After the Webinar: Executive Communication. Q&A with Al Cobos

Webinar presenter Al Cobos answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Executive Communication: Getting Your People to Understand Your Message.  Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: You talked about having the responsibility of influencing your slice of pie. So, what are some ways that you can do that? 

Al Cobos: One of the key things is for the people around you feeling good about coming to work with you. It’s an ownership aspect of leading others. And you don’t have to be the supervisor. You can be a peer leader. A good way that occurs is you’re available there for your people. You can be able to do this both as a peer and as a supervisor but it’s also being there for your supervisors. It doesn’t mean that you’re a cruise director, trying to make work fun, but there’s a lot of difficult things that we deal with, but we try to make things better. Just your day-to-day attitude. Public sector, even private sector, their staffing shortages. I know one of the things that I’ve done and what I’ve seen other supervisors do is acknowledge the fact that there is a staffing shortage. It may not end, but these are the things that I can do and even though there may be just little things that can be done, those little things go a very long way in impacting the work environment, that one slice of the pie, that you’re responsible for. Another aspect of it was, and I did this with my teams, and also did this when I would have the discipline classes for decision making. People would be very upset with the organization itself. But I would personalize, like, “Hey, I feel reasonably comfortable that people enjoy coming to work when I’m working. And things are never perfect, but for the most part, we try to make it a good day.” What’s your assessment? Do people feel good about you when you come to work, because we own that in and of we own that out right. I liken it to the people who show up in a room. You have energy vampires. They’re the ones they show up and you just can literally feel the negativity and the others are energy givers. It can be a bad day. But it’s not that bad because you’ve got these energy givers like, “Hey, you acknowledge what’s going on, tomorrow’s a different day. Let’s see what we can do today, make it better.” It’s a lot of just being honest, not ignoring it. But just trying to make the set of circumstances that are handed to us as good as possible. So, there’s no real one way to do it, but it’s, it’s a coordinated approach to try and make things better for our people.


Audience Question: What are your thoughts regarding using surveys either online or on paper to assess our personnel job satisfaction? 

Al Cobos: Here’s my biased perspective. Sorry. Working for Sheriff’s Department, we’d have surveys come out. I don’t know if it’s generational perspective. I don’t know if it applies to our younger deputies and personnel. But, you know, we’re a paranoid bunch and if we offer up critique via survey monkey that somehow the powers that be will find out that you gave this particular answer on this particular day, and they’d be able to know. So that the perception is that it’s not a very anonymous type of survey. So, culturally, if that’s one of the things you’re looking at, that can definitely impact and skew the survey results themselves. However, I’ve talked to other organizations outside of law enforcement, and they use them effectively. They use 360 evaluation of supervisors. I think it’s a good starting point. It’s very similar to the polling questions that you saw today during class. Throw the information out there to gauge your perspective, and then you get to see what’s actually resonating on what’s important with your people. So, absolutely the paranoid, they’re going to find out where to these questions. I think they’re very, very useful just to ensure that the questions you ask are directional where you’re kind of moving people in a direction for the answers that you want. Kind of similar to motivational conversation. But here you’re trying to get the answer you want because you don’t want the ugly answer so that they have to be good middle of the road questions where people give you their honest assessments. They’re not directed on a particular path because you want that particular answer. I hope that answers your question.


Audience Question: How do you balance the need to communicate quickly and accurately with telling stories? I’m concerned about talking too much and being long winded when addressing the department. 

Al Cobos: There is a balance. And, obviously, I love telling stories and I’ve got a deep well of stories that are mine and stories that aren’t mine. And the stories that aren’t mine, I make the advice that, “Hey, this isn’t my story.” However, and then I tell it, the issue is, telling it, telling what needs to be told. It goes back to keeping it simple. Talking about, A Few Good Men. I don’t get into the whole narrative about they have been in Guantanamo Bay, the history the Marine Corps, the different aspects of the attorneys and the Navy, Colonel Jessup. Really boil it down to the simple asterisk that  people can understand. And simple, not because it’s understood but simple, because it can resonate. And in terms of the storytelling itself, it doesn’t have to be just your story, you can ask the question where you set up a scenario and we’ll use that one – honor, code and loyalty… Can anyone give me a brief example of something that you’ve seen in the workplace where these types of strong words have been corrupted? And now they tell their story, and it doesn’t have to necessarily be theirs, but it gives you started that they’ve heard. And that way, you’ve got someone else telling a story. And it’s not just you doing the talking, so there’s a back and forth that you can use with the storytelling. Just one other quick example, I would do this quite a bit in my decision making class. I would stand in front of the class, and I would say, “Hey, you know, who’s that guy?” And I’ll put my arms out like an airplane, “And so he flew that airplane, and I think it was, I forget which river it was, but I think some geese hit the engines.” And they’re like, “Oh yeah, that was the Hudson River.
Now there’s now the students start telling the story, it was the Hudson River. “It was,  what’s the guys…” “Sullenberger,” “Oh what did he do?” “Oh, he lost both engines on the plane and he was able to land the plane on the Hudson. There’s actually some video.” Mind you, these are students telling the story now, and it goes “It was a miracle.” Then, I transitioned into, “It wasn’t a miracle, but Sullenberger himself said, ‘I train pilots on how to handle in-flight emergency,’ so if we ever wanted a guy flying a plane, that was a guy flying the plane.” And I use that strategy where no one has ever challenged me, where they’ve said, “Hey, literally, 90 seconds ago, you didn’t know who this guy his name was, you didn’t even know what river it landed on.” But I got the students to tell the story, And then I followed it up with the message which is train how you want to act in real life. So, there’s different ways you can do this, where, you don’t necessarily have to tell the stories, but you can pull it out of your students. They can tell the story with the right set of questions.


Audience Question: I’m an administrator or for a group of managers. What’s the best way to handle the balance of getting feedback and opinions from a group of managers, but also taking responsibility for making the ultimate decision given their input. 

Al Cobos: So, with this, we just say it’s a complicated environment. I mean, there’s a lot of things going on there. One of the tools that I would use, and again, this person can reach out to me directly. You know, the, my e-mail is on the handout itself. But a lot of times, one of the strategies they use is, placing people into other people’s roles. So, I would give them a scenario, a situation, and I would reverse roles to say, “Well, you’re this particular manager now, how should this be handled? What are some alternative considerations? And if you’re the boss, what would your expectations be?” So now they’re not answering it from a justification standpoint, but you put them into a role where they’re in somebody else’s position and they’re going to provide a solution that you can actually challenge them on. If they give, “Well, I would do anything…” What would inaction do under this circumstance? So, you’re not attacking or challenging them, per se, because you place them into a different role. And, even with a disciplined employees that that I would train it, I would place some of them into the role of a Captain, which like a Chief of Police, and they would fall into that role about some of the unpopular policies that were made. And I would challenge them on their decisions. Now, granted, it doesn’t mean that they would agree with the policy, but they would understand the perspective of the executives and managers. So, doing those role assignments can be effective, but it’s got to be set up correctly. It’s something you can do during a meeting, but feel free to reach out, and we could talk about this more because if there are some strategies that can be used to, to have people feel more comfortable or safe, presenting the information by utilizing these roles. So, it’s one of the ways that we’re trying to handle it.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Executive Communication: Getting Your People to Understand Your Message


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