Team Signal, or Team Noise. Which are you?
If you’ve listened to a radio crackle, you are familiar with signal-to-noise. The signal is the music you’re listening to. The noise is the hiss and the crackle. If you are too young for this analogy, signal is the video streaming in HD, noise is the pixelation when the video lags.
You get the same thing at work.
A tidal wave of communication coming at you. Invites. Texts. DMs. Thousands of emails and messages a week. A team of people to keep up to date and sync with. Projects to prioritize, meetings to schedule, work to pick up, and new colleagues to onboard.
No wonder burnout is on the rise.
Which is signal, which is noise?
Think about the last meeting you were in.
Not one you ran, but one you attended. Did you glaze out for a second there? Your mind wandered? You quickly checked a text or surreptitiously answered an email?
Yes? Read on.
It’s not easy. Do you think your meetings are better? Is everyone focused? Is there more signal than noise? Look at an email in your inbox.
Was it useful? Could you do something with it?
A signal passes three tests. First, it grabs your attention. Second, it’s useful to the consumer. It could be useful because it’s funny or factual. It may be uplifting or unusual or simply new or additional information. The third test is whether you can do something with it. That may be as simple as filing it away, mentally, for future use, “liking” it, or it may have a clear action that changes your work.
Now apply the same test to yourself.
You send out emails and texts. You run meetings.
Are they signal or noise?
Every conversation you have, every message you send, and every meeting you run, you have to try to pass those three tests—of attention, usefulness, and action.
This means that only two conversations matter. The ones that frame the way people see the world and the ones that move them to action. Everything else is just noise.
Framing is the art of shaping opinion.
A good frame grabs attention, adds to understanding, and changes perception. Take the dance of the real estate agent. You are looking to buy a house. You tell the real estate agent how many bedrooms, bathrooms, and other details. And then you name a price range.
The first house you’re shown will be above your top end.
Your agent is reframing the conversation. “Look, you can have all that you want in a wonderful location, but it will cost you a little more.”
Take the painting by French post-impressionist master Henri Martin. The work, an oil on canvas entitled Sur La Côte, is a painting of the Basque coastline running along the Bay of Biscay.
When it was exhibited at a Greenwich art gallery, the frame — literally — changed. If a contemporary collector visited, Sur La Côte was displayed in a modernist frame, making the piece look more contemporary. If the visitor was a period buyer, the painting was displayed in a French frame, making the piece look more traditional.
For a frame to work, it has to have a direct effect on your audience.
If you live in the US, it’s likely that you don’t care much about the relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia because it doesn’t affect you. Deny all you like, but we all have egos, and we’re all narcissistic.
That means we put great stock in how this affects me.
Word choice matters. The right words put people on your side of the issue.
Pink Slime is a good example. If I said I put pink slime in your food, you wouldn’t want to eat it. Lean finely textured beef, on the other hand, sounds pretty tasty.
This “inspiration” sounds difficult. A higher calling card of leadership. You might think, “some people can do it, I can’t.” Not true. It’s straightforward. To be inspired is to want to do something. It’s your second conversation—to move people to action. You want action from your audience. That action may be as simple as a smile, or as sophisticated as a sale.
Action is the goal of your story and the payoff to the presentation.
Unfortunately, most miss this. Instead, you open your mouth, speak, then trail off, circling around your idea. Or you might open up PowerPoint and mindlessly start to type.
The whole point is to move people—to move them to action.
Moving means feeling. Neuroscientist Donald Calne wrote, “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.”
Reason leads to judgment, emotion leads to action.
The Action conversation has to have a strong emotional thread to move people. Relying on a rational argument or business case is a start, but it won’t get you across the finish line.
Action will come in three forms.
The first form is a concrete action. This could be the initiation of a project or the approval of a budget. It’s attainable and measurable, and your focus in that conversation is ensuring people understand it. You are probably speaking to people on your team—you have the credibility and authority to ask for the action.
Secondly, you have social or political action. In this case, you are not speaking to people on your team but to peers in other business units. You are asking them to lend their political capital to the effort. You want their advocacy and active support instead of a pocket veto.
The third class of action is a momentum-building action. This could be to a prospect or someone you are trying to build a stronger relationship with. It’s a first step. In this case, you want them to commit a moderate amount of time or effort. It could be saying yes to the next meeting, agreeing to a demo, or a pilot. That small step becomes a sunk cost for them and builds momentum for you.
You have more of these than you think. How many times have you had to repeat yourself? or had a follow-up where you’re thinking, “I’ve told them this already.” Both are sure signs of a noisy conversation.
The blah blah blah.
If that happens to you a lot, you have a problem. Successful people are not noisy. They hit the sweet spot—the intersection of frame and action, and cut the noise.
Successful salespeople frame up what they are selling as the answer to the client’s problem. They understand the agenda of their customer and frame or position their product as a solution to that.
Leaders frame the vision of the company in a way that employees can see themselves in the picture and invite action that lines up with the strategy.
Creatives, product people, and innovators re-frame problems in order to approach them differently and produce disruptive, game-changing work.
It’s time to join team signal.