written by Hilary Blair

Which pig are you?

In a world of quick fixes – we can miss the mastery.

In a world of making a quick buck – we neglect the nuance of relationship.

In a world of faster, bigger, better – we may end up with one shot results that can’t be replicated…or don’t hold up over time.

We often miss the artistic journey to mastery.

We are drawn to skipping steps. We want to get to the end faster – and even first. In business we meet folks who want to jump past to the outcome. They have no time for process until, by default, they come back around realizing the first steps suggested by someone really were essential to success.

Mastery takes time.  Yes, sometimes the hack is helpful and a good quick fix.  And yet, for the long haul, mastery will yield higher performance with better results.

Remember the three pigs and, finally, the brick house.

Shortcuts sometimes get us places faster, and sometimes mess up the lawn

Bumbling forward for a quick solution or an outcome rarely benefits anyone.

How often do we, in business and life, have to go back because we tried to find a shortcut?

We love shortcuts – how can I do that faster?

What are the quickest ways to become a better communicator?  What non-verbals should I do or not do? This is all surface communication hacks.

There are entire articles now on 10 hacks for this and 5 hacks for that – Hack now becoming synonymous with shortcut. Hacks are respected and craved because they save time – in the short run.

When do they sabotage?  When do they result in more work? Repeated work? Incomplete or destructive outcomes?

The straw and stick houses simply blew down.

Know when shortcuts are appropriate

There’s a reason some processes are called hacks. They skip to the end, and often, some key essences are lost along the way.  When people are called hacks, they are seen to come at things without any artistry or mastery.

I’ve been creating short cuts for communication learning for the last 15 years – ever since I switched from working with artists to working with business people. My traditional theatre training, with its thorough stepped processes, quickly lost the interest of my business clients.  They were eager for quick fixes.

Many professionals want the solution now – and the process only if they have to. And indeed while the quick fix works for some of the troubling situations and problems, be cautious.

But excellent communication is an art. Or better said, it can be an art.  For the subtleties and the nuances to be finessed, it must be learned and embraced as an art. Mastery of any art takes introspection, skill break down and exploration, and repetition and commitment.


When we want to step up our game – we add the art

Often, we are so focused on the end product that we miss the art process that got us there.  A movie, a painting, a live concert — Sometimes we hear them heralded as an instant or overnight success.  That myth messes with our own goal setting.  When we look into the history of the artist, it’s rarely a story of instant success. There are hours and days and years of committed practice that led to the so called “instant success.”  They were dedicated to the mastery of their art.

Golf is the same. I’ve played – and I’m intermittently good.  But to really become a master, I need to break down the process and become an artist of golf.

You don’t become the best by jumping to the outcome. You don’t become the best swimmer you can be by jumping in the pool and imitating what you think Michael Phelps is doing. You break down your stroke, your breathing, your kick, your push off, your dive, etc. piece by piece,

The art and nuance is discovered in the process of creating and learning and trying and failing and trying – resulting in true mastery.

Actors are often dismissed as being fake, overly expressive, pretending, etc.

True master actors – who mastered the art by committing to the process of training – are not fake or hacks. They move us emotionally to a place of truth and reality.  Acting is being real in imaginary circumstances and demands a disciplined practice.  Being fake in imaginary circumstances is the hack.

This works in all areas of our lives:

Most of us can cook. But when does it have the art? The mastery?

Classroom teachers – some are artists – some are utilitarian.

We Can Look Like We’re Doing it Excellently – And Still Miss the Point

Even good intentions can have a poor result if the mimicry is not undergirded with skill and nuance. An actor ended up with voice trouble because, in a large voice class, he learned to mimic what was being shown, but somehow, he missed detail of correct use for vocal extremes and created bad habits of misuse not “seen” from the outside.

The downward dog of a seasoned yogi has so much more going on versus a brand new yoga student in their first weeks of class.  The nuanced differences may be lost on the casual observer. They may feel they are doing the same move, but the trained eye and practitioner can see, sense, and recognize a very different nuanced position.

Tai Chi isn’t slow because it’s an old people’s movement exercise. The practice of Tai chi consciously and deliberately engages each and every muscle.  As a martial art, (and yes, it is an art as we define it) the masters move very quickly.  While the beginners move slowly – awakening their awareness of their own physical bodies.

At the bowling alley, I can move like I know what I’m doing, I have seemingly great form – created from imitating those around me.  But the proof is in the strikes – which are few and far between.

In the presence of any master, we may not know what is different, we may not see the art, we don’t see the breakdown of process and refinement — but we can feel the difference. We can feel that something truly is missing.

Think of all the other areas of our lives where we have “faked it until we made it.”

Do we really want to do that with our communication?

Reverse Process: Feels Backwards

Actors spend their initial training on breath and body – authenticity. Then move to sound and words. Then finally to written text.

But in business, I often see impatience and a need to jump to starting with the end first.  Results driven.

I first noticed this backwards approach as a voice over teacher.

Voice over is a very intriguing career dream.  Cartoons, animation, books, movie trailers, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, etc. – we fantasize hearing our voices.  It’s often a childhood dream being pursued.  I taught voice over for years.  Initially, I knew that anyone who was seriously considering this career needed to take an acting class, an improv class, and a voice class before they even thought about the nuances of voice over.  But I quickly realized that that is a very hard sell, even though most of the successful voice over artists are trained in acting, voice and improv.  So, in order to get the incoming novice connected, I learned – do it backwards.  And I began to notice that students who were serious about a career would exit the first voice over class series saying “Hey, I should take acting.” Or “Hey, I’m going to take a voice or improv class.”  And I’d respond with a satisfied grin and “Great idea.”

What of our communication? What of our voice and body? Yes, we all communicate every day, but when do we take the time to commit to mastery? When do we take the time to learn the art and process of excellent communication?  Are there deeper connections to our non-verbals – to our word choice? How can we connect more deeply and be sure our values are represented – our heart is present?

If we truly want to transform, we need to adopt the artist’s self-awareness and dedication to building the detailed skills that lead the artist to mastery.  You might  jump to the end, but then come back and commit to process.

Rehearsal, Practice, and Repetition.

Rehearsal, practice and repetition do not mean the loss of spontaneity.  Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The more we know our moves and possible variations, the more spontaneous, flexible and in the moment we can be with our responses.  Lack of rehearsals and practice makes us stiff, narrow and limited in our choices.

It’s the nuance and specificity that sets the amateur apart from the professional.

Communication skills are no different.

Nuance and specificity, benefits of trial and error, come with study and practice: The art of Mastery.  Master your communication by accessing the art of the process.

In a world increasingly drawn to time saving hacks, be an artist. Real communication is an art.