Archive for Communication

How to Be a Communication Genius

“I realize I have the SAME communication style with everyone I talk to!”

This is the insight one of my clients had last week. He spent the week after our first conversation just noticing how he communicated with those around him. He had been aware that he had a direct style all along but he became much more aware that that was the only approach he took.

Most importantly he realized that having this one consistent style was undermining his ability to be successful. Not everyone responded favorably to his style. Some seemed to appreciate the directness, others got defensive and still others shut down.

He’s a smart guy. Intellectually he understands that he needs to adjust his communication from one situation to another, but he wasn’t doing it.

This happens all of the time, right? We know something but we still don’t do it. And as Lao Tzu said, “To know and not do is to not know.”

We all know that doesn’t cut it when it comes to leading people; so, here are 3 ways to become a communication genius.

Steps to Becoming a Communication Genius:

1. Recognize Your Own Style Preference:

What is your most common or comfortable style of communicating?

  • Direct or Indirect
  • Relational or Task oriented
  • Conceptual or Detailed
  • Independent or Collaborative
  • Verbose or Concise
  • Quick to Respond or Responds after Reflection

You do not need an assessment to do this, although people often use DiSC, MBTI or others to help them get more clear. In lieu of that, simply reflect on your tendencies or ask a friend or trusted colleague how they would describe your style. You can also spend a week in self observation – noting at the end of the day what styles of communication you used, and what tends to be your default style. Tip: You learn quickly what your default style is when you are in a stressful situation because that’s what we tend to fall back on.

2. Understand Style Preferences of Others:

Pick a specific person to start with and notice what styles they tend to prefer. See the list above for examples.

You could take this even a step further by asking people what works for them. Great leaders don’t see the need to keep communication styles a secret. If you’re working closely with someone, especially if you keep running into problems communicating, a great strategy is to actually ask them what type of communication style works for them. This does two things:

a) It shows them how much you care and that you are invested in making the relationship better.

b) It allows them to take ownership of their style and realize their own part on the communication.

If you approach it right, you’ll get more buy in from the people you’re leading without losing any credibility or authority.

3. Shift Your Communication Accordingly

Learning how to shift your styles to bring out the best in those you lead is critical. But, how do you switch your style to meet the needs of the moment or the individual you are talking with?

Here are some strategies:

1. Test
Choose one person and test your approach.  Start shifting the way you talk. Change the way you initiate a conversation, ask questions, listen, describe a situation or make a request. See how they respond.

2. Go Platinum
The Golden Rule is self-serving (treat others as you would like them to treat you). The Platinum Rule, treat others the way THEY want to be treated, is what great leaders apply.  So, choose to check in personally with people who are more relational or get straight to the task at hand with those who want to bypass the niceties.

3. Ask Better Questions
If you are dealing with less direct people and those you want to draw out, asking often works better than telling. In addition avoid the “why?” question as it often makes people defensive. Instead ask,  “What made you decide to…” or “What led you to take x action?” The tone change from accusatory to genuinely curious is also key.

4. Engage
Engage others by framing your requests and suggestions in ways that will speak to what the other person/audience cares about.

5. Mirror their Pace
Adjust the speed and pace of your communication when talking. I once had a colleague from the South say “Heather I can’t think how fast you talk!” He was frustrated with my rapid-fire conversation and when I slowed the pace we had a more productive discussion.

Feeling like a used car salesman?

Some argue that we shouldn’t switch our style because we are then not being “authentic”. My take is that style switching does not change our values, our beliefs or our personality. It just changes the way we speak. Yes, it might be uncomfortable at first to approach something differently than usual but that doesn’t mean you are being inauthentic.

For example if I switch from asking a close-ended question “Do you have a question?” to an open ended question “What questions do you have?” it doesn’t change anything but my outcome. I am much more likely to get a response when I use a statement that assumes there are questions (rather than asking if there is one) and asks which question we are going to start with.

The more common “Do you have any questions?” Is often marked by silence no matter if it is asked of an engaged crowd or a reticent one. Try asking “What questions do you have?” the next time you want to check for understanding and see what happens.

Why do I have to be the one to switch?

Some people get frustrated that they have to put all this effort into thinking about the other person they are communicating with, understanding their style and then modifying their own style in the communication.

My invitation is always that if you like the results you are getting, keep doing what you are doing. However, if the results are not what you had hoped or you think you might get better results with a more varied approach, I invite you to try a few style switching strategies.

These strategies and the ability to style switch are key to leadership success no matter your business culture. They become absolutely critical when you’re working in a global environment and the range of communication styles is even broader.


4 Ways to Get Good Enough

You’d be surprised by how many competent and well-respected leaders have a secret fear that they’re not good enough.  Many. On the outside they appear confident and capable. On the inside they struggle with doubt, constantly worrying others will discover they aren’t quite as perfect as their persona portrays.

I have those fears myself.

But at least I know I’m not alone.

According to Brené Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher most well know for her TED talk on vulnerability and author of a new book, Daring Greatly, chances are you have a similar fear as well.

Brown says the fear of not being “good enough” is really shame. Her definition:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of aceptance and belonging.

The word shame is not a word you usually think of when talking about leadership development yet this feeling of not being good enough is alive and well even in those who exude confidence.

In conversations I have with leaders about their professional development “not good enough” shame sound like this:

  • I know what I need to do (to influence, delegate more effectively etc.) and I’m embarrassed that I can’t make it happen consistently.
  • I should be able to influence this change but no one is hearing me!
  • I’m embarrassed that I need help. I should be able to figure out this new role/challenge on my own.
  • I’m ashamed to see these areas of improvement in my 360/feedback.  I’m embarrassed that people see the cracks I thought I was good at hiding.
  • I’m glad I was promoted but I’m starting to think I’m in over my head. I worry I won’t be able to live up to the expectations in this new role.

If you’ve ever uttered or thought the same, know you’re not alone.

Picture this: There you are fearful that you are not doing enough or capable enough (or fill in the blank for your own not-enoughness) and then you try to lead your team, your project, and your life. With this shame and not enoughness in the back of you head you hear a question as an attack instead of curiosity, you get defensive rather than collaborative, you fear the response to your nascent idea and opt to stay silent, you listen to the chatter in your head instead of your partner/friend and miss connecting with them.  In short, it doesn’t go well.

How is this playing out in your life?

When you take action from a state of fear or embarrassment about your ability (even if it is a secret hidden fear), you lose the capacity to bring your best to the table. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The tricky part is what to do about it, how to shift it.

Here Are 4 Ways to Get Good Enough

1. Share Your Shame

Brown’s research shows that empathy is the antidote to shame. Reach out to a friend or advisor who can be trusted with your story and tell them about the negative chatter in your head. When you’re met with empathy (not sympathy) the shame recedes. Knowing you’re not alone does make a difference. Know that we all (and I mean all) have our moments of self-doubt and fear that we are not enough. It’s how we move through them that matters.

2. Shift Your State (physical and mental)

When we change our physical state, it shifts our mental state. It’s often easier (and more powerful) to shift your body into a new position than to attempt mental gymnastics as a way to quiet the negative talk inside your head.

If you’re feeling embarrassed your mind transfers that emotion into your body in the form of slumped shoulders, a concave chest, down cast eyes or a more subtle protective crossing of the arms. It’s difficult to lead and inspire others from this position.

So, throw your shoulders back, plant your feet firmly on the ground and watch the chatter in your head change to one that will support rather than undermine your next leadership move. Check out this brilliant Ted Talk from social psychologist Amy Cuddy on “power posing”.

3. Refocus

It can seem like the evidence of how we’re not enough is lit up in neon, if not externally, at least inside our minds eye. Instead of letting it draw your attention, shift your focus to what is going well. Not to ignore or pretend there are no issues, but to shift yourself out of your fear-based lizard brain and into the more productive and creative juices that are flowing when you access your pre-frontal cortex. When we are in fear, our brain shifts into the primal fight or flight of the lizard brain and we lose access to the parts of our brain that can help us come up with creative solutions to the issue we are facing.

4. Strategize

Raise your self-awareness so that you know what your shame or “not enough” triggers are.  Then have a conversation with a friend or trusted advisor about what strategies will help keep you from falling into the trap long before the ground falls out from under you.  If you aren’t sure what those triggers are for you, a good place to start is by paying attention to when you tell yourself you “should” or “shouldn’t” do/know/say something.

For example, if asking for help makes you feel like you’ve failed, take on a practice to notice others who ask for help. Pay attention to what it allows them to accomplish. Check your assumptions.  Ask friends and colleagues what they think of people who ask for help. Notice your own assumptions about what it means to ask for help. When other people ask for help do you see them in a positive light as collaborators yet when you reach out, your perspective shifts to the negative?

How do You Want to Spend Your Energy? 

Even people who seem outwardly confident still have these “not good enough” fears. Some have developed strategies for hiding them but that takes a lot of energy. Do you really want to spend your energy on hiding what you fear are the ways you’re not enough?

Instead, acknowledge that you (and all of us) have these moments or areas of self-doubt. Notice what effect your “not enough” story is having on your life. Decide for yourself if the cost is too great. If so, put some of these strategies into play. Share your shame with a trusted advisor, shift your state, refocus on what is going well, identify your triggers and develop strategies specific to your area of focus.

What is your best strategy? I’d love to hear from you!


Brené Brown TedX talks

Brené Brown Blog:


Being Graceful Under Fire

Have you ever sat in a meeting, been asked a question and had a complete blank?

You were listening, you really were. But somehow when you were asked to come up with a solution to the problem or voice your opinion, your words evaporated.

Don’t you hate that feeling?

Later, without the pressure of the spot light you can come up with a plethora of ideas or pithy comments you could have contributed, which makes it even worse.

So, what can you do when you’re forced to show your grace under fire?

If you’re the type of person who likes to think before they speak, which you don’t often get the chance to do when you’re put on the spot, you still have a few options. Four to be exact.

#1 Prepare

One way to prepare is to find out the agenda topics for a meeting in advance, which will give you the time to consider the possible questions, compose your thoughts and be prepared to share your perspective. Realistically, this is best for a high stakes meeting where it makes sense to do your homework.

This isn’t always possible and often difficult given the pace of the day or the lack of meeting agendas (another whole discussion…).

So, if you feel pressured to give an immediate response you can simply say you need more time. Just make sure you say it in a way that makes you look good: “I want to give you a suggestion that is viable so let me come back to you when I have had more time to consider the options”.

#2 Buy Time

If you feel pressure to respond in the moment but words are failing you, you can buy yourself some time. Ask a question to refine the problem or discussion: “Are we looking for a short term or a longer term solution?”. Their response may spark an idea or at least give you a few moments to gather your thoughts.

#3 Breathe

Remember that a large part of how people see you is in the way you respond rather than in the words you say.

You know the old adage that actions speak louder than words?

Your body language, tone and inflection speak more than the words. Avoid responding from a place of stress, which is what happens to most of us when we are put on the spot.

Take a few deep breaths to calm your nerves before responding. The silence that fills the room for those few breaths may feel like an eternity to you but not to anyone else.

#4 Be Brief

The other blunder people make when they feel the pressure to deliver the right answer on the spot is to over-talk. .They talk because they think they’re supposed to but they don’t say anything of consequence. You’ve probably sat in a meeting listening to someone blather on and like everyone else in the room, you cringe and wish they would just stop talking. I know it sounds counter intuitive that someone with nothing to say would run off at the mouth but even the most reticent have fallen into this trap.

Focus your response on one aspect of the problem that you do know about or one simple suggestion and end it there.

It’s also okay to not know the answer or the solution right in the moment. It’s actually more empowering to own that then pretend like you do.

In order to be a leader who is heard, is of influence and has an impact the key is to develop the ability to be graceful under fire and buy time so you can contribute your brilliant ideas once those elusive words have returned.