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Communication Canaries in the Coal Mine

Thoughts on an important signal from potential partners.
Jan | 8 | 2015

Jan | 8 | 2015

I’ve said for a long time that there are three types of people in this world:

  • Those who get it.
  • Those who don’t get it but want to get it. (These are some of my favorite people.)
  • Those who don’t get it and don’t want to get it.

I made the decision six years ago to work exclusively with the first two groups.

That’s all fine and dandy, but how do you know which is which?

Red Flags

The short answer is that it’s not easy. (People are much more unpredictable than technology.) I have inadvertently violated my own rule several times since my vow. In hindsight, sometimes the signs were there and I didn’t pick up on them. In other cases, there was no realistic way for me to have known that I was beginning a professional relationship that I would ultimately come to regret.

I don’t beat myself up over this. No one bats 1.000. Still, I’m not completely oblivious to warning signs that the following story illustrates.

I’ve reached out to some prominent companies about sponsoring my forthcoming book tour for Message Not Received. Nothing is final yet, but interest seems to be relatively strong. To this end, I recently exchanged e-mails with a woman whom I call Skyler here. (No, that’s no her real name.) Skyler works for a PR firm whose major client sells collaboration software. After several e-mails, I suggested that we book a time for a quick call.

Here’s her response:


The irony wasn’t lost on me, and I responded with those very words. Skyler’s client sells a product that obviates the need for the protracted e-mail correspondence like this.

Paradoxically, the outcome actually pleased me. I’m glad that Skyler showed her true colors so early in the game. After all, if she’s too “busy” to be bothered with a quick phone conversation at the beginning, what are the odds that she’ll change her tune in a few months when planning the logistics of the book tour? Not great. I shutter to think about sending and receiving eight to ten e-mails per event.

It’s best when people show their true colors.

Put differently, she’s clearly in that third bucket, and I’m happy to have discovered that sooner rather than later. Fast forward two months to the book tour. I thought about what would happen—or, to be precise, not happen—if for some reason I needed to get a hold of her immediately and my only recourse was e-mail.

Simon Says: Embrace the Signal

Few if any people take a job with complete freedom. As such, they are often unable to choose their existing colleagues, clients, partners, and staff. When assessing a potential relationship, though, things are different. In these cases, pay close attention to how others communicate (read: words, methods, and the like). Ask yourself if you really want to interact with people who are averse to phone conversations and simple language.


What say you?


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  1. Antonie

    Hi Phil

    On you 3rd type of person, should it not read “Those that don’t get it and don’t want to get it”

    Best regards


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