talking about like technical things and I was kind of asking whether it’s a skill you have to develop over time, whether you get better at learning to explain things. And one of the things she said was that she’s finding more junior people are actually really good or better at explaining things. And I don’t know if it’s like to do with the newness or more recent experience having learned about a particular topic, but the reason I’ve been thinking about it so much is that soon as she said it, I was oh shit like yeah. Like I’ve got some junior people on my team that are some of the best communicators I’ve ever seen, like best presenters, communicators can explain these so technical, like technical concepts that I would struggle to explain. And I have seen them own a meeting with everyone smiling and nodding and understanding exactly what they’re talking about and asking really thoughtful questions. And it’s made me really reflect on, is this to do with like the newness or the learning or is this like young people are actually getting taught this better through their schooling and that’s like a, I don’t know.

0:40:30.0 TW: So we should be using TikTok?

0:40:35.8 TW: I mean, I walked away and this is unfair ’cause Michael, you wound up not being able to, based on the magic of timing. You haven’t heard that episode, but it was because it… I heard it as if they are motivated, if they have only recently had a light bulb go on for themselves, then they are just, they’re going to have more empathy for the audience because that was them.

0:41:02.6 MH: Closer.

0:41:03.8 TW: Just a week ago. And I think the risk, so I think it’s, to me the concern is, oh crap, are we one, we need to really acknowledge and reward them and call that out and say, “You are going to, this is gonna be a skill you have to retain as you get more advanced in your career because the curse of knowledge is a real thing. And this thing that you explained just yesterday and did a phenomenal job, it’s gonna feel obvious and old and easy to you in three years and you are going to forget that that is still gonna be new information to people that you’re interacting with. And let’s focus on how you explained it. Let’s like… ” I don’t know. I feel like that, I think we’re missing on that, on saying if you do something well you’ve gotta be able to lock in this moment right now and be able to recall that in three years or five years. You have to be able to remember when you only barely newly understood that concept and put yourself in that place. Which goes back to Michael, the empathy ’cause you’re moving ahead, but a lot of times this, the new stakeholders you’re working with are in the same spot and you’re gonna be farther away from them with your knowledge in the future. And that’s on you to close that gap, not on them just based on where they are.

0:42:31.3 MH: Yeah. Keeping that same empathy even though it’s the thousandth time you’ve explained it sort of.

0:42:36.6 MK: Yeah. It’s funny because I feel like, like I’ve done a good job maybe of communicating to that person like, “Oh hey, that was phenomenal the way you explained that really hit home” yada, yada yada. Like giving them, even if there are a couple of constructive points. But it’s that actually having that conversation with them of like, it’s going to get harder to explain this when you’re explaining it for the thousandth time and it’s gonna get harder to explain it as you learn more about it and you understand more about it and like calling out that you need to remember this and how you did it so that you don’t Yeah, I guess get too far away from that empathy that’s, oh.

0:43:12.6 MH: No, that’s really good.

0:43:17.3 TW: But I do think that’s the part of the challenge of communication or in the analytics world is that the data never gets simpler. Like we have not… None of us have said, oh man, I’m so… I’m so glad that I’m working with the environment that I am now because the data is so much less complex and the operating environment is so easier. So like the… As the world gets more complicated and the data gets more complex and the tools get more involved, the human capacity to understand a concept isn’t really moving that quickly. So I feel like the gap explaining how web analytics worked when it was a log file analysis was like you could do it. That’s like a five minute conversation. Well, that if you jump to in the digital analytics world to server side tracking and first party cookies, like the…

0:44:16.7 TW: What’s going on under the hood is wildly more complex, but the stakeholders, they’re gonna get more sophisticated, they’re gonna be more steeped in some of the mechanics of that, but they’re not moving along. So it becomes a bigger communication challenge to get to the essence of what they need to understand in a way that’s kinda that’s clear. It’s just gonna grow as a, it’s gonna continue to increase as a challenge. When we talk about generative AI, when we talk about machine learning, when we talk about some of the statistics stuff I didn’t need to talk about, I didn’t need to understand statistics at all when I started in the analytics world. I was just crunching data and yeah, the communication’s getting more challenging, not less.

0:45:07.7 MH: Alright, well we’re getting very close to the end, but there’s one little additional thing I want us to cover Tim, you had it in the notes around what I’ll call venue for a conversation, ’cause I think this is really undervalued as well, which is sort of like a lot, we’ve been talking a lot about like how you talk in meetings, but a lot of times communication is done one on one, via email, via Slack or Microsoft teams. And a lot of times people don’t use these tools super well or to their advantage. I don’t know if you had thoughts about that, Tim. It was, you had that in the notes, but I thought it was something I thought would be very worthwhile to bring up in this episode.

0:45:48.8 TW: I mean I am terrible about the going too far, especially ’cause I can type quickly enough and it’s like I will go through multi-threaded back and forth when like, a phone call or you know what, let me grab 30 minutes, let’s actually have this as a real dialogue. As we were prepping for this, I wound up turning up a post that was basically, like six times you should just make, make a phone call. Like if you need to apologize… If you wanna apologize, if you think there are gonna be a lot of questions, then don’t do it through an email. If it’s something complicated then, a phone call or a meeting. If you’ve taken too long to respond and you need to probably eat a little apology humble pie. If you need to talk about something personal.

0:46:39.8 TW: There’s a… When it’s really important. So I think picking the venue and as analysts we have a tendency to want to, oh, let me put the deck together and then present it and then walk away or let me send the email with the data and be done. And I think there’s a tendency just from a time pressure to want to move on to the next task and the one-on-one interaction, or I have a pre… I’m gonna present it and I know it’s gonna be awkward for this one person. We’ll find the time to talk to that person ahead of time so that they’re not being blindsided. All of that stuff takes time and all of it can be scary ’cause you have less control in a conversation and as somebody who’s definitely has been in conversations where he’s lost his shit and then agonizes about it later. That’s scary, but it’s often the best medium, man. That’s me sounding preachy.

0:47:43.1 MH: No but I really like it and especially because a lot of people are remote, so the chances for one-to-one or informal or hallway conversations are limited, that changes things and how you gotta communicate and I always try to remember this message, like email doesn’t have tone, so how the person reads it applies the tone that they’re gonna take from it. So basically it’s like, however, if they’re feeling like shit that day and they’re down on themselves, your email while trying to be super neutral and not bad at all is gonna come across to them as super over the top and accusatory and it’s gonna be awful. And sort of like, okay, well then maybe I can pick up the phone and have the conversation in person or one tool. I think sometimes it gets overused, but it’s super helpful sometimes is like tools like Loom where you make a little video explaining what is going on and that a full four or five minute video sometimes will stop a whole email thread from happening. So like.

0:48:41.1 MK: Slash Zoom is hands down my favorite Slack feature. Like I’m a person who…

0:48:47.2 MH: Do a quick one-on-one.

0:48:48.9 MK: Like honestly when a thread starts going in Slack, I actually go the opposite and I like, it’s almost like my brain is like, I can’t digest you and I’m like, can we just, I will pick up the phone and call you. I will zoom with you, but like you’ve gotta talk me through it because it’s like, it just goes straight over my head Soon as it gets too slacky.

0:49:07.2 TW: Yeah. I need to look into Loom ’cause I’ve definitely, I’ve had cases where I’ve done a YouTube but when I’m inside a company so I can make it private and I’m like, it’s still short, I need you to see a couple visuals and I wanna show it. I’m not gonna take your time to, I feel uncomfortable sometimes ’cause there’s no back and forth so it has to be short and it has to be, look, I’m happy to talk about this but I can’t find time on our calendars. I think me talking to it and it’s still rough.

0:49:39.6 MK: You know CAMBA has a feature that does that, it like lets you record yourself while you’re presenting a couple of slides. And we use it for lots of stuff, just letting you know of course.

0:49:51.1 MH: That is great to know ’cause I still just use the free version of Loom ’cause that that caps you out at five minutes. So I use that to keep it short. Anyway, speaking of keeping it short, we do have to start to wrap up because that’s how we communicate best is by having shows that don’t go too, too long. [chuckle] Anyway. Well one thing we do like to do is talk about something we think might be interesting in our last call. So let’s go around the horn and see what we have to share there. Moe would you like to share your last call first?

0:50:23.9 MK: Sure. So I read an article recently it’s called, “I Got Laid Off at Google and it broke my heart because the company had become my life. Here are three things I learned about defining myself based on my job.” by Robin Madell. I’ve actually been sharing it with quite a few women in the tech circles that I’m friendly with because there was a lot in the article that resonates with me. And we’ve talked about this topic as a group a lot because I suppose for me it kind of struck a nerve in terms of like, I do I guess identify as being good at my job is something that I really care about and it’s really important to me. And even…

0:51:01.7 MK: You know balancing family and all the other things, it’s something that’s really stuck. So, yeah, I’ve actually, I don’t know, I just… I’ve been thinking a lot about that article and some of the learnings and I guess some of the steps in my own career. But what’s really interesting is, the other last call that I have is actually a friend of a friend called Yashvi Shah, has just set up this new Instagram account, and it’s called @redirectiontales. And they’re sharing stories basically about how rejection have helped people pivot the paths that they wanted to take.

0:51:37.1 MK: And it’s like, I read both of these things together in the same week and it kind of made me reflect a lot on the situation when I got fired. And it’s actually ended up being the best thing that could have possibly happened to my career, but obviously at the time, felt like absolute shit. And I know that with lots of stuff still going on in the tech community, there’s probably lots of people that article also really, really hits home for. So yeah, just been doing all the thinking.

0:52:04.9 MH: Nice. Nice. Alright. Tim, what about you? What’s your last call?

0:52:10.3 TW: So, it’s not gonna surprise anyone that it’s a podcast recommendation. I came across this by way of Annie Duke, and I am pretty sure we have referenced, we have talked about Katy Milkman before. She’s a professor at Wharton, maybe. That’s gonna be bad if it’s incorrect, but she’s got the Choiceology podcast with Katy Milkman. And it’s interesting ’cause it’s actually Charles Schwab sponsored, which… And I think the tie-in is that when you’re managing a portfolio, you’re picking, you’re making choices. But they have given her free reign and she has clearly got contacts. She’s had episodes with like Leon Panetta about the going in for Osama bin Laden and the choices being made.

0:52:56.3 TW: So, the format is basically she talks to somebody who is… She actually had a episode with Emily Oster, where she has some aspect of making decisions and she talks to one person who’s an expert or who has gone on about it. And then she has a second segment that’s kind of breaking it down a little bit. So, I am not the kind of person who discovers a new podcast and says, I’m gonna go back and listen to all the past episodes, but I actually am working my way backwards through the Choiceology with Katy Milkman. They’re relatively, like 30, 35 minutes long. So, compared to us they’re shorter, but really pretty interesting on the kind of decision making. So, as we were talking about how it’s emotions over data, kind of a well known thing, that’s basically the premise of her entire podcast. What about you, Michael? What’s your last call?

0:53:50.6 MH: Well, interestingly enough, I found this via Christopher Barry, who’s a good friend. Well, guest on the show and it’s INFORMS which is the Institute for Operational Research and Management Sciences. But it’s a paper about team performance. And basically, what this paper showed was that team performance, we assume it falls on a normal distribution in terms of how teams actually perform, but what they found in the research was that team performance was not normally distributed at all. And that different teams actually have huge tales, and goes into a lot of detail that I am still struggling through. But some of the concepts in there, sort of it’s… What’s crazy is I sort of have always believed this anecdotally in my head, and it’s sort of like really cool that there’s now sort of like real research that’s showing like, yeah, this is actually true.

0:54:46.6 MH: And so, as I’ve built teams throughout my career, I sort of am like, no, we can build an exceptional team and that actually really, really matters. And actually now it shows like, okay, yeah, actually the data behind this is actually starting to emerge and it really does. So anyways, I thought that was pretty cool, ’cause as you think about sort of putting together teams, and things like that, it is not a normally distributed thing. It could actually be very different on the two ends of the distribution.

0:55:13.9 MH: Anyways, very cool, we’ll link that in the show notes. All right, well, as you’ve been listening, you’ve probably been thinking, “Wow, Moe and Tim and Michael, you’re such great communicators. [laughter] But you’ve forgot about this very salient thing. Or have you ever thought about maybe this idea?” Well, we’d love to hear from you. We’d love to communicate with you if indeed. [laughter] Yeah, so the best way to do that is the Measure Slack group, which it takes a long time to get in, but it’s totally worth. If you haven’t already signed up for that join.measure.chat. And the approval process does take a little while, but you’ll eventually get you in there.

0:55:51.9 MH: And then also on Twitter, we’re still on there and our LinkedIn. So, you can reach out to us in all those ways as well. Alright. Well, no show would be complete without a huge shout out to our producer Josh Crowhurst. Thank you Josh, for all you do keeping this show on the rails. And thank you Moe and Tim, for doing this conversation. This was a lot of fun, and I’ve actually learned quite a bit from you two today. So that’s been delightful.

0:56:20.2 TW: Likewise.

0:56:20.9 MH: And I know I speak for both of you when I say, no matter what your communication skill level, I know that you should keep analyzing.

0:56:32.9 Announcer: Thanks for listening. Let’s keep the conversation going with your comments, suggestions, and questions on Twitter at @AnalyticsHour, on the web @AnalyticsHour.io, our LinkedIn group and the Measured Chat Slack group, music for the podcast by Josh Crowhurst. So, smart guys want to fit in. So they made up a term called analytics. Analytics don’t work.

0:56:57.8 Kamala Harris: I love Venn diagrams. It’s just something about those three circles and the analysis about where there is the intersection, right.

0:57:08.3 MK: Tim, your prep for this episode is phenomenal.

0:57:12.1 MK: I mean, it always is.

0:57:12.7 TW: Thank you.

0:57:12.9 MK: But this is particularly good.

0:57:15.8 TW: I did a lot of prep, but I am counting on you guys being the talkers.

0:57:20.4 MK: Oh, as if you’re not gonna suddenly get really opinionated about something.

0:57:23.4 MH: I have a couple of really good ones lined up ready for you to take a swing at, Tim. [laughter] It’s gonna be good. Alright.

0:57:30.9 TW: Great. Okay.

0:57:31.7 MH: Go in five, four.

0:57:37.2 TW: Rock flag and empathy.

0:57:40.1 MH: Always comes back to that. [chuckle]

0:57:42.4 TW: Always does.

0:57:43.1 MH: Always, always.

0:57:44.1 TW: All right. Okay.

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