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Truth Lies and Good Communication Skills

  
  
  
  
  

Communication SkillsPosted By Leslie Dickson 

 

Raise your right hand and solemnly swear…     

VoicePro, Communication Skills
It seems like building a strong team would be easier if everyone had to take that pledge when they walked in the office door each morning.  It seems like effectiveness would be higher.  It seems like more work would get done more quickly.

Yes, it seems like a good idea.  But apparently it’s not.  According to Dana Theus, almost half of the 155 respondents to her unscientific survey said telling the truth to a boss wasn’t necessarily good for a career.  Eight in 10 believe they’ve suffered career retaliation at least once for truth-telling to a superior. 

Yes, I know.  What one person may consider truth may be simply faulty opinion to another.  And, truth that’s told out of cruelty instead of concern can do more harm than good.  Still, as a leader, you need to foster open and honest exchanges upon which to make decisions.  In fact, Theus notes a study by the Corporate Executive Board that found organizations with closed cultures had a more than 5% lower total shareholder return.

It’s easy to hear truth when it matches your own opinion but what if it doesn’t?  If you’re angry and upset, you’re likely to miss something important – whether it’s a crucial fact you’ve overlooked, a tiny nugget of truth wrapped in misguided opinion, or simply the misguided mindset of a team member. 

Here’s how to get the most from the situation:

  • First, stop and breathe.  That will help you settle yourself, cap your anger and irritation, and truly listen.
  • Show respect for the other person.  A dismissive response or losing your temper doesn’t serve either of you nor your organization.
  • Probe for the facts with an open mind.  You’re not looking to refute the message, just gathering as much information as possible.
  • Acknowledge truth-tellers’ efforts and thank them. If you’re not ready to respond, for reasons of time or emotion, set another time to do so.

Of course, the conversation itself isn’t the only risk for the team member sharing a negative viewpoint.  After the fact, be certain you honestly consider the message.  Consider the strength of you own data, examine your position, seek out additional data.  And, of course, be open to changing your mind. 

What if, after careful review, you judge that the “truth” isn’t?  You owe it to your organization and team member to talk things through, explain your reasoning and work for understanding and harmony.  Try resolving the problems through Dialogue, not argument.  This step-by-step process of collaboration can help resolve issues based on inquiry, listening, the respectful interchange of ideas, and designing ways to test competing viewpoints.

Hearing critical – even hurtful – information from colleagues may not be pleasant.  But if it’s handled positively and professionally, it’s good for everyone…to tell the truth. 

We can teach you all of this and more through our Leading Relationships seminar!

Image by  Karrierebibel.de

Leadership Means Listening To, As Well As Delivering Tough Messages

  
  
  
  
  

Carolyn DicksonPosted by Carolyn Dickson 

 

 

Great Communication SkillsIt’s easy to be a good listener when things are going well. You’re feeling great, you like and respect the speaker, and the news is good. In a situation like this, you’re able to pay attention and ask just the right questions. You’re even able to read between the lines and interpret what you hear in a positive, constructive way. Under these circumstances, leveraging your communication skills is a simple task. But how open, calm and attentive can you remain when the message is not good news?

When a person hears bad news, alarm bells go off. The instantaneous reaction is: DANGER! Your mind races, your heart pounds, your hands get clammy and your stomach churns. You go into survival mode. “What about me?” your inner voice clamors. ”How will this affect me? What can I do to keep myself secure?”

We’ve been witnessing this emotional fight or flight roller coaster since the beginning of the recession. Every time the stock market drops, another local company announces layoffs or, worse, closes its doors forever, our thoughts race to how we, individually, can keep ourselves safe when life is spiraling out of control. Every time we hear another piece of bad news, we must deal with our churning emotions and brace ourselves once again for sleepless nights.

When news is bad, there’s a danger of shutting down emotionally before the whole story can be absorbed. Clear thinking disappears, and it becomes impossible to reason oneself into a state of calm awareness. Certainly, when the message isn’t what you want to hear, mindful listening and good communication skills becomes more and more of a challenge. This is just as true at work as it is anywhere else.

A client relayed her experience of bad news that would have derailed her career had she not caught herself in time. It’s a good example of how we all need to listen carefully and respond with reasoned consideration when we’re hit with a very tough message.

Maria read the bad news in the morning paper. The company was closing her division. On her car radio, commentators were censuring the corporate decision in impassioned terms. By the time she got to work, she was in a state of panic. It didn’t help to walk into the office and find groups of anxious people buzzing with concern—each ugly rumor more frightening then the last. The entire office was in a state of meltdown.

At first, Maria felt herself losing control. Then she stopped and took a deep breath. Silently, inside herself, she acknowledged her fear, but made the wise decision not to let it stand in her way. Instead, she waited quietly in her office until the company meeting, where she heard her bosses describe the situation and lay out the facts. She listened with an open mind and, in so doing, learned things weren’t quite as disastrous as the reporters had made it sound. Over the next few weeks, she stayed open, studied her options, and looked for ways to salvage what she could. She was also careful not to get hooked into the gossiping and rumor mongering of her coworkers.

As a result of careful listening and judicious decision-making, Maria accepted a transfer to a smaller division, where she eventually became its chief operating officer. A highly successful executive today, she looks back on that experience as a key step in the advancement of her career. She’s grateful she didn’t shut down initially from anger and frustration. She’s grateful she took the time to listen.

So, when you get hit with bad news, follow this helpful advice:

  • Stop, settle yourself, and take a deep breath.
  • Get the facts. Identify rumors for what they are, set them aside, and learn the real story.
  • Accept that the fear, anger, and frustration you feel is a natural part of your emotional state. But, don’t let those emotions drive your behavior.
  • Stay open throughout.
  • Weigh your options. Think them through carefully before making a decision.

Listening with an open mind, whether the news is good or bad, is the beginning of wisdom. Surviving the current onslaught of tough messages will be easier if you listen, learn, and take control of your emotions.

Image by mcbfly

3 Core Communication Skills to Build Meaningful Personal Partnerships

  
  
  
  
  

Carolyn Dickson

 

Posted by Carolyn Dickson

 

Core Communication Skills Troubled times seem much less troubled when you don’t feel like you’re going it alone. In our coaching work at VoicePro®, we’ve found that sometimes our clients are almost desperate for someone they can really talk to. When you’re able to discuss troublesome issues with a trusted confidant—to expose your worries to the light of day—the chattering in your head that causes panic and keeps you awake at night can lessen, even cease altogether. And while this sounds wonderful, you can’t voice your innermost thoughts with just anyone. That someone needs to be a true partner.
 
We usually speak of partnerships as legal entities. Organizations partner in joint ventures and professional firms can be structured as partnerships. My daughter Leslie and I have been business partners at VoicePro® for years, but our relationship is more than that. It has become a personal partnership of respect, caring and, above all, understanding. This is what we all seek as individuals, and it’s the kind of partnership anyone can build.
 
Building a meaningful personal partnership requires good core communication skills. Here are three critical points:

Seek Common Ground

  • Begin with the end in mind. What goals do you have in common? Discover where your values and ideas converge and build on them.
  • Walk with integrity. Always. Abandon hidden agendas and work for the mutual benefit of your partnership and your organization. Do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it. Be the one person your partner can trust and count on.
  • Let your partner see the inner you—within the bounds of propriety and at times when you feel safe. When you let your guard down, even a little, and show some vulnerability, your partner is likely to relax and do the same. In this way, trusting relationships are forged.

Give Respect and Appreciation

  • Listen. When your partner needs to talk, don’t interrupt. Hear her out until you have complete understanding, not only for the facts of the matter but her feelings as well.
  • Avoid rushing to judgment. You really don’t need to say, “You’re wrong,” even when you know in your heart he’s wrong. A time will come when you can give your own point of view or offer suggestions, but if your partner is seeking understanding, that and that alone is what you’re there to give.
  • Give your full attention. Put everything else aside and focus entirely on your partner. No checking of email, no texting, no grabbing a bite to eat while you have a chance. Your own needs can wait, so save your multi-tasking skills for another time.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

  • Give her the benefit of the doubt. If you find yourself getting angry over something she’s done, bring it out in the open. Don’t hide behind hurt feelings, and don’t let things fester. It’s amazing how trivial misunderstandings can seem when they’re exposed to the light of day.
  • Assume good intentions. This is someone you trust, remember? So avoid the blame game, give him the benefit of the doubt, talk it through, and move on.
  • Share your own feelings. If you have concerns, voice them from your own point of view. Use “I” statements: I am concern about…. I am disappointed that…. I need….
  • Don’t tell tales out of school. Respect the environment of trust the two of you have built. What is shared in confidence should remain there.

A close personal business relationship that has become a partnership in every sense of the word is a treasure to be cherished and nurtured. It requires the mastery of good communication skills and is well worth the effort.

For more information . . . 

 

Image by Shivz Photography 

 

 

8 VoicePro® skills at the heart of executive leadership development

  
  
  
  
  

Leslie Dickson

 

Image by Leslie Dickson

 

Conflict managementConflict management

We’ve all seen conflict in the workplace. Team members who snap at each other. The heated gossiping in the coffee room. The he-said/she-said accusations that erupt in your office. Maybe it’s been going on so long, you’ve simply written it off as an annoying but unavoidable fact of work life.

Think again.

There’s a cost of conflict to an organization, and, according to an article I read at Entrepreneur.com, someone has put a real pricetag on it. In a study done for CPP Inc., the company that publishes the Myers-Briggs Assessment, it was found that American employees spent 2.8 hours each week wrapped up in conflict – that’s more than a half hour out of every day that isn’t going to productive efforts or your organization’s bottom line. Estimates suggest that time adds up to $359 billion in paid hours or 385 million work days each year. Here are some other facts from the report. Some 25 percent of employees told researchers that avoiding conflict had resulted in sickness or absence. Almost 10 percent said conflict had tanked a project.

So, how can strong executive leadership help you get back those lost hours and repurpose them for success? Conflict management is a frequently requested workshop topic at VoicePro® . Here are eight tips we share:

1. Don’t ignore the problem.

It’s easy to hope that a situation will improve when the current flashpoint has passed. Or, you may hold on to the hope that grown adults will stop acting like children. Not likely. And while you wait it out, the negative ripple effects are spreading throughout your team.

2. Talk to team members together.

Many managers want to avoid the nasty scene of a “blow-up” they imagine will happen when the combatants get in the same room. Truth be told, there’s probably no avoiding it and no resolution until you push through it.


3. Have everyone explain the issue in calm, non-judgmental terms.

Having the other person in the room often helps bring a less acid explanation. If anger and hurt do flare, it’s your role to refocus the discussion. Quickly but gently intervene with a neutral suggestion such as, “Let’s concentrate on the situation, not the feelings around it.”

4. Practice your best listening skills and remain neutral.

Don’t allow yourself to be caught up in the emotion of the moment, even if you side with one party or the other. Be sure you’re hearing all the issues, all the pain points. Don’t chide, assign blame or get emotional. Help clear the air so participants are ready to move on.

5. Guide the discussion to the project or organization goals.

Remind everyone concerned that you’re all working toward the same important goal, not a personal victory. Focus on the steps required to “get the job done”. Practical thinking will help displace conflict.

6. Try to get the participants to define a solution.

I know leaders who insist each side restate the goals of the other, which may help both see the bigger picture and ways they can support each other. They’re often closer to agreement than they think. It’s only dust kicked up by conflict that’s obscuring their view.

7. Be prepared to define the solution.

Sometimes the warring parties can’t come together on a solution. In that case, you will have to step in to decide between their proposals or set ground rules for interaction. Be specific about what you expect. If you’re in doubt about their understanding or acceptance, ask each person to recap your instructions.

8. Look for opportunities to praise results.

Intervene quickly if there are signs of trouble. If you help people stay on track, especially early in the process, you’re more likely to achieve the results you want.


Dealing with conflict is never easy, but when you count the cost, it’s a bottom-line necessity. Learn and practice the crucial conflict management skills that can make all the difference to the success of your team, department or organization.

 

Click here for more information on how to address conflict in your work environment

 

Image by Tambako the Jaguar
 

Build your executive skills with questions, not answers

  
  
  
  
  

Leslie DicksonPosted by Leslie Dickson

 

 

leadership skillsSix ways to help build your leadership skills

I’ve worked with so many leaders – from entrepreneurs to company presidents to first-time managers – who think their job is to have all the answers. They couldn’t be more wrong. First of all, no one has all the answers. Second, and perhaps more important, the all-knowing boss trains employees not to think or speak up. That means the best ideas may never come to the table. Worse, it can drive the best thinkers to leave for jobs where they feel like their talents will make a difference.

Why can it be so hard to let go of control? It’s natural to continue to rely on the strengths that helped you reach your current level of achievement. Being smart, proactive and able to handle a challenge independently are the hallmarks of an achiever. But as the areas of responsibility and the staff grow, a leader has to begin relying on a team and developing them for success.
 
A key skill in that process is learning how to ask questions. It alerts your team that you actually want input and ideas. And the more skillful you become as a questioner the stronger your team, your solutions and your organization will become. How do you start? Here are some questions – and suggestions:

Yes-or-no questions are no-no’s.

They’ll feel like tests to your colleagues, and they’re likely to try to guess the answers they think you want to hear. Ask open-ended questions that demonstrate invite in dialogue and the search for answers.

Frame the discussion without fencing it in.

In other words, help people focus on a topic, but still promote an open-minded approach. Is the discussion about how to reduce costs or how to move product manufacturing to Asia? Are you really asking about improving customer service or developing a new customer call center? Product improvements or customer complaints? All are valid questions, but which ones will lead to the solution you seek?

Ask follow-up questions.

You’re the most important role model for increasing collaboration.  Following the thread of an idea demonstrates that you’re listening and sparks others to get involved.  Equally important, it’s that give-and-take process that helps develop the seeds of ideas into workable plans.

Ask: How can we fix this? Not: What went wrong?

In times of trouble unfocused leaders can revert to the old unproductive ways. If you appear to be looking to assign blame, no one will raise a hand.  Take the positive approach and you’re more likely to hear solutions.

What does “good” look like?

That’s the question of a favorite engineering executive I know. It’s his way of helping people step out of the box and think a little bigger, not get tangled up in incremental changes to a current situation. He tells me he’s applied it with good success to planning new product lines, settling an interdepartmental squabbles, and, he tells me, getting his children to improve their study habits.

Recognize participation, even when it’s off target.
You may reject a suggestion, but don’t reject the team member. You don’t want people to give up and shut down. To encourage participation, some managers make it a factor in employee reviews.

Be sure to thank contributors for their help.

And, remember to share the results, especially with an individual who’s made a significant contribution. You’ll reinforce the value of collaboration and, at the same time, remind yourself that you can – and should – rely on others to excel.

Ready to increase your success and strengthen your team? Remember, the right answer starts with asking the right questions.

 

Image By milos milosevic

 

 

Business Presentation Skills Don’t Start with PowerPoint Slides

  
  
  
  
  

Leslie Dickson

 

Posted by Leslie Dickson

 

How you can be the star of your own show

Business Presentation Skills for PowerPoint

I don’t hate PowerPoint. Really, I don’t.  It’s a great tool.  But for so many people, it becomes a crutch instead.  For example, I Googled the phrase, “making better PowerPoints” and came up with about 964,000 results.  Check a few and you find suggestions about type size, making your own template, adding audio and animation.  But you know what’s not there? This tip: Use it less.

When you make PowerPoint the star of your presentation instead of you, you’re giving up influence, authenticity, connection.  Think about communication skills and work on creating PowerYou instead of PowerPoint.

Know your audience.

Explaining a new insurance process to doctors affected by it is not the same as talking to the medical office billing staff who’ll handle the real paperwork. Or the processing department at the insurance company. Or the sales reps who’ll be facing customers.  If you don’t have time to do some research, you may want to ask your audience a few questions as you start the program and adapt accordingly.

Tap into your passion.

If you’ve been asked to make a business presentation, it’s likely to be in an area of expertise. Expertise generally grows out of a passion for a subject area.  Let that be your guide. It can infuse your presentation with energy and help you trust your instincts, relax and feel more confident.

Answer the question: “What’s in it for me?”

A colleague of mine in marketing says the first law of advertising is answering that question. It applies to presentations, too. Whether you have 30 seconds or 60 minutes to influence a decision, start with the audience’s self interest.

Make a personal, emotional connection right at the start.

Tell a story that captures your point. Read a customer comment that expressed the idea. Share a surprising factoid. Or,  (PowerPoint alert!) a great photo. You engage people rather than simply talking at them.

Practice, always. Memorize, never.

Not even the best speakers can “wing it.”  Practice out loud.  Find a willing friend, or tape recorder.  You’ll find (and smooth out) the inevitable bumps.   Don’t memorize your speech though.  It’s likely to become stilted and distant – and you won’t be able connect with and react to your audience. If you have a chance, you might want to videotape yourself.  In our years of experience at VoicePro workshops , we know that seeing yourself on a tv screen makes your strengths obvious and points up areas for improvement. 

Breathe, relax, let your natural energy come through.

We find so often at VoicePro that people who are feeling stressed tend to pull in, hunch over, take shallow breaths.  Open up, breathe, and the power will flow into a stronger, more energetic voice.

Own your space.

Don’t cower behind a podium.  Move your whole body if the environment permits or at least your face and hands.  Keep an open stance and stay loose.  Bring a few props along if it will help.  And don’t turn your back on the audience to read your PowerPoint slides.

Focus on the audience, not yourself.

If you’re concentrating on what they need and what feedback they’re providing, your nervousness will give way to honest connection.

 

Image by Adam Foster | Codefor

 

Don’t Kid Yourself, It’s Not All Logic

  
  
  
  
  

Logic and communication skillsHere’s something for you to ponder. Business practices are built entirely on logical thinking. Cool heads rule. Decisions are based on thoughtful analyses. Emotions are messy. They have no place in the world of commerce, and professionals who express their emotions in the workplace are weak.

Have you ever wondered why listening—the simple act of taking in a spoken message—is so very difficult to master? Intellectually, the idea of listening is easy to understand. It appears to be passive in nature; you just sit there and . . . well . . . listen. So what’s the big deal?

To begin with, listening isn’t passive at all. It requires that you fully understand the message from the other person’s point of view. You must also recognize that point of view as valid, even if it differs from your own. Contrary to prevailing opinion, being a good listener doesn’t obligate you to agree with what you hear. In fact, putting yourself in the other’s place and seeing things from their perspective is evidence of strength and insight on your part.

The other difficulty relates to the misconception I spoke of earlier, which is the disregard of the emotional factors central to any interaction. Like it or not, we are all emotional creatures. Our first reaction to any stimulus is emotional. In the split seconds before our brains kick in, our adrenal glands are working overtime and our gut reactions take hold. That means that people who appear to be basing their arguments on facts may actually be churning with emotion on the inside.

This puts demands on the listener, who must determine whether the speaker’s words are coming from a logical or an emotional base. Good listening requires your full attention on both aspects of the speaker’s words. Are his comments fact-based, reasonable, and grounded in sound principles of logic? Is she being melodramatic, with tone and gestures that are over the top? Or has he gone silent on you, closed up and shut down? You must become well versed in nonverbal communication and learn to read between the lines. The speaker’s tone of voice and body language—even when they are subtle—will give you much more information than relying on the words alone.

Here are some indicators to look for when you’re distinguishing between logic and emotion:

The words don’t match the behavior.

When a verbal-nonverbal mismatch occurs, the nonverbal takes precedence. If the words say one thing and the tone of voice contradicts it, the tone of voice tells the real story. If positive words flow from a scowling face, it’s time to stop and reassess what you’re hearing. Regardless of what is being said, look carefully at body language and pay close attention to the tone of voice. The speaker’s words will give you information; his or her behavior will give you the meaning behind the words, including important clues to the underlying emotions.

The words are overstated.

Words like always, never, obviously, and worst are all good indicators that strong emotions are present. “We never come to an agreement . . .” “You always say that . . . ” “Obviously, this strategy won’t work . . .” The reality is these statements are too harsh to possibly be true; we agree sometimes, I don’t always say that, and this strategy may, in fact, be quite workable. When you hear these red-flag words, it’s a pretty good bet emotions are running high.

The body language and/or vocal tone is out of character.

A normally calm and centered person becomes visibly tense; a friendly, warm person suddenly clamps his jaw and goes dead silent; a usually poised person loses her cool and goes for the jugular—these are clear signs that emotions are overriding customary behavior and that rational thinking is being distorted.

Making the effort to distinguish between a speaker’s logical argument and it’s emotional origin is not a passive process. When you sense the speaker’s emotions are getting in the way of a fruitful conversation, you can’t ignore them. Acknowledge the emotion; don’t discount it. Once the speaker feels heard and understood at the emotional level, you can then move forward confidently into a more reasonable and productive discussion.

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Forget the Messenger; Think for Yourself

  
  
  
  
  

Your communication skillsIt’s blazed across the headlines: Tiger Woods returns to golf! Sports commentators hold forth by the hour on the importance of Woods’ comeback to the PGA. And how that will affect their advertisers. “Will he or will he not retain his most important endorsements?” they ask, as if that makes a difference in the overall scheme of things.

Actually, it does make a difference, as advertisers well know and we, the public, have long forgotten (if we ever paid attention in the first place). Big names sell—regardless of the product and regardless of the price. Whether it’s a political candidate, a ten-million-dollar home on a private golf course, or an athletic shoe, if our favorite celebrity recommends it, we fall right in line and pony up our money to the cause. You’d think we’d know better. But we don’t.

It all has to do with likeability. Research shows that the more we like someone, the more we’re willing to accept what he or she says as the truth. Here’s how it works.

You can like someone and accept the message. This is where Tiger makes a difference to Nike, who at the time of this writing has reiterated its commitment to Woods as one of its main spokespersons. He’s a terrific golfer, we’re supposed to think. He’s good looking, I like him. Therefore, these must be great shoes. It seems ridiculous when we listen critically to the message and analyze how we’re processing the information. But it means big bucks to Nike.

You can dislike someone and disagree with the message. This is the stuff of smear political campaigns. The rationale goes like this: If one side can vilify a candidate from the other side, the sheep-like voters will drum him out of office. It’s so easy to fall into this trap. Even though I understand how this concept works, if I find myself appalled at the behavior of a public figure, it’s difficult for me to listen through my disgust to his or her ideas and judge them on their own merit.

The Greeks were well aware of this when news came of battles lost and they put the messengers to death. Kill the messenger! has become the battle cry of anyone who doesn’t want his or her ideas held up to the harsh light of day.

You can see how this plays out at work as well. If you’re in conflict with someone, or if you actively dislike one of your colleagues, notice how you almost always respond negatively to what that person says. It’s practically automatic.

You can like someone and disagree with the message. When like minds get together and hash out the pros and cons of a subject without getting personal, magic can happen. Ideas flow, and they can be turned inside out and examined thoroughly without anyone getting mad. It would be wonderful if all our interactions took place under such ideal circumstances. But unfortunately, this cannot always be.

You can dislike someone and still find value in the message. Yes, it can be done, but it’s not easy. It requires tremendous communication skills, especially the ability to listen analytically and separate ideas from personal biases.

If you think of this as a matrix with four quadrants, you’ll note that you’ll find yourself in one of these quadrants whenever you interact with someone else. It’s joyous to be around people you like and pretty much agree with all the time. High fives all around. And you will occasionally come in contact with a detestable someone whose ideas you abhor.

The trick is to be aware of where you are at any given time, and move yourself to one of the other, more constructive quadrants—like/disagree or dislike/agree—when it’s appropriate to do so. It’s the mark of an open-minded leader to be able to separate the message from the messenger and weigh ideas based on their own merit.

So check yourself. Have you joined the herd and are buying shoes, shampoo, or strategic ideas because Tiger Woods, a TV guru, or some other bigshot tells you to? Or are you listening carefully, thinking critically, and making your own informed judgments about what you hear?

Let me know what you think.

Image by _Blancinegre

Small talk: big leadership skills.

  
  
  
  
  

execuitve communication skillsWhat’s your favorite talk show? Now imagine authors, actors, pundits and celebrities strolling onto the stage. They take a seat and exchange a few moments of banter before they launch into the real reason for their visit – selling you their new books and movies, ideas and merchandise. Admit it…you usually decide in that first two minutes whether you’re going to stick around for the rest. If they’re relaxed, knowledgeable and engaging, you’re in. If not, you flip the channel.

You have just witnessed big-time small talk. And that same scenario is true for all of us. A presentation starts long before people sit down at the conference room table. The small talk at the beginning of a meeting – and for the weeks and months before that –establishes your personal and professional presence. Your self-confidence shows and conveys that you’re comfortable, approachable and self-aware. So in a way, small talk is one of the most important communications skills and sales presentation skills. Certainly, it’s one of the defining characteristics of executive presence.

Even if you’re not making a major presentation, the ability to comfortably handle coffee-room small talk with your managers, peers and reports builds your credibility. It’s one of the leadership skills that builds trust in you and your abilities to connect, adapt and meet the world with confidence.

While some people seem to be natural at small talk, most of us need a little coaching and practice. Even the people on TV have handlers who prep them and help them develop talking points. Here’s a little small talk primer for all of us.

Prepare before you go.

Brush up on local happenings or light news. I know one woman who always skims the sports pages so she’s able to make small talk with her male clients. Read through a popular culture magazine for some timely topics. What are the reviews of a recent movie? Check the New York Times best-seller list. Restaurant reviews. Even a recent news story – just avoid controversial topics or politics.

Make business meetings work.

The small-talk time should be brief. Your goal is to establish rapport before getting started, priming everyone for a positive meeting. You might want to comment on the building or ask about the facility. Notice an award or trophy. You may also want to mention a colleague you have in common through work or your extracurricular life, if appropriate.

Networking events: relationships that get down to business.

All the topics for a business meeting are appropriate for networking events. In addition, you may be able to chat about the purpose of the event. Is it a fundraiser? Talk about your and your conversation mate’s connection to the event. You can share professional information (“What do you do when you’re not raising funds for the Cancer Society?”). And, believe it or not, the weather is almost always a good place to start.

By the way, the goal of a networking event isn’t to build the fattest stack of business cards. It’s about starting a relationship, so less may be more. Make a genuine connection with someone, then exchange business cards as appropriate.

Ask a question. Then really listen.

It’s what the teen magazines said about meeting people at your first high school dance. And it’s still true today. Ask a question and you make a connection. Plus, you’re likely to uncover topics to keep the conversation going.

Be sure you’re really listening, too. Others sense whether you’re being genuine or just going through the motions. You know the people who ask a question, then look past your left ear for their next target? Don’t be one of them. Really listening means responding and having a dialog. It conveys authenticity and gives you a basis for future conversations.

Feeling shy? Breathe. And smile.

Stand with an open posture and breathe deeply. A deep breath helps you relax, focus and smile. If meeting people makes you nervous maybe the meeting organizer or the event host can introduce you to a few people to help break the ice. If you’re the person in charge, make that effort for others. Some people get over their butterflies by setting a goal for the number of new contacts to make, and then make a game out of achieving it. Sounds less intimidating, doesn’t it?

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What are Your Enemies of Learning

  
  
  
  
  

Communication skills from VoiceProWhat was I thinking as I drove out of the parking lot on the last day of my coach’s training at Newfield Network?

Wow! I am completely elated.  I need to pinch myself. My dream has become a reality. Me–enrolled in a premiere coaching school, internationally acclaimed and accredited by the International Coach Federation. Yes!!!!!

What was I thinking an hour later (better yet 24 hours later, when the thoughts had become pervasive)?

How in h*** am I going to accomplish this? What was I thinking? And even more importantly, how am I going to do it to perfection?

What was I thinking after I had a chance to decompress, get a little bit (ok, a lot) of sleep, and sort through my assignments and commitments?

Knock it off, Luanne. This is your biggest enemy to learning – the need to get it right. If you don’t begin to look at learning as an opportunity to make mistakes–get it all wrong–you won’t learn what you need to. Always cautious and careful – never daring to take a risk.

What am I thinking now?

With this new awareness, I can make some better choices. First, I can reframe what it means to learn something. Maybe I need to frame learning as knowing something in my heart and soul. Knowing something isn’t getting others to say, “Wow! Look at how well you did.” Or getting universal approval. Knowing something is about experiencing it, feeling it in my body and emotionally connecting with it. It’s also about being able to apply what I have learned to make a difference in the world. I may be able to make a bigger difference by having experienced it “wrong” once or twice.

And finally, learning is really about the joy of getting curious – discovering something new – rather than the emotional pain that comes with having to be perfect. It’s about exploring the unknown and the undiscovered – in others and in myself.

What are your enemies of learning? What is keeping you from knowing? Consider the following possibilities as presented by Chalmers Brothers, author of Language and the Pursuit of Happiness. Is it:

  • Your inability to admit, “I don’t know”?
  • Your belief that you should already know?
  • Your distrust of the person teaching you?
  • Your making everything overly significant?
  • Your forgetting that your body is a domain of learning? Practice is putting your body into it. When you don’t practice, you don’t get results. The capacity for new action is about doing. It’s not head learning or memorization.

Choose to “befriend” the following, as suggested by Chalmers:

  • Willingness to declare “I don’t know”
  • Listening
  • Openness
  • Respect and admiration for your “teacher”
  • Willingness to question your own questions
  • A mood of perplexity and curiosity

Who knows what you might learn and what you might accomplish as a result? Vanquish your own enemies to learning and a universe of knowledge can be yours.

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