Michael Phelps Interview

Michael Phelps Interview

These August evenings, the 8th through the 24th, my family turns our television to a fierce competition. Not only among nations, but among stations as well.

My wife, Lisa, is an avid Olympic fan. She wants the maximum amount of action for her viewing time.  In our market, the Olympics are carried by three stations–King 5, the local NBC affiliate; the USA network; and CBC, our Canadian channel. Lisa will spend the evening with one hand on the remote switching between stations whenever she thinks the coverage wanes on the channel she’s watching.

Airtime in primetime hours on NBC during the Olympics is worth (according to MediaDailyNews) $750,000 a minute–yes, a minute. Not the $1.7m a minute the SuperBowl commands, but still a big pile of coin.

That’s why NBC put together a team of knowledgeable, experienced, charismatic correspondents to explain, comment on, and add color to the 2008 Olympics–to make Lisa tune our set to our local NBC affiliate and keep it there throughout the 17 nights of competition and especially the commercials that fill out this summer’s Olympic telecast and generate the revenue for NBC.

And Monday night, they dropped the ball.

It was one of the clearest examples I’ve seen of not understanding how emotions work and not being able to take advantage of that knowledge to create connection and communications.

There was Michael Phelps having just won his firt gold medal in swimming. Andrea Kremer intercepted him as he came out of the pool area. He was nearly shivering, his voice just a little shaky. We all, especially my wife Lisa, wanted to know what it was like to start his hunt for a record 8 gold medals in a single Olympics.

“What are the emotions running through your mind?” Andrea asked. “Happy and excitement,” Michael replied.

You won’t a picture from the interview or quotes posted on the internet. It fell flat–didn’t deliver. It may be a small thing. Michael has been interviewed lots of times during these Olympics, a press conference virtually every day in addition to the comments he’s had for color reporters following events.

But that interview didn’t hold my family over to the next commercial break. And if other rabid fans reacted like my wife did, lots of people switched away. And that means loss of revenue for NBC and future networks who carry the Olympics. And not a trivial loss.

There are questions you could ask that would predictably draw a more engaging response. Asking how he’s reacting, for example, will generally get you more. “Wow, Michael, there’s number one, what’s your reaction to your first big win?” People like to talk about their reactions and the question isn’t as narrow as emotions. They’ll tell you about their physical reaction, their emotional reactions, and their thoughts. And you’ll get a sense from their answer of which of these they’re attending to most.

Another way to encourage people to reveal themselves is to note the reactions you can see and ask what’s behind it. “Michael, I notice your voice is a little shaky, your eyes are watering up a bit. Where’s that coming from?”

Not every discussion merits a word-by-word examination. Else, we’d never be able to walk through a social event at ease. Some discussions do, though. When your boss says, “you know, I picked you myself and I have to say I’m really disappointed.” When your patient says, “I’m gonna sue you and this hospital.” When you have a one-on-one interview with the greatest athlete in Olympic history and your time is worth $750,000 a minute.

Tim’s Takeaway:

Especially if you work in an area where the stakes are high, it’s worth your time to craft communications that serve your needs. Communications is a skill like any other. There are frameworks for communicating that can reliably produce the kind of outcomes you want.

As much as the Chinese hope to win many medals in these Olympics, they also hope to use the

Olympics as a kind of coming out event, to let the world know that they are back. And the opening ceremonies were an auspicious start–a tutorial in nonverbal communications.

You likely saw the opening ceremonies. And I won’t add to the commentaris which are readily available on the internet. Our particular interest is communications, so we’ll focus on the messages that China was able to send subtextually through their staging of the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium

Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium

1. While the US and Europe may be in a recession, we have the wherewithal and will to construct a magnificent Olympic Village including a stadium outfitted especially for one night’s celebration.

2. We also have the resources to invest as much in one four-hour production as American spends on a big budget summer blockbuster.

3. We are many.  China is large enough to field a production with

2008 Chinese Drummers

2008 Chinese Drummers

15,000 performers including, expert drummers, Tai Chi performers, lighted dancers, and artists of many stripes.

4. Don’t think we are backward. We have remarkable expertise to bring to bear, even in technology. China showcased the largest LCD screen ever displayted.

Chinese Print Block Artists

Chinese Print Block Artists

5. We can be remarkably disciplined when we want to be. The Chinese memorialized their historic rise as well as their development of technologies such as paper and print block.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the swift and intricate choreography of the blocks–now a set a waves, now drops in a pond, now a chinese character, now the great wall–was in fact, not the work of a computer but a highly trained troupe of human performers.

Tim’s Takeaway:

There’s a saying in screenwriting–show, don’t tell.  In other words, don’t tell me your protagonist is compassionate; show me your protagonist passing up a raise to help a co-worker. Whatever message you’re trying to send in a screenplay comes across much more powerfully in action than in words. The Olympic opening ceremonies were a terrific example of that maxim at work, the messages that China was sending to the world came across much more powerfully enacted than they would have in any written statement or flowery speech. 

 

Stuart Bradford's Illustration in the NYTTara Parker-Pope, a journalist and blogger for the Well Blog on the New York Times, has been writing post after post this week on the growing recognition of how deep the rift is between doctors and their patients. Every post she writes get upwards of 150 comments. Her article summarizing the problem has attracted over 300 comments since she posted it Monday. There’s so much spleen being vented by readers on the web pages of the Times right now that it brings new meaning to the old joke, “what’s black, white, and red all over?”

Patients are upset, yes,

To the Doctors who say their patients don’t trust their medical knowledge I, as patient, say stop acting like you know everything – you don’t, so admit it and we patients may stop distrusting your quick off the line, glib diagnosis.
— Posted by Tom in California

but not just patients. Tara cites a Reader’s Digest article that excerpts doctors’ comments about dealing with patients. Much of it is poignant or insightful.

Though we don’t cry in front of you, we sometimes do cry about your situation at home.
Pediatrician, Chicago

And there’s impatience with patients as well.

So let me get this straight: You want a referral to three specialists, an MRI, the medication you saw on TV, and an extra hour for this visit. Gotcha. Do you want fries with that?
Douglas Farrago, MD

There’s almost too much to process and comment on. I’ve spent years training doctors and other medical staff to have conversations with patients that are both efficient and empathetic, though, and two things ring out to me, one about the healthcare industry and another about the fundamental nature of this conflict.

First, there’s the insightful comment by Shelley Holloway, a global customer service analyst. “Guess what folks?” she says, ” The medical field is a Customer Service Industry! … When I or my employer pays for a service, I want excellent treatment/response just as I would for any product/service I might buy.”

I think Ms. Holloway is right on. The healthcare industry is a customer service industry. If you need proof, here are just two observations.  According to a 2004 Harris poll, what patients valued most—even more than their doctors’ training and knowledge of new medical treatments—was their interpersonal skills: treating patients with respect, listening  carefully, being easy to talk to, taking patients’ concerns seriously, spending enough time with them, and really caring. (1) And a Harvard study of 44,821 patients found that only 1 of every 5 malpractice suits arise from medical negligence. What drives the majority of law suits, is the way patients are treated. (2)

Yet as important as customer service is in healthcare, medical schools still don’t train staff in service skills. Health systems spend millions on measuring patient satisfaction and then struggle, by and large, with what to do with low scores. Here’s Mary Malone, Executive Director of Consulting Services for Press Ganey, one of the two largest patient satisfaction measurement firms in the industry. “There is a big difference between paying “lip service” to service in a meeting and doing the hard work that’s needed to implement organizational and behavioral change. And I’m still astonished by how many health care professionals fail to make this connection.”(3)

The  healthcare industry will keep building animosity until senior management realizes they are in the business of serving patients and they happen to do it by fixing bodies, and not the other way around.

The second thing to notice, that’s important for those of us who are in relationships with others is the remarkable destructiveness of mutually perceived threat. I conducted a needs analysis years ago for an oncology department in a large hospital that was prestigious for good reason. The core of the analysis was this: your staff feels threatened by your patients and your patients feel threatened by your staff. Not everyone, not all the time, but often enough that you need to take active steps to turn the situation around. Unbeknownst to me, the analysis flew around the hospital. What started as one training turned into 16 throughout the organization. Even though staff in other departments knew the analysis wasn’t written for them, they could feel a tension that they recognized in the document.

There’s a dynamic of domination that comes up seemingly whenever people approach each other across an examination table, or a cash register, or whatever it is in your industry that separates you from those you serve. Your customers have to come to you to get service and they fear you’ll take advantage of them. You have to serve your customers, and you fear that they’ll stomp and shout and demand an unsustainably high level of service. And if you leave those mutual fears unspoken and unexamined, they fester and escalate. Joe Peschi’s famous line, “They @$%> you in the drive through!” morphs into a lawsuit over coffee served too hot.

Tim’s Takeaway:

What’s the tension in your industry with your customers? Are you courageous enough to say it outloud? Or do you assume the conversation would just be too sensitive. If you’re not addressing it openly. It’s not going away.

References:

 1. Humphrey Taylor, Chairman of The Harris Poll, in The Wall Street Journal Online, Health Care Poll, Vol. 3, Iss. 19, October 1, 2004

2. Medical malpractice as an epidemiological problem, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 59, Issue 1, July 2004, Pages 39-46, Michelle M. Mello and David Hemenway

3. Press Ganey, The Satisfaction Monitor, Sept/Oct 2000, Service InSight: Connecting the Dots, Another in the Latest & Greatest Series, Mary P. Malone, MS, JD, Executive Director, Consulting Services

Saying I’m Sorry – How to do it right

There’s a nice story in the New York Times about a doctor who made one big mistake in his career (at 74, yet) and how he fared by apologizing.

It’s a good example of how to apologize in business, a topic that’s seen increasing play in the healthcare industry press for the past 5 years or so.

The husband of the woman whose rib was partially shaved off by mistake (not the picture above, that’s an electrode left in Maria Del Rossario Valdez after a Ceasarian section) gave a pretty succinct recipe:”be completely candid, completely honest, and so frank…that the anger was gone.”

Here were the offending doctor’s actual words:

“After all these years, I cannot give you any excuse whatsoever. It is just one of those things that occurred. I have to some extent harmed you.”

 It happens in healthcare that more patients sue for poor communication than for actual medical mistakes. There’s probablly a lesson in there for you even if you aren’t in the healthcare industry.

References:

Medical malpractice as an epidemiological problem, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 59, Issue 1, July 2004, Pages 39-46, Michelle M. Mello and David Hemenway  

Johnny Bunko – the shape of books to come?

I spent the evening with Dan Pink, author of best-sellers Free Agent NBunkoation and A Whole New Mind , an overflowing pseudo-boardroom of other curious readers, and free rounds of microbrew. Dan was in town to promote his new book–Johhny Bunko, the last career guide you’ll ever need. The discussion brought up a number of interesting questions to grapple with, not the least interesting of which was this: does Johnny Bunko give us the face and format of books to come?

You’ll notice from the reprint at the right important differences between Bunko and your standard career book. First, the text doesn’t respect margins. Second, the book doesn’t privilege text in the way most how-to’s do. Third, the book is fundamentally narrative, not didactic. In short, it’s a comic book. Or more correctly, it’s an Americanized version of Manga-a graphic format common in Japan and enjoying growing popularity in the US-which makes it sort of a literary california roll (to steal Dan’s metaphor).

But should you take Bunko’s format seriously, or is it just Pink’s attempt to attract attention for an otherwise deadly dry topic? The surprising answer is that there are a number of practically, and conceptually compelling reasons to believe this is more than fad or a promotional angle.

For example:

1. The internet has arguably obviated the need to put current information on many topics like careers into book form. A click of the mouse will take you to thousands of pages of career advice that’s both free and more current than any book could be. Hence, books are freed to focus on evergreen ideas like fundamental principals.

2. Some will say that the narrative format helps make these principals more memorable.

3. The manga format is popular and ubiquitous in Japan, capable of supporting content in a variety of genre. Dan passed around books formatted in manga with a variety of content including entertainment (comic books), social and political tracts (the dangers of nationalism), and how-to’s (time management tips). In fact, he says, walk into any bookstore in Japan and you’ll find an entire floor devoted to manga.

4. Some say manga is becoming more popular here in the US. That’s not entirely clear. According to ThePublishingTrendsBlog, a big dispute about the future of manga was sparked at last year’s Conference on Anime and Manga with pundits taking different sides depending on whether they put more stake in shelf space at bookstores, titles published, and on such things as paper vs. electronic format.

I can tell you this, there were three representatives there from a Snowhomish Washington workforce education group that were rabid about working Johnny Bunko into their material for high school and college kids. They cited high school drop out rates in the 50-60% range and saw Bunko as the right message in the right media. In fact, they’d already distributed 250 copies of the book to area job counselors.

Tim’s Takeaway:

We always want the media to represent the best way to get the message into the hands and minds or our audience. For some types of messages and audiences, the narrative-centric, visually-oriented manga style may be the best match of format and content. It’s worth looking into.

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