My friend, Judith, died last week. In fact, she as often called herself “Wilks”.
I worked with Judith for seven years at Deloitte, in the Programme Leadership Team where she was a Senior Manager until she lost her long battle with cancer. I still remember first meeting her on, I think, her first day.
But what really sticks was the lesson she taught me about communication.
We were working on a major project for BAA plc, where I was leading the Deloitte Team and Judith was managing our most significant work-stream, working with a the client IT programme manager Alan Walker.
I needed to keep up-to-date with the IT programme that Judith and Alan were working on, to help form a wider picture across the whole of BAA and t prioritise group level work and the contributions of our consulting team. There was a huge amount of information and my natural inclination was to synthesise it into simple, actionable chunks. I was impatient to get at the facts.
My regular briefings from Judith did not go well, with frustrated me professionally and pained me because Judith was a mate and I wanted us to work together well. It was Judith who figured out what was going wrong.
“The problem is, Mike,” Judith said “that you want to see the world in black and white, but I can only see it in many shades of colour.”
She was right, of course. My desire to synthesise her strands of information with many others meant I was trying hard to simplify it all, rejecting what I saw as unnecessary detail. To Judith, the detail was the colour to life – which enabled her to get totally immersed in whatever she took on.
Incidentally, Judith and her husband never owned a TV, so would not have seen QI (a quirkily British quiz show: QI stands for “Quite Interesting”). But Judith would have loved the QI Philosophy:
“Whatever is interesting we are interested in. Whatever is not interesting, we are even more interested in. Everything is interesting if looked at in the right way.”
A Solution to the Problem
How to reconcile my need for black and white with Judith’s need for colour?
We found a way.
Once a week, I went to visit Judith and her team (Sabina, Karen, Jane and others) at their offices at the far end of Gatwick airport. I would go just before lunch and bring top quality sandwiches. I never saw or heard of Judith brook anything less.
We’d eat and chat. Judith would fill me in on all the detail – the colours, tones and shades of the situation and the politics. For me, it was just chat, and not work, so I was no longer impatient. For Judith, it was a chance to share all of the details in glorious Technicolor.
Then, when we finished lunch, I would summarise what I had heard into high contrast black and white. That gave me what I needed, quickly and efficiently. And Judith was no longer frustrated that I would rush past all of the detail. We were both happy, my reports became better, subtler, more nuanced, and I learned a lot.
Mike’s Second Rule of Communication
Communicate with people as they like to communicate.
Judith could not see the world in black and white. So it came as no surprise that, in inviting friends to a memorial service and reception, her husband, Jason, said:
I ask men to wear jacket and tie or a suit but not a black tie – Judith would have frowned on such inelegant neckware. Ladies, I leave the choice to your natural style, but remember that Judith will be looking down with a critical but affectionate eye. No jeans please and black or dark colours are neither obligatory nor banned; please wear the colours with which you feel comfortable.
No black tie, then, and I shan’t wear a white shirt either. That’s as it should be.
I miss you.