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The Racer's Edge

Conscious Communication: bringing communication up from "auto-pilot" and reactive, to thoughtful, responsive, and above all, intentional.

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The Racer's Edge
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Auto racing has become much more thrilling and competitive over the last few years. Every aspect of what makes it exciting has become more visible with technical advances in camera work and telemetry. In NASCAR, forty-three teams simultaneously playing chess at 200 mph, while staying on top of and adjusting for constantly shifting variables is quite a spectacle.

If we pay attention, we can learn a lot about how to create and maintain a championship team that wins in the marketplace. Why is it that out of those forty-three teams, the same ten or so seem to be at the checkered flag every week? What are they doing right, and how can you apply their hard learned lessons, without the pain and expense that they go through?

When we compare the top teams to the struggling ones, we see that they’re doing exactly what needs to be done by any individual or in any business, especially in the 21st century market. We can boil it down to three areas that make a champion out of a contender: communication skills, fierce tenacity, and responsiveness to change with the ability to adjust.

Communication Skills
The first ever five time in a row NASCAR champion driver Jimmie Johnson credits communication time and time again for his success. Along with the entire team, he has incredible communication with his crew chief, Chad Knaus. They’ve worked on creating a common language, and have developed a level of ultimate trust in each other’s abilities. Neither tries to tell the other how they should do their job. The driver is like a quarterback, and the crew chief is like a team coach. Jimmie gives Chad verbal feedback about how the car is performing in terms of rear-end vs. front slide, rollover, and things of that nature. Furthermore, they use numerical quantification, so there’s less left to interpret (on a scale of 1 to 10, “a 5 loose” is handled differently than a 7).

Chad takes this information and converts it into adjustments in chassis geometry, tire pressures, and shock absorber spring tightness, among thousands of other variables that they implement at each pit stop. He communicates this to his pit crew, who each fly into action as the number 48 car comes screeching into its pit. Fill it with fuel, change 4 tires, chassis adjustments, pull a “spring rubber” out of the left rear shock, and gone in 14 seconds. Because every second the rest of their competition is traveling 1-1/2 football fields in distance.

Chad will calculate fuel usage, and give Jimmie the task of adjusting his driving to conserve when necessary (waiting a split second longer before braking, or before getting back on the gas). And then there are the Spotters; those guys standing on the top of the grandstands with binoculars, telling the drivers who is where, trying to see through the smoke of a spin-out, as the drivers can’t turn their heads to see around them.

Talented drivers who don’t have great communication with their team are not winning. Just shouting “fix it” or “make it better” doesn’t give the crew chief any real data to work with, and this reflects the kind of communication we see all the time. When this breaks down further into blaming and internal politics, it prevents even the best from achieving their potential.

Refuse to Lose
Jimmie Johnson’s mentor and friend, Jeff Gordon is a driver who became almost a legend by age 35 (holding 4 championships himself.) Jeff was the protégé’ of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., who lived by this rule: “It’s not the driver with the fastest car, but the driver who refuses to lose.”

Gordon has proven the power of believing in your team and not giving up so many times it became their trademark. At Darlington Raceway one year, sputtering and overheating, with a geyser of water shooting in the air, spelling certain death for the engine, Gordon stayed on the track when others pitted, keeping air running through his radiator, and somehow won the race. Other teams have adopted this “Refuse to Lose” motto, and now almost every Victory Lane interview includes the words, “these guys just don’t give up.”

Responsiveness to Change and Ability to Adjust
Saving the best for last, this is the single most important skill set that any person or organization can have. Hendricks Motorsports, the organization that both Johnson and Gordon drive for have implemented drastic changes mid-race, even trading pit-crews, which is unheard of. When asked what these teams are doing differently, it becomes another set of lessons for business and life.

Starting with no assumptions about the track or the conditions, they bring a car that is the equivalent of the Zen “empty cup.” Chad Knaus calls this a “vanilla” race car. Then, using those fantastic communication skills, they tweak and adjust the car all through the race. They may start out in the back of the pack, but through all the adjustments and tweaks, by the end of the race, they are always in the top 5 or 10. And as racers love to say, the only lap that matters is the last one.

Pay attention to your customers, your employees, your friends and loved ones. Listen to everything, make tiny adjustments and see how they pan out, then adjust some more. Refuse to lose; believe in yourself and your teammates. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Nothing can be improved when it’s a secret.

There’s another old rule: You can either look good, or get better, but not both at the same time. We need to be more focused on that last lap, than concerned with looking good during the rest of the race. Everything up to the checkered flag is about continuous improvement.


Quick Communication Tip

Racing to Understand

Taking some of these concepts into Conscious Communication, we can see how they correlate or “map” over from the world of auto racing. We often mean very different things with the same words, and don’t necessarily take the time to check in. One driver may be very comfortable driving a loose car (the amount the rear swings around at the tail end of a turn) whereas another driver may feel out of control with the same car. So too loose to you and too loose to me could mean totally different things. This is why Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus use a 1 to 10 scale, and figure out in advance what each level means in real world physics.

We see these different meanings behind words like integrity, soon, old, or even “I’ll call you tomorrow.” One person hears “first thing tomorrow,” and another hears, “before the sun goes down,” where another hears, “before midnight.” Take a moment to clarify and get on the same page with people, and you’ll save a lot of time and frustration down the road.

Want to learn more about how your communication can hold you back or catapult you forward?  Come visit the web site, or better yet, contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.


Resource Links:

Conscious Communication - the podcast series

KG Stiles: "Conversations that Enlighten and Heal"
Ian Blei on Kind Ambition and the
Integram (TM)

Personal Life Media - "Coaching the Life Coach:"
Communication Excellence (Podcast Snippets)
Communication Excellence (full interview)

Interview Podcast for Evolutionary Radio w/ J. McClain

Kind Ambition -
2nd Edition now available

Got Blog? c
ome visit the Blog.

Character Driven - Ever want to create characters that were so believable, that people forgot they were characters?



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