Pesky Kudzu How We Speak to Others

by | Leadership

One question haunting every author 

“Will my book title capture both the attention of the reader and the central thought of the book?” Never has this question held as much power over me as did with my first book, The Art of Killing Kudzu. My frustration was rooted in the concern that only people from the South would know the meaning of kudzu. I stopped my fretting when I received a call from Saudi Arabia. The caller was inviting me to present for the Arabian Human Resources Conference. He specifically requested The Art of Killing Kudzu.

Kudzu is bad stuff. It grows wild and chokes out good stuff. Kudzu is a cantankerous vine that invades every parcel of any nearby turf, including the plot of “terra-firma” that held the Silver Queen Corn in my garden. Kudzu is also the name that I ascribe to negativity. The most comfortable habitat for kudzu is in the mind and between people.

The kudzu that I want to discuss aggravates the spirit, stifles initiative, and births both irritability and the tendency to quit before you quit. Remarkably, there is a chemical that can kill this Kudzu. This kudzu-killing chemical is not motivation. (Ultimately, the most helpful thing that you can do is create a motivational environment where others are inspired to push his/her own motivational buttons.) The kudzu-killing chemical is quite simply encouragement.

Many will argue that we do not encourage others at the point of their accomplishments or strengths. Many will suggest that we are gifted at catching people doing poorly or pointing out one’s mistakes, and inept at catching them doing well. This is not a matter of “catching” or “non-catching.” The issue is this: Many “catch” others doing poorly and then translate their feelings into expression and behavior when they are disappointed or angry. However, when they catch others doing well, they fail or refuse to translate their feelings into expressions of encouragement. Why does this happen?

Something holds power over us

That something is Assumption! Assumption does not seem to have as much power at the point of confrontation as it does at the point of affirmation.

You will never be as effective in your encouragement practice as long as you allow assumption to hold power over you. Practice assumption awareness! Practice assumption avoidance! Do not assume that someone knows what you know, that someone knows what you wish they knew, or that someone knows how you feel when you catch them doing well. The adhesive that will bind much of these leadership on-line class segments to each other is the poisonous nature of assumption.

An assumption is not the only hurdle standing in encouragement’s way. When you catch someone doing well, do not assume that someone knows how you were impacted by their accomplishment. Learn to express yourself in specific encouraging terms. Avoid generalization! Do not merely say, “Thank you”; try saying, “I appreciate you because…” Do not merely say, “Good job”; state, “You did a good job because…” Do not merely say, “I enjoyed that”; say, “I found that meaningful because…”

Help kill some Kudzu! Kudzu is all around us. Catch those you seek to encourage with pleasant surprises. Overcome your own assumptions. Celebrate and utilize specificity when you seek to catch others by surprise. Encourage them at the point of their strengths, their best efforts and their accomplishments.

Kudzu equals bad stuff! Kudzu grows within organizations and individuals. Good stuff equals assumption-awareness, assumption-avoidance, and specificity. These equal encouragement. Leaders, remember “Encouragement can kill this pesky kudzu all over the world!”

In the preceding paragraphs, we set the stage for how we speak in public.

Again, assumption holds power over us.

The driveway was laced with inpatients, a type of flower. Hovering over these flowers were butterflies. On this day, there were three different reactions to the butterflies. The toddlers were catching and killing them. The teenagers were ignoring them. The adults celebrating.

When it comes to our feelings about our nervous energy, we assume nervous energy is bad. We further assume that we can kill it or ignore it. Wrong, and wrong again.

I am nervous every time I speak. I have learned to make this nervous energy work for me, rather than against it me. Stop assuming that nervous energy is bad, or that you can get rid of it. That is kudzu thinking. There are four ways to channel your nervous energy so that it will become a friend instead of an enemy.

Four ways to channel your nervous energy

  1. Pay the preparation price.
  2. Establish eye contact.
  3. Use clean humor.
  4. Be real.

You can kill the kudzu assumption in relationship to others. Do not assume that they know what you know what you wish they knew, or how you feel.

As you become aware of the power of assumption in relationship to others, you will be more aware of your inappropriate assumptions about public speaking and nervousness. When the subject is public speaking, do not assume that your nervous energy is bad. Do not try to channel it, do not try to avoid it…channel it. Pay the preparation price; use good humor, establish eye contact, and be real.

Kudzu is bad stuff. 

Stephen is the best-selling author of 26 books, including What Do They See When They See You Coming? He has also written countless articles for a variety of publications and has produced multiple audio books and video programs. Stephen has appeared on PBS Television and XM Sirius Satellite Radio. He continues to hold one of the highest invite-back ratios in the speaking profession.