Mother Knew Best


Sunday was Mother’s Day in the U.S. and it got me thinking about how much we learn from our moms and how little we realize it until years later.

In fact, manly stuff aside, I’d say most children — boys and girls alike — learn the best survival skills from moms. Sure, lots of dads teach their kids how to hunt and fish, how to find their way out of the woods, how to change a flat tire and the myriad uses of duct tape. When it comes to surviving in the real world, however, moms pass on the best life skills.

Take communication, for example. Conventional wisdom is that women are naturally better communicators than men. My experience bears this out (though there are plenty of exceptions to the rule). Beyond everyday communication skills, however, I’ve come to realize that my mom unwittingly prepared me for a life in corporate communications. Here are some lessons I learned from her that have carried over into the workplace:

  • Communication should be regular and frequent. Now that I have my own teenager, I’m reminded of how often a closed door, a new relationship or a bad day gets in the way of open communication. Somebody must make the first move to break the silence — and the senior person usually needs to show some leadership in this area.
  • There are no real secrets. Moms usually know what’s really going on. If they don’t, they have plenty of informants who will tell them. This may be the first time a comparison has been made between Irving the brown-nosing HR specialist and a 12-year-old sister.
  • There’s no use trying to BS your way out of trouble. Just come clean. Be transparent, even if it means getting grounded and having your Internet taken away for a week.
  • It’s OK to ask questions, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always get an answer. Like when you’re 10 and you really need to know what those noises are that come from your parents’ room late at night.
  • Even if you get an answer, it might not be what you want to hear. See above.
  • It’s important to remind the little people that they are the family’s greatest assets. Especially at tax time.
  • If you mouth off, eventually it might be reflected in your allowance. So be careful what you say and to whom you say it.
  • The people in charge need to sound like they have all the answers, even if they don’t. Exuding confidence is half the battle when it comes to leadership. Remember when you thought your parents knew everything? Of course, the longer you stuck around, the more you realized they were faking it half the time.

I’m sure you have other examples, so let’s hear them. Meanwhile, remember to thank your mom next time your boss recognizes you for that great communication plan.

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15 Responses

  1. I’d add:

    Clean up your own mess.

  2. I’m in hysterics!! So true and you made me laugh out loud at the same time. My favorite is the comparison between HR and a 12-year-old girl. I would add, “Be nice”. This comes in quite handy when you are mentally telling a person what an idiot he or she is being. Also known as “Bless his heart”.

  3. Hey, guys, we forgot one major piece of advice, one we have all heard from our mothers. But it is valuable for the workplace as well, that is…

    Always wear clean underwear.

    My apologies, Robert. Here you have provided a wealth of good information cleverly written, and here I go being the class clown. Some things never change. I’ll now do as advised above — be nice.

  4. This is why you are my mentor, Lester R. Potter, ABC. Because you always bring us back to the really important things. Yes, I believe this advice of yours is relevant. Because you never know when you might be thrown under the bus and have to go to the ER.

  5. My mama always said, “Look people in the eyes when you talk to them”

    How about a column about what dogs teach us about communicating?

  6. Jonathan, I couldn’t write that because I have a cat. And cats are the WORST communicators. They give you the silent treatment a lot. They try to intimidate you by staring at you. And even if you talk nice to them, they unexpectedly snap at you.

    I’d love to hear from some dog owners out there about what dogs teach us about communication, though. They’ve got to be better than cats.

  7. Come to think of it, Jonathan might be on to something. Cats are like publics — aloof, disinterested.

    How do you move them through the objectives of awareness, acceptance, and action?

    (Cat) food for thought.

    • My mother taught me the value of “socializing” or a message as part of effective stakeholder management — actually, the new term is “syndicating” a message.

      In any case, this means sharing an idea with a few important constituents so you can incorporate their feedback before communicating to a broader audience. This is also effective when communicating to a very targeted audience from whom you are requesting a change in attitude or behavior.

      Suggested uses: telling your dad that you wrecked the family car, announcing decisions about which school you plan to attend (especially when going against the family legacy), telling your mother-in-law that she is not welcome in the delivery room while giving birth, informing family members of your upcoming divorce, etc.

  8. Great post, Robert! And Les is right; cats ARE like our audiences. Sometimes, cats will respond if you make it worth their while. Make it interesting, tell them (better yet, SHOW them) what’s in it for them. And they MIGHT just show some interest in whatever it is you’re trying to tell them. Each cat is unique, too, so they respond differently to our various forms of persuasion.

  9. Lauren, does this mean we now refer to our “peeps” as our “syndicate”? I wish I had known this trick when I was a kid. As it was, my spin-doctoring tactics did not work.

    Thanks, Jean! Unfortunately, my cat just looks at me like I’m some sort of nut. Should I take some sort of clue from this?

  10. Great post. Moms know a lot about ethics, too.

  11. Robert-
    Well you know all about the cats here at Crescenzo Communications! It’s funny, but now that you mention it, I can’t help but smile when I think of one of the many lessons my mom taught me–and she was really passionate about this one.

    She always told me and my sis that we needed to know how to have a conversation. When we are at family parties, don’t just respond to questions with one word answers– listen and ask questions back.

    Now I teach that for a living 😉

    Now look at me!!

    • That’s a great lesson from your mom, Cindy! And so true — it’s amazing how far conversational skills will take you. And of course in our line of work it’s crucial!

  12. “Because I said so” isn’t a good enough reason to get someone to do what you’re asking, regardless of whether it’s your Mom saying or the senior executives saying it to employees.

    When my Mom gave me actual justifications (i.e. WIIFM) for the stuff she wanted me to do that sometimes seemed incomprehensible to me, I was a lot more willing to consider whatever was being asked. It’s the same with communicating in an organization.

  13. Love how you sum things up — and make all of us parents seem so sage!

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