Growth Mindset Improves Communication

Communicators with a growth mindset elevate their performance more quickly. Excellent speakers and superb leaders continuously build on their aptitude. I saw this recently with a founder of a financial firm who had been speaking on stage for decades and still boosted their performance with a growth mindset and dedicated practice. 

A growth mindset, conceived by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and colleagues, is the belief that basic abilities can be developed and improved over time. The opposite is a fixed mindset, which is the notion that our given intelligence and capabilities limit meaningful development. Research shows that people using a growth mindset improve more over time. The primary reason is that they tend to treat obstacles as learning opportunities and put in the persistent effort to change. 

Belief in Ability + Hard Work = Improvement

The formula can be easy to learn, but difficult to implement. Implementation takes the self-confidence to know we are smart and capable and also always have room for improvement. The grace of taking critical feedback and then doing the hard work are the magical elements for change. Recently a client who leads a professional service firm received feedback that their leadership style was not working for their current followers, even though it had been productive in the past. With a growth mindset during coaching, we brainstormed what changes might be effective. Then they experimented and applied the effort over time with fantastic results. Same leader, same followers, drastically better communication outcomes.

My ‘secret sauce’ for achieving a growth mindset is asking questions to spark self-reflection, to elicit input from others, and to experiment with what works best. 

Some questions my communication coaching clients find helpful are:

  • How could this situation/communication be better?
  • Does memorizing my talking points for a speech help or hinder my performance?
  • Do I demonstrate more confidence standing behind a podium or on an open stage? 
  • What are others I respect doing?
  • What else could I be doing to improve my approach?
  • When I communicate <insert a communication style such as – more directly with followers> is the response better or worse? 
  • What happens when <insert a communication method such as – I give the broader context to someone before instructions on a task>?
  • What might make a difference?

With a growth mindset we can get micro feedback from others on a regular basis to track progress. In the moment we can ask, “What is the one thing I could have done better in that situation?” This simple question makes it easy for others to give us actionable suggestions for refinement.

The primary benefit of a growth mindset is constant advancement. The bonus is that it creates greater happiness. That makes the effort worthwhile!

Practice Makes Better

Like everything in life, when we practice speaking, we get better. We don’t get perfect, but that is not what we are striving for. Perfect sounds fake and looks impersonal. Better is about highlighting our natural talents and employing a few audience-engaging techniques such as voice variation, pauses, and meaningful body language.

We get the chance to practice written and interpersonal communication as a regular part of our job, but most of us do not speak formally to a crowd on a daily basis. When we do get the opportunity to speak, we need to set aside the time to practice in order be as effective as we are at our daily communication. Beyond organizing content, looking over slides, and thinking through talking points, there are ways to practice that help us improve.

Of course, I recommend working with a communication coach as that is my livelihood. In addition, there are several things we can do that help memorize the content and to condition our bodies to perform effectively. I categorize these into three groups of tips:

  1. Practicing in daily life
  2. Getting feedback
  3. Over dramatizing

Say Your Speech During Daily Life Tasks

Once we have a good sense of our talking points, we can incorporate practice into our daily life. That helps us find the best wording and get really comfortable with our content and flow. We can say our speech, or parts of our speech, out loud when doing the dishes, working out, going for a hike, or driving in our car. While we are doing this, we will not say the same things we wrote for our talking points and that is actually beneficial. We will find the words that are most natural for us and still get the concepts across. I also recommend practicing a speech right before bedtime as the brain solidifies knowledge while we sleep.

Get Feedback from Yourself and Others

Even when you are getting feedback from a coach, it is helpful to get additional feedback from other sources. Sharing your speech, or parts of your speech, with friends and family helps you to simplify your content for a general audience and gives you reactions from a variety of perspectives. It may feel awkward in the moment to practice in front of others, but it makes us more at ease on speech day. While we are our own worst critics, or maybe because we are our own worst critics, it is helpful to record and review our speeches. I recommend both audio and video recording. Capturing just the words, on Voice Memos or other devices gives, us information about our enunciation, pitch variation, pace variation, and pauses. Video gives us information about our body language and helps us get our verbal and nonverbal communication in alignment. We can see our facial expressions and note if our hand motions are adding to or detracting from our words. I also recommend practicing in front of a mirror so we can get instant input and can immediately adjust what we are doing.

Over Dramatize to Calm Nerves

Everyone gets nervous when speaking. Some feel that energy as positive and some feel it as dread. If you fall into the dread category, adding a bit of drama to your practice can lighten you up. Try taking your content and singing it to a tune from a toddler song, like the ABCs or Itsy-Bitsy Spider. It will make you laugh, and you will remember your talking points. If your voice is monotone or cracks when you are nervous, try saying your talking points in a whisper and then really loud. We can also do this dramatization with our body language, making big facial expressions and big hand motions, exaggerating our movements. Adding drama during practice makes us more comfortable with ourselves when we present.

Practice makes better. We can count on giving better speeches using these strategies. May you enjoy experimenting and feel more at ease giving audience-engaging speeches.

Poised to Influence

We have all been impressed by somebody who is well poised and captivates the room when speaking. We too can be poised and influence others by deliberately using our body language to improve communication.

When seeking to get others to understand our point of view, our tendency is to focus on content. We take the time to fully form ideas and chose words to best express those ideas. Of course, the content is very important. But we are missing a critical element if we don’t spend the time to decide on the best nonverbal communication for influencing our audience. Research shows that “Body language, spatial language, and appearance language were found to have significant effects on customer trust.” 1

Nonverbal communication has six elements, academically called appearance, paralinguistics, kinesics, chronemics, proxemics, and haptics. In every-day terms this is what we wear, how we say things, our movement (posture, gestures, and facial expressions), our use of time, our use of space, and touch. All these elements are in play when we communicate whether we are paying attention to them or not. Better to pay attention.

To intentionally use nonverbal communication to influence others, the first step is asking ourselves about the situation and the second step is choosing techniques that increase our chances of being heard and understood.

The Situation

Answering the following questions will give us the data we need to make appropriate choices for our body language.

  1. What is the mode of communication (in-person, video, phone)?
  2. What is the environment (large auditorium, conference room, public space, many individuals on video)?
  3. Who is the audience (current level of understanding, level of receptiveness, demographics, relationship to us)?
  4. What do we seek to change (attitude, belief, value, behavior)?

Nonverbal Techniques

Our nonverbal communication can be shifted to influence the audience while still staying true to ourselves. It is not about playing a part, but rather being intentional given what we learned from answering the questions above. Here are a few techniques to try for professional communication to influence others in business.

Alter Speed, Pitch, Volume

  • When sharing a new concept or something important, slow down and deepen voice pitch to convey gravity and significance.
  • To generate excitement, speed up and use a higher pitch.
  • Vary the volume getting quieter to pull people in and then louder to emphasize points.

Move Around

  • To gain authority, stand in front of the room or on a stage.
  • Stand with legs hip width apart and step one foot forward while making a point to stress importance.
  • Avoid pacing as that indicates nervousness and distracts the audience.
  • In a conference room, to differentiate groups, sit across the table. To build camaraderie, sit beside people.
  • Lean forward to show interest, lean back slightly to show listening, and lean back far to show dominance.

Be Expressive

  • Use face and hands to express meaning that complements word choice.
  • Smiles and raised eyebrows imply friendly and open, which encourages others to share.
  • When we don’t smile, we are more likely to be taken seriously.
  • Hands apart and up imply receptivity, lightly together imply active engagement, and firmly clasped imply tension.
  • Hands can be raised to show an increase, drawn apart to show expansion, and moved toward one another to show unity.
  • Pointing is condescending, but fingers together moving slightly demonstrates importance of the content.

There are many ways that people express and interpret nonverbal communication. It certainly varies by culture, so these techniques are just a few examples of what is effective. The important take-away is to be informed about the situation and be intentional about how we communicate nonverbally. Adding deliberate body language to our well-crafted words makes us poised to influence others.



  1. Yoon, S., Kim, S., Kim, J., & You, Y. (2016). A study on the Impact of Consultants’ Nonverbal Communication on Customer Satisfaction, Trust, and Long-term Relationship Orientation of the Client Firm. Indian Journal of Science and Technology9(26).

Communicate to Collaborate

Collaboration, that highly touted process by which humans innovate, happens through communication. Bright minds playing off each other generate more ideas and better outcomes. Both the structure and the content of collaboration hinge on effective communication. When communication fails, so does collaboration and instead of innovation, we get conflict and stifled voices.

Collaboration is the process by which interdependent autonomous entities interact to make decisions or take actions to achieve goals for mutual benefit1. Together we set goals, agree on how we will engage with one another, then each contribute expertise and effort to jointly achieve objectives. Collaboration is a generative win-win process where all participants benefit. It is different than cooperation, which is a give-and-take process where you win some and lose some. Both are effective ways to work together, but collaboration takes more effort to generate additional ideas beyond what each individual brings to the table. As such, collaboration require respectful, inclusive, and productive communication. Here are two actions I recommend to get started on positive collaboration experiences:

  1. Be clear about the role of communication as a strategic tool
  2. Use metacommunication to move through the process

Role of Communication

Employ communication as a strategic tool. That means we are intentional about our goals and our methods. For example, we could set the objective that we will generate ideas that no group member has thought of in advance. We can use methods that ensure everyone contributes and we build upon each other’s ideas. Three of my favorite collaboration methods I call capture-first, all-voices, and build-upon.

  • Capture-first allows each participant to think of and articulate ideas for themselves before sharing with the group. Typing into a phone or computer is a good way to capture thoughts and ideas. After this solo process, participants can share with the broader group. This method allows people who think at different speeds and in different patterns to all contribute to the group.
  • All-voices is designed to let every participant fully explain their ideas prior to getting any input from others. It works well to go one by one to each participant without any interruptions so that all ideas can be heard. I recommend that everyone takes their own notes on the ideas shared during this period so that they can react to the ideas when discussion starts.
  • Build-upon encourages positive contributions to other people’s ideas. Instead of looking at ideas with a critical eye, the method encourages looking at the broadest possibilities of each idea, expanding upon the original. Using the phrase “and also” is a way to achieve this. For example, “Having chocolate for breakfast is a great idea and also we may want to combine it with milk for some protein.”

When we acknowledge that communication will make the difference between success and failure in collaboration, we can be more intentional in our goals and focus our attention on effective methods.


Communicating about communicating is metacommunication and it establishes the process for collaboration. Metacommunication can also move the group past obstacles that arise. At the beginning of a collaboration the group communicates to agree upon methods for interactions that determine how ideas are brought forth, discussed, and evaluated – this is metacommunication. The methods stated above are good examples of what might be agreed upon. As the collaboration progresses, metacommunication can be used when the group gets stuck. Perhaps disagreements arise, people break the positive generative cycle, or they devolve into raised voices and not listening respectfully. At that point we could use metacommunication and say, “Since our communication is not happening the way we intended, let’s take a break and then revisit our original intentions before we restart.”

Collaboration is key to success in business and life. As the proverb states, “If you want to fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” It is worth our effort to learn the communication skills that make collaboration possible. We can start by acknowledging the role of communication as a strategic tool and by employing metacommunication.

  1. Ann Marie Thomson, James L. Perry, Theodore K. Miller, Conceptualizing and Measuring Collaboration,Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Volume 19, Issue 1, January 2009, Pages 23–56,