Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What's Your CQ? (Communication Quotient)

I thought you might like an advance look at my next Life Well-Led column, which appears in the Mensa publication, The Intelligencer.

What's Your CQ?

Most people think they're a good communicator. Alas, even Mensans can overestimate what could be called their CQ, their Communication Quotient.

Let's measure yours. The answers and scoring key are below.

True or False?

_____ 1. Don't think ahead. Just listen to what the person is saying. 

_____ 2. Don't flatter too much. It's transparent sucking-up. 

_____ 3. It's wise to follow The Traffic Light Rule: During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green: You can talk without worrying you're a blabbermouth. During the next 30 seconds, your light is yellow: The risk is growing that the other person(s) would like you to stop talking because there's something s/he wants to respond to or because s/he's bored. At the 60-second mark, your light is red--It's a conversation, not a monologue. Yes, rarely, you'll want to "run a red light" and keep talking, for example, if you're telling an engaging anecdote but usually you'll want to shut up or ask a question. If the other person wants to know more, s/he can ask. 

_____ 4. Never interrupt. 

_____ 5. You build credibility with good posture and by speaking from the lower part of your natural (not forced) pitch range. 

_____6. Effective communicators look for opportunities to make statements that move toward a person: agree, amplify, even good-naturedly tease.

_____ 7. When criticizing, don't bother sandwiching your criticism between two positive statements. That tactic has been around so long, people usually perceive it as an artifice.

_____ 8. When disagreeing, it's wise to use California couching, for example, "I certainly can understand why you feel that way but I'm wondering whether this approach may make sense (insert your idea.) What do you think? 

_____ 9. The four most important words are "What do you think?"

_____ 10. It's dangerous to be too nice, too early. You risk being taken for granted. 

_____ 11. The most important listening tool is simply to focus: Really pay attention. 

_____ 12. Be vigilant for changes in your conversation partner's body language.  


1. False. People, especially intelligent people, automatically think ahead. You probably can't and needn't stop that. Just try to also keep listening--it may change your response. 

2. False: U.C. Berkeley professor Jennifer Chatman set out to find a point at which flattery became ineffective. She couldn't find one. 

3. True.

4. False. Top sports agent Leigh Steinberg and OJ Simpson jury consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius believe that interrupting is the worst communication sin, but I wouldn't be that broad-brush. Especially if your conversation partner likes to interrupt, interruption can make for a more uninhibited, enjoyable, and time-effective exchange. That said, stay conscious of whether, in a given situation, the likely benefits of interrupting outweigh the liabilities. (Disclosure: I can't stop myself from interrupting.)

5. True

6. True. Of course, sometimes you'll want to disagree but your relationship pays a price each time you do. Make sure your stating a disagreement is worth that price.

7. False. Even when people recognize that you're using the sandwich technique, it tends to disarm, making the person more open to your criticism. Exception: In a complacent person, sandwiching may generate insufficient disequilibrium, so s/he'll remember that positives and figure the negative can be blown off.

8. True.  Of course, like all techniques, it can be overused but what I call California couching increases the chances that your conversation partner will consider your suggestion on its merits rather than rejecting it because s/he felt attacked.

9. True, at least in Bill Marriott's opinion. It's certainly an underused and usually helpful question. 

10. True.

11. True.

12. False. The meaning of a change in body language is too often unclear. Focusing too much on body language distracts you from the aforementioned more important components of effective communication.

Scoring key (utterly unvalidated)
                <6                                               60
                  6                                               70
                  7                                               85
                  8                                              100
                  9                                              115
                  10                                            130
                  11                                            145
                  12                                            160


Anonymous said...

Marty, at this point you are one iota away from being a motivational speaker. Strike that; you are a motivational speaker on a blog. I would almost think this is a satire except, over the years, I think I've come to know you. Do you really have a PhD?

Marty Nemko said...

Anonymous, might I ask what, specifically, you find puerile about this or other posts of mine?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, not only do I find your evaluation of Dr. Nemko's column incorrect, your communication style is, ironically, the sort of ineffectiveness the column ably attempts to counter. Alas, you obviously didn't get its message.

Anonymous said...


You should have read the advice more carefully before making your snide and snarky comment. You could learn alot to improve your CQ.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any advice for dealing with people who spew and don't let you respond at all?

Marty Nemko said...

Let them spew. Then, at that point, or later, gently respond, perhaps in writing.


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