"Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say Without Being Mean When You Say It" ~ Meryl Runion Rose                                ShoppingCart Plum NB 50

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Effective Communication Skill Blog

Alchemist in Meryl.150Communication skills are great in theory, but how are they in practice? This Effective Communication Skill Blog shows 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?

Good advice gone bad

pulpitI stumbled across a video of a teacher talking about the importance of appreciation. Watching, I felt preached at.

Then my husband came in. He was eager to tell me how grateful he was for all the blessing in his and our life. I felt inspired by his heartfelt appreciation. Funny how it works.

Now, I could have started this post by telling you that great teachers show more than they tell. Great teachers give advice sparingly, and they favor giving you experiences (for example by sharing stories) so you can draw your own conclusions. 

But I chose a different approach. I didn't want you to feel preached at. I didn't want good advice to go bad.

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Don't buy into this self-improvement con

What's wrong with this picture?

cat ready to pounceThere's a world of self-improvement and how-to experts that tell their stories and give their advice in ways that imply that all you need to do is one simple thing and you will be as happy and successful as they are. Or worse, change a single thought and you'll be as happy as they are.

Only if you know the back story, you might know they're not as happy as you are, and their success came from paying a price you're not willing to pay. Like telling others how to be "as happy as they are" when they're feeling empty and alone. "Just do what I did!" they'll say. If you know the back story, you know why their words don't ring true for you. 

That's when your role models become the cat and the elderly lady next door who manage to make life work in simple ways. Somehow, their very being is good advice. And they're too busy being themselves to tell you how to be.

What's right with this picture?

But there are plenty of successful people worth studying who earned their way to the top by seeking true excellence. You might not recognize them right away, because they're quick to let you know they are works in progress. They're humble enough to genuinely want to learn from you. And they might not give advice at all, but somehow you leave with answers even though they only asked questions.

And they're not going to suggest that excellence doesn't take practice. They know it does. 

Is it harmless? 

The tragedy is that many people invest their money and energy into emulating people who imply what they did is easy and you can do it, too. If they had honest representation, they might have made a different choice. They feel like they failed because it was supposed to be easy. The problem must be them.

Excellence takes practice

So know that improvement in any area takes time and practice. If you're into it whole-heartedly, your practice will be easy and pleasurable - but even then you're likely to come up against walls where you're tempted to give it up. Is there such a thing as overnight successes, pivotal moments and magic bullets? Sure. They happen. But even "overnight success" usually is the result of deliberate ground-work and practice laid out over time.

So don't buy into the self-improvement con that marketing experts have found sells a lot of books and courses. If what they're telling you is working for you, go for it. But if it doesn't ring true, don't assume the problem is you. 

Excellence takes practice. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

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John Gray is still using the point system. Are you?

abacusI like John Gray. I think his Mars Venus info has its place. But I was disappointed to hear that he's still talking about saying things to score points. He tells guys that every expression of appreciation is worth one point in girl currency. You get a point for saying, "tell me more." You get a point for working hard. You get a point for a single rose. You get a point for a dozen roses. 

John Gray's point system misses the point.

You can go cheap or you can go deep. If you're saying things to score points and monitoring your tone to sound sincere, you're going cheap.

Do you live your life to score points? Think about it. I don't appreciate the beauty of my hiking trails to score points. I don't appreciate brilliant ideas to score points. I don't appreciate great food to score points. I do it because I value those things. And if I'm excited about what someone does, I don't tell them to score points. I tell them because my appreciation overflows. 

Now, it's true that sometimes we develop a habit of not sharing our heart-felt appreciation. That's a good habit to change.

Points feed transactional relationships

But a problem with sharing appreciation to score points is, it's transactional. It feeds transactional relationships, not synergetic ones. It's "give to get," not "give as a gift." And the sense of obligation it creates can be deadly to relationships. It gets people thinking they're owed. The best relationships are ones where giving is for it's own pleasure, not to score points.

Here's another point problem. It turns men into little boys and women into mothers. Now there's a turn-on for you! (In case you missed it, that was irony.)

The same is true of giving in business. I don't weigh in on a colleague's work because I hope they'll weigh in on mine. I do it because I enjoy it. I often close by saying, "thanks for letting me play." If it starts turning into work for me, I reconsider. Keeping score changes the relationship, and not in a good way. 

It's about the synergy

If you don't feel appreciation, don't express it. Do go deep and find out why you don't have it. Do have conversations with yourself, and perhaps with others about how you can show up more dynamically. Don't settle for transaction when you can have synergy. Don't miss the point by going for points. 

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If you have to say this, it probably ain't so

I received the following letter:

Dear Meryl

communication questionsI came across your website, and I want to share an experience I had at a leadership conference.

The speaker had been teaching and coaching about leadership for over 20 years to small and large groups.

He comes on stage, and says, "Hi, I'm John, and I am your friend." Then he repeats this several times throughout his talk. When he says these remarks, he is sitting down in front of the audience with a glass of water at the table. In other words, he wants to look relaxed and comfortable.

I instantly recognize this as non-authentic communication and manipulation. Accordingly, he has broken your rules for effective communication.

Then he goes on to say that he forgot to bring the books that he sells which he would autograph if he had them available. But he reminds the audience that anyone can purchase these books on Amazon, and, of course, he says again, "I'm John, and I am your friend."

Maybe he should take your course.

Hi Steve,

I got a kick out of your email. The shift in leadership communication trends can be challenging for many! Trying to be authentic is like trying to relax. Announcing you're a friend is a lot like saying, "I'll be honest with you." Suddenly you doubt it. And I'm reading a book that observes that if you want to win at tennis, ask your opponent how she manages her great serves. Get her thinking about it, and her naturalness disappears. The call for authenticity can be like that, too. We become self-conscious and find it impossible to drop the act – although our act might be of not having an act.

Now, wouldn't it be ironic if someone had attended a presentation I gave and emailed John to tell him I needed to attend his seminar? Who knows – perhaps I do!

Anyway, thanks for passing this on,


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Can you guess this PowerPhrase?

There's a PowerPhrase that most business people have the opportunity to use every day, and many neglect to. Can you guess what it is?

powerphrase_icon2Many professionals consider it unprofessional to omit this PowerPhrase, and say you can tell someone is a professional who uses it deliberately. While the PowerPhrase is universal, everyone has their own version of it. Do you know what it is yet?

Some people think that not using this PowerPhrase is disrespectful, because it it causes more work for others. Neglecting it certainly can cause lost opportunity. Any idea yet?

A vendor sent me a message the other day and didn't include this PowerPhrase. That caused a problem.

Okay... if you haven't guessed yet (or if you have), here's the deal. Your phone number is a PowerPhrase. Your contact info is a PowerPhrase. Make it easy for people to get back to you by stating it clearly and slowly enough for them to be able to understand it and write it down. This applies, even if you think they have it, but especially if you're not certain that they do. 

It's common courtesy - which tends to be pretty powerful. So consider getting in the habit of being one of those professionals who uses it. 





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Every good conversation deserves a proper good-bye

When McGraw Hill asked me if I was interested in writing Perfect Phrases for Icebreakers, I accepted, partly because I had come to realize how much the way you open a conversation matters. Openings set the stage for good interaction. 

powerphrase_icon2Closings matter, too. You know this if you've ever been on the phone with someone who ended abruptly or clearly left you (in terms of attention) before the conversation had been mutually concluded. It feels odd.

Sometimes I'll be ending a conversation when someone else will call, show up or otherwise invite my attention. Since the conversation is all but complete, it's tempting to rush off to take the next call or tend to the visitor. What I prefer is to ask,

  • Can you hang on just a sec? I want to ask this person to wait a moment so we can say a proper good-bye. 

Most people appreciate the effort to close the conversation with the grace it deserves. I've yet to have anyone object to the short wait.

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Stop making conversation and start inviting it

I visit a chiropractor who has great skills, a good heart, and tedious communication skills. He tried too hard. He makes conversation instead of inviting it.

phrase book for breaking the iceFor example, he asked, "how was your drive down?" This can be an acceptably good icebreaker question if you are actually interested in the response. I didn't detect genuine interest, but decided to respond in a way that gave him something to go with. I briefly mentioned the CD I enjoyed while driving and shared a quick observation I made on the trip.

He proceeded to ask about the weather, what I've been doing lately and other unrelated topics without any indication of having listened to any of my responses. 

It would be okay if he was comfortable with silence, but he's not. As soon as it gets quiet, he throws out another canned icebreaker.

One thing that helps me in my world of chit-chat is to think about my task as inviting conversation instead of making it. Of course, when you offer an invitation, you need to be prepared to respond to your guest. So an important tip is, don't ask a question if you have no interest in the response.

Diane Windingland and I wrote a book of icebreaker phrases. It's not about making conversation. It's about inviting it. Check it out. 

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"Mockingbird" offers sweet lessons from a child with Aspergers Syndrome

Mockingbird by Lisa Erskine may be a teen book, but it made great reading for my husband and me. It's the tale of a young girl, Kaitlin, with Aspergers Syndrome who struggles to cope. We both learned a lot from seeing the world through her eyes. 

mockingbird-128x150Kaitlin has a very literal view of the world. She is confused by statements like "lunch will be served on the lawn." Her mind doesn't make the leap to the fact that lunch is actually on tables on the lawn. Similarly, she has difficulties with common figures of speech. She has a sometimes irritating, but often delightful simplicity and honesty. 

One striking thing in the tale for me was how Kaitlin became intrigued by words that represented important concepts. The word "closure" became an anchor for her attempt to resolve her issues around the loss of her beloved brother in a school shooting. The word "finesse" and "empathy" guided her struggles to develop social skills. That is true for all of us - once we name a concept, it becomes more concrete and real for us. Effective words provide compelling anchors. 

Here's a phrase Kaitlin invented. She didn't like the chaos of recess, so any discomfort became framed as "that recess feeling." Ever since, Bob and I started noting to each other when we get our own "recess feelings." Our shared experience of the book created a shared language of a feeling we both experience. 

Mockingbird is a great read. You'll learn a lot about Apergers - and if you're like us, you'll also learn a lot about yourself. 

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PowerPhrases take a magic eye

East and west meet in the Movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. One of the characters loves India and the other does not. At one point the dissenting character asks the perfect question.

Power Phrase

  •  What are you seeing that I'm not?

Most conflict happens between people who see the upside of one polarity and the downside of another. It's easy to dismiss people who see the upside of the perspective you don't embrace, and the downside of the one you do.

It's more effective to ask about what they're seeing that you're missing.

Have you ever looked at a "Magic Eye" illustration? At first it looks like a bunch of odd images. Once you develop the "magic eye" you can see embedded three dimensional images. Before I developed my ability to see them, I was tempted to conclude that those who said they saw them were playing tricks on me.

Which brings us to the second PowerPhrase.

  • How are you looking at it to see it that way?

My husband couldn't see magic eye images either - until he received instructions about how.

face vase illusion

A question of style

My husband and I have very different styles. For years, we were baffled by each other's perspectives. Once we developed the habit of inquiring into embracing the other's view, we started learning a lot about each other - and about what perspectives we were missing. Now, the same qualities that once seemed so baffling are the qualities we value most in each other. 

In fact, as many people do, we went through stages of conflict to compromise. But once we became able to more readily see what the other saw, we also became able to more readily collaborate without compromise.

Style differences are often the result of favoring the upside of one style and dismissing the upside of another. Likeables and Visionaries see the beauty of being people-oriented and can miss the value of being task-oriented that Directives and Reflectives embrace. And visa versa. Visionaries and Directives see the value of speed and can miss the value of a more considered pace that Likeables and Reflectives embrace. You can explore your style here

One perspective can complement another

It's like the standard images where you can see one thing or another. Is the image on the right a face, or a vase? The answer, of course, is yes! And the most interesting thing about it, is the two images are interdependent. Take the faces away and there is no vase. Take the vase away and there are no faces. So if you see one aspect and someone else sees another, their view does not negate yours, it augments it. 

When you find yourself on the opposite side of a polarity from someone, you can learn the most by shifting your perspective to see what they see. Only then will they be likely to be able to hear your concerns about the downside of the side they represent and the upside, or value of your perspective. 

We can cling to one view or another, but the reality is much bigger than any of us see by ourselves. That's why it takes all of us talking with each other to move forward. 

But wait, there's more. There comes a point where you cannot just see the face and the vase alternatively. You can see them simultaneously. Communication gets even more dynamic when you do. 

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Not all teaching organizations are learning organizations

IvoryTowerWhat do you think when a Political Science Department of a major university can't govern themselves? This one in particular went into receivership because they couldn't resolve their issues. Kind of scary, isn't it?

How about a leadership training center or a management seminar company with lousy leadership and management?

One thing is clear - not all teaching organizations are learning organizations. My training buddies and I have direct experience of this phenomenon. We've subcontracted to teaching organizations that have a lot to learn. Ironically, the principles and practices they lacked were the same ones their trainers were sharing with clients every day.

Leadership author Peter Senge notes that "to create a competitive advantage, companies need to learn faster than their competitors." Most of the teaching organizations that my training buddies and I have associated with teach that principle - but many have closed the feedback loops that would put that principle in practice. One friend was told

- "don't call any of the managers on their stuff if you want to work here."

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Read more: Not all teaching organizations are learning organizations

Respect for People Toyota Style

In a recent blog post, Lesa Nichols asks the question, "If I respect you, how do you know?" Lesa Nichols is a Lean Management Consultant who understands the heart of people showing respect for employees.

People showing respect for employee birthdaysLesa contrasts respect in the form of things and programs with respect Toyota Style. She asks you to consider the work people are asked to do. Here are her questions for you to consider. 

"Does the work:

  • foster a sense of accomplishment at the end of every day?
  • demonstrate that the organization could not meet customer needs without them?
  • encourage them to raise problems and solutions without a sense of fear?
  • arrange their worksite so that it is comfortable and logical to them?
  • show them how their work is connected to the rest of the work being done?
  • require that they think about the work and how it could be improved?"


Let's go back to Lesa's question. If (as a manager or leader) I respect you, how do you know? The answer? I can answer yes to all the questions - or at least aspire to be able to answer yes. 

Sure, daycare is great. There's nothing wrong with employee appreciation day. Many people like it when their managers remember their birthdays. But random acknowledgements and a menu of perks doesn't make up for treating employees and workers as hired hands rather than thinking people. Check out Lesa's new blog and read the entire post, Respect for People. 

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Article Use

Please copy, quote, distribute, share and publish these articles with the following credits.

©2015 Meryl Runion Rose. Meryl is a Certified Speaking Professional and the Creator of the SpeakStrong Method of Dynamically Effective Communication. Find her at www.SpeakStrong.com

Let me know how you use them. Thanks!  

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