Top-5 Tips for Spokespeople

Excellent leaders are fantastic spokespeople. We see it all the time—leaders who seem to always have the right thing to say and deliver messages so naturally. While it takes practice, we all have the capacity to be great spokespeople for our organizations. Here are five tips to get you on your way with in-real-life (IRL) examples from my decades of experience working with leaders:    

  1. Leverage Personal Strengths
  2. Know Your Topic
  3. Listen Before Speaking
  4. Answer with Key Messages
  5. Always Represent
#1 Leverage Personal Strengths

People who put on an act for the press are perceived as insincere, so we always want to be ourselves and let our strengths come through in our interactions. Some of us are super organized in our content, some of us are passionate lively speakers, some of us are great story tellers.  When we know and leverage our communication strengths, we are better spokespeople.

IRL: A client in the financial industry is a great story teller, which meant he would tell one enthralling tale after another, but not in the most organized fashion. We worked together to create an organized frame of key messages and then tied stories to each of the key points. By previewing the key messages and then diving into stories—his personal strength—his interactions became both super engaging and easy to follow.

#2 Know Your Topic

While knowing the subject matter well might seem obvious, the point is that we need to know way more than what we think the media will ask. Imagine that the information to be shared with the audience is the 20 percent of an iceberg visible above the water and our knowledge base is the entire iceberg. For any topic, we need deep knowledge even when we are only expected to speak on the tip of the iceberg. This deep knowledge gives us confidence and credibility. A reporter may only ask one question that reveals the hidden 80 percent, but our answer to that one deep question will give us greater credibility for the other 20 percent of the topic.  If the topic is new to us, it is important to take the time to gain that deep knowledge before speaking.

IRL: Working with a client on a news radio interview, she created three full pages of notes on the topic, including key points and supporting evidence. From those three pages we were able to cull the best key messages and catchphrases for her to give a compelling interview. She felt confident that she could answer anything the reporter threw at her.

#3 Listen Before Speaking

By listening, we gain so much information that allows us to customize our communication. If we jump right in with our organization’s message, we may miss the opportunity to highlight something of great interest to this particular reporter. During the ice-breaker portion of the conversation when we may be talking weather and sports, also ask questions about current interests. ‘What is striking you in the news this week?’ is one way to inquire. When it is our turn to speak, we can use the information we just learned from listening to make our content more relevant.

IRL: During a mock interview where I was playing the reporter, a client was listening carefully as we connected with chit chat in the beginning. When I started asking interview questions, he brought forth customer examples from the geographical region I was pretending to be from, asking if I was aware of the company’s success in my hometown. The interview was so much more relevant because he listened carefully and customized his content.

#4 Answer with Key Messages

When we really know our organization and topic, we are able to communicate key messages in many different ways—through facts, statistics, and stories. No matter the question, there is always a way to bring in a key message. This technique just takes a bit of preparation and practice. If we are asked about a recent promotion in the company, for example, we can start by talking about the specific person and then segue into talking about a key message about company growth.

IRL: A client created a message map with a customer story for each key point that we had generated. With these stories, she was able to sprinkle in interesting vignettes throughout conversations and then always ended these stories by reiterating a key message.

#5 Always Represent

Any time we are in public, we are representing our organization. This is an advantage if we have the right mindset because we can always be building the brand whether we are chatting with someone on the airplane, giving an interview, or socializing at a party. It is a disadvantage if we don’t have the ‘always represent’ mindset.  The organization’s reputation can be harmed if we misbehave at a party or are rude to a fellow passenger on the plane. Keeping in mind that every time is the right time to make a good impression, we can represent our organization well.

IRL: I heard a story from a client that she was at a friend’s birthday party and just chatting with a friend of a friend who asked her what she did. Having practiced her firm’s pitch in a one of my workshops, she made the firm sound super interesting.  Turns out this person was looking for an investor and engaged with the firm. Because she was ‘always representing’ both she and the firm benefited.

Building on our strengths, knowing our subject matter, listening well, including key messages, and always representing—these are my top five tips for spokespeople. Putting these tips into practice will improve skills and help build a positive reputation.

Manage Power Dynamics with Communication

“Like energy is the basic medium in physics, power is the basic medium of human relationships,” Dacher Keltner, PhD as heard on the WorkWell podcast.

It is easy to be blind to power dynamics because of our democratic-society culture.  We want to believe that all people are equal, but that delusion puts us at a disadvantage in being able to actively manage power dynamics.   

Power in a macro sense is our ability to make a difference in the world, and in a micro sense power is our ability to influence those immediately in our presence.  All relationships, all human interactions, inherently have a power dynamic. Awareness of that dynamic gives us the advantage of intentionally managing it. We may not be able to instantly change positional power, but we can change referential or earned power with the people in our presence through communication. We can use both verbal and nonverbal communication to both give and take power.

In sharing this advice, I am assuming that your intentions are to use power for good, to enhance the lives of others, and to lead compassionately.

Giving Power through Communication

To ‘empower’ someone is to shift some of the power in any given dynamic to another person in that dynamic.  There are many times when we want to give power to others for the betterment of teams, organizations, and even for ourselves. We may want to give others power when delivering constructive criticism on a team, seeking multiple solutions for issues in an organization, or working to gain a broader perspective personally.  For example, in a group meeting where one person has less advantage – perhaps because of race or gender – another person with greater advantage can give that person power by mentioning their contribution to a successful project or directly asking for their input.  These verbal means to give power include kind words, acknowledgement of difficulties, compliments, and asking open-ended questions. 

We also give power through nonverbal communication, helping others feel heard.  Nonverbal means to give power include:

  • shifting body weight to one foot while standing
  • crossing legs (sitting or standing)
  • leaning elbows on table when sitting
  • clasping or putting hands together
  • tilting head to one side
  • consistently smiling
  • speaking quietly
  • speaking at a quick pace

Taking Power through Communication

While the thought of taking power may initially seem selfish, there are many benevolent reasons to take power in an interaction.  When we see situations as unjust for ourselves or others, when important information is being ignored, or when respect is not being given, that is the time to take power. In some organizations and some situations, the power dynamic needs to shift in our favor so that we can benefit others and lead compassionately.  We can verbally take power by raising our voice, asking for a turn to speak, or interrupting others. Interrupting with short phrases, such as ‘time out’ or ‘hold up’, is a way to grab attention so our voices can be heard.

Verbally taking power is often perceived as confrontational, so nonverbal means may be more effective in some situations. Nonverbal ways to take power are:

  • standing up when others are sitting (going to draw on a white board is effective)
  • standing square-shouldered with weight on both feet directly facing another person
  • shaking hands firmly
  • making direct eye contact
  • sitting at the top end of a conference table
  • leaning far back in a chair with arms wide
  • using grand hand motions (even when sitting)
  • speaking slowly (after garnering attention)

It might feel strange to intentionally give and take power as described above, because we’ve been enculturated to believe that we naturally share power evenly. But, if we find ourselves in situations where the outcomes are not what we wish, it will benefit us to learn and use power-shifting communication skills. The most important takeaway is to be aware of power dynamics.  Once aware of the dynamics, we may be able to trust our natural instincts to adjust the power balance using the strategies described above. 

 

 

Mindful Communication Meditation

The purpose of this meditation is to prepare for a difficult communication interaction – leading a meeting, tough conversation with a colleague, or presenting to important people in small or large audience.

 

Paradise to Public Speaking Meditation

The purpose of this meditation is to recollect the calm and invigoration of paradise before speaking in public in order to increase confidence. 

 

A 5-Minute Primer on Compassion in Leadership

Compassion in leadership is an emerging concept in corporate management, brought to the forefront by LinkedIn in CEO, Jeff Weiner.  But for most of us, the concept may be a bit fuzzy and theoretical. I was interested in learning more because I teach Leadership Communication at San Francisco State University.  At the recent Compassion in Leadership Summit at the Computer History Museum, I gained a much clearer understanding, so here I have captured 10 hours of content for you to read in the next 5 minutes.  The key takeaway is that leaders need to develop three core compassion skills and organizations need to develop systems that foster compassion.

Compassion = Empathy + Action

Put simply, compassion is where empathy meets action.  Empathy is feeling what another person is feeling, while compassion is putting yourself in the shoes of another for the purpose of alleviating suffering.  As Jeff Weiner explains, if you see somebody being crushed by a boulder, empathy is feeling the crushing feeling in your chest as they suffer. Compassion is understanding their suffering based on a past painful experience you had and then finding a way to get the boulder off them. 

The 3 Skills of a Compassionate Leader: Awareness, Mindset, Action

Scott Shute, Head of Mindfulness and Compassion, LinkedIn defines compassionate leaders as having the capacity for awareness of others, a mindset of wishing the best for others, and the courage to take action.  Lori Schwanbeck, Co-founder of Mindfulness Therapy Associates, reminds us that humans are wired for compassion, but the environment in which we are raised activates different levels of capacity. The good news is that we can all expand our capacity for compassion. In each of the three leadership skill areas, there are items that limit or expand our capacity for compassion.

3 Skills of the Compassionate Leader

Awareness of others means being present to what is happening for the other people in our environment. Capacity for awareness can be limited by our propensity as humans to orient to ourselves as a matter of survival and by the overactivity of our sympathetic nervous system.  We may incorrectly perceive what is happening around us as a ‘flight or fight’ situation, activating the sympathetic nervous system and limiting our brain’s executive functioning.  Capacity for awareness can be expanded by self-regulation of emotions, a sense of curiosity, and through the practice of noticing others. 

Our mindset affects how we act and how we treat other people.  Because as humans we are always pattern matching and connecting new information to what is already in our brains, we tend to relate to people as if they are actually the story that we’ve created about them in our head.  If they are wearing a business suit our story may be that they are ambitious. If they are in tattered clothes, our story may be that they are disadvantaged.  Depending our story, we will treat that person more or less compassionately. Therefore, a mindset of wishing well for others is an important skill for compassion in leadership.  The mindset of wishing well for others can be limited by fear, competition, lack of trust, and differencing through ‘not-like-me’ thoughts. Our capacity for wishing well for others can be expanded by seeing others as ‘like-me’ with common humanity, through gratitude, and by celebrating other’s success and happiness. 

The courage to take action means being willing to be uncomfortable, to step into another’s shoes, see things from a different perspective, and possibly acknowledge our own weaknesses.  This courage can be limited by overwhelm, apathy, self-promotion, and time pressures. We’ve all been in situations where we see a coworker who might need help but are in too much of a hurry to meet our own project deadline to stop and help. That is time pressure limiting the courage to take compassionate action.  The courage to take action can be expanded by setting intentions, taking small steps, and connecting with an accountability buddy.  An example is setting the intention to ask a coworker how they are doing and then deeply listen to their answer.  With that intention we will gain the courage to take that action, even when we are rushed. 

During the conference we practiced exercises in noticing, connecting, and thinking of actions to take as a means of building up our Compassion Quotient (CQ).  As Scott Shute said, “A few breaths put us in the performance zone and opens our aperture to other people.”

Organizational Systems can Foster Compassion

“Smart companies know that doing well and doing good go hand and hand, and as our CEO says, ‘the business of business is to improve the state of the world’,” Ebony Beckwith, EVP & Chief Philanthropy Officer, Salesforce

“Investing in others’ success is investing in your success and the organization’s success,” Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn.

A business that is both doing well and doing good, and also highlighting the importance of individual success for overall organizational success, is likely to have systems in place that foster compassion. Christina Hall, SVP and Chief People Officer at LinkedIn commented that it is not just the typical Silicon Valley perks that are part of the company’s effort to treat employees compassionately.  It also includes things like long leave times with counseling and building inter-work relationships. LinkedIn uses Glint to survey employees and hear directly what they want and don’t want. The answer to a question about what people wanted to see in the manager one-on-one meetings was phones off and laptops closed. That led to a new system for meetings, a system that increased compassion and employee engagement and supported one of LinkedIn’s codified values: Relationships Matter. 

Ebony Beckwith of Salesforce also mentioned the significance of relationships, particularly the importance of leaders being clear with people – clear about goals, expectation, what is working and what is not.  “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.  Being a compassionate leader is having the courage to be clear with people,” she commented.  Open communication is a common theme of many systems that foster compassion in organizations.  “When you share, it opens up others to share,” Ebony added.

Another interesting organizational system, that we might not associate with building compassion, is business success measurement.  Mohak Shroff, SVP of Engineering at LinkedIn told a story about a change in the system of success measurement.  The original measurement system tracked and maximized productivity. Productivity went up, but people complained.  The new system of measurement maximized for happiness.  Happiness, productivity, retention, and recruiting all went up and complaining went down.

Other system ideas shared included starting meetings with team members sharing one thing they appreciated about each other and having a section of all-hands meetings focused on recognizing compassionate actions of leaders and employees.

Hopefully this short summary of the Compassion in Leadership Summit made the concept clear and sparked ideas for implementation.  As the conference host Soren Gordhamer said, “Wisdom and compassion are two wings of one bird.”

 

Shifting Focus Meditation

The purpose of this meditation is to increase the ease of stepping into somebody else’s shoes and taking their perspective to gain understanding.
 

The Art of Giving and Accepting Feedback: Correcting Mistakes Respectfully

“What were you thinking sending out that document without letting me review it first?”   Judgmental, emotional, imprecise, and not actionable, this type of feedback is ineffective.

“I see that the document was submitted without me seeing it.  I need to review all material prior to submission to ensure consistency and accuracy.  I understand you were working against a tight deadline and appreciate your effort to submit things on time. In the future, please send me documents first and indicate the exact deadline so I can be appropriately responsive. Moving forward, how do you plan to handle documents due in tight deadlines?”    Observant, objective, respectful, and actionable, this type of feedback is effective.

We know that feedback is an important part of work and learning from mistakes, but we tend to resist giving it and we mostly don’t like getting it either. As the Harvard Business Review article The Feedback Fallacy outlines, feedback often becomes a sort of punishment that people dread. The trends of ‘radical transparency’ and ‘real-time 360 reviews’ can create a culture of harsh criticism that is unhelpful. The article states that using feedback to tell people what we think of their performance hinders rather than promotes excellence. The purpose of feedback as described in this blog, though, is for changing a specific behavior, not for giving an evaluation of overall work performance. 

Some leaders with whom I’ve worked tell me that they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, even though they want a behavior to change.  On the flip side, I hear from professionals that they feel bad when getting feedback, as if that they have let somebody down or shouldn’t make mistakes.  When we fall into these traps, we miss out on an important opportunity to communicate clearly.  Delivered and received properly, feedback is a fantastic mechanism for mistake correction. It can also improve interpersonal work relationships by making it clear that it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them, and that people are important enough to spend the time to communicate openly and directly.

The art of feedback is in being objective and respectful, both when giving and receiving.  We need to keep impulsive emotional reactions out of the process, despite what we feel in the moment and what we presume may be the reason for the mistake.

Giving Feedback

When we give feedback, we need to focus on the problem and not the person.  Judgement, evaluation, and analysis are not helpful because they are subjective and open to multiple interpretations. What ishelpful is feedback that includes four key components:

  1. Address the specific behavior
  2. Describe objectively what was observed
  3. Make an explicit actionable request
  4. Confirm that the other person has heard what we said

It is also helpful to acknowledge something good about the person’s efforts, intentions, or something they did well in the situation.  We know we have provided feedback in a respectful and effective way if the person is able to hear our request without getting defensive; they hear that we want a change in action not a change in person.

Accepting Feedback

When we get feedback, our job is to accept it. Easier said than done, because we tend to feel attacked and defensive.  The benefit of accepting feedback is we learn from our mistakes and are less likely to repeat them. The art of accepting feedback is to listen carefully and not take things personally.  We can:

  1. Listen without interrupting
  2. Receive the information objectively
  3. Ask clarifying questions
  4. State our intentions to consider the request

Even if the message is delivered in a judgmental way, with practice we can hear just the request for change in behavior. We can filter an unskillful delivery of feedback with our listening and react gracefully and respectfully using the four steps outlined.

Mastering the art of feedback requires keeping our emotions in check—when giving and receiving—and that can be challenging. But integrating effective feedback into work relationships drives value by creating an environment where mistakes can be made and fixed, with people still feeling valued.

Calm in Conflict Meditation

The purpose of this meditation is to gain the skills of equanimity and managing emotions during interpersonal conflicts.

 

Where Attention Goes, Energy Flows: Be Attuned in Conversations

Where attention goes, energy flows.  That is the name of a meditation in my current rotation on Insight Timer.  This concept applies to most things in life, including communication.  When we are interacting with others, we have the choice of where we place our attention. In conversation we have the option of focusing on ourselves or on the other person.  Mostly we shift back and forth absent-mindedly.  We can focus on ourselves without even realizing it. Have you ever found yourself tuning out the person talking to craft your own point or response?  I know I have. But, when we make a conscious choice about where to place attention, we become better communicators.  By intentionally focusing attention, we direct where our energy flows. Those with whom we are interacting perceive this through our nonverbal communication.  Although it is hard to put into words, we all intuitively know when somebody else is really paying attention to us or not.  

We become better communicators when we are intentional about where we place our attention; when we are attuned we gather more information about our environment, which leads to greater understanding and more options of how we respond.  We notice what is going on internally for ourselves and what may be going on for others by reading their body language and listening carefully to what they are saying.  It makes it easier for us to craft thoughtful and inquisitive responses to what they say because, by deliberately maintaining our attention on the person talking, we pick up more than just their words.  This skill takes practice; it does not happen when we absent-mindedly shift. 

We can practice this shifting of attention on inanimate objects or sounds in order for us to improve at intentionally shifting while in conversation.  Airports are a great place to practice while waiting for a flight. We can listen to the activities around us, bringing one into focus and ignoring the rest, and then switching to another and bringing that into focus.  For example, listen to the announcements about flights over the public address system for a minute, and then shift to listening to the airline attendants helping passengers check in.  We can shift our attention visually too, looking from one passenger to another in the waiting area, noticing something we see as positive about each of them.  In addition to being great practice in deciding where our attention and energy flows, this can also be quite entertaining.

We can also practice in everyday conversations with family and friends.  When others are talking, notice where your attention is focused. Where are you looking?  What are you hearing? Are you hearing every word said, or just some of the words and also the response you are planning in your head? Are you picking up what is being communicated through tone of voice or facial expressions? It is not beneficial for us to judge ourselve in this practice, just to notice and then set the intention of how to focus attention so energy flows in the desired direction. Practicing on a daily basis in low-stakes situations makes it easier to do in high-stakes conversations.

My clients that practice this intentional attention tell me that it becomes easier to really listen, that conversations flow much more naturally, and that they are surprised at how much more information they are able to learn from others.  In addition, they build a reputation for being thoughtful and attentive with the people in their company and industry, a key component for effective leadership.  

Leadership Wisdom: Learnings on the Intersection of Mindfulness & Technology

The Wisdom 2.0 conference just celebrated its 10thyear, seven of which I have attended and come away from inspired.  Listening to leaders in a wide range of fields who practice mindfulness for pursuing excellence is an awesome learning experience.  This year, hot topics included social media as society’s mirror, reducing biases in the tech industry, therapeutic psychedelics, and eliminating ‘us-them’ thinking. Here are bits of wisdom from mindful leaders that inspired me.

Social media amplifies what is inside us already; it is a magnifying glass for human nature.

Envy and competition have always been there, but so have compassion and community.  Jay Shetty of Making Wisdom Go Viral emphasized that there are actually more wonderful shares on social media than we think.  A recent Inc. article highlighted a study that looked at 777 million Facebook posts to see which were shared the most; not only were most of the shares positive, but the top 10 were all positive.  Jay’s motto is SHARE GOOD, FOLLOW GOOD, CREATE GOOD – definitely wise words.  Diego Perez, the real-life Instagram famous Yung Pueblo, seconded that sentiment with his perspective that social media is a means for humanity to have a conversation with itself.  The worthy goal of that conversation is to master the skill of kindness to others as a human collective. In terms of moderating social media use so that is healthy for overall wellbeing, Jay reminded us that, like in all of life, self-discipline, habits, and practice are what make the difference.

We all have biases; change starts with seeing them.

Improving diversity and inclusion in the technology industry is not an easy task.  While it is hard to notice the lens through which we see the world, practicing mindfulness helps us see more clearly.  Candice Morgan at Pinterest, Jules Walter at Slack, Nancy Douyon at Uber (and previously Google, IBM, and others), and Bradley Horowitz at Google are all focused on progress for diversity and inclusion in the technology industry.  Candice had a learning moment when a young black man told her he felt like he always had to have his work badge visible so people knew he belonged in the building.  Jules reminded us that when you are the ‘only one’ it is hard to be vocal, and that it’s helpful if people don’t assume but rather ask and try to understand different approaches and perspectives.  Nancy helps companies have a global-first perspective, such as Uber taking cash in India. Candice spoke of an internal study that revealed that the most effective managers were those who sought input on how best to communicate with others and showed humility by talking about mistakes. 

Shortcuts to enlightenment have limited but valuable use.

We’ve been hearing more about psychedelics in the news since Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind” book came out.  Science is demonstrating that therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs can have similar effects on the brain as meditation does.  However, as Dan Siegel put it, for most people drugs aren’t needed because we can reach that same brain state and get many more benefits with mindful awareness.  The real value of psychedelics seems to be in the treatment of PTSD and in end-of-life care.  Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) is leading Phase 3 human trials for MDMA therapy to address PTSD in veterans, with promising initial results.  Researchers at John Hopkins are doing psilocybin research for terminally ill cancer patients, again with promising initial results.  Every leader speaking on this subject emphasized the important difference between recreational and therapeutic use of these brain-changing substances.  While science is demonstrating valuable therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs, most of us can stick to changing our brains through mindful meditation.

The moment we separate ‘us’ and ‘them’ we’ve lost the cause

Paul Hawken, well-known environmentalist and editor of “Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” has been advocating for the earth for decades without making enemies.  From the outset, “Drawdown” was designed to share possibilities for solutions without passing judgement so that everyone can be involved.  When asked a question about big oil companies, Hawken immediately pointed out placing blame on those companies was an ‘us-them’ perspective and not helpful for implementing solutions to the existential threat we all face.  

Challenge Your Worldview

Each of us has a unique worldview.  It is human nature to form constructs and have predispositions as it helps us navigate the world, but the flip side of that coin is that our worldview can limit us.  When we hold tight to our worldview, we automatically shut out valuable information that could be of benefit.  

After we step off the curb in Chicago and see somebody else who did the same get hit by a car, ‘don’t jaywalk in Chicago’ becomes part of our worldview.  It is imperative we learn from our experiences.  Particularly when we are growing up, we establish all sorts of rules based on our interactions with others that create the worldview we now use to navigate life.  The rub is that often our worldview is operating in the background, influencing our interactions with others without our knowledge.  It limits our perspective by coloring the lens through which we see the world, like how wearing sunglasses distorts true colors.  It inhibits our ability to learn new things, and to understand and relate well with others.  

We can’t undo our worldview; it is a core part of each and every one of us.  But we can become aware of how it influences our relations with others and make deliberate choices of when and how we use it.

What Color are Your Glasses?

The voice inside our head is constant.  It tends to be repetitive and typically represents long-held beliefs that we are not consciously choosing in the moment.  The first step in challenging our worldview is being able to recognize its influence.  To do so, turn inward in real-time and listen to what the voice inside your head is saying. For example, many of the hugely successful leaders with whom I work have a ‘not good enough’ voice that speaks about the inadequacies of others and themselves.  This critical filter of high standards is a core element to being successful, but it also limits the ability to hear new and innovative ideas from others. Once we see this worldview in action, it no longer has automatic control over our interactions.

Fact Check Yourself

The ability to monitor ourselves gives rise to choice in our words and actions. As outlined in the book Factfulness, we tend to operate on instincts instead of current research-based information.  Once we hear what the inner voice says, we can challenge it.  We can be the investigative reporter fact checking what is being said.  We ask, what is the factual basis? What are the assumptions and how did they come to be? We check if the assumptions are applicable in this moment and in this instance.  One worldview I held that was recently debunked by reading Factfulness is that people vary primarily by culture.  “Country stereotypes simply fall apart when you look at the huge differences within countries and the equally huge similarities between countries on the same income level, independent of culture or religion.”  Now that my worldview has been fact checked to include the information that people are more similar based on income level than based on culture, my listening filter has been updated.

Step Into Other’s Shoes

After we see our worldview in play, the next step is to intentionally take other’s perspective as a matter of practice. We can choose a receptive listening filter to deliberately expand what we already know and see if there is something new we can learn.  We can ask genuine questions that help us really understand others’ points of view, seeking information about their assumptions.  We can be the investigative reporter with others in the same way we are with ourselves.  In particular, we can seek to uncover their underlying assumptions and research-based facts they may have to support what they are opining.  With this type of listening comes a new level of understanding that can expand our worldview.

Acknowledging that our worldview influences our interactions without our consent, we can make a shift to challenge it.  Noticing the color of our glasses and acting as the investigative reporter for ourselves and others, we unlock the opportunity of seeing the world from different perspectives.  We open up the possibility of constantly learning and relating with others much more effectively.

Start with Intentions

All communication starts with an intention, whether we know it or not. Being aware and deliberately setting our intention improves our interactions with others.  

Imagine this: you walk into the office and your coworker stops you on the way to your desk to tell you a funny story about a client interaction. Instead of laughing, you brush them off and hurry to your desk. Most likely your intention was not to hurt the feelings of your coworker. More likely your intention was to quickly get to work and respond to urgent deadlines. The intention was subconscious, not deliberate. If it was deliberate, right when you saw your coworker you may have said, “Hey I’m up against a deadline, can we chat later today?” This simple example shows the benefit of being aware and deliberate about our intentions.

It only takes a second.

Setting intentions is not like setting goals. We don’t need to spend a lot of time figuring out exactly what we are trying to achieve. We just need to pause, turn inward for a moment, and notice. We can ask ourselves the question, “What are my intentions here?“ and trust whatever arises as the answer. All of this can happen in just one moment.

We have relationship and content intentions.

In communication we have intentions around relationships with others and around content. In our individualistic American culture we tend focus more on the content than on the relationship elements of communication.  An example of content intention is getting others to understand information we are sharing so that we can reach a project goal. An example of a relationship intention is to make others feel respected so that every member of a team contributes to a project. In a meeting, these two different types of intentions will lead to different styles of communication. If we have the ‘others feel respected’ intention, we will not talk very much and most of our speech will be confirming language in response to what others are saying. If our intention is to have others understand the information we are sharing, we will likely talk more and periodically pause to ensure understanding.

Balance is Required.

In many circumstances, conflicting intentions exist and we need to find a balance. I see this often with clients during media training. The spokesperson has the intention to ensure the reporter understands key messages, and also has the intention to make a personal connection with them to build a relationship.  In this case, spokespeople need to balance their content and relationship intentions. I recommend dealing with this dichotomy of intentions by kicking off the interview with a concise preview of key messages and then letting the conversation flow, asking questions of the reporter as much as answering questions with evidence and stories.

There is danger in subconscious intentions.

Sometimes we get ourselves in trouble when we are not aware of our intentions. Because intentions drive our communication style, without awareness we can offend others and hinder our interactions. One creative way to avoid this danger is to write our own ‘User Guide’ that makes our overall intentions explicitly clear to others.  I read about this idea from Jay Desai, CEO of PatientPing, a First Round Capital portfolio company. Desai has seen “ . . . too many immensely talented and productive teams stall because of a subtle misunderstanding of how to best work with each other.” The ‘User Guide’ specifies exactly how we operate and when we might malfunction in order to mitigate the danger of miscommunication. In Desai’s example, preferred methods of communication are ranked, priorities of time spent together with him are set, and implicit biases are stated. This candid written communication can help optimize our working relationships with others by informing them of our general intentions. Creating a ‘User Guide’ does not preclude the need for us to be aware of our intentions at the beginning of every interaction.

Start at the very beginning.  

As Julie Andrews sings in the Sound of Music, ‘Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’. We will communicate more effectively if we start at the very beginning and deliberately set our intentions the moment before interacting with others.

Build Your Personal Brand: Make an impression through every communication interaction

A personal brand is the sum total of impressions that we make on other people.  It is our image among the circle of people we wish to influence, be that our immediate team, our entire company, our industry, or an entire country. We create our brand through every single communication interaction.  It is more than our online presence and media coverage. We create our brand through our body language, the words we choose to speak, and the manner in which we deliver our words.

Body language is a primary means of creating our personal brand because people judge us by our appearance within seconds of meeting us and nonverbal body communication is at least 50% of interpreted attitude meaning.1 There are the large movements of our body and the small gestures of our hands and face that influence in how people perceive us.  The large movements include our position and posture, such as how close we are standing to others and whether we are leaning forward or leaning back.  The small gestures include how we are using our hands and the movements of our muscles on our face.  If we want our personal brand to exude power we will stand with our legs more than shoulder length apart, use grand hand gestures, and smile only occasionally.  If it is receptiveness we want to be known for then we will keep our feet shoulder width apart, keep our hands open, and smile and nod frequently.  After others get an initial impression from our body language, they focus on our words.

The words we select to communicate not only have meaning in and of themselves, but also in how we string them together.  The audience we wish to influence has particular vernacular, and using words that have meaning to them allows us to have influence.  The way we string words together can have very different effects on the audience.  If we state ideas in no particular order and without intent, our ideas are not likely to cause an emotional reaction or be remembered.  On the other hand, if we intentionally use rhetorical devices, such as alliterations and anaphora, we are more likely to engage both an emotional and a logical response from others.  Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound, such as ‘common cause of catastrophe’.  Anaphora is the repetition of the same word or phrase as the start of successive verses, such as ‘I have a dream’ in Martin Luther King’s famous speech.

While our focus is often on content, the style of our speaking is also important. Paralinguistics is the academic terms for our speech characteristics, which is everything except the words.2 This includes our pitch, tone, speed, and volume.  American culture associates lower pitch with power and privileges those who speak louder and faster with a greater share of conversation time. Often we think of our style as just ‘being natural’ and forget that we actually have control and likely already vary our style for different audiences.

Knowing that every interaction builds personal brand, we can set intentions about our body language, word choice, and style in advance of each situation.  Setting the intention, preparing, and practicing increases the probability that each situation builds personal brand in the way we wish to reach our professional goals.

Footnotes

  1. Mehrabian, A. & Ferris, S.R. (1967). Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels. Journal of Consulting Psychology, Vol 31(3),  248-252.
  2. Jaspers, J. M., Saager, P. G., Oever van den, T. (1973). Nonverbal Communication. Nederlands Tijdschrift voor de Psychologie en haar Grensgebieden, Vol. 28(1), 21-35.

Jennifer Kammeyer combines over 25 years of industry and academic experience to advise leaders on intentionally using communication to elevate professional relationships and improve business outcomes. She offers coaching one-on-one, in teams, and through workshops. As adjunct faculty at San Francisco State University, she is up to date on new communication research and trends, allowing her to counsel professionals on a wide range of communication topics. Popular training topics include building executive presence, leadership communication, public speaking, high-value meetings, and mindful communication. She has been personally practicing mindfulness since 1999 and incorporates these concepts into her teaching.

Grateful for Human Brilliance: People Improving the World One Communication Event at a Time

In this month of giving thanks, I pause to consider all the wonderful people with whom I am lucky to encounter in my work.  First, I acknowledge that I am among the small percentage of people in this world who get to do what they love for a living — super grateful for that.  Mostly I am grateful for the people I coach, who are making the effort to improve the world one communication event at a time.

What I see in people is their willingness to embrace change, both personally and organizationally, in order to improve the status quo.  I see people finding ways to keep a human connection.  The leaders whom I coach prefer anonymity, but here I share a few stories with changed names to highlight the human wonder I encounter daily.

Embraced Discomfort:  Sitting in a room full of boisterous men, Brenda has a hard time getting a word in edgewise.  She is an intellectual equivalent with good insight, but was not taught to raise her voice to get attention.  During communication coaching we address the at-odds values of her family culture and corporate culture.  We generate ideas on how she can be heard in the boardroom and keep true to her own values.  What is amazing about Brenda is her willingness to step into discomfort and try new techniques.  She experiments with ways to grab attention that are foreign to her upbringing and she pushes her colleagues to consider ways of working that are more inclusive to every person in the organization, not just her.

Faced Fear:  Herman is an awesome communicator in small groups, but goes into a panic speaking in front of an auditorium of people.  At our initial meeting, Herman wants tricks to get around the panicked feeling.  He asks where he should look in the audience and how he should hold his hands so people can’t see them shake.  I give him the hard news that those tricks won’t really work and he needs to take a deeper look at the source of the anxiety. Amazingly for a successful, high-powered executive, Herman is willing to look inward and do the challenging work of self-discovery.  Over the course of several months, he addressed the internal fears that he had never previously acknowledged.  We brainstorm ideas of facing those fears in the moment while speaking and he puts them into practice, improving his public speaking dramatically.

Dealt with Difficult People:  Jane says her boss doesn’t listen and has nothing positive to say, but she likes her job and feels a strong connection to the overall organization.  During communication coaching Jane wants to know how she can change her boss. Unfortunately, she cannot.  The power to change lies only with ourselves, a fact that Jane comes to accept over time. We brainstorm ideas and Jane finds ways to shift her attitude, in a genuine way.  What is wonderful about Jane is that she learns to listen to her boss in a completely different way, hearing what is not being said.  In particular she starts to hear the incredible pressure and stress her boss is under.   This allows her to become more compassionate about the negative talk and being brushed off. She also finds ways to be more direct in asking for what she needs from her boss.  It would be much easier to blame her boss and just complain, but Jane does the challenging work to improve the situation by changing what is in her control.

These three stories are just a few of many that bring me joy in working with wonderful people willing to face and overcome communication challenges.  In this month of gratitude, my hope is that you too encounter human brilliance at work.

Managing Our Attention Improves Communication: Simple (Not Easy) Techniques for Better Focus

In today’s highly stimulating world where we often spend the day fending off overflowing email inboxes and incessant smartphone notifications, the ability to focus is a critical skill. Good management of our own attention is particularly important for effective leadership communication.  Research shows the value of our attention, especially for leaders, and yet, we often let our attention get pulled instead of deliberately managing it. My contribution to this topic is to offer a few simple quick-tip techniques for improving our attention abilities, and subsequently our communication.

Daniel Goleman, in his book Focus, outlines the attention triad: focus inward, focus on others, focus outward.  In communication, the focus inward gives us insight into what is personally influencing our own communication in the moment.  Focus on others allows us to pick up and respond to their cues.  Focus outward allows us to frame the communication within a bigger context. Let’s look at each of these areas in a bit more detail, through the lens of leadership communication.

The first focus is inward attention. We all walk into every communication situation with baggage.  That baggage can be old and deeply instilled – such as cultural values and biases based on our experience – or current and transient – such as our emotional reaction to something that just recently happened.  Knowing what we carry into a communication situation allows us much more control over how we communicate.  Intentionally placing our attention inward reveals that knowledge. Good leaders communicate more effectively because they are aware of themselves and deliberately choose how they let tendencies and current states influence their interactions with others.

The second focus of the attention triad is focus on others.  It is entirely possible to spend time with somebody and not actually give them our attention.  We see this trend in meetings where people’s bodies are in the room, but their eyes and minds are connected to their electronic devices and not the others in the room.  As soon as you enter into an interaction, it is beneficial for your attention to shift to others.

“The person in front of you does not know what your dealing with a moment ago, and there’s no reason he or she should.  It’s your responsibility to show up and be fully present to effectively utilize the limited time you have with each person you are with.” Hougaard and Carter, The Mind of the Leader.

Paying close attention to others gives us two advantages: seeing things we might otherwise miss, and making others feel our presence.  When paying close attention, we pick up many more nonverbal communication cues, such as a shift in a chair or a side glance to a colleague.  If our attention is elsewhere at that moment, like on an electronic device, we miss those subtle moments. These hidden cues can be extremely helpful in our understanding of the situation, and our ability to adapt our communication accordingly. The other advantage is that people feel heard when our attention is directed at them.  When our attention is focused on other people, they feel our presence.  This is powerful because felt presence builds confidence and motivates others to do their best.  People perceive they are valued and are better versions of themselves when they feel heard, and our attention on them achieves that.

After attention focused inward and attention focused on others, the third piece of the triad is focus outward.  Focus outward is placing our attention on the bigger context, such as what has been on that news that day and any events or circumstances that are impacting
the people with whom we are communicating.  With busy schedules and information overload it is easy to get myopic, focused on what is immediately in front of us in order to get anything done. To broaden our minds, we need to pull up for a higher perspective, observing the entirety of a meeting, our company, our market, or even our world.  This bigger picture gives us information to be contextually sensitive and adaptive in our communication.

Our communication improves when our attention is grounded in the present moment and on the person(s) involved in the interaction.  It sounds simple, but it is not easy.  The three quick tips of doing a self check, being curious, and pulling up are ways to practice deliberately managing our attention to advance our communication skills.

 

Jennifer Kammeyer combines over 25 years of industry experience with academic research to advise leaders on how to intentionally use communication to elevate professional relationships and improve business outcomes.  She offers coaching one-on-one, in teams, and through workshops. As adjunct faculty at San Francisco State University, she is up to date on new communication research and trends, allowing her to advise professionals on a wide range of communication topics. Popular training topics include building executive presence, leadership communication, public speaking, high-value meetings, and mindful communication. She has been personally practicing mindfulness since 1999 and incorporates those concepts and techniques into all of her teaching.

Communicating Well Starts with Yourself

Our ability to communicate well with others actually starts inside our own heads, with our ability to listen to ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh, author of over 100 books including The Art of Communicating, points out that we can’t really engage adequately with others until we first communicate with ourselves well.

In this book I found many precious tidbits that I had not thought of in quite the way he phrased it. A big take-away is how important our self-communication is to our wellbeing and to our communication with others.

It all starts with the breath.  Awareness that we are breathing brings us to the moment and gives us access to ourselves in the present.  “The quiet of nonthinking and nontalking gives us the space to truly listen to ourselves.”  How often do we listen to ourselves the way we would like others to listen to us?

We start by giving ourselves the gift of deep listening.  Deep listening is listening with the intention to help without passing judgment.  When thoughts and emotions arise, we hear them and give them space, but do not judge or take action.  “These feelings are like a small child tugging at our sleeves.  Pick them up and hold them tenderly,” wrote Thich Nhat Hanh. In this listening with the purpose of helping, we are listening with curiosity to understand better.

Listening to our own thoughts, we may be surprised what they are saying.  Often they are not rational or even in line with our current true beliefs, but rather just automatic regurgitation of past things we were taught or have experienced.  Whether we are aware of them or not, they are still influencing us.  It is better to be aware so that we can make the active choice whether to the follow their lead.  This is the benefit of listening to ourselves well – it moves us out of autopilot and gives us more choices in how we communicate and act with others.

For example, I sometimes hear a thought in my head of bias against people with heavy accents.  The irrational thought is that they are less intelligent. I don’t believe that nor is it in alignment with my values.  When I hear that ‘less intelligent’ thought arise, I choose not to follow where it would lead, which would hamper my listening.  Instead, I hear the biased thought as I listen to myself well, and then I choose deliberately to practice active listening with that person.  I am curious to learn what they know.  If I were NOT listening well to myself in that moment, my implicit bias might automatically influence my interaction with that person without me even having a choice!

Listening to ourselves eventually leads to self-mastery. With self-mastery we can know the tendencies of our own minds.  With extensive practice, we have the awareness and the discipline to stand above our arising thoughts in the moment and determine their wisdom prior to words coming out of our mouths.  It all starts with a breath and a moment of turning inward and listening to ourselves. Try it right now.

 

Jennifer Kammeyer combines 25 years experience with academic research to advise leaders on how to intentionally use communication to elevate professional relationships and improve business outcomes. She offers coaching one-on-one, in teams, and through workshops. As adjunct faculty at San Francisco State University, she is up to date on new communication research and trends, allowing her to advise professionals on a wide range of communication topics. Popular training topics include building executive presence, leadership communication, public speaking, high-value meetings, and mindful communication. She has been personally practicing mindfulness since 1999 and incorporates concepts and techniques in all of her teaching.

Managing Emotions

We can better adapt our communication when we first manage our emotions. The common expression ‘I get so angry I can’t even see straight’ has literal validity; when we get emotional the prefrontal cortex of the brain ceases to guide us.

There are three key steps to managing our emotions effectively:

  1. Bring awareness. Notice when emotions arise and name them in the most basic terms, such as “upset” or “tension.”
  2. Allow space. After noticing and naming it, be present with the emotion; let it be and do not push it away.
  3. Keep control. While the emotion is present, do not let it hijack control of the situation; make wise decisions despite it being present.

Picture the last time you were upset.  Close your eyes and bring the situation into your mind in as much detail as possible. Notice the sights and sounds of the situation.  Staying with the visualization, shift your focus internally and notice how your body felt at the time.  You may even notice how your body feels right now as you visualize the upset.  Commonly we notice tightness and heat in our bodies.

This exercise increases awareness of emotions for situations in the past and is good practice for dealing with challenging situations in the future.  The ultimate skill is to be aware of emotions as they arise, in real time, while we are interacting with other people.  This is an exercise in “noting” where we see and name what is occurring. During a conversation when you feel tightness in your body or heat rising, note what you feel and name the associated emotion with a simple word.  That is it. That is the noting exercise.  You can also note what you observe in others as you interact.  Peter Drucker, known as the Father of Management influencing modern management extensively through his writing and teaching, wrote, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”  Part of communication competency is the ability to ‘hear’ the emotions of others.

The second skill in managing emotions is allowing them to be, not trying to push them away.  You may have noticed that trying to not be sad when you are sad only makes you sadder.  Pushing emotions down has the opposite of the desired effect and makes them stronger.  The skill lies in being with the discomfort of the emotion.  This skill is best developed outside of communication interactions through insight meditation.  Sit quietly for a few minutes every day and, after focusing on your breath at first, notice what arises in your mind, emotions, and body without trying to change anything.  Inevitably, something unpleasant will arise, like a body pain or an emotion, and you get to practice being with the discomfort.  With this practice, when we are in a communication interaction, we can more easily see emotions arising and let them be.  This practice of being with discomfort also increases our ability to be with other people’s emotions that arise in our interactions.

 

The third skill is not allowing emotions to control the situation.  It might be tempting to jump directly to this step, but it doesn’t work so well if you do.  First awareness, then allowing, and then controlling.  In Patty Azzarello’s book, MOVE, she conceptualizes valor in leadership as accepting fear that arises and still moving forward.  She mentions that fear might be coming along for the ride, but we can tell it to sit in the back seat and not let it drive.  We can allow emotions in without acting on them.  Two techniques that may be helpful are intentionally taking an objective view and shifting your perspective to see outside of your own view. To look at things objectively, state the observed facts to yourself and avoid the back story.  To shift your perspective, think of as many alternative viewpoints to the situation as possible.  With both of these techniques, you don’t need to believe what you come up with; it is just the process of expanding your mind in the moment that is helpful.

An example of the alternative viewpoints technique is to generate many reasons why somebody said something you found insulting, such as “always the last one in the meeting” when you walk in late.  They might be jealous that you took the time to get coffee and they didn’t; they might be trying to look better than you in front of the boss; they might genuinely want to give you feedback that this habit is detrimental to your career; or, they might just be trying to lighten the mood with a joke. I bet you can think of at least two more reasons. See how this technique broadens our perspectives?

With the three steps of managing emotions: awareness, allowing, controlling, we can move from autopilot and reactive to collected and intentional.  In a calm state and with intentionality, our communication will naturally improve.

 

 

Jennifer Kammeyercombines 25 years experience with academic research to advise leaders on how to intentionally use communication to elevate professional relationships and improve business outcomes.  She offers coaching one-on-one, in teams, and through workshops. As adjunct faculty at San Francisco State University, she is up to date on new communication research and trends, allowing her to advise professionals on a wide range of communication topics. Popular training topics include building executive presence, leadership communication, public speaking, high-value meetings, and mindful communication. She has been personally practicing mindfulness since 1999 and incorporates concepts and techniques in all of her teaching.

Mindfulness is Vital to Exceptional Leadership

Leaders excel by being aware of self and others, and the situation at hand. We lead in a time of perpetual chaotic change, we drink from a fire hose of information, and we interact with people from around the globe with different perspectives, cultural norms, and communication styles. To achieve high performance, we need to uptake massive information quickly, process in a non-biased open-minded manner, and respond compassionately. Mindfulness practice gets us there. With training, through meditation or other mindful techniques, our minds become more sensitive and less reactive to the stimuli that are constantly flowing through, permitting us to move out of automatic mode and make more deliberate choices about what we say and how we act.

Leaders Need to Train Their Minds As Well as Their Bodies a recent Forbes article explained.  Based on information from Megan Reitz, researcher and author, three important mindfulness practices are meta-awareness, allowing, and inquiry. Meta-awareness is the ability in the moment to notice and acknowledge our own thoughts, feelings, sensations, and impulses – understanding that they are temporary and we can choose if we act on them. Allowing is a kind and compassionate attitude – letting things be without judgment.  Inquiry is a curiosity of the present moment – wondering how the current situation will unfold. We build a leaders mind by practicing these techniques, just like we build muscles through exercise. Mindful leadership is additive to other skills and techniques required to be an excellent leader as heightened awareness simply helps us apply learned skills more wisely.

Entrepreneur article, Mindfulness Isn’t Just a Trend, It’s Key to Being a Better Leader emphasized the benefit of unlocking intrinsic motivation for today’s workforce that is seeking meaning and purpose.  Based on the extensive research of Jacqueline Carter and Rasmus Hougaard, mindfulness generates greater mental effectiveness for the realization of a leader’s potential. In their recent book, “The Mind of the Leader” the authors’ claim mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion are essential leadership skills. Mindfulness, in particular being present, attentive, and curious is what teaches us how our own minds work. “By understanding how your mind works, you can lead yourself effectively.  By understanding and leading yourself effectively, you can understand others and be able to lead them more effectively.” Long-term mindfulness practice leads to selflessness, where we no longer constantly act as if we are the center of the universe, and to compassion, where we are able to take others’ perspectives into consideration before we speak or act.

In the words of LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner,  “Compassion is putting ourselves in the shoes of another person and seeing the world through their lens for the sake of alleviating their suffering.” For him compassionate leadership meant “pausing, and being a spectator to my own thoughts, especially when getting emotional. It meant walking a mile in the other person’s shoes; and understanding their hopes, their fears, their strengths and their weaknesses. And it meant doing everything within my power to set them up to be successful.”

Here is the rub. Being an attentive leader simultaneously processing information about ourselves, others, and the environment is not easy. I have practiced mindfulness almost daily since 1999 and I am still constantly learning about my own mind.  That said, I have developed acute sensitivity to my thoughts, feelings, sensations, impulses, and to others in my environment.  That allows me to make decisions based on a greater amount of information.  My practice also allows me to change course quickly when I discover a bad habit arising or see that my current course is not effective.  There is a good reason it is called ‘mindfulness practice’ because it is an ongoing effort and, just like exercise, it takes constant hard work to see the benefits.

We are better leaders when in a chaotic moment we can simultaneously be aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and sensations and have a broad enough vantage to incorporate diverse perspectives of others.  Tapping all that information we can make better decisions and communicate compassionately. To get there, we practice mindfulness daily. There are now several meditation apps to support us, including my favorite Insight Timer.  Then when we are aware of something awry in a given situation, be that in our own minds or in what we observe in others, we pause, take the time to acknowledge and allow what is happening, and then respond with intention.

The Training Imperative and Communication

The jobs of the future require a skill set not held by people today, but communication will always be critical professional skill.  As of late, we read and hear that through automation and artificial intelligence, the jobs we have today will be done by technology in the future.  The response is the call for training, not just done once, but a shift to a culture of perpetual learning.   A recent Deloitte report on ‘Rise of Cognitive Collaboration’makes the case for lifelong skill training in order for humans to work along side of machines to produce the best business outcomes. “That means organizations will need to provide that constant training and that individuals will need to shift their habit to one of constant learning,” stated the report.

A 2018 PEW Internet survey study on ‘The future of Jobs and Jobs Training’suggests that important skills are those that artificial intelligence (AI) and machines seem unable to duplicate; those that are uniquely human. The study found that experts believe,   “. . . workers of the future will learn to deeply cultivate and exploit creativity, collaborative activity, abstract and systems thinking, complex communication, and the ability to thrive in diverse environments.”

Individual workers seem to agree. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey, ‘The State of American Jobs’ found that 87% of workers believe it will be essential for them to get training and develop new job skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace. This survey noted that employment is much higher among jobs that require above-average interpersonal, management and communication skills.

Leading a workshop of emerging leaders in New York I asked the group, “Tell me a time when communication is not important in your job.”  Thinking hard and coming up only with situations where communication mattered, finally somebody said, “In the kitchen getting coffee.”  Then somebody else chuckled and chimed in, “Well that depends on who else is in the kitchen.”  Effective communication is essential to every job on the planet today and it will continue to be so in the future.

I argue that human communication is becoming even more important as machines infiltrate every aspect of our jobs.  Our environments are becoming more complex and ever changing.  To adapt we need to utilize all the uniquely human communication skills, such as using all our senses to read a situation and people, and listening with an open mind to consider many perspectives and possible scenarios. The challenges of the rapid technological change in the coming decades will best be met by curious and communicative humans.

Body Language is Louder Than Words

If there is an inconsistency between body language and speech, research shows that the listener will believe the message conveyed through body language over that which is said. Body language is louder than words. We have all been in the situation where a friend tells us everything is fine, and we know darn well it is not. How do we know? Their body language.

The Washington Post ran an article on President Tump’s body language, stating that reporters find it more telling than any statements he makes. His handshakes indicate what he thinks about other world leaders and his facial expressions are much more honest than his words.

Body language seems obvious when we see it. It accounts for more than 55% of communication. When are listening to others, we are constantly reading body language, including facial expressions, posture and hand motions. Sometimes this listening is subconscious and other times we are well aware that what somebody is wearing or how they are standing is making an impression on us.

Yet, we tend to be less aware of the nonverbal messages we are sending. If we are going to a job interview or a momentous occasion, then we think about what we are going to wear, but that is often the only time. And rarely do we think about how we are sitting in a chair or waiting in line is making an impression on others. Our facial expressions are mostly automatic and don’t always give the impression we want to give, hence the term ‘resting bitch face’ was born.

According to Deborah Gruenfeld, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business,
“When most people are preparing for a situation where they want to have influence, they tend to think a lot about what they say. Rather than thinking about what you are going to say, you need to think about what your body is telling people.”

In the academic arena of Communication Studies, there are six elements of nonverbal communication.

• Appearances & Artifacts – your physical looks, what you wear, and your accessories
• Kinesics – how you hold and move your body and your facial expressions
• Haptics – how you touch other people to communicate
• Proxemics – the distance you stand or sit in relation to other people
• Chronemics – how you use time to communicate
• Paralinguistics – your voice qualities including pitch, volume, and pace

Since body language plays significantly in the power relations of communication, let’s consider a few examples and the how the nature of power is determined by nonverbal communication, using American social norms as the basis.

What is more powerful, a red dress/tie or a blue dress/tie?
What is more powerful, chest high and shoulders back or slumped shoulders?
What is more powerful in a meeting, standing or sitting?
What is more powerful, a loud voice or a soft voice?
What is more powerful, being last to arrive or first to arrive?

If you answered the first item every time, you are right, and I bet that little quiz was super easy. We all know strong body language when we see it, but that doesn’t translate in to us using the body language we know is strong. With a bit more awareness that can change.

Awareness and intention are key. First, spend a month just being aware of your nonverbal communication. Notice how you sit and stand and the qualities of your voice. Ask your friends or coworkers what habits you have. Do you sit forward or lean back in your chair? Do you interrupt others or rarely speak in meetings? After a bit of self discovery through awareness, set intentions. If you want to be respected in meetings, sit upright and speak loudly. If you want to show respect for others, don’t interrupt and nod your head when they are speaking. Gruenfeld speaks of Playing High using authoritative body language, such as taking up maximum space, and Playing Low using approachable body language, such as smiling frequently. You need both skills and you need the wisdom to know when to apply each.

Observe others you admire in your life and notice what body language they are using and when, and then emulate them. Above all else, remember that your body language speaks louder than your words.

Excellent Leadership is Both Communal and Agentic

I saw brilliant women talk about leadership at Wisdom 2.0 beginning with the statement that both men and women need to incorporate both Agentic and Communal leadership to be effective.   Forget the terms feminine and masculine and all the leadership characteristics we may associate with these terms and replace them with Agentic and Communal, which are categories of characteristics for all leaders.

Communal leadership is the ability to pull the best from everyone and to generate new ideas. It also includes building relationships and fostering community. Agentic leadership is the ability to drive toward a goal taking the risks and demanding the standards to reach excellence. Leaders need both. One without the other does not get the job done.

Using this type of leadership language helps us move beyond biases about men and women in leadership. It is one thing we can do to move towards more conscious leadership.

Avoid Saying ‘You’ ‘Always’ ‘Never’

When providing feedback, it’s all about the delivery. To achieve your end goal more often avoid the pronoun ‘you’ and avoiding generalizations when giving constructive criticism. Just think about how you felt the last time somebody said ‘You are always late for meetings’ or ‘You never do your share of the work’ – it triggers the defensive reflex.

The purpose of constructive criticism is to change future behavior, not to shame the person exhibiting the behavior. Use of the words ‘you’ and ‘always’ or ‘never’ when giving criticism raises people’s defenses and hinders effective communication, reducing the chance of changed behavior. When we hear ‘you’ we tend to react as if we are being personally attacked, even if that is not the intention. When we hear generalizations such as ‘always’ or ‘never,’ we tend to react as if it is not fair, because nothing is true 100 percent of the time.

These defensive human reactions have to do with the attribution bias, which is the human tendency to take personal credit when things go well and give responsibility to outside factors when things don’t. Attribution bias works just the opposite for others; we assign personal responsibility to others when things don’t go well and assign credit to outside factors when things do go well.

Given what we know about human nature, you will be much more effective as a leader if you carefully word your constructive criticism. To get a sense, just imagine yourself in these two scenarios and see how you feel.

Scenario One: Coffee spills on your shirt so you have to change it before leaving. Public transit is delayed on your route by 10 minutes. You walk into the Monday morning meeting five minutes late and your boss says, ‘You are always late.’

Scenario Two: Coffee spills on your shirt so you have to change it before leaving. Public transit is delayed on your route by 10 minutes. You walk in to the Monday morning meeting five minutes late and your boss says, ‘Let’s all try to be on time next Monday so we can start our week off right.’

If you are like most people, the first scenario feels like a personal attack and you think that factors out of your control were the cause of your lateness. The second scenario feels much more palatable because you think that factors out of your control made you late, but still acknowledge that it is better if everyone is on time.

As a leader, you can experiment with wording your criticism carefully and then watch the different reactions of those whose behavior you are trying to modify. The table below gives examples of alternative statements you can make while doing this experiment.

Instead of Saying This . . .   Say That
You never do your share of the work. Can you stop being lazy and get to work? Don’t you see that everyone else is working harder than you here? When we all contribute significantly, we all benefit from reaching our goals. What do you think your greatest contribution can be here? Is there anything that is hindering your efforts?
You always mess up projects. Your mistake is costing everyone. What were you thinking? How are you going to fix it? The mistake made on this project has significant consequences. What do you think we can do to correct it immediately and prevent it from happening again in the future?
The way you talk to coworkers always pisses everyone off and never gets you what you want. Why are you so rude? Since everyone has different styles of communication, it is helpful to adapt to others’ styles in the office. How can I help you to observe others and learn to adapt to their styles?

 

Odds are you will be pleasantly surprised at how switching just a few words can have a significant impact on the reaction of others and the achievement of your end goal of changed behavior.

On Teaching Mindfulness

“I really enjoyed every single exercise we did this course, it made me feel thankful, calm, and alert. A feeling I don’t normally feel prior to entering this class.” – Anonymous Leadership Communication Student

“I struggled with it but it gave me good techniques to apply to my daily life and my stress management.” – Anonymous Leadership Communication Student

Mindfulness is a topic that I teach in every class in the Leadership Communication course at San Francisco State University. Here is my thinking: the more a leader is aware of themselves and others, the more likely they are to make sound decisions, doing the most good for the greatest amount of people. Therefore, teaching future leaders mindfulness will have a positive effect on the future of the world. That may be a bit of a grandiose statement, but it is my mission. The responses I get in the end-of-term survey, like the two above, inspire me with the immediate impact mindfulness makes.

Over the course of the semester, I teach various forms of meditation and mindfulness to expose students to many options in hope that at least one strikes a chord and they make it a habit. I tie the type of mindfulness to the course content. For example, Metta/Kindness Meditation is taught while learning about Out-Groups, and Visualization is taught at the same time as Creating a Vision.

This semester, the survey results showed that 83 percent of students had no prior experience with mindfulness, 92 percent liked being taught mindfulness, and 96 percent indicated that this instruction made it a better course. I had them rank their preferences of six methods I teach:

Breathing – Center your attention on your breath

Body Awareness – Slowly scan your body, focusing on sensations

Concentration – Focus on a word or phrase repeated silently to yourself

Freeze Game – Stop in the heat of a moment to notice and name internal states

Metta/Kindness – Send goodness to self and others through silent kind phrases

Visualization – Picture a situation, immerse yourself with all senses and notice internal states

Focus on breathing came in as the most popular method, with Visualization being the second most popular and Body Scan and Metta tying for third.

My favorite part of the survey is the free-form responses, so I am sharing a few more here.

“I really enjoyed the experience of doing meditation in class. Majority of the time I’m coming from working a full 8 hour shift and then in traffic for about an hour and a half. This experience really helped me calm down and focus on this class. I also really enjoyed the entire concept of being mindful because it not only helped me with myself but with others also. It really helped me become more aware of emotions, thoughts, and actions because I realized that I am the one in control.”

“I didn’t know that we would be having these every class time and I find it super essential to do because I like to meditate and it feels relaxing to do it towards the end of the day so I can be a little relieved and then carry on to just solely focus on this class. I believe that mindfulness and meditation helps a leader out in many ways and it’s highly important to value that.”

“My mind wanders a lot and I have a lot of thoughts and imagination so to clear out my mind and focus on a singular thing was frustrating.”

As that last comment indicates, not all students enjoy the process. It is not easy in a world of constant digital stimuli to sit quiet for a few moments and turn inward. Not easy, but essential for leaders. So, I will keep teaching mindfulness in my leadership course with the hopes that the impact expands beyond the classroom through the careers of my students.

Get Out of Your Head

Most of us look at things from our own perspective. This makes total sense because we are with ourselves more than anyone else. But, it doesn’t make as much sense when we are striving for effective communication with others.

When we communicate and interact with other people, our own thoughts are often very active and distracting. We are thinking questions like, ‘what does this person think about what I am saying?’ ‘am I sounding intelligent here?’ ‘did I offend them with that last comment?’ ‘are they convinced of my opinion?’ ‘what am I going to say next?’. Often we are planning what we are going to say in response to what they are saying. Rarely are we paying 100% attention to the other person’s words and body language, even though we know that is what makes the most effective communication.

A key to effective communication is to get out of your own head. By quieting the stream of thoughts in your own mind and focusing on the other person, you increase the likelihood of a successful interaction. A successful interaction is defined as the person feeling heard and you gaining valuable information, including and beyond the content actually being spoken.

How do you quiet that stream of thoughts? Perspective, patience, and practice.

Perspective

Look at things from the other person’s point of view in advance of the interaction. Catalog what you know about the person and how that knowledge may affect their opinions of the topic to be discussed. In this exercise, you can compare and contrast your own perspective with your audience’s perspective to get a sense of similarity and differences.

Also define the objective or desired outcome of the interaction from both your and the other person’s perspective. For example, you have a planned phone call with a prospect and you know your objective is to get a face-to-face meeting. You can assume their objective is likely to discover if there is a good fit between your offering and their need, and you know that they are looking at many other providers. You also know that the person has an accounting background and shares the same home state as you. In this case, you would connect with similarities (home state), acknowledge their objective (determine fit), use logical appeals (accounting background), and close with the ask of including you in the list of providers with whom they meet (your objective). Note that this perspective-taking happens before the interaction, so these thoughts are not streaming in your head as you interact.

Patience

Let them finish every statement completely before you respond. The pause is a powerful communication technique. People feel that you are listening if you give a thoughtful (3-second) pause after they complete a statement. That pause actually allows you to fully listen while your audience is speaking and then think of your response in those 3 seconds. By fully listening while someone is speaking you gain more information than just the content of what they say. Nonverbal communication says a lot. The pace at which they make certain statements, their facial expression and body language – it all tells you more than just the words. Take our example above and assume you got the face-to-face meeting and kick it off by asking their top priorities. The person responds with a list of three but states the first two very quickly and then slows down their speaking pace on the last one. Likely that last one is really the most important one and you just got that added information because you were being patient and really listening.

Practice

After 100 times it will be habit for you to get out of your head and focus primarily on the other person. While it is not always easy to be an attentive communicator, it is well worth the effort. Don’t give up just because you’re stuck in your head for a conversation (or a few conversations). Set your intention, practice, and then kindly remind yourself to return your attention to the other person when you find yourself focused on the stream of thoughts in your head. Tricks to keep your focus on the other person include paraphrasing what they said in your mind or focusing intently on one aspect of nonverbal communication such as their facial expressions or what they are doing with their hands.

By taking the other person’s perspective in advance and planning how you will accommodate that perspective, you can minimize streaming thoughts during the interaction. By being patient and letting them finish every statement before you respond you are both making them feel heard and gaining valuable information for yourself. By practicing you get better at communicating, which improves your interactions, your relationships, and your desired outcomes.

 

 

 

 

Non-Ordinary States

Time feels irrelevant, brilliant ideas flow easily, and you have a deep sense of connection to others and the world at large – you are in a non-ordinary state of consciousness. In addition to the fabulous feeling, the benefits of these non-ordinary states are increased creativity and performance for a wide variety of pursuits – from business, to sports, to spirituality. Scientific research is revealing more about these states and the forces of psychology, neurobiology, pharmacology, and technology are allowing more and more people to effectively and consistently tap them. The book, Stealing Fire, gives an excellent synopsis of the state of these states. I will share my Top-3 Take-Aways from the book and give my perspective on how non-ordinary states relate to leadership communication.

1) Different Paths Lead to the Same Place

The book categorizes non-ordinary states into three areas: flow states typically sought by high performance individuals and teams; mystical states typically sought by contemplative people; and psychedelic states traditionally sought by hippies and youth, but now also sought by some high performance seekers. While these three seem drastically different, the book exposes that research has shown the neurobiology of the varied perspectives are quite similar. That is to say that what happens in the brain (slowing of brain waves from beta to alpha, transient hypofrontality, and release of certain neurotransmitters and hormones) is actually the same regardless of how the non-ordinary state is reached. Having practiced meditation for decades, I am biased towards that particular contemplative technique, and the book offered me an eye-opening vantage on other means. The pharmacology approach is the perspective farthest from my own and I appreciated the depth of research in that area.

2) Trend is Becoming Revolution

Specific examples of how people are working to solve ‘wicked problems’ of our time by tapping non-ordinary states are prevalent throughout the book, from the SEAL Team Six, to Googleplex, to many innovation teams. Everywhere people are hacking performance through non-ordinary states using many methods to get there. Access through smart drugs and microdosing psychedelics unveiled an entirely new perspective for me. Tim Ferris, referenced in the book, explains the trend in Silicon Valley, “Can LSD Make You a Billionaire?” Scour the Notes at the end of the book for all the research.

3) It is Not All Good News

These non-ordinary states feel good and improve performance, but they have a downside. Some of the athletic and psychedelic approaches can lead to bodily harm and even death, while some of the technology progress can lead to mind manipulation. My last Top-3 Take Away from the book is that pursuit of these states requires discipline. The formula Value = Time x Risk/Reward is offered as a means to determine how best to access non-ordinary states and the authors also offer tools for flow management.

Non-ordinary States and Leadership Communication

There are plenty of binary logical skills related to communication that can be taught, but there is a significant benefit of being in a frame of mind that naturally leads to better leadership communication. Let’s contrast the two scenarios.

You can learn to be a better storyteller or listener through specific techniques, which I teach to students and clients all the time. These cognitive skills can be intentionally applied and better leadership communication habits can be built over time. This skill building relies heavily on the prefrontal cortex of the brain.  In contrast, practicing and honing access to non-ordinary states, such as through meditation, creates a different frame of mind. These states increase the connections in the brain and allow you to see things in ways that you previously did not. The anandamide neurotransmitter promotes lateral thinking and the transient limited prefrontal cortex activity reduces the typical filters that limit our perspectives. As a leader, this helps you to be more strategic by giving you a variety of frameworks for viewing an issue. As a communicator, this allows you to see things more clearly from others’ point of view, reducing unintentional discrimination and opening broader channels of connection.  Both scenarios lead to better communication, but I argue that the second creates a fertile ground that actually helps the first.

To tap the fabulous feeling, creativity, and high performance (including excellent leadership communication), read the book, access a non-ordinary state periodically, and intentionally practice communication that honors the perspectives of others.

“Works well with others” Required

Two budding leaders from Kulesa Faul Public Relations spoke to my Leadership Communication class at San Francisco State this week, offering advice to students interested in entering the profession. The interactive conversation was a good reminder of how effective communication plays into career advancement in addition to being essential for the art of public relations. Here are a few memorable pieces of advice that I find relevant to all stages of leadership.

If you want something, take initiative

That something could be more responsibility within your organization or a better understanding of a client’s perspective on an industry topic, but it will take your initiative to make it happen. Those who sit back and wait don’t get very far in the field of public relations (or any other field, I might add).

A problem with a coworker can be worked out 1:1

The person to go to if you have an issue is the very person with whom you are having an issue. You might first get advice from a mentor on how to deal with the specific problem at hand, but to solving it requires open, honest, and non-judging communication. Sometimes that is best done out of the office and over drinks so that both people can be relaxed and focused.

Acknowledge and appreciate different working styles

Understanding the every person has unique strengths to contribute and different ways of working is essential for high standards of excellence. Success requires learning team members’ styles and then adapting communication so that everyone on the team can contribute and understand others’ contributions.

Intentionally choose the best mode of communication

Email, text, instant messaging, call, videoconference, face-to-face – we have so many possible modes of communication available. Good public relations, good client relations, and good team relations all rely on selecting the best mode for the situation. Taking into account personal preferences, urgency, sensitivity of the content, and the number of people involved will help ensure the most appropriate communication mode is intentionally used.

I truly appreciate the reminder that relationships are the key to success and good communication is key to relationships. Therefore, ‘works well with others’ is required in public relations (and in life).

Wisdom at Work

Attending Wisdom 2.0 for my sixth time, I was, as usual, impressed by the caliber of speakers, but this year I was more impressed by the attendees and the way in which they are implementing mindfulness in their work. I met people from all industries from all over. Hearing their stories gave me insight on just how many ways we can practice mindfulness and bring wisdom into work. So, I am sharing the highlights with you.

First, just a quick reminder of the definition of mindfulness from industry veteran Jon Kabat-Zinn: Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.

Second, what struck me through all the stories is how central communication is to implementing mindfulness. That is not a surprise since I look at life through a communication filter, but it makes sense because while mindfulness allows us to pause and gain insight, it is in relations with others that wisdom comes forth. The fruits of mindfulness are evident in our interactions with others at work. Through people’s stories on bringing wisdom to work, we can see this in action. Now, on to the vignettes.

  • Medical devices marketing manager in New Jersey finds that mindful practice helps with coping with a boss who uses an unkind style of speaking to the team. This boss readily admits the aggressive communication style, but expects the team to cope with it anyway. This particular team member uses mindfulness to keep centered and to be able to respond with kindness despite the aggression.
  • Always facing families who are dealing with trauma, rehab worker from Utah uses mindfulness to recharge compassion on a regular basis. Mindfulness helps with staying fully present to families as they go through very difficult times without getting too burned out from the nature of this intense work.
  • Organizational design specialist in San Francisco uses mindfulness in helping entrepreneurs launch their businesses. Staying aware in the present moment fosters creativity and leads to better solutions.
  • Programmer in Silicon Valley uses mindfulness to wisely choose where to place the valuable resources called our attention. People’s attention often goes to the most prevalent and easy-to-access information fed through an application or through online media, even if it is not the best for them or even what they really want and need. By designing more mindfully, programmers can create technology that is both the path of least resistance and in line with what is good for individuals and society.
  • Human Resource manager for consumer goods company in Ontario teaches mindfulness to employees in order to reduce mental health issues, moderating the cost of disability claims for the organization.
  • Onboarder at technology company in Menlo Park uses mindfulness both as part of formal process for new employees and personally as a way to give more spaciousness for making decisions in a fast-paced environment.
  • Business Development Specialist at a start up in Oakland uses mindfulness as core to the business offering and to create meaningful connections with individuals at organizations that are prospective customers.
  • High-profile sales executive in Colorado used wisdom gained from mindfulness to switch careers to be in better alignment with intentions and strengths, giving up prestige for greater well being.
  • CFO of school district in Vancouver uses mindfulness in dealing with fellow coworkers in the district, particularly those who don’t listen well. Practicing full attention in meetings, leaving technology behind and really listening is a way to stay present and model the desired behavior for others.
  • Leadership Development executive from NY uses mindfulness to listen fully and effectively to clients prior to creating development plans.
  • Educator in Pennsylvania finds that Group Think among colleagues is the greatest detriment to productivity at work. Her take is that people want to belong so badly that in the moment they will agree with others even if they don’t actually agree. She uses mindfulness to stay present and true to integrity and will kindly state differing opinions in group settings. When rebutted mindfulness brings forth self-compassion.

All of these individuals inspired me and I hope they inspire you to take a moment to pause and bring yourself into the present moment and see what wisdom is there for you.

 

 

Achieve Grandiose Goals

“If you take a step-by-step perspective, then you will not get discouraged in accomplishing something grandiose.” Matt Gamache-Asselin, Co-founder and CEO of ScriptDash, a modern pharmacy.

Speaking to my Leadership Communication class at San Francisco State University, Matt shared advice about leading his start up ScriptDash.

He said when they started the company they had this grand vision of creating a new modern pharmacy, but the task seemed daunting and he remembers being overwhelmed at the thought of reaching that goal. He said that changed over time after he started just taking one step at a time. The first step was just to put up a website and have it such that somebody could order the prescription online. That was a step he and his co-founders could handle. The next up was when someone placed an order, actually getting that prescription to them. That too was a step they could handle. Matt discovered that after handling many of these steps one after another and solely focusing on what was directly in front of them, that the series of relatively simple steps added up to accomplishing the big goal.

In leadership communication academic terms, we call this fractionation. Fractionation is breaking up a big problem into smaller problems that can be handled. Fractionation helps because when the problem is in smaller, less complex pieces, people often feel more comfortable confronting specific and defined issues. Often times when broken down, each piece carries less emotional weight.

While Matt doesn’t know this term since his education is in engineering, not communication, he explained this technique for a big project like starting a company. But it can also be used for any size problem. For example if a team is having issues with completing a task, that problem can be broken down into smaller elements in order to be solved. In the case of a team that is failing to complete their stated goal, the problem could be broken down into items such as compatibility of communication styles, available resources, cohesiveness of schedules, and capabilities of team members. Each of these items could be addressed separately as a relatively simple solution, and then after several steps the entire problem will be solved.

The point is that we should not let the initial perceived complexity of a goal hinder our enthusiasm. Because, as Matt says, “Many things in life are difficult, but very little is not possible.”

Consciously Resolve Conflict

While we know conflict is part of life, it still can catch us by surprise and throw us off our ‘conscious communicator’ game. To stay present and bring our best selves forward when conflict arises we need to be knowledgeable and practice being present with discomfort.

In terms of being knowledgeable, there is both understanding the nature of conflict resolution and being prepared to face a specific conflict.

Let’s review conflict basics. There are four elements necessary for conflict: opposing forces, interdependence, affect or emotions, and perceived differences. It is helpful to remember that there needs to be an interdependence in order for there to be a conflict in the first place; there is a connection at some level between the conflicting parties that you can use to help solve the conflict. The word ‘perceived’ is also a key part of the definition because perceptions can change, and as perceptions change options for resolving conflict can arise.

Now, let’s consider the five styles used in approaching conflict set out by Kilmann & Thomas:

  1. Avoidance – passively ignore conflict – this is usually counterproductive unless it is used for cooling off before addressing the conflict or for minor issues.
  2. Competition – pursuing only own goals – this is productive for only one person, it is a win-lose situation.
  3. Accommodation – defer to others – this is productive for the other person, it is a lose-win situation and tends to build resentment.
  4. Compromise – give and take – this is a productive style and can be thought of as the middle ground where each party wins some and loses some.  Compromise is the most common (positive) style of solving conflict.
  5. Collaboration – finding a new alternative together – this is a win-win where both parties walk away feeling they gained something, but it takes time and is difficult to achieve. Collaboration leads to the best outcomes for both parties in a conflict.

Fisher and Ury developed Principled Negotiations, which is a collaboration style of resolving conflict with four action items that are illustrated in the graphic below; separate the people from the problem, focus on interests, not positions, invent options for mutual gain, and use objective criteria for resolution. An example of a position is pro tax increase; the interests for that position might be fairness for all citizens or support for public servants.  By focusing on the interests or motivations behind the positions of each party, it opens up possibility of options for mutual gain.

book-getting-to-yes1

Source: sachachua.com

Of course, even after we have refreshed our memory on the nature of conflict and resolution, we still need to prepare for a specific conflict. Sometimes we know in advance that we will be facing conflict. Then we can prepare by figuring out exactly what we want, what the other party wants (to the best of our knowledge), what we are willing to give away, and lastly what options we have if negotiations fail. Other times we walk into a conflict in the moment and need to gather our thoughts and composure on the spot. In these cases, our ability to be with discomfort is as important as our critical thinking. This takes practice.

Any time we are upset at things that doesn’t go our way, we have the opportunity to try and be our best selves in that moment. One technique for doing so is Tara Brach’s RAIN.

R stands for recognize – pause, take a breath, focus inward and become aware of what is happening inside of you at this very moment. I find it helpful to name it – upset, anger, tension, or fear.

A stands for allow – instead of trying to push away the discomfort, just allow it to be.

I stands for investigate – kindly look at your inner experience from a higher perspective to discover what is being triggered in you and what patterns you see.

N stands for non-identification – realize that you are not your current feelings and that, like everything else in this universe, the current situation is not permanent.

This RAIN technique takes just a moment, and it can create a major shift in perspective that allows you to be more open-minded and openhearted, while still advocating for yourself during a conflict.

To further develop your conflict resolution techniques, you can refer to negotiation expert William Ury’s new book, Getting to Yes with Yourself and the six steps he recommends.

As we all face conflicts, some big and some small, bringing our best self forward by being present with discomfort and brushing up our resolution techniques can help us consciously connect with fellow humans.

Three Foundations of Presenting with Technology

Whether it is a project update to a team, a sales pitch, or a conference engagement, as business professionals we are often asked to speak with a presentation. Coaching on how to do this effectively is at the heart of my passion and work, which I share with others through workshops and 1:1 training. My coaching on this topic highlights three fundamentals: start with a narrative; create a visual presentation; be the center of audience attention.

Start with a Narrative

Develop your story outside of PowerPoint. The worse thing you can do is open PowerPoint or Keynote or Prezi and start creating your presentation. You will most likely end up with a string of facts that has no narrative structure. Narrative structure is what helps people remember what you said. It is much better to first create your story in a traditional paper outline or hand-drawn storyboard. Your story needs to include a description of your audience and a statement of what they will get from listening to you. It also needs a clear beginning, middle, and end. In simple terms, the beginning defines the story conflict, the middle explores that conflict, and the end resolves the conflict. A conflict can be as simple as the audience not clearly understanding your topic or as intense as the audience needing to take action to stop impending doom. Creating a detailed outline of your story before creating a presentation makes your narrative strong as a stand-alone piece. This is a critical element to effectively presenting with technology. Your story should be awesome without a presentation!

Creating a Visual Presentation

People learn better with a combination of pictures and words (Dr. Mayer, Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning). Dr. Mayer’s research along with Dr. Alley’s research and others, gives us clear guidelines we can use to create presentations that help people remember what is shared. Here’s the quick recipe: create each slide with a concise declarative full-sentence headline, and visual evidence to support that main idea. Minimize text by placing explanations in the Notes section to deliver verbally, not on the slide. As a whole, your presentation needs to reflect your narrative, so it is helpful to start off with an introduction slide or visual agenda incorporating the main idea and previews to all main ideas. From there, take your key outline points and create section starters. Each sub-point from your narrative fits within the main ideas as a slide within the one of your sections. Start by creating a presentation with just headlines on the slides and explanations in the Notes. Then go find, take, or create visuals to support the ideas. Remember, less is more. Not all your ideas need slides and every slide only need one visual.

Be the Center of Attention

You are the storyteller and the presentation is your visual aid. Presenters who get this relationship reversed give boring presentations. You want the audience looking at and listening to you; only occasionally do you want them looking at the presentation to better understand the information you are sharing. Practicing your entire story without your presentation is one way to stay the center of attention. Your confidence will increase and your audience will trust your delivery. When speaking, stand/sit confidently and use your modulating voice, facial expressions, and hand motions to engage your audience. As you are giving the presentation, I recommend starting each slide by silently reading your full-sentence headline to yourself, so that your audience has the time to do the same. Then dive into your explanation assuming that the audience will garner supporting evidence from your visual. Sometimes it is helpful to refer directly to the slide – such as the ‘the green bar on the right shows growth in the last quarter’ or ‘you can see by the picture that housing is developing along the transit line.’ To ensure that the narrative structure comes through in your delivery, preview all your key points up front, verbally remind people of all sections and the main point of the current section every time you start a new section, and summarize all key points and articulate what the audience received by listening to you at the end.

Keeping the three foundations top of mind will help you effectively communicate with presentations. First, create and practice a compelling stand-alone story. Second, develop a visual presentation that holds the narrative and has slides with declarative full-sentence headlines supported by a visual. Third, remain the center of attention when you deliver the presentation. May all your presentations be engaging!

Resolve to Be Mindful

Happy New Year! We are all starting off 2016 with different resolutions, be that improved productivity, reduced stress, healthier body, or more enjoyment. The research is now overwhelming that core to our wellbeing, and the basis for achieving our resolutions, is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be present moment-to-moment and simply notice new things.

Ellen Langer and Jon Kabat-Zinn have been studying mindfulness for decades and demonstrated myriads of positive effects. Research shows that mindfulness can alleviate suffering associated with physical, psychosomatic and psychiatric disorders, improve your health, slow aging, and improve relationships with others.

A telling overview comes from the review of 52 pieces of research:

“Both basic and clinical research indicate that cultivating a more mindful way of being is associated with less emotional distress, more positive states of mind, and better quality of life. In addition, mindfulness practice can influence the brain, the autonomic nervous system, stress hormones, the immune system, and health behaviors, including eating, sleeping and substance use, in salutary ways.”

With all the evidence, it is clear that making mindfulness the first resolution for 2016 will allow all the other resolutions to fall into place.

Two more recent pieces of research:

1) Mind wandering makes us unhappy

The Greater Good wrote up research in 2013 that Matt Killingsworth conducted in his doctoral program at Harvard University through an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness.org. The study gathered 650,000 real time reports of 150,000 people on happiness. The research found that when people are paying attention to something other than what they are doing in the moment, they are significantly less happy. Unfortunately, except for during sex, people had wandering minds on average 47% of the time. During sex it was only 10% of the time J.

2) Meditation actually changes the brain

Washington Post in May 2015 wrote about Susan Lazar’s et al research using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) out of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, which showed that long-term meditators have more brain gray matter. Meditation has positive effects on four regions of the brain, as shown in FMRI:

  1. Posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance
  2. The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation
  3. The temporo parietal junction (TPJ), which is associated with perspective taking, empathy, and compassion
  4. The Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced

Meditation also reduces the size of the amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain, which is important for anxiety, fear and stress.

With all this positive research on mindfulness, here is a quick reminder of ways we can all practice being more mindful:

1) Meditate On Your Breath – the simple process of paying attention to the breath, which is always there and available, brings our focus to now. In-out-in-out. Practicing this for a few minutes in quiet time every day gives us the skill to use the breath as a grounding element throughout our days, especially when tension rises.

2) Simply Notice New Things – keeping a curious mind helps us remember that we don’t actually know what is going to happen next in life. How fun is that? Everything is always changing and everything looks different from different perspectives. We can just observe what arises and be curious about it without judgment.

3) Pay Attention to Your Body – a quick scan of your belly and your shoulders will tell you plenty about your current state in the moment. Pausing and listening to our bodies makes us mindful of what is happening now. It gives us information about our reactivity and makes us aware of the choices we have in our words and actions.

Make as many New Years resolutions as you like, but make sure the first resolution is to be mindful. May your 2016 be filled moments of noticing something new.

Listening with Gratitude

November is the month in which we celebrate thanks. Thanks for our family, friends, and colleagues. While we each count our blessings for different things, much of what we are grateful for is the people in our lives. How do we express that gratitude? The obvious answer is by telling people, the less obvious answer is through active listening.

When people feel truly heard, they feel appreciated. We think we listen everyday, but often the person on the other side of the conversation doesn’t really feel heard. Listening seems easy, but it really difficult. Part of what makes it difficult is all the talk that goes on in our own heads and the amount of distraction our senses constantly filter.

Let’s take an example. You are sitting in a meeting and a colleague is explaining the results of a recent project. At first you are watching her intently and hear not only every word, but also notice details like how she is standing and the volume of her voice. Then a thought pops into your head, ‘I wonder who helped her on that PowerPoint.’ Pop, listening degrades. Then a fire engine siren from outside catches your attention. Pop, listening degrades. The nature of being human is to be distracted and that makes good listening difficult.

Improving listening skills, like everything in life, takes practice. This practice falls in to two categories: silent and active. The silent practice is training your mind to quiet down and avoid being pulled by sensory input. The active practice is honing your ability to put all attention on to the speaker.

Julian Treasure, sound expert, says that just 5 minutes of silence a day changes our listening. There are many ways to get silence every day. Meditation is one and there are endless types of meditation from focusing on your breath to silently repeating a mantra in your head. During meditation, your senses give you input and you return to your breath or the mantra – you are practicing focusing your mind. The more focused mind will find it easier to listen to someone with greater attention.

The active listening skill can be honed through intentional activities. One method is to keep your mind actively engaged on the speaker through noticing verbal and nonverbal elements of the person. Focus on what they are wearing, how they are standing or sitting, what they are saying through their facial expressions, and on the volume of their voice. Take mental or written notes to summarize their key points in your own language. All of this intentional activity will give you the ability to react in ways that makes the person feel heard. You will look physically engaged because you are and you will have better questions and comments because you will have assimilated the content in a more thorough manner.

Farnam Street recently had a post on Listening and the Learning Lens that well articulated an active listening technique. Because information enters the brain through our senses, the lenses we wear make a difference in how we communicate.

There are lens distorters (limits of language, differences in histories/cultures, current context, irrational expectation of rationality) that change the way we each listen, but mostly we fall into either the ‘lecture’ or ‘learning’ lens. Taking the learning lens increases your attention on the other person and makes the conversation ‘a journey of discovery not a battle of wits.’

Another listening skill builder that is apropos for this month is listening with gratitude. This is hearing with a filter of thanks and appreciation. As somebody is speaking, think of what you like about this person and how he or she contribute to your work or your life. Listen for how what they are saying right now will somehow make an improvement in something. Then you will naturally think of positive feedback to give that person to make them feel heard and appreciated.

Playing with Fear

The interesting thing about the Halloween is that it takes a light view of the human fear of death with people dressing up as ghosts and goblins. The origination of the Day of the Dead also takes a lighter view on the subject with the concept that death is actually a part of life and can be celebrated. Theses holidays let us look at fear in a different light; to take it as a natural part of being human.

The fear of public speaking is one of the top fears for people. There is something about communicating under the spotlight that raises the adrenaline in everyone. But, this fear doesn’t have to be a heavy burden either. By shifting perspective, everyone who faces the task of speaking in front of others can lighten their fear.

The first thing to remember is that the body’s physiological reaction to fear and excitement is one and the same. If you are excited to see a friend or your favorite band, your heart rate quickens, you get butterflies in your stomach, and you start to sweat more. These are all the same things that happen when you fear speaking in public. Physiologically, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and your brain releases hormones that amp up your body in preparation to react quickly to what is about to happen. That can be a good thing; a natural part of being human.

That human reaction is what allows us to raise our voice and become animated in a way that engages the audience while we speak.

Just like we play with fear around Halloween by decorating with images of death and dressing up in monster costumes, we can also play with the fear of public speaking with make believe and pretending. Pretending that the fear is excitement shifts the mind to a more positive place. Visualization during preparation time and right before speaking is make believe that can really help.

To use visualization during preparation, make believe that all goes perfectly during your speech or presentation and then visualize every detail of that success. Imagine walking into the setting and getting a positive response from the audience. Imagine your voice projecting strongly and confidently and seeing head nods and smiles from the audience. Imagine people clapping or saying good job at the end of your presentation. During this make believe incorporate all of your senses – hear, see, and even smell as many details in your imagination as possible. After you have done this several times during preparation, then just prior to your speech quickly bring this image of success back into your brain. This make-believe practice really does boost your success.

As we celebrate Halloween and Day of the Dead at this time of year, we can also celebrate our human fear of speaking. We can use our natural physiological reaction to our advantage by speaking confidently, just as we imagined.

Time Period Matters

It is human nature to assume that our current perceptions are real and right. But ‘real and right’ is a matter of being situated in a particular time period in a particular part of the world.

Two recent occurrences brought the idea of ‘time period matters’ to the top of my mind. The first was the Medium post by Karen X. Cheng and Jerry Gabra showing how magazine covers have changed over time, and the second was a discussion in my Leadership Communication class about how leadership theories morph over time.

Things we as a culture hold true today are not things other humans held true in the past nor will necessarily hold true in the future. Intellectually, that is an easy concept to grasp. The problem is that we don’t hold this concept top of mind when we are communicating with others. The ‘real and right’ perspective is problematic because is narrows our listening of others, limiting our ability to find commonality and get along peacefully. Our perspective can be vastly broadened when we realize that real and right is conditional.

The Evolution of Magazine Covers was a recent Medium post that exemplifies that time period matters. The display of magazine covers for publications ranging from Cosmopolitan and GQ to the New Yorker and National Geographic showed just how drastically our ‘real and right’ has changed over time.

1937v2015CosmoCover

NatGeo Change over Time

 

The percentage of female body parts exposed increases significantly, and the hairstyles change. The amount of text on the cover of National Geographic decreases, and the language becomes much less scientific and more colloquial. The headlines on the magazines reveal what was top of mind in that given time period. The article dubs it, “survival of the fittest, capitalist edition,” but it is also a reflection of what our society deems important and appropriate. ‘Right and real’ changes over time, just like the magazine covers.

Teaching Leadership Communication at San Francisco State is awesome because every class has students from every walk of life, bring together many varying perspectives. We recently discussed how leadership theories, and I could hear the judgment in students’ voices as they commented on older theories centered on a person’s inherent physical traits. The indignant sentiment expressed was, “Of course it is not true that a large person with a deep voice is naturally a better leader than a small person with a high-pitched voice.” Not true? Not true when? Not true where? In our time, in our place, we think that judging leaders on their physical traits is sexist and racist. But in past time, this was ‘real and right’ for a group of people. This brings up questions like, what changed? At what point did that cultural moral compass shift, and why? By asking these types of questions, we can gain a deeper understanding for the transience of real and right.

Seeing how others thought differently in the past helps us to realize that how we think and act now may seem totally absurd to another people in another time. Springboarding from change over time, we can apply the same realization to spatial, cultural, and social differences. Even our own perceptions, which we often perceive as a fixed component of our character, are really quite malleable. By acknowledging that our ‘real and right’ is not permanent, not pervasive, we can have a more open mind. With a more open mind, we have a broader listening of others. When someone says something outside of our ‘real and right’ zone, we won’t immediately dismiss it as wrong. We might consider their opinion and listen respectfully, even if we disagree in that spatial and temporal moment.

 

Storytelling Rationale

Once upon a time, a young teenager received an orange in her stocking at Christmas and was elated beyond belief.  That teenager who showed gratitude for a sweet ripe piece of fruit on a cherished day of the year was my grandmother, a first generation immigrant who had lost both her parents and was barely scraping by under the care of her older sister.  In times when I feel irritated by little things like that the store is out of my favorite flavor of Noosa yogurt, I pause and think about the appreciation my grandmother felt for an orange and it helps me put things in perspective.

That is a simple story, but it contains a number of elements that makes stories appealing to humans including a hero, a struggle, and a moral.  In the last number of years the story has come into vogue as research points to the genre as an effective means of sharing information in business.

“. . .our stories carry emotion that connects us with people and drives a point deeper and deeper into our psyche.”  This quote comes from Dianna Booher in an article titled, 7 Tips For Great Storytelling As A Leader.

The structure of a story is familiar to humans and depicted in the Freytag Diagram created by the 19th Century German scholar.

Freytag-Pyramid

These identifiable pieces of a story move in a sequence from beginning to end.

1. Exposition or Introduction presents the setting (time and place), characters (protagonist – hero/heroine, antagonist – villain), and the basic conflict.

2. Rising Action is where the basic conflict is brewing and there is tension associated with this conflict.

3. Climax is the turning point with a change either for the better or for the worse in the protagonist’s situation.

4. Falling Action is a reversal where the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist begins to resolve. Then the protagonist either wins or loses to the antagonist.

5. Conclusion is the end of the story, which is sometimes called dénouement, where there is a resolution one way or another and the characters move on.

 

Another way to look at stories is through the perspective of the hero’s journey.  In Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs, the author uses the hero’s journey as a basis for how organizations can generate truthful interesting stories.

Using this framework, Sachs places the story listener as the hero and the organization in the mentor and storyteller role.  The hero is not a helpless consumer, but rather an activist pursuing higher-level values.  The mentor is to help the hero in pursuing those values.  The journey is about the hero, not the storyteller.

Unskillful storytelling – that we see and hear all the time – is about the storyteller as the hero. This model upends that, puts story consumer as hero.

This has significant implications for organizations telling their stories – shifting from the ‘excellent product/service’ view to the ‘here’s how we help you’ perspective.

Another book, Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall, focuses on why storytelling is a fundamental human animal instinct.  Our ancestors listened to stories around a campfire, because if they didn’t they got eaten by lions.  In an evolutionary sense, humans are designed to assimilate information in stories – it is part of survival.  Stories help us deal with the human condition on every level and are, therefore, integral parts of being human. Gottschall wrote a recent article, Why Storytelling is the Ultimate Weapon in which he outlined the work of psychologists Melanie Green and Tim Brock that showed that people absorbed in story drop their intellectual guard and process information emotionally such that they are unable to detect false notes or inaccuracies.

Research highlighted in the New York Times article, Your Brain on Fiction, has shown the brain is affected by story telling in ways that make it ‘experience’ and remember information.  When just receiving facts, only the languages processing part of the brain is activated (Broca’s area & Wernick’s area), but with story telling more areas get activated. A 2006 Neuroimaging study in Spain showed when users read words with strong odor associations, the olfactory cortex lit up. In 2012, Brain & Language published study from Emory University when people read metaphors involving texture, the sensory cortex responsible for touch lit up.  Laboratory of Language Dynamics showed the same when people read sentences about movement – the exact part of the motor cortex responsible for the limb movement lit up. Research out of Princeton published in 2010, showed Neural coupling between the storyteller and receiver such that the receiver’s brain appeared that it turns story into perceived own experience.

“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated . . .. the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing  . . .”  Your Brain on Fiction

2015 Bits of Wisdom

How do you take the intention to be mindful and integrate it into work in the technology industry?  What does it mean to be mindful in business?  Leaders of organizations in the S.F. Bay Area met at the 5th annual Wisdom 2.0 conference to share, well, their wisdom.

I have intentionally practiced mindfulness since 1999 and have a particular interest in exploring how awareness changes communication.  Here are paraphrased quotes from those who inspired me at the conference. I hope they inspire you to pause and pay attention.

Where neurons fire, they wire.  Practicing good communication reinforces a positive brain pattern.  – Dan Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCLA School of Medicine; Co-Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center; Author, Mindsight

Mind science shows that anxiety increases when we are around people of difference.  Mindfulness helps people be with that anxiety and that allows people of difference to interact.  – john a. powell, Executive Director, Haas Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society; Professor of Law and Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at University of California Berkeley

Weapons of mass distraction are everywhere all the time  . . .  we must go offline in order to process. – Pico Iyer, Author, including TED Book – The Art of Stillness

Compassion is putting yourself in the shoes of those you don’t like.  It is not easy.  And it is certainly not soft.  – Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

There us a vicious circle of the flight from conversation.  People are afraid to be with self, and, therefore, can’t truly be with others. Rule of three – we found that college students maintain a group conversation so long as three people in a group are looking up from their device.  There is permission in the conversation to look down and then back up.  This leads to very surface conversations – ones that can be maintained even when attention is fading in and out. – Sherry Turkle, Founder and Director, MIT Initiative on Technology and Self; Author, Alone Together

Diversity is about brining together people of different background and characteristics to perpetuate innovation.  Inclusion is about creating an environment where people feel they can bring their whole self to work.  – Nancy Lee, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Google

The reason you are here on earth deserves time, so make physical and psychological space for MUST.  – Ella Luna, Artist; Author, The Crossroads of Should and Must

Instead of building identity by having, millennials are building identity by doing – using experiences to build social capital. – Julia Hartz, Co-Founder & President, Eventbrite

We bring mindfulness to BlackRock by connecting it to performance.  People understand being in the past and being in the future: they pull experience from the past to make good decisions about the future.  We position mindfulness as adding to that with the Present.  Having skills to move between past, present, and future increases performance.  Our Meditation Program offers training and resources to more than 1300 employees.  – Golbie Kamarei, Global Program Manager, Global Client and Sales Excellence, BlackRock

Impact Hub Oakland is a perfect petri dish for addressing how we create a more equitable, compassionate society combining business and social justice. – Konda Mason, Co-Founder & CEO, Impact Hub Oakland

Political leaders need to talk about the science of Mindfulness and the hits if people are not ready to hear about it yet. – Tim Ryan, U.S. Congressman, Ohio; Author, A Mindful Nation

There needs to be a shift to full system optimization within an organization.  That happens through awareness – it is not about anyone person it is about the mission.  Evaluations need to be based on meeting the mission, not individual goals.  – Fred Kofman, Vice President for Leadership and Organizational Development, LinkedIn

Leadership is about inspiring others to meet common objective through vision, conviction, and communication.  –  Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

Effortless power is a place where you feel both the greatest ease and the greatest strength.  – Christine Carter, Sociologist, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center; Author, The Sweet Spot & Raising Happiness

 

Follow me @jennkammeyer to read more perspectives on communication