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Above all else, keep it relevant to them

Communicating is critical in a customer listening program, strategic account management, and frankly in each relationship in our lives. Our company’s founder, Mrs. Tommie Walker Anderson, is often attributed with the saying “You’re 100% in control of your own actions, and 50% in control of all your relationships.” Today, I came across a story that is certainly humorous, but also emphasizes that different people have different relevancies and styles. This is all well and good in terming of variety being the spice of life and all – but it can create communication breakdowns and a lack of mutual success when one doesn’t consider what is relevant to the audience and individuals they are trying to engage.

The story comes from an actual class assignment given by an English professor from the University of Colorado. The creative writing professor told his class:

“Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting next to his or her desk. One of you will write the first paragraph of a short story. You will email your partner that paragraph and send another copy to me. The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story and send it back, also sending another copy to me. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back-and-forth. Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. There is to be absolutely NO talking outside of the e-mails and anything you wish to say must be written in the e-mail. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached.”

Two students, Rebecca and Bill, were paired and the following is an actual excerpt of what they turned in:

(first paragraph by Rebecca) At first, Laurie couldn’t decide which kind of tea she wanted. The chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked chamomile. But she felt she must now at all costs keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again. So chamomile was out of the question.

(second paragraph by Bill) Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago. “A.S. Harris to Geostation 17,” he said into his transgalactic communicator. “Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far…” But before he could sign off a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship’s cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.

(Rebecca) He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. “Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel,” Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited her and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspaper to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. “why must one lose one’s innocence to become a woman?” she pondered wistfully.

(Bill) Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands of miles above the city, the Anu’udrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dimwitted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral Aerospace disarmament Treaty through the Congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anu’udrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized even poor, stupid Laurie.

So you get the point, right? The story begins to deteriorate into email bickering between Rebecca and Bill (making you believe they might actually be Laurie and Carl) that’s pretty funny, but from which I will spare you. Upon reflection, I thought this humorous exchange nicely demonstrated that if either student had made the first step in understanding what was relevant to the other party, their collaboration (business parallel = teamwork toward a mutually beneficial outcome like increased customer loyalty and profitable growth) would have been much more successful.

Got an example of how you tailored your message to the style and needs of your audience which led to a positive outcome? Please post a comment and share.


Brad Linville

Principal, Sr. VP, Strategic Accounts

Walker Information

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