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Smart Man Online: Bob Whipple

Great interview today - at least I think so. Bob Whipple, a member of my local consultants group, talks about his book, Understanding E-Body Language. It's a must read for all students - and ALL business professionals. I hope you don't see yourself in his stories, but if you do... even if it's just a hint... please buy his book and learn the ins and outs of true E-body Language. I've been wishing someone would write this book for years!

Yvonne:  Before we get into the core of this interview, let's acquaint my readers with your background. Tell us a little something about yourself - especially where you see yourself 3 years from now.

Bob: I am a passionate student of leadership. My life’s work is to “grow leaders” – hence the name of my company, “Leadergrow.” My career for 33 years was in leadership positions within Eastman Kodak, where I studied and practiced the essence of the art. I was Division Manager of a 2,000 person operation.

My current business has three components, Teaching/Writing, Consulting/Coaching, and Speaking/Presenting. In all my work, I attempt to help people grow in their leadership ability and learn as much as I can myself. You can get more information on my Leadergrow website.

Three years from now, I intend to be a nationally recognized expert in the field of leadership. The core of my material will be the issue of Trust – how to build it, and how to maintain it.

Yvonne: So, was writing this book hard work? You have put so much valuable information into it, I admire how thorough you were.

Bob: No. The writing came easily. I had done a few years of research on the topic and
realized this fascinating subject has never been covered by another author. It took some time to organize the work into a logical flow, but the concepts and examples were no problem. The actual writing was a lot of fun (but the editing was tedious).

Yvonne: Why do you think Understanding E-Body Language is so important? Is it really possible to replace face-to-face meetings with email?

Bob: The reason it is important is because we are communicating more online every year, but we have not been schooled on the differences between online versus face-to-face communication. We think we know the difference, but in reality, we typically fail to consider the implications of the difference. It becomes like we are chatting with someone over the lunch table. Once we get into that mode, all kinds of problems arise as I describe in the book.

We will never replace face-to-face meetings, but we better pay attention to the mega shift in communicating patterns and get some training in how to be effective. I think companies that make “e-xcellence” a core competency will have a significant competitive advantage.  Most organizations are currently losing 25-40% of productivity due to e-mail problems. It is also a significant source of employee dissatisfaction and burnout.

Yvonne: The stories were wonderful. They truly made your points. Would you mind sharing one with my readers? Show us how important Understanding E-Body Language is.

Bob: I have numerous examples where I strip away the layers of body language to reveal the actual dynamic going on in the minds of the writer and reader. Here is one example: The Power Struggle, a note from Mark to Ann ...
*  Hi Ann, I was wondering if you could take the time to explain what was behind your note from this morning. You said that our group never told you about the Washington event until last week. I know for a fact that Jill brought it up in one of your staff meetings, and I sent you a personal e-mail asking if you had any volunteers for the committee. Is this just a memory lapse, or is there something going on between our two groups?
Bob: On the surface, this note seems straightforward. Mark is looking for clarification about Ann’s note because his facts are different from hers. That is what the text says. What is the meaning between the lines, and what are the symptoms or clues to this meaning?      

First, there is likely a power struggle going on between Mark and Ann. The first clue is in the words, “if you could take the time.” While this sounds like a courteous invitation, it probably signals a defensiveness with Mark because he feels inferior to Ann. There is also more than a hint of disdain in the wording. Ann has control; Mark resents it and is trying to wrest some of it away from her. In a situation like this, if the two were equal in power, Mark would have worded the start of this note something like this: “Hi Ann – I was confused about your note this morning…”
What is the hidden meaning in the second sentence? Is Mark really trying to refresh Ann’s memory? Probably not, since Ann’s note was written just a few hours ago. He is playing a chess game here. He has hard evidence that Ann’s statement is false. He wants to highlight her exact words before he accuses her of something insidious. This is equivalent to the “discovered check” in the game of chess. You advance one piece to attack an opponent’s piece, but in doing so, you reveal that you have (seemingly inadvertently) put your opponent in check with a piece behind the one you moved. Now your opponent is forced to deal with the check and cannot defend against your original advance. Mark has set Ann up for the kill in the second sentence, which sounds like a gentle reminder.
Now Mark reveals his two bits of evidence. His preface before the first one is interesting. Why did he write, “I know for a fact”? It is understood that he knows or he wouldn’t write it.

Here he is cornering Ann. Unless she can somehow debunk his example with a counter point, he has proven her to be incorrect. The preface serves merely as a warning not to refute the accusation unless she has overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The second bit of evidence reveals a chink in Mark’s armor. He writes, “…and I sent you a personal e-mail asking if you had any volunteers for the committee.” This is probably accurate information. It shows that Mark did not inform Ann about the Washington event per se. Instead, his e-mail asked for volunteers to serve on the committee. Asking another manager to share resources is entirely different from informing her of an upcoming event. When Ann read Mark’s original note asking for help, she probably saw this as a power play to steal resources away from her. She probably did not focus on this as an opportunity for her group to attend an event.
Now Mark challenges Ann. First, he belittles her with his statement, “…Is this just a memory lapse…” Mark is not really interested in her memory. He wants her to appear small and prone to mistakes. This snide, nearly sarcastic comment is intended to put Ann on the defensive as she ponders his final question, “…or is there something going on between our two groups?” Mark’s intention is to put Ann in a no-win position. It is like asking the question, “Do you still beat your wife?”      

This note is not intended to clarify the situation or induce a courteous reply. Mark is playing politics here, and he thinks he has just backed Ann into a corner. Mark believes the note will help elevate the status of his group and embarrass Ann and her group. That objective is the real intent of his note.
In the book, I go on to discuss possible responses Ann might give to this note along with the consequences of each one.

Yvonne: One thing that struck me about the stories in the book were how many times you talked about managers (and/or bosses) not conveying the right message because they didn't take the time to write a good email. Why don't managers and bosses understand the importance of this communication tool? How can that be?

Bob: That is an excellent question. It defies logic that managers would often write things in e-mails that actually take things in the opposite direction from where they want to go. There are two main causes: cluelessness, and carelessness. People who have not read my book are just not aware of how to avoid sending wrong signals in their e-mails. Even when they try to “be nice,” they often inflame the readers. Since most managers are not thinking of the overarching principles involved when they write e-mails, the damage is done in an instant. Most of the time managers are so clueless, they aren’t even aware of the damage.

This book was written for everyone who uses e-mail to communicate, but it is also specifically directed toward leaders. When leaders understand and change their communication patterns based on the learning from the book, it starts a chain reaction of improved culture. Leaders unaware of this technology, just bumble along like the clueless pointy-haired boss in the Dilbert Cartoons. It’s a crime, and it really bothers me because the antidotes are pretty simple.

Yvonne: Your first book, The Trust Factor, talks about building trust in a company. How does that book work hand-in-hand with this book , if at all?

Bob: The books are synergistic. In The Trust Factor, I describe how leaders can obtain and grow an environment of trust in every day face-to-face interactions. I wrote that book because so many leadership consultants teach the wrong stuff on building trust. They deal with the table stakes, like doing what you say, or being worthy of trust by having integrity etc. I discuss those things briefly as well because they are important, but they are not sufficient to build a culture of real trust. To do that, you need to create an environment where everyone feels safe to bring up scary stuff without fear of being clobbered. For most leaders (and in most leadership books) there is no information how to accomplish this critical step.  That’s why there are so precious few really good leaders.

The second book takes these principles and applies them to the online world, which is quickly becoming the main mode of communication for most leaders. Done well, online communication has several advantages for leaders to exploit. Unfortunately, few leaders know how to do it well, so they blunder into an endless string of problems of their own creation.

Yvonne: Do you teach this online, in a webinar? If not, would you consider it? What about developing training materials for in-house use?

Bob: I teach this information in a variety of venues. I have it available as an online seminar and in various combinations on phone or on-ground instruction. I always customize my teaching to be laser-focused on the need of a particular group, so I don’t use a standard program. The core material for any seminar will center on understanding the significance between communicating online versus with voice. I normally use lots of practice examples so people can actually decode and learn to write messages well.Bob_whipple_2

It is still fairly early, since this book was just published, but I see an encouraging trend. People seem to really enjoy this training. That’s different from many training programs where employees would rather have a root canal than go to class. This material is fascinating for people, and they can apply the learning instantly on the job. Someone told me this E-Body Language information is going to be the biggest quality of life improvement at work since the Post-it Note®

Yvonne: I can't say it loud enough - that this book should be required reading for all business professionals. I think every company should have one in its HR department, and it should be required reading. Have you considered marketing it to HR?

Bob: Yes. The book announcement has gone out to several hundred HR Managers in our local area, and I am signed up to give a presentation on this at a National SHRM (Society for HR Managers) conference next year. You are right, HR managers and professionals will gain much from this book, especially as they help coach the line managers and leaders in companies around the world. HR people are a prime marketing target for my efforts.

Another large market is the Training and Development people. I am working on that through the ASTD (American Society for Training and Development) where I serve in the National Organization. I will be giving a presentation this Fall at the ASTD Leaders Conference in Washington.

Yvonne: You chose to self-publish. Tell us why you did that.

Bob: I did not self-publish the book; instead, I went with a conveniently located POD publisher. [The equivalent of self-publishing, Bob.] I found that route to be more suitable than working with the larger publishers. I am impatient to get the material out in the world where it can do some good. [That's the focus I believe in, too.] I found the large publishers and academic presses to have cumbersome processes with extremely long lead times. I work at a rate that cannot tolerate their glacial pace. [Well said! POD anyone?]

Yvonne: As the Trust Ambassador, as noted on the back cover of the book, what are your goals relevant to helping us manage our email - and learn how to build trust in a world increasingly dominated by technology?

Bob: I’m not sure this book will change the world, but that is not my goal. My passion is to reach as many leaders and would-be leaders to help them shape their own trajectory. I believe you do that one at a time whether through the books, the speeches, the teaching, or the coaching. I am not interested in reaching everyone. What I want to do is make a significant impact on the lives and careers of those people who really want to understand what trust is and how to get it. That is the vision of Leadergrow.


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Mary Hunt

Excellent post. This makes me wonder if things will change as blogging becomes more everyday for everyone. Will the lessons learned while trying to engage those who aren't paid to listen, carry over into corporate internal communications?

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