Bridging Communication Gaps in a Transforming, Time-Challenged World 


  A N   I N T E R V I E W


What led Nance to become an international catalyst, motivating people to communicate more powerfully with one another in a world of change, uncertainty and growth?


Q: How does your work help people prevent or resolve conflict and deal with rapid growth or change while bringing out the best in one another during difficult times?

A: As a consultant and educator, I find that most problems and opportunities in business and organizations have at their core a misunderstanding-a situation where someone assumed, misjudged, or in other ways failed to communicate. Often what gets in the way of clear communications are our unexpressed expectations, past experiences, or simply the distractions of our multitasking business life where time and attention are in limited supply.

These days when there's rarely time to listen, let alone be understood, people are discovering that courageous conversations with employees, colleagues, communities, board members, and clients are needed more than ever. That's why my workshops and consulting provide fast-paced, applied learning situations enabling people to develop advanced skills-to fully understand and productively respond to what someone said, what someone meant, and what was left unsaid.

How do I help people be their best? They learn (1) to use new communication skills and even more importantly, (2) to "operationalize" emotional intelligence with a new outlook that enables them to pause long enough to get curious and, with humility, ask themselves what they didn't know or what they assumed or what they didn't think to ask. This dramatically improves their ability to creatively mine misunderstandings for gold, increase trust-often in short supply these days-and to prevent problems in the future.


Q: How did your years as a journalist train you to be a better problem solver and then train others as well?

A: When my colleague, WBZ-TV reporter, Dennis Kauff was killed by a drunk driver in 1985, I knew we had to do more than just run a series of public service announcements exhorting people not to drink and drive-clearly that wasn't a strong enough message to keep someone from driving drunk. That's why a team of us at the television station partnered with the Harvard School of Public Heath to launch the statewide pilot project that paved the way for the national adoption of the Designated Driver as a practical, life-saving concept. We had to have the humility to get curious about what we didn't know were the hidden problems and solutions affecting drinking and driving. That's when I learned the importance of reframing a problem in order to uncover a better solution-something I help organizations and executives learn how to master.


Q: What do you think it will take for people to succeed in the world we face today?

A: To me, a leader is someone-no matter what their role in life-who knows how to take thoughtful action in spite of not having all the answers. In these days of change, uncertainty and rapid-fire opportunities, best described by Tom Friedman in his book, The World is Flat, I think each of us has to be better skilled at collaboration. And to do that, we have to communicate better so that we can understand our differences, appreciate what we don't know, and close the gaps that divide us.


Q: When did you learn the power of words to make change happen?

A: I first learned about the power of information to make a difference as a reporter and as editor of my high school paper. I continued to learn this lesson after graduating from Tufts University, as a writer-producer at CBS News radio, and as Editorial Director and Director of Public Affairs for Westinghouse Broadcasting (now CBS). I had to really listen to the versions of each person's story... not just to what people said, but also to what they meant, and also to what they weren't telling me (yet).

During my years at Westinghouse we launched this country's first nationally syndicated public service advocacy campaigns including: For Kids' Sake, Time to Care, Thanks to Teachers, Aids Lifeline, and the Alzheimer's initiative, Whispering Hope. These initiatives taught me how to create public private partnerships where a company and a community could learn to understand and to trust one another better and then solve problems-doing well by doing good.


Q: What motivated you to write the book?

A: Immediately after my mother died in 1988, my work took me around the country as I launched Westinghouse Broadcasting's nationally syndicated public service volunteerism campaign, Time to Care. In my travels I would tell my "lessons learned" stories about unexpectedly coping with her death to the many people I met. Friends and strangers kept asking me to write down the stories so they could share them with others.

My own brush with cancer, a friend's miscarriage, and the death of my former boss, U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas, made me realize it was time to write the book. Once I started telling my stories, other people started tell me their stories-offering advice about what worked and what didn't work when they offered or needed support during challenging times at home and at work.

The book became a primer on listening and communication for everyday life. Sooner or later we're going to find ourselves facing an unexpected or awkward moment and need to pause to think about what to say, what not to say and sometimes, just how to be or how to ask for what we need ourselves.


Q: What inspires you?

A: Throughout my life I've been especially fascinated with what it takes to inspire someone to take extraordinary actions on behalf of others-whether it was becoming an organ donor, making a courageous call in business, getting relief supplies to Ethiopia during the famine, or it is a stranger coming to another's aid during the worst of times as happened during (and after) September 11th, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina. In my work I want to help people be able to be extraordinary at a moment's notice no matter who they are or what they do or what is going on around them.

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