Communication skills are great in theory, but how are they in practice? This Effective Communication Skill Blogshows you how to walk the SpeakStrong talk. I'm Meryl Runion Rose. Join our conversation about Communication Alchemy, and saying what you mean and meaning what you say... without being mean when you say it.
The Communication Alchemist is IN. Are you IN too?
"Pull yourself together," people say. What does that mean to you?
To me, it means gathering my thoughts, feelings and desires into a cohesive unit so I can focus on some desired result. It feels good to be "pulled together."
But it also feels good to let myself go. I do that in dance, in hiking, in meditation. I do that in the evenings where I let my mind relax. In my world, the day belongs to the mind, and the evening belongs to the soul.
Here's what many "together" people miss. If you let yourself go for a while - for even just an evening or weekend - when you pull yourself back together, you come back with a higher order. You have more of your internal resources available than you would if you didn't let yourself go. It's a process and an important part of The SpeakStrong Method. Focus. Relax. Contract. Expand. Strive. Let go.
One of my SpeakStrong mottos is "excellence through wholeness." The experience of wholeness gives you perspective to draw from when you "pull yourself together."
So when I hike, my thinking deepens. When I come back and refocus, I see whatever I was grappling with through new eyes. Problems aren't solved at the level they were created on, and the hike enables me to solve them at a higher level.
Plus, I get to enjoy my beautiful world.
At the very least, take your breaks! Your wholeness needs them. So does your effectiveness.
I'm reading "Why I Stayed" by Gayle Haggard, wife of disgraced minister Ted Haggard. I find it remarkable that the family stayed bonded - in fact bonded more deeply - during their ordeal.
Here's one observation among many: Gayle Haggard writes that Ted was honest, but not graphic when speaking with the children about his indiscretions. The children needed to know what he had done, but they didn't need to know in depth.
That is saying what you mean without being mean when you say it. A PowerPhrase is as strong (read here: "graphic") as it needs to be, and no stronger.
The communication had a surprising effect. Their children were relieved to discover that their father wasn't perfect.
It's a powerful read. Falling off the pedestal meant falling in to life. Where there is crisis, there is opportunity, and Gayle Haggard committed to using the experience to deepen their relationship. I never imagined I would resonate with her writings as I do. There are plenty of questions raised but not answered, and I wonder what might have been excluded to paint them in a better light than they might deserve. However, I can say the way Gayle turns the crisis into a bonding opportunity is as close to The SpeakStrong Method as I've ever seen.
Please be going somewhere else! Can you relate? My chiropractor does walk-in appointments only, so it can irk me when I see someone drive up just before I do. My inner reptile, lizard brain, feels threatened by the mere possibility that cars I see en-route just might be going where I am. I feel my anxiety rise.
Awkward! I'm not the only one whose inner reptile talks to me on the road. My chiropractor told me about a couple of guys who got into some road-ragey antics en-route to his office. They didn't realize that they were going to the same place as they flipped each other off. It was awkward in the waiting room.
Put your inner reptile in its' place. You never do know when you might encounter people your inner reptile has offended. It's good to have a relationship with that part of your nature, but be careful about letting it communicate for you.
Listen to those impulses, relate to them, and decide how you do or do not want to express them. Yes, the walk-in system triggers my competitive nature. And my overall nature is to put my inner reptile in its place. It is my servant. I do not serve it.
"You said you were going to make hard-boiled eggs. Did you?"
I replied that he had told me he didn't like hard-boiled eggs. So, when I decided to have eggs for breakfast, I didn't see any reason to hard-boil any.
So, that's a no?
...he asked. His response taught me a lot about how I communicate.
I had immediately gone into an explanation of why I hadn't made hard-boiled eggs. It was a slightly defensive reaction. I realized later that he simply wanted to know if all the eggs in the carton were raw before he cracked some open to make his omelet.
I did everything but answer his question. Of course, had he asked if the eggs were all still raw or if there were some hard-boiled ones mixed in, I might have answered more directly.
I like the way he clarified my answer. It made me conscious of how indirect my response was. I caught myself doing something I often note other people doing. I often find that people go into long explanations instead answering my questions. For example, if I ask if someone is available to work, I often get an in-depth run-down of everything that person is doing. I feel like I've been taken down rabbit holes and am not sure what the point was.
Cassia has been helping me clean up my act since the beginning of the month. That's the best way I can put it - she's been fixing broken links, updating my books, editing and on and on. She's been learning new software and navigating broken systems as part of helping me put my world in order. Oh my goodness, it's heartening to believe I will have a solid foundation for the next chapter of my life and work.
Our organization and alignment is a work in progress - and so far is remarkably effective. We're using OneNote to our advantage. Cassia took the initiative to post updates at the end of each day so I can easily see what she does. I love that she does that, and love that she initiated it.
Today we looked at an overview of my, and our, vision. Seeing that lead her to comment that posting her activities for the day influenced her to do tangible things she could check off. That's fine so far, but now it's time for her to spend some time learning and developing things that might not have a concrete tangible outcome for a while.
Kudos to Cassia for recognizing how she was serving the tool instead of the other way around. We often don't even notice we do that. Having hammers can send us looking for nails. Life is much bigger than our tools.
P.S. From Cassia: It has been so beneficial for us both to take time to realign and focus our vision together. OneNote has been a fantastic tool to help get all of the little tasks together in one place; however, it's been so easy to get carried away in a direction that seems important but isn't a priority to the big picture.
I believe Meryl and I have both felt, at times, as though we are facing down the mythical Hydra from the tale of Hercules. In the story, each time Hercules cut off the head of the Hydra, two more sprung forth. Similarly, each time we manage to check off one task from the list, we find five more in its place. Hercules finally sought council in his cousin, Iolaus, who recommended that Hercules try something different, in order to complete the task at hand.
That's why our Long Term vision is so important. It's like our own Iolaus, off in the distance saying, "Try something different! You'll figure it out!" I'm confident that keeping our focus on the long term, will keep us from getting discouraged by the mounting challenges, enabling us to keep moving forward and finally defeat the beast.
"I can't believe I spent that much time working that hard to be someone I'm not!" Sue confessed. I tried to tell her when she was in it, but she needed to go through it herself. Now Sue is "herselfer" than ever.
"That's what I had to do to get where I am now," she shared.
It took about a year for the spell of success gurus who preached quick mega-bucks to wear off and for Sue to find her own center. It took about a year for her to stop trying to center herself around the instant-answer-industry's center.
"Watch me," the speech bubble says on "Lily's" video image in her promotional email. I know it means - watch this video - and yet it strikes me as what many in the information industry are really saying. It's all about me. Not, it's all about you. Watch me because I'm special. I have the answers. Everything you think you know is wrong. Listen to me, and you, too, can have all the toys, privileges and admiration I have.
"Lily" is enormously successful. People do watch her. They must benefit from it.
But for Sue, Lily's center was a journey into angst and exile.
Sue was making some inroads and getting some business by being someone she's not. But it was hard work and it wasn't making her happy. It was tough for me to watch, and who knew? She might have tapped into some aspect of herself that I didn't anticipate.
In some ways, that's just what happened. Being who she's not helped Sue become herself in deep new ways.
Sometimes we return home after being lost, and see home for the very first time. I'm so happy to be part of Sue's welcome home committee.
Looking for some tips to push your weight around? This isn't the place. Looking for a way to express your true self effectively? This is for you. Read on.
I'm sitting at a table with conference attendees the day after my keynote. One woman tells me:
"During your talk, I turned to the gal sitting next to me and said: 'Meryl just said the opposite of what the speaker before her said.'"
"Thanks for noticing!" I reply smiling. "I expected we would say different things the moment I heard the title of the keynote that I would follow was 'Cultivating a Leadership Persona.' I've spent most of my adult years working to drop persona and be the real deal." They nodded approvingly and knowingly.
It used to bother me that my perspective usually is very different from others'. It doesn't bother me anymore. And the speaker before me wasn't wrong (except, in my opinion, to repeat the cultural bias that being a manager isn't cool - we need to all be leaders instead. Every job has its own blend of the two functions.)
"What struck you as so different?" I ask.
"That feelings are part of powerful communication. The fellow before you would have us all be feeling-less robots."
"I'm sorry. But we're women!" the woman next to her exclaims. "He about croaked in a breakout session when someone asked 'What do you do when you have a crier?'"
It isn't just gender difference. I see being able to integrate feelings into professional communication as a leadership skill. I also see cultivating persona as a piece of the puzzle and not the whole deal. In my world, it's better to, for example, become trustworthy, than to focus extensively on appearing trustworthy. Most of the time, who you are shines through any packaging attempt. If you have some residual habits that signal a lack of trustworthiness, it's good to identify them and consciously change them. But I see that as secondary.
I also see persona as something to approach with caution. We can only consciously focus on a few things at a time. If I'm consciously attempting to appear confident, say by adopting a stance like the photo, that takes some of the bandwidth I need to listen well and BE confident because I understand the situation.
If you're more interested in cultivating persona, don't listen to me. It's not my focus. If you're interested in cultivating excellence, I'm your gal. That means cultivating true personhood. It takes longer - my eCourse is one whole year of learning and practice. But in the end, it makes you the best you that you can be. That beats persona any day, in my opinion.
We promised my friend Susan that we would sing her a happy birthday song, but not the traditional one. I chose Mr. Rogers' birthday song; however, I was struck by its passive tone and felt a need to revise it. Here are the words:
Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Dear Friend. We sing to you. Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday to you.
We thought we’d try to tell you how we love you on your birthday. We thought we’d try to sing and dance and play today. We wanted to surprise you on your birthday and say, We love you every day. Not just today.
Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Dear Friend. We sing to you. Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday to you.
How many limiting words do you detect in the lyrics? What are they?
"We thought" and "try" and "we wanted" stand out to me. We didn't just think it, we did it. We didn't try to tell her we loved her, we told her. And we did more than try to dance, sing and play.
It's a lovely and sweet song. We just needed to remove the "respect-robbing poison phrases."
Susan loved it.
After you've digested that one, check out the "Happy Birthday Song" by Casey Jones. It was my favorite as a child, but even then I was uncomfortable with part of the message and wanted to change some words. See if they hit you as a bit off.
"What if you say what you mean and mean what you say without being mean when you say it, and the person you're speaking to still gets their feelings hurt?"
That was a question for me at the end of my keynote.
You could be the perfect communicator, using the perfect phrases, with the perfect body language and still find your words sting. The "Ultimate Communication Formula" doesn't guarantee roses and lolipops. What it does do, is give you confidence that if someone reacts to your words, you gave it your best.
The speaker before me had given tips for offering feedback. I added a few comments.
Ask people how they like to receive feedback moving forward. Sometimes I'll say, "That didn't go as well as I had hoped. How could I have said that better? How can I give feedback in a way that works for you?"
Cultivate a continuous improvement culture where feedback doesn't imply you did something wrong. If we're all improving each step of the way, feedback is a welcome gift that helps us reach the next level.
Share your own mistakes when you talk about theirs. Then, move on to discussing how to avoid making similar errors in the future. For example, when someone missed an appointment with me because they got their days confused, I mentioned that the last time I had gotten my days mixed up, I showed up a day early. Then we went on to discuss using TimeBridge to track our appointments.
Of all these tips, what is key for me, and often not even considered, is to ask:
How do you like to receive feedback?
(P.S. On an unrelated note: I made it home from Long Beach just fine. The pass had opened three hours before my flight landed. Yay for that!)
It's another one of my guiding lights. What if every word you speak contains a conscious invocation? Think of the invocation not in a ritual sense, but instead, in a sense of speaking as much for effect as for information conveyed.
The fact is, every word we speak has a conscious, as well as, unconscious effect. When I mention how my mother communicated, I invoke images, impressions and feelings of my mother that are different from what I would invoke if I spoke of an old manager who communicated the same way. Chances are, you aren't even conscious of the full impact of what I've enlivened in you. But you will still be affected by it. (You are also affected by the picture I posted of her.)
I assure you, Steve Jobs and Tony Robbins know (knew) that invocations invoke. They consciously invoke(d) something in their listener with every word (and picture).
In normal times, 4.5 inched of rain over a 24 hour period isn't a cause for being on alert. But these are not normal times in Colorado Springs - and as of last night, Colorado in general. Bob wanted me to stay in town last night because of flash flood warnings. He was worried the pass into town would be closed and I would be unable to catch my flight to LA.
I was concerned too, but wasn't ready to leave and thought I was safe to stay. I figured, worst case scenario, I would need to drive the back roads to South Denver and take the interstate back down. That would turn a twenty minute drive into a four hour one, but it was possible.
When when a deluge hit just before bed, I started thinking I should have listened to Bob.
I was up in the night watching the coverage of flood events, including the closing of Highway 24, which is the only direct way in to Colorado Springs. Not only that, but Denver was getting flooded too. My escape route might have been treacherous.
When I'm a breakout speaker, I know that if my best effort to get to the conference isn't good enough, it won't put a big hole in the event. But when I'm keynoting, as I am tomorrow, it has a much bigger impact on the event.
I was stressing in the wee hours of the morning. Then I asked myself what my biggest stress was. It was me being hard on myself. I had made a calculated guess based on the information I had at the time and chose to stay put until morning. If my guess was wrong, I would have to cut myself some slack (while duly noting the situation for future planning.) If the rain didn't let up, at least I could let up on myself.
The pass opened at 6:00 and I left at 8:00 for my noon flight. When I arrived at the airport around 9:00 I had an alert that the pass was closed again. I happily wait at the airport.
We are all becoming more savvy about what rain means in our community since the fires last year. In the process, many of us are learning that when life is a bit hard on us, we can at least let up on ourselves. (And each other, of course.)
As I told my assistant Cassia, we strive for perfection, but we don't expect it.
"Move the mouse to the left," I instructed my visually impaired father. From a thousand miles away, I watched his curser move to the right on his computer screen. "It's moving to the right now," I noted. "Try the opposite direction."
If you had been a fly on my wall yesterday, you would have understood why my father referred to my "infinite patience." Forty-five minutes later, my father had started an email and was ready to compose a message. He was also ready for a break. So was I.
It was tedious but it was also very sweet. Sometimes taking time to really be with people is like that. Working with my father on his computer is good practice for me.