First off I will say that I am an introvert. I love writing reports and analysing data, but I am not good at communicating with people. I am the sort of person who feels comfortable in front of a computer, not in a meeting.
But I believe strongly in self-improvement, and lately I’ve been trying to fix this weakness, and I have invented the AAA technique, which involves, during conversations, the following:
- – ask
- – attack
- – advocate.
Whenever you are in a conversation, you need to understand it fully, so you need to ask questions. When people talk about something, I run through the following five Ws (and one H):
- – what
- – when
- – where
- – why
- – who
- – how.
For example, taking a simple example, suppose you are a teenager stocking shelves at a grocery store and there has recently been many instances of theft in the store. At a meeting, someone proposes that more surveillance cameras be installed. Rather than just passively listen, run through the questions in your head.
- – What is he proposing?
- – When does he plan to get these cameras and install them in the store?
- – Where does he plan to get these cameras from? Who is the supplier?
- – Why does he want these cameras installed? Why would he want to install cameras rather than, say, hire security guards?
- – Who will install these cameras? Who will ensure these cameras are working?
- – How will these cameras work?
While running through these questions in your head, if there is no obvious answer to the question, then speak up. These Ws are helping you understand proposals better by prompting questions.
The second part of conversation involves attacking ideas. This is important, I think, because ideas need to be stress tested to ensure they are good, and having critical people attacking an idea helps to ensure bad ideas don’t slip through. I have learned in my career over time that being a yes man who passively accepts ideas doesn’t really add any value. People have ideas all the time and they expect you to help them craft the idea by being critical. Attacking half-baked ideas adds value by making the idea better. You identify flaws with the idea, allowing you to focus on solutions to address these flaws.
Attacking doesn’t necessarily mean you must be aggressive and mean. When you attack, you should still be civil and polite. You simply cannot accept an idea straight away. You must be skeptical. You must attempt to find flaws in the idea and politely bring these flaws up.
Going back to the grocery store example, a fellow worker has proposed installation of surveillance cameras in response to recent instances of theft or shoplifting. You should run through your head any flaws in the idea.
- – How much will these cameras cost? What about ongoing maintenance costs? Do we have enough money? Are there cheaper alternatives?
- – Are there any privacy laws we may be breaching if we install cameras? What if we capture customers’ private information, e.g. if they open their wallet and we photograph their credit card details? How long can be legally keep the footage before we need to destroy the videos?
- – What are other grocery stores like us doing? Do they have surveillance cameras? How do they deal with shoplifting?
Finally, advocacy involves trying to push and persuade others to accept your views of how things should be. Especially if there are major flaws in ideas, you need to come to the table with an idea of your own. You cannot just attack an idea and offer no solutions of your own You need to have views on how the world should be run. If you’re going to criticize someone’s proposal to install surveillance cameras, what is your idea?