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?
In the book Toyota Kata, Mike Rother observes that the thinking behind Toyota practices is more important than the practices themselves. Yes, you might be able to improve a process by, say, copying a kanban system, but if you understand what led to that system in the first place, you have the key to improving every process you have - from customer service to product development on around.
Remember that the next time someone tells you about an achievement. And by all means, ask:
What is the thinking behind that idea/decision/action?
Achievements are far less interesting than the process that led to them.
A lean journey? People in lean manufacturing and management refer to their "lean journeys". That expression is very telling. The first word you get when you look up the term journey in the thesaurus is adventure. You'll also find words like exploration and quest and pilgrimage. A journey is about more than getting somewhere. The term indicates that the process of getting somewhere is full of surprises and experiences and awakenings. How you get there is as important as arriving.
A Speak STRONG journey? The path unfolds with each step. It's full of surprises, experiences and awakenings. Each step informs the next. You take the first step - speak in a new way - and see what happens. It might be exactly what you hoped for. It might not. You could be very surprised by what happens - which means you learn a lot. Your second step - new communication - is based on what you learn from the first.
A journey isn't a simple wandering. There is a quest - a search - an exploration. And on this quest, you're likely to go down some rabbit holes and side trails. You'll need to find your way back from them. And find your way again.
Lean and Speaking STRONG are journeys. What kind of journeys are you on?
Jarla joked about how we make money the old-fashioned way - by working our tails off. Judith replied,
I'm challenging that belief system these days.
I like the way Judith's words gracefully shined a light on the assumptions in Jarla's remarks. Her words inspired a discussion of how the assumption that we need to work that hard might limit us. Not that any of us don't want to work or value work. It's more that... well... I'll let you reflect on it for a bit. How might that belief system limit our options for success? How might it limit yours?
This post isn't really about that particular belief system. It's about ALL the beliefs that are true because we assume they are. For example, one belief I run into is people who believe they can't say what they mean and mean what they say without being mean when they say it. Sure - there may be reasons why you don't and consequences if you do, and preparations you would want to make before you live your life communicating that way. But is it possible that you hold yourself back from rich expression because of a belief that deserves challenging?
What belief systems are you ready to challenge? The path of continuous communication improvement is a path of continuously challenging beliefs that limit you - often unnecessarily.
In my own SpeakSTRONG Journey, I find myself continually making choices to keep conversations and relationships moving forward. Recently "Dillion" backed down on an offer he had made that I had based plans on. I felt the tug and pull toward pressuring him into delivering. I knew from my first hint of doing that that even if I "won" I would have lost. Things change, and even though Dillion's reason sounded lame to me, I knew if I pressured him and he gave in, the result would be unsatisfying and it would damage the relationship. I also knew I wasn't in the right mood, mindset or understanding to address the deeper questions I had about the situation.
When I feel my desire to pressure someone into giving me what I want, my kata, or practice, is to back off, let up and reflect. I have a phrase I focus that reflection around. It's:
How can I turn this problem into an opportunity? What can I do that could make me glad this happened exactly as it did?
Trust me here - I was tempted to go down a corridor of blame. I was tempted to build a case against Dillion filled with evidence of how I had been wronged.
But my kata - my communication practice - sends me down another corridor. I found another way to get my needs met - by someone who brought a whole different skill set to the equation. Once I had that in place, much of my judgment around Dillion dissolved. Without the judgment, our conversation about what happened and how we can count on each other in the future became much more productive than it would have been had I not pulled myself back from the corridor of blame.
Watch the paths you're tempted to take in your SpeakSTRONG Journey. Make sure you have phrases ready that pull you back from ones you might wish you hadn't taken.
My first husband, Mike Runion, passed away 25 years ago May 13th. My son and I are headed to Nashville for a graveside memorial. I've been collecting words of remembrance from people who knew Mike. It's deeply heartening to receive the sweet memories. We'll share them graveside at the celebration of Mike's life.
Celebration of Mike's life. When it became clear to me that that's what I wanted this event to be, things started to fall into place. That's the power of a vision. Have any of you been part of an event like this one? How would you honor someone's life 25 years later?
"Missy" was telling us why our ideas to improve a process wouldn't work. Mike asked her:
Are you giving us reasons not to do it, or identifying an obstacle we would have to address in order to be able to do it?
The tone in the room changed immediately and we moved forward with new inspiration and clarity. Missy had confused obstacles with reasons. I can't count how often people do that when asked to try something new.
Obstacles and reasons are not the same. But if we act like they are, and see them as impenetrable barriers before we've explored them, we will miss some fabulous opportunities. We need to see them for what they are - things we would have to address to move forward.
Don't overcompensate and dismiss obstacles as if they don't exist. That sets you up for failure. Personally, I think many people hold on to their obstacles as reasons not to progress, because they're afraid they'll be expected to move forward as if there were no obstacles. When you know the difference, you can move forward intelligently.
Who would have guessed that when asked to build a tall tower out of marshmallows, spaghetti and a few other odd materials, kindergartners would far outperform recent business school graduates? That's what Tom Wujek discovered with a team-building and problem-solving exercise.
It was am impressive result, but what impresses me more is how much better CEO's performed when they worked on the project with admins.
As you can see, alone, CEO's towers were not as tall as the kindergartner's. With executive admins, the towers were taller than kindergartner's and they were only surpassed by architects and engineers.
Why do business school students perform so poorly? Wujek referred to posturing and power plays that ate precious time. Why do admins and CEO's together perform better than CEO's? Wujek notes that admins are used to looking at systems and at facilitation. I believe admins compensate for their exec's weaknesses and are used to helping them focus forward.
To me, there's a big takeaway for admins in this. If you're not SpeakingSTRONG with your exec, you're depriving him or her of your expertise. The partnership adds to effectiveness, so don't hold your skills back.
What's your vision of perfection when it comes to communication? Mine is a world where everyone says what they mean and means what they say without being mean when they say it, leaning forward toward a shared vision of reality. I'd like to live in that world. The world at large is much too interested in power plays and posturing to strive toward that kind of communication, but my individual worlds - my predominant personal and professional networks - live in some semblance of that reality. That fact is no accident.
A vision is an important aspect of the SpeakSTRONG Method of communication. Once you know what perfection might look like, you immediately see ways that your own reality falls short of that vision. You can moan and groan and point the finger of blame, or you can look at the gap and see what the obstacles are. For me, when I failed to speak assertively when my now late husband showed signs of cancer, one big obstacle was my own self-doubt. I had no experiece in challenging authority (which, in 1986 I regarded my husband as being). That played into my self-doubt. The fact that I had done so little assertive communicating meant that I didn't have the words or the methods. I was afraid to fumble through in the relationships I had, so an important first step was to find a relationship where I did feel safe. And my communication practice began.
So note the disctinction. My guiding principle is a world (office, friendship, marriage, etc.) where everyone says what they mean and means what they say without being mean when they say it. That doesn't mean the way to get there is to start speaking that way. There are reasons why you operate the way you do. The way to bridge the gap between perfection and current reality is through consistent practices in small steps that address the obstacles. By the way, that's why I wrote the book SpeakSTRONG. It provides hundreds of possible practices.
Have you taken my communication style inventory yet? It's light and playful, yet it's informative. And, personally, I think I created an inventory that does what these things are intended to do. Once you learn your preferred style, it tells you what your strengths are, what PowerPhrases you could use more, and what Poison Phrases you likely need to watch out for. It shows you how to leverage who you are, but also how to balance who you are so others aren't expected to pick up the pieces for you. It then refers you to my PowerPhrases! book so you can learn more about communicating with other styles.
Too many people use style quizzes to justify bad behavior and limitations. Sure, it's good to know you like to get your ducks in a row before you speak, but that doesn't mean you never need to collaborate. Sure, it's wonderful that you're such a visionary. That doesn't justify setting people up for failure by creating new initiatives no one can implement. And don't withhold your honest observations and justify it as a style thing.
Penny and Mary were discussing the possibility of working on a project together. Mary was having a tough time figuring how to structure it because Penny's communication was so guarded that Mary had little idea of who Penny was, what Penny's strengths were and how it might best work to collaborate. She figured they'd find their connection at the longer meeting they had planned. Imagine her shock when Penny decided to bail before that meeting because she needed more structure! This was the first Mary had heard about Penny having any problem with the dialog at all.
Penny called it a style difference. Ironically, people who knew them both thought they had the same style. The real problem seemed to be that Penny wasn't saying what she meant and meaning what she said without being mean when she said it. She kept her concerns private until she snapped and pulled the plug. Mary felt blindsided.
And Mary agreed it wasn't a match, not because their styles were different. With good communication, styles can be bridged. But because Penny chose to keep information from Mary that she needed to relate effectively.
How about you? Do you justify your limits and hide bad behavior behind a style category? Or do you use that information to tap into your strengths and help you understand where your style might be a challenge for others so you can find a way to relate that works for everyone?
Some of my phrases come from others. Some come from observation. Some come from deep reflection. And some fall out of my mouth, and I observe, thinking, that was interesting! That was effective!
I'm attending training with people it's very good for me to network with. I find myself continuously saying things that create a sense of a group. For example, I got in the shuttle and said,
Are your my training buddies today?
I referred to my table mates as my
I continuously and spontaneously find myself referring to the people around me in ways that referred to a relationship. Those words create a sense of being a part of a group - and I find it results in dinner invitations with people who might just have included people they already knew, people looking out for my interests and so on.
I admit, I don't know what I might say next. But it feels right and has a nice effect, so I won't interfere with my natural tendencies here.
I'm working on a table of contents for an ice-breaking book for McGraw Hill. At first I wan't inspired by the topic, but I found my inspiration when talking with wise friends about what makes an ice-breaker matter. They used words like purposeful, and forward moving. Suddenly it all clicked in. I was a bit turned off by the plethora of meeting openers and activities that have little or nothing to do with the meeting at hand. You know, talking about your favorite pet as a child. But once we started talking about the deeper purpose of our proposed phrases, I felt inspired.
None of us likes the word ice-breaker very much. For one thing, it focuses on getting rid of what we don't want - ice - instead of what we do want - warmth and trust. And we want warmth and trust so we can get in alignment with each other. But alignment is only another step. Alignment is far better than working at cross-purposes, but it's not as dynamic as synergy. Synergy taps into everyone's creativity in ways that allow for forward movement.
So we go from ice-breaking to warmth and trust to alignment to synergy. I'd love to title the book Perfect Phrases to Melt the Ice to Create Alignment that Evolves into Synergy, but I know it won't fly.
I'm sure once I've had more time to synergize with my buddies, the perfect title will come. I love the creative process, even if I often wish it would move more quickly than it does.