Seven Deadliest Communication Sins with Skip Weisman
Our guest wants to live in a world where everyone knows how to communicate effectively, efficiently and without emotional displacement. Instead, he sees how teams and companies can make massive advances in how they operate by doing one thing, learning how to communicate effectively. He never claimed to know how to do that at first, but having worked for five professional baseball teams for several years as the CEO, he realized he needed to learn how and quick. His bestselling book called Overcoming the 7 Deadliest Communication Sins sets the standard for highly effective and powerful new ways to orchestrate communication. He’s here to show us exactly how it’s done. Welcome, Skip Weisman, to the show.
Thank you for having me, Mitch. It’s great to be here.
It’s my pleasure. It was a baseball team in sixteen years and five different teams. You’ve been a busy guy.
It was a great career. It was something I wanted to do since I was a little boy. It was being involved in professional baseball. I got lucky enough to make it happen.
Why don’t you tell us how this all started for you?
It’s like one of those dream stories, at least for me. I was seven years old and I walked into Shea Stadium with my father on Father’s Day 1967. Shea Stadium used to be in New York. It’s torn down now and they replaced it with a new stadium for the New York Mets baseball team. I became totally enamored with professional sports, professional baseball specifically, and knew right then that I wanted to be involved in some way. Back then, many seven-year-old boys wanted to be the athlete and wanted to be the ballplayer on the field. That was my aspiration for a few years. At the age of thirteen, I tried out for my ninth-grade baseball team. At the end of tryouts, I went to look at the coach’s window that had the final roster of players who made the cut and my name was not on the list. I did not have to go to practice that afternoon. My dream of being a Major League athlete came crashing down at the age of thirteen.
How did that feel?
It was devastating. It was a real eye-opening moment that I was not as good as I thought I was. I was a first baseman and I thought I was better than the guy who made it, but obviously I wasn’t. It was disheartening and something I had to come to terms with. My dream of being a professional athlete was probably over at that point. You hear stories about how Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team and came back to be Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan still had the talent. I think his issue was his attitude was why he didn’t make the team. He always had the talent, there’s no question in that. I did not have the talent. I was a no field, no-hit, no run, no throw first baseman. I did come back to make my baseball team a year later, but I was such a bad hitter that the coach used a designated hitter for me instead of the pitcher. I knew I wasn’t going anywhere and so I had to find a different path to make a career in sports. I’m lucky enough to figure it out.When you think you're specific, you're probably not being specific enough. Click To Tweet
Did you at that moment have a thought that, “Maybe I don’t really like baseball anyway.” Did you stop liking the game? Did you stop dreaming of being in the game?
I never stopped being a fan, so I was always into it and always wanted it. I did some soul-searching as a thirteen-year-old boy. I decided to take the next best approach, which I thought would be to be a broadcaster. If you can’t play about the game, why don’t you talk about them? What a great life that would be. I started to move in that direction and I ended up going to school for broadcast journalism and got my degree at Ohio University in that. I did broadcasting through my college years. I was introduced to the Sports Administration program, which is a Master’s degree, like getting an MBA but specifically geared towards sports. I got my Master’s in Sports Administration that led me to the management side of things.
Did you ever actually become a broadcaster?
Not professionally after college. I did a lot of play-by-play and producing sporting events while I was in college, but never professionally after that.
Did you then decide that, “Maybe baseball isn’t for me,” or did you want to stay focused on that?
When I applied for the Sports Administration program, it was a pretty competitive program. They only accepted 35 students a year into the Master’s program. That was part of the interview and they asked me what I wanted. At that point, I started to shift my focus away and thought, “I might broaden my reach.” I wanted to get into facility management, like managing arenas and things like that. That was what I went into the program thinking. All of a sudden, in the fall, baseball internships started getting announced because of baseball preseason preparation where they want interns to do preseason sales and marketing started in January. All the offers for Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball internships started flooding into the program. As soon as I saw those, I said, “They were calling me.” I shifted back to the baseball thing. It was part of my DNA.
Clearly since you’ve been a very little boy, you knew that you loved baseball and it sounds like you wanted to be involved in baseball almost at any possible level so you pursued it. When did you get your real first job in baseball?
It was the year after my Master’s degree program. I did an internship which started my baseball job. I got my first real job in 1983. I was working for the Atlanta Braves Minor League team in a small town in Anderson, South Carolina, which is its biggest claim to fame is that it is ten miles from Clemson University. As a 24-year-old, that was a good place to be.
What did you do for the team?
I always tell the story in the keynote speeches I did. I went from an intern one year to assistant general manager the next year of a professional baseball team, which sounds pretty impressive to make that leap, except there were only two of us running the team in Anderson, South Carolina. There were a general manager and an assistant. It was me and Bill MacKay, the general manager, who is still a good friend of mine. We work on the grounds crew. We sold tickets. We sold sponsorships and advertising. We took tickets at the gate. We sold hotdogs. We did it all. If it rained, we were the first two on the tarp crew to cover the field. Basically, it was a two-man show. We got a few part-timers during the season to help run the operation but mostly, it was Bill and me.
The step that we’re interested in is how did you then become the CEO of the team that you represented? Tell us that story.
I had a pretty lofty goal when I left college. I wanted to run my own team within a few years. I did a lot of networking in the industry because there are a lot of Minor League Baseball teams in the Carolinas where I was at the time. I did a lot of networking and knew I wanted to have my own team by my fifth season. In my fourth year, it was one of those things where you’re in the right place at the right time. I was part of an organization that owns five teams in the southeast United States. The gentleman, Bill MacKay, who I was with in Anderson, he and I went to Greensboro, North Carolina. He took me as his number two guy.
In January of 1986, there was a change in the organization. One of the other operators, CEOs for one of the other teams had some health issues and had to retire. They asked Bill to move over to a team in Huntsville, Alabama. I was there in Greensboro and they asked me to step up to the CEO role. I replaced Bill after two seasons in Greensboro. It was the right place and right time situation. One of the things I’ll never forget is my press conference to introduce me to the media in Greensboro as the head guy was the day the Challenger exploded. It was a melancholy day. It was the best day of my professional career at that point at 26 years old, but it was a really sad day.
Now that you are the general manager of the team, what shifted in what you were responsible for? Were you out there rolling the tarps on when the rain started or selling tickets or hotdogs? What is it?
Because my operations are so small and then we don’t have a full-time grounds crew, that job never went away. We did have a regular ticket manager at that time and so I stepped away from that. It was more strategic. It was more working with the major sponsors, the big advertisers and the big season ticket packages that we have in the ballpark. It was building relationships in the community more than anything. That’s my primary job. As soon as the thunder hit and the rains came, I was on the tarp crew almost until I left the game in 2001.
What I love about your story is that even the president/CEO of a baseball team has no problem rolling up his sleeves and getting out there and doing the work. I think that’s how you have to build every business. I don’t know of a business that doesn’t start with the CEO emptying the garbage. That’s what I did and it seems like all the same stuff.
I’ve always been a big believer in leading by example and never asking anybody to do something that you’re not willing to do. As I moved up, the markets got bigger and the teams got bigger and our attendance grew. I was always willing to pitch in wherever we needed an extra hand. I would give out promo items at the gates. It was the opening day of our new season in 1994 when we built the stadium in very short order because of some financial issues with our community. We were still constructing the ballpark at opening night and we all had to go flush the toilets to get the water pressure up in the stadium before the health department let us open the gates. That’s some good old war stories from those days.
One of the things I’m always interested in and I think this applies to the theme of the show is basically selling. How does a ticket get sold? I don’t mean the mechanical aspect of it. Other than fans who buy season passes, how do you go about marketing something as simple but as valuable as a seat in a stadium for a particular game?When we're not direct and candid with people, we're not telling what people need to hear for their own good. Click To Tweet
We always try to do and that worked pretty much in every market because we had something of value. We had fans, a captive audience in our ballpark. We would always partner with the local media. We did these things called triad type of promotions where we would get a paid sponsor, like a corporate sponsor for maybe the local grocery store or Best Buy or somebody like that but then we would tie-in the media. We always got media exposure. It would be a barter. It’d be a trade. We put their name on the event and then they would give us air time to promote it. They would bring their DJs out and everything.
It’s about every game we would have a media tied to the event. That’s where we got the media exposure and the promotion for it. We did a lot of those types of cross partnerships and joint ventures that got us the exposure to do that. It really depends on the market as to how well you can do that and what your return is for that. When we came here into the Hudson Valley where I now live and where the team is still doing very well after 25 seasons, we couldn’t sell tickets fast enough. As soon as we announced that we were coming to town, the phones lit up. We’re 65 miles from New York City in Yankee Stadium. We were one of the first teams to be on the outskirts of a Major League market.
We struck a nerve here. It was great to end my career doing what every baseball operator dreams of and that’s going to a virgin territory that’s never had baseball before, never had a stadium before and be able to do it your way from the very beginning. That was exciting, but for the other several years of my career, I was always following somebody else or going into a market that had a team for a long time and it was taken for granted. It was a hard sell. The other thing that we would do for sales, we had boiler rooms. We would sell mini-packs, short packages of six-game packages to people where what we call these general admission ticket books. We would have a boiler room all winter long from January through March and have ten people on the phones calling to sell ticket books.
The thing is there are times when the world beats a path to your door, but you mentioned some things that you did before that I think any of us could use at any time. You did joint ventures, you went to your radio station, you made a trade, you said, “Put us on the radio and we’ll give you a presence in the stadium.” You worked with vendors that you didn’t have to go out and buy, you didn’t say that, but I’m assuming, a whole lot of services. You had the power of an audience, this is the key thing here. All of us who are reading this have the power of an audience.
Maybe that audience is twelve people in a mastermind. Maybe that audience is 100,000 people on a podcast, who knows? It’s by mobilizing your audience that you were able to get people to show up. You ended up going through this position of heading up a team. You might say that it fell in your lap, but I think that the universe brings us the things that we’re ready for next, even if we don’t think we’re ready. I believe that’s probably what happened to you. What I want to know now is I want to understand this whole strategy that you’ve come to after all these years about the seven deadliest communication sins and truly what are the best ways to lead a team using communication?
Like most of us, I came upon the seven deadliest communication sins by looking back on all the mistakes I made as a leader communicating with my staff. When I left baseball after the 2001 season, I started working with small businesses to improve their work environments. What I realized is this is communication. There are gaps in communication. There are gaps in understanding. I think I’m communicating, but people who are acting differently from what my intentions were and I’m seeing all these things and it’s like, “This is communication. Let’s take a step back and re-engineer communication and what’s going on.” I saw a lot of business owners making the same mistakes I made many years ago. It was very obvious to me what was going on.
I started doing this work in 2002 after about baseball because I got tired of the lifestyle and everything of my life dictated by the baseball schedule. It took me a few years of doing coaching and consulting with small businesses to put this pattern together of these seven communication sins in the sauce so regularly in virtually every work environment, every relationship and situation. It starts with what I’d say is communication sin number one, the most important one or the biggest one that gets in the way. It’s such an epidemic is basically a lack of specificity. We think we’re specific, but we’re really not. We’re specific along the way that I know what I’m talking about, but we leave out some details for the other person, not maliciously. It’s either through lazy communication habits or the Law of Familiarity. We are so familiar with what we’re talking about. We don’t realize that what we assume the steps the other person needs, but they don’t know it. It breaks down communication and causes a lot of mistrust. Specificity is number one. If I could give a tip to anybody reading, check your specificity. When you think you’re specific, you’re probably not being specific enough.
Let’s go into that because I think I’m specific all the time, but maybe I’m not. How would I know?
You would probably know if you’re not getting what you want from the other person. The challenge with that is you’ll only probably notice it from the behavior or the lack of behavior that the response is. Do you get back in the response? I’m sure from your experience working with other human beings, oftentimes we’re not great at asking for what we need or when we don’t know something or we don’t think we have what we need from somebody else. We’re not all that great often at asking for it because of our own self-esteem and self-confidence and we don’t want to look stupid. We won’t push back and ask you for more information, even though I know I don’t have it. Mitch thinks I should know it, so I’m going to fake it.
What you’re doing then is this active self-assessment, which is a little hard. You’re involved in day-to-day operations and then you have to say to yourself, “Was I specific enough? Do they get what it is that I’m really asking for?” Is that what you’re saying?
Yeah. Over time we’re in a situation if you’re not getting what you expected, then you should be humble and take it upon yourself to go to that individual. Instead of blaming them for not doing what you expected, be humble and start the conversation. “I want to make sure I was clear with what I was asking and what I asked you to do. Can we just revisit the conversation? I want to make sure because there are some things that got missed. If so, I apologize.” Be humble about it and then take responsibility for the miscommunication. Most times, what I find is that there’s a lack of follow-through. We will typically blame the other person for not getting it, not listening, not caring or whatever. In reality it’s the lack of specificity. We always have to check ourselves first and be humble first in asking that way.
What’s the second command?
The second deadliest communication sin is the lack of immediacy, urgency and promptness, which is a lot of words to say communication procrastination. We don’t follow through as quickly as we should. We put things off and we don’t respond as rapidly as we could or we should and we hold back.
That’s a personal habit then what you’re saying that it’s like, “I’m lazy about asking for things when I need to.” Is that what you mean?
Yeah and there’s a lot of depth in this as to where you want to go as far as why we do that. This is the whole procrastination thing. There’s a lot of fear involved. I don’t follow through. I don’t get back to you because maybe it’s bad news. Nobody likes to be the deliverer of bad news, so I’ll hold off on calling you with the bad news. I don’t know exactly what to say in the situation or “The last time I had brought this up to you, you really got angry, upset and defensive. I don’t want to broach that subject again.” We put off the conversation. The challenge is it never gets easier. It’s rare. I don’t want to use absolute and say it never will get easier, but for the most part, very rarely will it get easier or a better situation or the situation will go away. The longer it festers, the harder that conversation is going to be. We need to step up at the moment and take care of things. That’s communication sin number two is the lack of immediacy, urgency and promptness. It’s one of my all-time favorites.
The third one that’s a real biggie, I put it up there with the lack of specificity, is a lack of directness and candor. This is beating around the bush, not telling people what they need to hear. We were wishy-washy. We try to skirt around the subject and we hope that the person gets it. Typically, you’ve probably experienced they never do. That causes a breakdown of understanding. We start blaming the other person because while I told you this, but not really. It goes hand-in-hand with the lack of specificity, but when we’re not direct and candid with people, we’re not telling it like it is and what people need to hear for their own good and the betterment of everybody in the situation. We get undermined trust between people and it starts to undermine the relationship. I call that three lack of specificity, lack of immediacy, urgency and promptness and the lack of directness and candor, the poor performance perpetuation spiral.
Let me ask you a question about that. Is that being a fearless communicator? Is that another way of saying the same thing?
Absolutely, if you put those three together and turn it around, being a fearless communicator is a great way to phrase it.There are a lot of people who wear a big red badge of courage on their chest because of their ability to use sarcasm. Click To Tweet
A good example of that would be a man wants to ask a woman out on a date. She’s sitting there, he’s looking at her, she’s looking over and seeing him looking at her, but he doesn’t make a move because he’s afraid to communicate.
It’s because of rejection. One of the biggest fears is the fear of rejection or fear of being judged and all those things that hold us back. Most of us realize we’ve missed an opportunity when it’s all over. We start kicking ourselves and beating ourselves up with our internal dialogue that that doesn’t help our self-esteem and our self-worth. It’s really a negative perpetuating spiral if we don’t nip this in the bud and start stepping up as a fearless communicator. That’s a great way to put it.
What’s the fourth sin?
Those are the top three. I’d say those are the three primary ones we really got to get a handle on. If we do that, we’ll be in a good place. The next four are secondary and they’re more individual relationships whereas the first three can be organizationally and on teams and that undermines teams. These other four are one-on-one and personal. One is called a lack of respectful rebuttals. This is when we get into conversations, maybe debates and spirited conversations with people and we use but. That was a great idea, but we’re not going to do it that way, but we don’t do it around here like that.
Is the but the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do?
In that scenario, it would be the wrong thing to do. It’s a disrespectful rebuttal where we’re undermining the point we’re trying to make and the other person. If I say, “Mitch, that was a great idea, but,” everybody knows that the other shoe is going to drop after the but. The initial statement really is not the truth. People stop listening when they hear that. It raises the level of emotional response, the intensity of a conversation. When I do my seminars and keynotes on this topic, I tell them, “Now is the first day in the communications gymnasium. This is your first workout and we’re going to start losing our buts.”
There’s another phrase that I remember that that seems to follow the same pattern. It’s called damning with faint praise. When you say to somebody, “That was pretty good, but if you X, Y, Z.” That’s not being very brave, but it’s also completely unproductive because you’re emotionally charging someone in a way that you probably don’t want to.
You’re coming across very disingenuous and people see through it. It undermines the relationship from there.
What is the next sin?
The next one, I call a lack of desirable behaviors and that is focusing on what not to do instead of what to do. You’re telling people to stop doing these things or don’t do that. On the surface we do that and we give people what the alternative desirable behavior is, it’s probably okay to speak that way. What happens is most people don’t go to that next step. We just tell people to stop doing that, don’t do that or it’s no good for you or whatever. We don’t give them the alternative desirable behavior that we want instead. If we keep focusing on the undesirable behavior that people are doing and telling them to stop doing it or not to do it, where else do I go? What do you want from me? I don’t know. I’ll try something else and typically that’s going to be wrong. I’ll try something else and that’s not going to be right. I keep missing the mark and I keep getting my hand slapped. It’s like, “Tell me what you want instead and I’m happy to do it.”
The thing is when you disappoint someone over and over again, inside it feels like, “Nothing I can do is going to be right for this person. I want to stop trying, vacate the premises or brace myself every time I have to deal with that individual.” That’s quite a sin. That destroys relationships. It makes a lot of sense. What sin number is the next one?
Six is a lack of appropriate tone and body language. This is your typical pointing fingers at somebody or you’re folding your arms and then leaning back. It’s the whole body language thing. The tone is also huge and I think it’s even more important than body language because I’ve experienced and not in a good way, people who raise their voices and yell at people in the work environment. They use sarcasm. There are a lot of people who wear a big red badge of courage on their chest because of their ability to use sarcasm. That too is undermining and comes with some inappropriate tone usually. All those things come together for inappropriate tone and body language that sends off a signal that you’re not a person I want to communicate with.
I had a feeling for a while there that you were following me around in my career, watching all the people I used to work for when I had jobs back then.
When I do my talks, I got people coming up to me after my keynotes and seminars and they’ll say, “Do you have a secret office in our building? All of these seven things are going on every day in our work environment.” It’s like, “I know it. I’ve experienced it. I’ve been this way and I know it’s still happening.” What I tell people too, it’s in my book as well, unfortunately these are common and much is part of human nature. We’re never going to eliminate them, any of these communications sins. All we can hope is to gain an awareness of them and practice so that we can reduce the frequency and the impact of them. We can never eliminate them, but the awareness and reducing the frequency and the impact can be done significantly if we build new habits of communication.
For example, would you recommend taking your book and dropping it on the desk of your boss?
Yes, and this is not necessarily accusing your boss of anything other than bringing awareness to the fact that you think this is going on in our team, in our organization or in our department. Here’s a way we could all communicate more effectively together. The way to frame that conversation, virtually every team, I don’t think I’ve been in an organization as a coach, consultant or when I was leading my baseball teams. We didn’t get together in a meeting and talk about how communication could be improved. It’s a constant, it’s a regular topic. When I do my programs, people take my book back to the office and ask me, “How can we use this? How can I get my boss to read it?” I said, “Let me ask you, do you have conversations individually or collectively with your teams about how communication can be improved in your organization?” They say, “Absolutely, every few months or whatever we talk about this.” I’m like, “Does it ever get better?” They’re like, “Not really.” I’m like, “Here’s a way to start a conversation that you can make it better.”
I would bet and correct me if I’m wrong, that it’s the people who are making the mistakes in communicating are not the ones who pick it up. It’s the people around them that are frightened by them.
Yes, and for the most part, the way I do my seminars, my keynotes and stuff, I get people to look at their own communication style and where they might be making these mistakes. A lot of people were pretty humble and open about it. They know they’re the communication center and they’re good-natured about it and they appreciate the insights. I wish I had a dime for everybody that I said, “I wish my boss was here now.”People feel empowered and appreciative that they know what's going on in the company and they can help make a difference. Click To Tweet
These are some great lessons and I’ve learned a lot from you about these because there were times when I wish I could explain to a boss exactly what he was doing and why it was destroying the organization. When I say something like that, that goes back a lot of years. I haven’t had a boss in a long time, but these are what I would call timeless lessons. These are the types of timeless lessons that everybody reading this needs. Skip, I’ve got a question for you and this is a question I ask all of my guests. It’s the question that I use to dive a little bit deeper into who my guest is. Who in all of space and time would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
There are two people actually. One is my childhood idol, Tom Seaver, who was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the New York Mets who I was enamored with and infatuated with as a young boy. I got lucky in some role models that I selected as a youth. Nowadays, it is different with athletes and things like that. Tom Seaver was an exemplary professional. He taught me how to be an adult almost by the way he carried himself throughout his career. He was diagnosed with dementia. He’s 74 years old. That’s heartbreaking and he’s not traveling anymore and staying close to his home near Fresno, California. He’s one guy I would love to sit down with and talk to him about his baseball career and let him know what he meant to me. The other one is Bruce Springsteen. I’m a huge rock and roll fan and a big fan of Bruce. He’s meant a lot to me as well as a role model for a career, never giving up your dreams and keep fighting for what you want. Those are two of my heroes who I’d love to have lunch with.
You did violate the rule of the show, I said only one, but I’ll let it slip because you mentioned my hero Bruce, so it’s okay. Here it is the grand finale, the change the world question. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
I’ve started doing some work with my small business clients that I wanted to do for so long since my baseball days. I finally found the right way to approach and to start to work with a couple of clients in this regard. I want to teach financial literacy to every person who works in a company so that they understand how the company makes money. Work with CEOs and company owners to open up the books financially to every employee so they know how the company makes money and they can see a direct line of sight between what they do and the bottom line. How they can impact it and also earn and participate in a stake in the outcome. I’ve done this with a couple of clients before and it’s transformative. It transforms work environments. It’s the ultimate employee engagement approach. People feel empowered and appreciative that they know what’s going on in the company and they can help make a difference.
The reason why it makes a huge difference is many small business owners, as you’ve probably experienced, feel like they’re in it alone and they have to make all decisions and all the pressures on them. If they would open up a little bit and have conversations around how the business works and what they need from their employees, they won’t feel alone. They’ll be in it together in a real collaborative effort with their employees to create something unique and special. There’s not enough financial transparency in the business world now. That I think is transformative and it can change the world and get people really understanding financial literacy. The reason why it’s transformative and world-changing is most people understand the finances of a business like that and they take an interest in it. It will almost automatically fold over into their personal lives. That’s what we need.
I’m supporting you in your effort to make that happen. I think it’s a great idea. There’s another effect, to add to what you said. If somebody understands how a business works. Maybe they’ll even understand how a government works and even further understand how entitlement programs need to be paid for somewhere, somehow the way a business needs to make a profit, so does a country. A country needs to as well. It’s a great mission and I would love to hear more about it as it evolves. Before I let you go, I have one other thing I want to ask you. You promised a free giveaway. Now you’ve got to pony up and tell us what it is.
The next step of my business after the seven deadliest communication sins and working with companies, business owners and their teams of employees whether they have the brick and mortar building when people come to an office or even working virtually. The next phase I’ve created is a thing called the ideal work environment. I’ve created a playbook called Your IDEAL Championship Work Environment playbook. It’s twenty pages. It’s an easy read, but it lays out five steps in IDEAL. It’s a five-step acronym process for engaging team members to create their and your ideal work environment together in a collaborative effort. It’s easily digestible. It’s an easy twenty-page read. It’s a PDF file they can get at my website which is IdealWorkEnvironment.com.
Skip, it’s been a pleasure. I appreciate you spending the time with me. I enjoyed our time together. Thank you so much. I can’t wait until we get a chance to talk again soon.
Thank you so much, Mitch. I’ve enjoyed it too.
- Overcoming the 7 Deadliest Communication Sins