The hidden (and most important) information in every organization

hidden information

What is really happening here?

In my recent TEDx talk: Reclaiming Humanity at Work, I told a story about how when I started a new executive level job, that I wasn’t sure exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

A mentor told me, “Talk to everybody and you’ll know what to do”.

I took this quite literally, and in my first 2 weeks I did 100 one-one meetings.

In each of meetings I asked people, “What do you think is working and not working? What do you think we need to change or do differently? What do you think we should stop doing? What do you think is most important moving forward?”

This was life changing for me. After those 100 meetings I felt like I had a super power.

Not only did I know what I needed to do, but I had 100 people who were motivated to help me go do it because I had respected them enough to ask them “What do you think?”

I got the information about what was really going on.

I learned that we had duplicate competing efforts in the group.
I learned that I had a manager who was a bully on my team.
I learned that we were not effectively communicating across the organization.
I learned that we were waiting forever for commitments from another group.
I learned that people were unmotivated because they didn’t understand the strategy.
I learned that people did not know things that my managers told me that everyone knows.

The only way to uncover the secrets

The most important thing I learned is that the information about what is really happening is totally hidden from an executive if you only rely on your managers telling you things.

It’s not that the managers are actively trying to hide anything — most of the time they are not. It’s just that nothing can substitute for real interaction and getting information directly from people who are doing the work.

When I looked around and noticed that my peers were not doing this with their organizations, by comparison they looked like they were shooting in the dark — where I knew exactly what to do.

I have taken this approach of talking to everyone forever after — because it made me so much more competent, and it made everyone else so much more engaged and motivated.

When my organizations got bigger, I could not have thousands of 1-1 meetings but I always had some — every week. I always had small group meetings, and 1-1 meetings with some individuals every time I visited a site.

The ride in the car

One of the most valuable sources of information I got as an executive was from going to visit customers.

It was not anything that happened at the customer meeting itself, it was what I learned during the ride in the car to and from the airport with the sales rep.

If you want to know what is really happening in your business, spend some time with sales reps, sales engineers, and service people. Learn what they think, see and experience. They will tell you more about what business you are in than anything you can learn at headquarters.

Put aside the hierarchy for a minute

It is so important as a leader to step outside the hierarchy and to have real conversations with the people who are actually doing the work on a regular basis.

Those executives that instead, pretend to act like a big-shot all the time, and would never think of talking to people below them, are cutting off the most important source of information there is.

As I also mentioned in my talk…tragically, people have died on operating tables, and planes have crashed because the leader refused to step outside the hierarchy to listen to the people who actually knew what was going on.

You’ll never find this hidden, most information in your organization if you never take the time to have human to human conversations with the people doing the work.

Watch my TEDx Talk here: Reclaiming Humanity at Work

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.

About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or facebook

12 human conversations that drive strategy execution


Will your strategy stall before it even starts?

One of the basic hazards I see that stops strategy dead in its tracks is a lack of real conversation about it.

Executives can be very clear on what they want to accomplish and think that have been very clear with their organization about what must be done and why.

But then something happens. Or more accurately…nothing happens!

Leaders are left thinking, “But I was very clear. Why am I not seeing action?”

Avoiding real conversation

One of the biggest issues I see is that executives often avoid what I refer to as unstructured conversation.

They want to say, “Here is the strategy. Please submit your plans.”

That is an example of a highly structured conversation that leaves no room for a real, human conversation.

Unstructured (human) conversation at this point would be to say, “Here is the strategy, before we go forward, what do you think?”

The need for unstructured conversation

The most valuable insights you can gain as a leader almost always come through informal channels and unstructured conversations. It is a gold mine of information about reality.

But it’s even more important in the case of kicking off a strategy because people need to have unstructured conversations in order to process what it is you are asking them to do.

The act of having a conversation where they get to say what they think, hear from their peers, and ask questions gives them the opportunity to tune their beliefs to be ready to go do what you need them to do. Without it they won’t be able to start.

Unstructured conversation also creates motivation because you are treating people like humans instead of programmable work robots, simply by being willing to have a real conversation.

A human conversation approach

Here is an approach you can use to drive very high quality conversations about strategy — conversations that will dramatically increase your chances of getting the thing done.

Step 1: Be willing to step outside the hierarchy and get input from your team and others
Step 2: Ask: “What do you think?”
Step 3: Be genuinely interested in listening to the answer

Here are 12 questions that will create the type of unstructured conversations that will allow people to move your strategy.

“Here is the strategy….

  1. What do you think?
  2. What do we collectively think as a group?
  3. What scares us about this?
  4. What are the easy parts?
  5. What are the hardest parts?
  6. What do we see as the risks?
  7. What do we see as the most important part?
  8. In what areas do we feel best prepared?
  9. In what areas do we feel unprepared? What would we need in order to feel prepared?
  10. Is there anything that we need to fix, create, invent or change before embarking on this strategy?
  11. Is there anything that we need to stop doing to enable this strategy to work?
  12. Are there any groups (internal or external) that might have a problem with us pursuing this strategy?

Don’t miss out on the magic

Executives often avoid opening the door to this type of unstructured conversation because they are afraid that it might get messy or waste time. Or they might hear disagreement or doubt or dissent.

But my view on this is, if there is disagreement, confusion or dissent….Wouldn’t you rather know? !!!

The alternative is to have a “safe”, closed conversation and embark on strategy which will either stall or fail, because people never had a chance to talk about it.

By avoiding unstructured conversation you will embark on your strategy thinking that everything is clear and great, and you will get stuck you missed out on learning the most important information about what was necessary to succeed, and/or people were simply not on board and ready to go.

Truly magic words: “What do you think?”

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.

About Patty
patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or facebook

Reclaiming Humanity at Work

PA TEDx high res
I had the great privilege of doing a TEDx talk in Asbury Park NJ a few weeks ago.

My subject was “Reclaiming Humanity at Work”.

Where’s the video?

Many of you have been asking when the video will be available online. Thank you for your interest!

I got the word that the first edits would be available at the end of June, so I’m thinking it will be ready sometime in July.
I will keep you posted!

The experience of doing a TED talk was really interesting.

The two driving factors for a TED talk are that it needs to be “an idea worth spreading”, and that it should be a part of your own authentic story.

As I went through many revisions, I realized that this theme of “humanity at work” really is at the crux of all my work and my own story. Humanity is a theme through both of my books RISE and MOVE, and is foundational element to all of the leadership and organizational work that I do.

I was excited to have the chance to specifically talk about it.

My own story

As I look back on my own career, one of the threads that stretches from the beginning to now, is that I was never someone that sacrificed my humanity to succeed.

What I mean by this is that we all feel pressure to conform sometimes. Many newly promoted managers who are not sure what they need to be doing, think part of the requirement is to act like a big shot. But as soon as you go down this path, you sacrifice your own humanity, and you disrespect the humanity of others.

As my roles got bigger and bigger, and the roles themselves became more powerful, I remained the same person — the same person with a bigger responsibility — but the same person.

As I described in the talk, if you are willing to show up as your true self and respect the ideas and the humanity of others, you get access to a critical kind of organizational information and support that you will never see if you insist on acting like a big shot. (I plan on writing more about this soon.)

Feel Happier at work

What I hoped to share in this talk is a way of working and finding success that people can feel great about, so they can feel happier and more satisfied at work.

If you are willing to show up as your whole, true self, and respect the humanity of others at work, you will actually be at your most powerful and credible. You will also be at your most effective because you will engender the support of others.

And you’ll feel happier because if you feel like the real, interesting, happy person you are on the weekends is somehow not welcome at work, to go through the personality lobotomy every Monday morning to turn into your work-appropriate self is really painful!

I’ll keep you posted on the availability of the TED talk but for now, know that although we can all point to narcissistic, egomaniacs who get ahead in business, it’s not a requirement. You don’t have to be that way if you don’t want to.

I have stayed true to myself and the the humanity of others throughout my whole career, and I find it very gratifying when my work helps others find this path to success as well.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

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About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or facebook


I’m really excited to share all the important ideas and tools I put in my book MOVE to help you get your team (at any level in any kind of organization) to execute your strategy more decisively.

You can download a free preview or order your copy now.
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What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

Learning a second language: Part 2

second language2

Awhile back, I wrote an article called Learning a second language as an adult, and shared some language learning resources.

I got a lot of positive response to that article, so I thought I would share an update. I’m still at it, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve improved my language skills, but I’ve also learned a lot about the learning process, and discovered some excellent additional resources that I wanted to share.

This article is a bit long, (indicative of my efforts!), so if you are not interested, you can skip this, and I’ll be back with regularly scheduled programming on business leadership next week.

Mission accomplished… sort of…

I’m very pleased to report that I have met my initial goal of being able to communicate in Italian. I can now meet a new person, and speak for an hour or more without ever needing to switch to English to understand something.

So do I feel like I am finished learning to speak Italian? Not. Even. Close!

I have so many friends who speak multiple languages with ease, and it’s not really a big deal for them, but for me, this was a major deal. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

My life is better!

Let me jump to the outcome, and then I’ll go back to the process and the resources.

The outcome I want to share is probably the most exciting and heartening part of this whole process. I have made so many new, real friends.

There is no reason or way that these people would be in my life, let alone be my friends if it were not for my efforts to learn to speak Italian. My life has been enriched by these new friends in ways that I could never have imagined. Many of them came from other parts of Italy to come and visit me in Firenze. Some of them have come or are coming to visit me in California. I have always loved Italy, but now, I feel the world is open to a whole new level and type of friendship that was just not possible before.

So a big heartfelt thank you to all my new friends (in roughly the order that I met you) Maura, Priamo, Rosa, Vittorio, Piero, Elena, Serena, Luca, Daniele, Andrea, Stefano, Stefano, Ryoko, Momo, Riccardo, Sonia, Simone, Emanuele, and Cinzia. And people who always make me feel welcome in Firenze: Marco, Gennaro, Damiano, Carolina, Valeria, Sylvia, Giuseppe, and Alessandro.

Grazie infinite!

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Click to enlarge


When I started learning Italian, my thought about “fluency” was that when you were fluent in a language you were 100% functional.

To me fluent meant that you could handle any social, personal, or work conversation, you could understand all TV shows, and news and movies…

But now I’ve come to realize that the idea of being fluent in a language has many levels and facets.

If I’m in a conversation with someone willing to be a little patient, you might say I’m fluent.

If I’m in a conversation in a loud bar with a group of people, I’m barely hanging on.

And if I’m watching a movie or listening to the radio where lots of people are talking fast in a very natural and informal way, using short cuts and idioms – there are still times when I don’t understand it at all. That frustrates me!

So although I have reached my initial goal of being able to have meaningful conversations in Italian, I’ve also realized that it’s only because a conversation is a partnership.

In a conversation, the other person has a motivation that you understand and that they understand you. When there is a hiccup or a stall, there is an opportunity for repetition or explanation. When I am in a conversation with a motivated partner, I am almost 100% functional, and pretty comfortable.

Where I am not comfortable or totally functional in a conversation is when the other person is an impatient taxi dispatcher, or there is a dispute about a train ticket, or the hot water in the apartment isn’t working — the stress level goes up, and the other person has no patience or motivation to help me understand. At this point, the other person typically resorts back to English and I feel like I have failed.

But why I want to share my experience at this point is that I have learned a lot not only about the language, but I have also learned a great deal about the learning process itself.

I had no idea what I was in for!

When I got started, I had NO IDEA what I was in for. It was like I was thinking I was going to learn how to bake chocolate chip cookies – a pleasant and finite endeavor.

But instead the task was to learn the global history of the agricultural development of chocolate, and the key economic and political drivers of the chocolate market, the chemical properties and associated farming, sourcing and processing of wheat, eggs, and dairy, and how to build a supply chain with multiple factories to produce and distribute cookies along with other types of food.

In other words, the task is so much deeper, broader, and endless than I had ever imagined!

3 different processes to become fluent

What I have now learned is to become truly fluent and functional in a language requires thousands of hours, not just 30 minutes a day with a clever app.

I have learned that for functionality, fluency and comprehension to happen there are 3 separate and significant parts of the process:

1. Learning
2. Language acquisition
3. Practice


Awhile back, in my first article, I shared my experience with the Learning part. I have learned that the learning process is necessary but not sufficient.

In that article I listed the many different resources that I used to begin my learning. All of those resources were useful to me, but in that first year, I made two mistakes which I’ll note here and explain more fully below:

1. The first was to focus on “learning” only instead of focusing also on “acquisition”
2. The second was to not practice speaking frequently enough.


The turning point in my efforts happened when I met a language exchange partner (more on this later) online. Andrea is a mechanical engineering student who wants to learn to speak English both for the enjoyment of it, as well as the opportunity to pursue a masters degree in an English speaking country.

My first conversation with Andrea was almost 2 years into my study. We started our conversation in Italian and he was complimentary of my ability. He told me in Italian that he was a beginner that been speaking English for just 30 days. So when we switched to English, (thinking of my own experience) I was expecting to be helping a beginner struggle talk about very basic things. Much to my surprise, his English was fantastic! It was highly functional and not at all shallow. I was amazed. 30 days!

There were two very important things I learned from Andrea.

1. Although he had only been speaking for 30 days, he had been speaking almost every day.

I realized that in comparison I was speaking with a tutor for an hour only once every 1 or 2 weeks. Andrea accomplished 30 hours of speaking in 30 days. But for me to accomplish 30 hours of speaking it took about a year!

2. Andrea also shared his approach with me which was focused more on “language ACQUISITION” than “language LEARNING”

The Language Acquisition Process

Andrea shared this video below with me about the importance and value of the language acquisition process.

It’s about a half an hour (and an amusing throwback stylistically to the 70′s!) if you want to watch it, but I’ll summarize the most important points (for me) here.

I haven’t done the research to say that this is the final word on how to learn a language, but I will say that these ideas closely mirrored my own (and Andrea’s) experience, and these ideas were immensely helpful to me.

• There is a specific part of the brain that houses the machinery for acquiring language
Every human brain has this capability for language acquisition
• Acquiring language is the step that enables you to use the language naturally
• This language acquisition process is subconscious – you can’t force it through active learning
• The best way to maximize the acquisition of language is to feed this acquisition machinery in your brain “comprehensible input”
There is no more useful thing (no study of grammar, vocabulary, or any other active learning) as important for truly learning to use a language than to feed this part of your brain comprehensible input
• Though every human brain has this capability, the thing that makes one brain less likely to absorb a new language than another is stress and anxiety
Acquisition is much slower compared to the active learning process which is conscious and fast
Active learning can get in the way of language acquisition, and it can be a trap because people (like me) are attracted to the active learning process because it seems faster and feels more satisfying and more controlled.
• When you actively learn things, while you may learn them in an analytical sense, they don’t become accessible to you in conversation because you have learned them but you have not truly acquired them.

Stephen Krashen on Language Acquisition

Finally, a breakthrough!

Well this was a big eye-opener for me.

After 2 years of slogging away (as an excellent student) at the active learning process, I was still not functional. And it was painful.

I was working so hard that I actually became an inspiration for others to never try to learn a second language!

The other thing that really puzzled me, and frankly bothered me a little is that I would find that I would suddenly know things in Italian that I didn’t remember learning.

I am a very deliberate student. I know when and how I learn things. When I would suddenly know something that I didn’t learn, I found it very upsetting… I am aware of exactly what I learned — and I didn’t learn this. “Why do I know this?”

Slow and steady…

Once I understood about the slow and steady, subconscious language acquisition process a few wonderful things happened for me:

1. My anxiety level (finally) went down
2. I stopped trying so hard!
3. I began feeling glad when I would know things I that I didn’t actively learn
4. I started talking in Italian every day
5. I started listening to radio and podcasts and watching TV and movies for fun – and I trusted that this input was helping me progress, — even though I wasn’t aware of or in control of the learning

Within 30 days, I had huge breakthrough.

My comprehension went way up, and my ability to speak became more fluent and functional. It was not a subtle jump forward. It was big… Finally!

Here are the things that I have determined worked best, as well as great resources that helped me in each of the three phases, 1. Learning, 2. Acquisition, and 3. Practice.

1. Learning (the beginning phase)

Based on how the language acquisition process works, you need to feed your brain comprehensible input. But the problem is at the beginning there is no input that is comprehensible. You can’t just start listening to natural, full speed stuff. It won’t trigger the acquisition process in your brain because it is not comprehensible. So you need to start somewhere.

The beginning is where the active learning process is most useful and necessary.

This is where many of the resources I mentioned in my first article can help like the following:

Pick a beginner option that motivates you and start learning. Find a frequency dictionary and learn the most frequently used 2000 words in your target language. Use flash cards with Ankysis.

Learn to describe things

This was a hard fought battle for my early teachers. They kept showing me pictures and asking me to describe them.

The problem was NOT that I was afraid to say something wrong, or that I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say — it was that I had absolutely nothing to say!

I would look at the picture and not be able to think of a single thing to say about it. Even in English. There were no words.

It was because I did not get the value of the concept of simply describing something.

I am accustomed to talking about things that are interesting and meaningful and valuable, and as an introvert I DETEST SMALL TALK. I never just talk to talk.

Well, when you are learning a language, you need to just TALK!

I realized that there is a fundamentally important step in learning a new language that has nothing to do with the new language.

You need to develop the ability to be able to say things in different ways — in your own language. And developing the skill of describing something in a different, non-direct way is the way to do that.

For example, in the beginning, if I wanted to ask a waiter for an ice bucket, and I didn’t now the words for either ice or bucket, I would simply stall and give up. Mission impossible. I would say nothing. Game over.

I did not have the skill to say (even in English), “Could we have a container to hold the frozen pieces of water for the purpose of the wine to be cold”

That’s not elegant, but it works.

Getting your point across, no matter what!

To become functional in another language you have to learn to get your point across when you don’t know the specific words for things, or know the best way to say it. You can’t just give up. You need to say something. If you can’t say it, find a way to describe something related to it.

This description skill took me a long time to develop because it was really unnatural for me.

The way I finally broke through was to instead of thinking about these describing exercises as non-valuable conversation, I began to treat it like a game.

When I was presented with a simple picture, I would challenge myself to say as many things about it as I possibly could. The game itself created the interest and the meaning, which enabled my non-small-talk-equipped brain to have a purpose.

Describe this picture. What do you see?

For example, as a game, how many things can you say about the following picture, even if you don’t know the word, “matchstick”. (Thank you, Luca for this picture.)

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There are 14 of these objects
These are objects used for beginning fire
You begin fire by moving the top part along something rough
They are made of wood
Normally they are about 2 inches tall
They are on a white background
They are parallel to each other
There is green spot at the upper left of the image
There is a darker line along the bottom and the right side
The parts at the top are 5 different colors
The colors are blue, yellow, green, pink, orange and red
There are 3 blue, 2 green, 2 orange, 2 pink, 2 orange and 3 yellow
The objects are a similar size, but not exactly the same size
The color of the wood is not the same on all the objects
The amount of space between the objects is similar but not exact
There are more blue than green
There are the same number of pink, red, and orange
The bottom of the sixth and twelfth ones are higher than the others
The one on the right looks the tallest
The color of the wood on each of the objects is slightly different
The objects of the same color look identical to each other
This is an object that is not always made of wood, sometimes it’s made from something like strong paper
These can be used to start cigarettes
These can be used to start candles
These can be used on as a source of light in the dark
The fire they create lasts for only several seconds
You could go on and on…

While none of this is Shakespeare, it includes a lot of very useful language for describing lots of other things!

By challenging yourself to simply describe things (in any language!), you go a long way to being able to get your point across, even when you don’t know the specific words to say.

In the beginning, if I did not know the work for “match” I would have been silent.

But once I got my brain trained on this game of saying as many trivial things as I could about something, instead of descending into utter silence by trying to think of something interesting or meaningful to say and coming up short, I could finally speak!

I really owe a lot of gratitude for my early teachers (especially Maura!) for their patience of trying to explain this to me — and me not getting it — at all!

I wasted too much time getting frustrated that I couldn’t say things the way I wanted to say them, instead of just saying something!

2.Language Acquisition

You need to feed your brain comprehensible input to activate that specialized language acquisition machinery in your brain that I mentioned earlier, to start doing its thing behind the scenes.

So you need to find a steady source of comprehensible input.

I’ve found a few really useful resources.

News In Slow Italian

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This service is available for Italian, French, Spanish and German. I mentioned this also in my first article, but I now understand why and just how important this resource was for me because it is an outstanding source of comprehensible input.

You get to listen to your target language spoken slowly and clearly and read along in the transcript if you wish. It also allows you to mouse over tricky phrases and get an instant translation.

This is an extremely valuable tool. It triggered the language acquisition process for me and increased my confidence.

Watching Italian TV Shows and Movies

I also mentioned in my last article, buying movies from and getting a multi-region DVD player. I’ve also learned that the detachable DVD drive for my computer easily switches between regions.

I find the best way to watch an Italian movie for the first time is to read the plot in Italian on the internet (Someone has described the plot of pretty much every movie or show on the internet!) In doing this, I also learn a lot of new vocabulary.

And for me it works well that I don’t need to be figuring out the plot and the language at the same time.

Then I watch once or twice with Italian subtitles. (English subtitles do your brain no good, you’re just reading a story in English so it doesn’t not trigger the language acquisition machinery in your brain)

Finally I’ll watch it a couple more time without subtitles.

Listening to and watching FUN things

Because optimizing the language acquisition ability of your brain requires you to be relaxed and without stress, I realized that only listening to news, and even watching whole movies was not fun enough to be relaxing. So I started watching Friends, Simpsons, and Star Trek Next Generation episodes dubbed in Italian!

At first it was very difficult — impenetrable. The language was so fast and informal compared to News in Slow Italian, or to my patient conversation partners and teachers that it was almost impossible.

But I found that the more I relaxed, the more I could understand. And watching those shows fed my brain comprehensible input that was much more like natural conversation than a narrated news program. And because it was fun, my stress level was very low.

It was kind of funny, to think of the task of watching an episode of the Simpsons as a way developing my brain instead a way of turning it off!

For Italian Learners, A wonderful book!

non puoi

My friend and on of my language teachers, Sonia is also an author. She has written a book available on Amazon which is fantastic. My experience with other books is that if you try to read a standard novel or non fiction book in your target language, it’s too difficult. And if you read a book focused on language learning it’s deadly dull. Sonia has created a wonderful book for Italian learners called, Non Puoi Essere Tu, that I can not recommend highly enough. It really useful for Italian language learners but would be entertaining even for a native Italian speaker.

iTunes country switch

I’m a little envious of my new friends who are learning English because there is SO MUCH content available in English. I was wanting to find a rich array of podcasts in Italian, but when I searched the internet for “Italian Podcasts” I always came up short.

I found a great trick to search for podcasts in your target language in iTunes. Simply scroll down to the bottom and select “change country”. Once you select your target country you can browse podcasts in that language. I’ve found a few good podcasts in Italian this way.

3. Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice: Talking every day

Practicing conversation really helps. It helps because you are getting a really natural version of comprehensible input which serves the language acquisition process, but I found it’s also important to train your mouth to function in a new language. Practice is so important.

To that end, I found a website called which where I found two types of really valuable resources.

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On italki, I found two amazing resources.

1. Language tutors who work for ~$7-15/hour
2. Language exchange partners

My first experience with not only challenged my language skills, but presented an almost crushing challenge to my introvert tendencies…

One weekend I went to and searched for an Italian language tutor and the site presented me an option of “instant tutoring”.

Pushing the “request instant tutoring with Luca” button was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I sat there for ages…Can I really do this? Can I press this button and be face to face right now with a total stranger AND have to speak in Italian. OMG…

Finally, I reminded myself that no matter what happened after I pressed the button, I wouldn’t die. So I pressed the button.

In an instant, I was face to face with Luca on a Skype video chat.

Luca (a 26 year old medical student in Milan) had a smile that leapt through the computer screen, and was a person who could not have been more full of kindness and light. He was incredibly friendly and warm and patient. After that first terrifying moment, Luca became my friend, and a regular tutor.

Soon after that, I received an italki message from a potential language exchange partner, Andrea.

I scheduled a Skype with Andrea and again was face to face with a new person, needing to speak in Italian.

On, you can find Community Tutors who teach part time and charge anywhere between $8 and $15/hour, and you can find language exchange partners for free.

I still work with my language teachers at which is an outstanding resource for both the learning and acquisition processes. I highly recommend CyberItalian if you are learning Italian. It offers the richest set of resources I have found all in one place. If you are serious about learning Italian, check it out.

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My process for the past several months has been to talk with my teachers once every 2 weeks or so, plus I try to schedule an informal conversation with someone almost every day. I have 2 language exchange partners who I met on (I met about 6 and landed on 2 great ones), 3 teachers/tutors on, 2 teachers with, and many other Italian friends.

Once I started talking almost every day, both my comprehension and my speaking took a big leap forward — because conversation is an excellent source of comprehensible input AND practice.

It was truly a great gift for me to realize that this language acquisition process is a subconscious process, and that I didn’t have to work so hard. I just need to keep going!

Tutto fa brodo

My friend and language partner Andrea also taught me the phrase, “tutto fa brodo”, which literally translates to “everything makes soup”. It means that every little bit helps. I love this concept!

Since I have learned that the language acquisition process is subconscious and slow, and that it requires first and foremost, comprehensible input, I am trusting that everything I listen to, every conversation I have, every show or movie I watch is feeding the language acquisition process in my brain. Even if I don’t understand everything or if I feel like I’m not expressing myself very well — Every time I listen or try to speak, I can have confidence that my brain is developing and that I am making progress. Every word and phrase is feeding that part of my brain and settling in.

My brain is better!

I will also add that I have really enjoyed what learning a new language is doing to my brain and to my appreciation of life and other cultures. It’s also improved my view of effective communications — even in English.

My brain feels more open and more nimble. It has a new and bigger default which reacts “I can” instead of “I can’t”. I have a new ability to get to the heart of what I am trying to say.

If I am talking to an international audience, I have become much more clear in my English! I think, if I don’t know how I would say something Italian, I don’t say it in English. I find a simpler way.

And I while I have always believed that effective communication is about what the other person understands, not what you say, learning a new language has given me so much more insight to this!

There are times when I feel so frustrated in Italian, and by comparison it feels so satisfying when I can switch to English and finally feel that I can truly express myself…But then I realize that my crude Italian version actually lands better with native Italian speakers then my eloquent, English that feels so satisfying to me.

Even though it feels awkward and incomplete to me, the communication is so much more effective in the other person’s native language.

In any language, communicating is always about what the other person received and not what you think you delivered.

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About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or facebook


I’m really excited to share all the important ideas and tools I put in my book MOVE to help you get your team (at any level in any kind of organization) to execute your strategy more decisively.

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Communicating to break through silos


People feel un-informed

People at mid-levels regularly report that they are unclear about what is going on, what has been decided, what has changed–or not, and who is doing what, and why?

The issues that this lack of shared knowledge creates are numerous and expensive.

1. I thought you were doing that: Important tasks are dropped
2. I didn’t know you were doing that: Work is duplicated
3. I don’t know what I should be doing: Motivation is low; work stalls.
4. I didn’t realize we knew that: Bad calls are made when data that is actually known is not used.
5. I don’t know the priorities: Wrong work is done. Effort is wasted. Needed work is not done.

Execution and Schedule Risk

Executives are always concerned about schedules, cost, and risk, but they so often miss the one giant thing they can do to make it better – improving communication and knowledge sharing across the organization.

A fascinating idea…

I want to share something I learned when I was visiting my Alma Mater, Monmouth University.

Idea to revenue in 16 weeks!

Monmouth offers a remarkable class in entrepreneurship.

The very impressive thing about this class is that in a 16 week semester, the students conceive of and implement a business, and get it to the point of generating revenue. I think that is great!

Most of these businesses continue to grow beyond the semester, and turn into successful businesses that graduating students run, or they get spun out into larger existing businesses.

I asked the professor, “What is your secret?” How can you so predictably get from idea to revenue in 16 weeks?”

He emphasized the importance of communication and shared information in a fast growing business.

Structured Communication

He told me that the class splits into functional business groups, marketing, sales, product development, infrastructure, etc. Each team has a leader, who acts as the manager for that group.

He then showed me a computer screen that looked something like the very non-flashy picture below. He said:

This is how we communicate:

1. Every week the manager is required to post a status update about all the decisions, results, and open questions that exist in their area. And they are required to respond to questions that come in on their updates.

2. Every week all the people on the team, are required to read the top level updates from all the teams, and they need to read everything in their area — all the updates, plus all the questions and comments in their area.

So for example, all the marketing people would need to read all the top level updates from Sales, product development, etc. and they would also need to read all of the marketing discussion in its entirety.

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Just crazy enough to work!

Would not every business benefit from communicating in this way?

Now here is the big idea.

The students shared information so well with one another
because they were being graded on it!

1. Managers were being graded on producing regular communications
2. Every single employee was being graded on consuming them.

I see very few businesses who grade anyone on sharing information, let alone everyone!

Internal Social Sharing Tools

The simple tool the class was using was a social sharing tool. The manager of each function posted their updates on something that works like a blog.

The benefit of a using a social sharing tool for these type of updates is that it collects, organizes and archives status, decisions, questions and conversations automatically — all in one place that any interested party can connect to and participate in.

If I were in a corporate role again I would set up this type of communication and I would grade people on it!

1. I would have everyone who owned a key product, project or program be the leader of the discussion forum for their program, and require them to post updates on an internal sharing platform.

2. They would need to invite their peers and everyone who should know about their project to connect to their blog page and feed.

3. I would also set an expectation that everyone should spend at least 1 hour per week reading their relevant updates.

Save time and reduce email

Organizations who communicate this way also dramatically decrease their email load and waste far less time having their people searching for information.

No excuses for not knowing

There is never an excuse for not knowing information that is shared and archived, or a reason to blame management for not communicating. It’s all there. All the decisions, updates, questions answers… It’s all achived automatically, and organized per topic without any extra work to do so.

Lightweight is fine — in fact, better!

If a blog seems like heavy lifting or mysterious, think of each important program in your business having a page that works like a facebook page, where leaders can post updates for all interested parties to see, review, and comment on.

Don’t get scared off by thinking you anyone needs to turn into a prolific writer. Brief is better, and bullet points are fine. 3-5 key points a week, one question answered, or news of a key decision made vs. no regular communication is a game changer for people who need to know what is happening.

Stop having status meetings

Another benefit of this type of communicating is that you don’t need to waste precious face to face time in staff meetings reviewing status. I’ve written about this before as there are so many better things to do with staff meeting time than review status.

Sharing Information on Purpose

I believe that the benefit of shared knowledge in a business is incredibly valuable, and the risk of not having it is incredibly high, and very costly.

But communication and sharing knowledge is so often viewed by managers and employees alike as outside the job description, and therefore, optional.

Why not make sharing information part of everyone’s performance objectives like the students who are being graded on it?

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.

About Patty
patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or facebook