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Conflict Resolution: Stop Fighting Start Winning


Leslie Dickson


Posted by Leslie Dickson



conflict resolution and communication skillsIs your workday starting to feel like 10 rounds with Rocky Balboa?  Are too many conversations turning into confrontations? Are assignments becoming ultimatums? 

As a leader, you know you can’t eliminate conflict from the workplace. In fact, you want to foster it sometimes. When ideas and passionate thinkers collide, breakthrough solutions can result (even when sparks fly).

But when the office feels like a boxing ring, results can suffer as much as the participants do. According to research Tracom Group found at HR.com, 67 percent of respondents said conflict had decreased the team’s productivity. Forty-one percent said it had decreased their own productivity.

Are you seeing any of these symptoms of conflict-turned-destructive?

  • People don’t seem to be listening to you
  • You find yourself shouting at your staff
  • You get shoddy work from capable people
  • Your team balks at your instructions
  • You feel a sense of isolation, like you’re the only one really working

So how do you get the trouble-makers to change?  First of all, recognize that you’re one of them. 

As a leader, your behavior sets the tone. Whether your actions were the initial trigger for the problems or you simply joined the fray, you need to take the responsibility to change the situation and execute good communication and conflict resolution skills. 

  1. Examine your style.  Have you become aggressive and argumentative?  Adjust your approach.
  2. Do you avoid completely because you don’t want to deal with the ugly stuff? If you don’t deal with something when it comes up, it will only grow and get bigger and uglier.
  3. Approach team members with the same respect and courtesy you expect for yourself.
  4. Keep listening!  When you anticipate a fight, you focus on talking, pushing, winning. Hear and acknowledge the ideas and viewpoints of others.
  5. Give feedback, not complaints. Are you energizing with constructive help or tearing down morale?
  6. Leave your ego at the door. Welcome feedback about you without defensiveness.
  7. Skip the blame game. You can state your viewpoint without destroying someone else’s credibility. 
  8. Don’t make up your mind until you hear what others have to say. No matter how knowledgeable you are, you don’t always have the right answer.
  9. Employ group Appreciative Inquiry methods. Not only can this help develop better solutions, but it can reopen the positive lines of communication.

Are you ready to get more results without the bumps and bruises of the brawl? Stop fighting…and you’ll start winning.

Image by Bouncing_Pelican

The Magical Power of Horses


effective communication skillsI am well aware that we at VoicePro® teach our clients to take better care of themselves by dealing with the heavy stress they are constantly under. This stress, which I often say is written into most job descriptions, can subconsciously interfere with the ability to communicate effectively and thus can destroy strong relationships. It is critical to find a way to recharge our batteries, or we will be no good to our jobs and businesses, our families, or ourselves. 

Isn’t it funny how hard it is to take our own advice? For months, I have kept my own “nose to the grindstone” and focused on my business during this challenging time. Little time was allowed for personal “stress management”. Then recently, I was offered the opportunity to visit a dear friend of mine. Yancey is the general manager of the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana and he invited me to come out and spend a few days on the ranch. The ranch is a magical place, nestled in the midst of about 6000 acres of mountains, where you can hike, ride horses and be overall pampered to your hearts content. So I accepted the offer, waffled back and forth whether this was really the time to do this, and then took the plunge and off I went. 

Mind you, I have interacted with horses about a handful of times throughout my life, so I consider myself a true beginner rider. All I could think about was, oh, the poor horse that was stuck with someone like me, who didn’t have a clue. But let me tell you about my experience with the wonderful creature I was matched up with and how he helped me unwind.

His name is Butte. He is big and strong, with the most knowing eyes I have ever seen. I may be reading a bit into this, but I felt an immediate connection. I was gentle with him and he, in turn, took great care of me. We climbed up the mountains through snow; came down steep, muddy trails; even crossed rivers. I learned to trot and canter, and even lope on this gentle giant. By the end of my trip, Butte and I were in the advanced rider group. Who would have guessed?

Recently, a woman in one of VoicePro’s Executive Presence programs (a horse owner herself) told me “connecting with a horse is such a personal experience, and if it happens it’s not something you’ll quickly forget.” She is right. I am keeping Butte close to me and remembering the peace, sense of accomplishment and pure joy I shared with him. I came home from this trip refreshed, less stressed and ready to face the ongoing challenges of running a business.

Here are some things to consider to minimize the stress in your life:

  • Take a vacation. Even if you don’t leave home, it is important to take a break from work. If you can get away, it’s an even better way to refuel yourself.
  • Interact with horses. You can take riding lessions or volunteer at a stable. You can even sign up for personal coaching with horses. Sue Thomas at M-A-P, LLC, has a wonderful executive and leadership development company that uses horses to connect you with your leadership skills. I have worked with Sue and it is amazing how her horses will help you connect what you are feeling, with what you are saying, and with what you are doing. Have you thought about how this disconnect can impact your employees? I will elaborate more on this in a following post.
  • Join a networking group. You can gain energy and insight by interacting with other business professionals.
  • Get up and move. We’ve all heard it before – exercise will defuse stress and increase your energy. You don’t have to start off training to run a marathon. Just a brisk walk with help by increasing your heart and getting precious oxygen into your body.
  • Laugh. Need I say more?


Image by kdriese

Crib Notes – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Sarah Palin took considerable heat last week – for using crib notes scribbled on the palm of her hand during a speaking event in Nashville. I first heard about this on a radio program, where the pundits were ripping her to shreds for using simplistic notes during a Q&A.

I did a little follow-up on CNN, and through an article in The Huffington Post, and came away thinking “Big deal!”

Now, I am not here to promote or criticize Sarah Palin’s politics. Nor am I going to comment on the content of her speech, or her Q&A responses (That might be like sticking my head in a bear trap). However, I do want to comment on Palin’s use of notes, both during her formal presentation and during the Q&A.

good communication skillsNOTES ARE GOOD!

Even the most seasoned professional speaker, an expert on the topic, can benefit from a few well-organized (but brief) notes. Notes can be used to get you back on track if you lose your train of thought, or if you’re distracted by things going on around you.

Even if you know your topic inside and out, single word reminders can keep the flow of your conversation moving in the direction you intend – for the sake of your audience. Notes can be a very effective tool for punctuating a point with a pause. Simply pause, refer to your notes, refocus on your audience and continue to speak. Not only will you accentuate your point, but you will slow down enough for your audience to process and absorb your content. Notes can give you the opportunity to take a breath (breathing is a good thing). Simply look at your notes, breathe, refocus on your audience, and continue on.

bad communication skillsWHEN GOOD NOTES GO BAD!

Your notes should not be a “novel” from which you retrieve your information. They should be anchors, reminders, or transition points that you speak to in an unscripted manner, keeping the conversation with your audience engaging and personal.

Reading from a pages of text, or an overcrowded PowerPoint, are sure ways of killing the audience engagement you are trying so hard to garner.

ugly communication skillsTHE UGLY!

Don’t try to hide your notes from your audience. If you use them properly, your audience will have a sense that you have prepared, are organized and are focused. They will appreciate the effort you have made to deliver your information succinctly and accurately. Unfortunately for Sarah Palin, sneaking a peak at her palm left her audience wondering about her credibility and her expertise.

So keep some things in mind when preparing your talk:

  • Know your audience.
  • Determine your objective.
  • Consider why your audience would want to take the action you are requesting. (In other words what’s in it for them?)
  • Determine your key points, supporting information, introduction and close
  • Prepare a a bullet point outline for your talk 
  • Use your notes as a guide, not as a text
  • Breathe deeply, relax, and enjoy the interaction with your audience

Speaking notes can be a great confidence builder. And when you feel prepared, you’ve got success in the palm of your hand.


Who’s the Super Bowl MVP of Communication?


MVP communication skillsWho dat? Who dat?  Who dat says they’re gonna lead those Saints? 

They call the quarterback of a football team the field general, and Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, scores big points for leadership.  Communication plays a key role.  No, we haven’t been in the huddle, and we know he’s not doing PowerPoint presentations in the locker room or writing project outlines and meeting agendas.  Still, we’re willing to bet our souvenir program that the communication skills he shows in public statements mirror his team interactions.  How about a little post-game analysis of his post-Super Bowl interview? Our playbook? Some tips for effective partnerships (find more at VociePro®)

Seek common ground 

Brees spent four years building a bond with his teammates. Their common ground?  A desire to prove their worth. In the interview, he addresses the fact that most of the core of the current roster had joined the Saints as free agents after being released from former teams. “Obviously they were free agents because their other team didn’t want them anymore, thought they couldn’t play anymore and said ‘heck with them…we just all looked at one other and said, ‘We are going to rebuild together. We are going to lean on each other.’”

Of course, Brees brought the whole city of New Orleans into partnership, too. “Four years ago, whoever thought this would be happening? 85 percent of the city was under water…We played for so much more than just ourselves­; we played for our city. We played for the entire Gulf Coast region. We played for the entire Who Dat nation that has been behind us every step of the way.”

Keep the lines of communication open

One Super Bowl translation of this concept could be: look for solutions, not someone to blame.  The Saints failed on a fourth-and-goal conversion near half-time that left them on the wrong end of a 10-3 score.   Pundits started sensing a blowout, but not the Saints.  Surely, Brees’ public comments echo the sideline focus on looking ahead, not behind. “When you get down that far and come away with nothing it’s disappointing, but we needed momentum going into halftime…the defense got it right back for us, and we at least had an opportunity to go down and score points …”  In the half-time locker room, still down 10-6, discussion apparently continued to center on goals instead of shortcomings.  The result? They opted for the gutsy opening move of an onside kick that that paid off in a Super Bowl Ring.

Give respect and appreciation

Let’s start with the game stats: in a 1300-word interview Brees used the word “I” just nine times.  The word “we”?  Try 59 times.  But communicating partnership is about more than pronoun choice.  Brees was quick to give credit where credit was due. “…we just all looked at one other and said, ‘We are going to rebuild together. We are going to lean on each other.’ That’s what we’ve done the last four years and this is the culmination in all that belief…So forever now, all of us, we will walk together as Super Bowl champions, world champions and bringing home the trophy to New Orleans.”

 Take a minute…right now.  What’s your game plan?  How can you be a better communicator, a better partner, a better leader?  Write it down…and we’d love for you to post it here or contact us.

Image by dewittrobinson

No More Presentations!


business communication skillsI want you all to vow to never give another business presentation – ever! I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve seen that are painful to sit through. Presentations from all kinds of business people at all levels within an organization – senior executives, mid-level associates, even the so-called professional speakers. I usually walk away feeling that they wasted my time.


 Because they didn’t take the needs of their audience (me) into consideration when they “presented”. As a result, I walked away thinking;

“So what? What do I do now? Why did I need to be here? What is your point?”

So, take this to heart!

If you have the luxury of a live audience, please, give them something (anything) they can walk away with and use. You may be yelling at me as you’re reading this that you are just giving an informational update. I know, you do them all the time….

Okay, and again, so what?

  • Why is this information important?
  • What is the benefit of it?
  • Why does your audience need to hear it now?

If you can’t give them something useful – and usable – then do us all a favor and send an email update. Don’t waste any more time presenting about information that has no meaning to your audience.

To avoid this trap, remember that it’s all in the preparation:

  1. Ask yourself, what is the point for the audience of what I am going to talk about? What do I want them to do with this information? If you do not know what the point is, they won’t either.
  2. Gear everything you talk about towards that point.
  3. Tell stories or give examples that support the point(s) you are making. This will help your audience relate personally to your message. It will also allow you to come alive in front of the group, rather than drouning on about all your data.
  4. Be yourself. Most people are different when talking to friends and colleagues than they are when making a “presentation”. Why is that? Why can’t you be the same person in the informal settings as you are in the formal ones? I would much rather listen to the person who is easy, personable, funny, even enjoying themselves, than the one who has to get through their information as fast as they can so they can get back to their seats.

Bottom line – don’t do any more presentations. Reframe the situation in your mind to just having a conversation. Whether you are in a job interview, talking to a client, updating the board of directors, your boss or team, be yourself! Talk about what you know (which I’m sure you can do in your sleep), and help them with the problem or issue facing them in the current moment. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Believe it or not, being yourself is a lot easier than turning into someone you really aren’t.

Image by Joel Dill

A New Journey in Learning – Please Join Me!


Learning communication skillsIn January of 2009, as you know, the bottom fell out of the financial world, as we knew it. And, I must say, I felt just a bit of anxiety about that. (Ok – I was scared out of my mind!) I found myself wondering just what I would do to take care of my family and myself if VoicePro® went away.

Well, fast-forward to 2010, and I must say things are more than “Ok.” We have survived the storm, and have explored new opportunities in ways I never thought we could. But, I digress. Back to January and February of 2009. I found myself asking, “Just what will my next steps be in my career?” It was a question that popped up over and over again in the dark of the night – awakening me and keeping me awake. So, being who I am, I hired a coach – Jim Smith as a matter of fact. And he, with tremendous skill and insight, helped me figure out my next steps – steps that would work for me and for VoicePro®.

One of the very big steps I decided to take was to sign up for the Newfield Coaching Training program, with the end goal having the Newfield and International Coach Federation certification. I am just beginning the pre-course learning that the Newfield Coach Training has offered me. I am so excited to stretch my boundaries and see the world through new lenses. And, with your permission I would love to take you along for the ride (so to speak). My world will be even richer if, through the sharing of my “aha” moments, you can benefit too.

 I have read my first “paper” and I am in the process of dissecting and analyzing it. I must say, that though I am not thinking, “Wow, that’s new. I never heard that before!” I am thinking, “Isn’t that concept framed in a new and interesting way?” And, “How might I apply this in my life – right now?”

 For example. According to Humberto Maturana, Everything we say in relation to what we observe (the world) reveals the kind of observer we are.” As soon as I read this quote, I wanted to step outside myself and listen for the words that reveal just how I am observing my world. 

  • Am I the distrustful person who states, “I’ll never be able to do this.”
  • Am I the person who says, “Learning this is hard for me,” thus opening up to the possibilities at hand?
  • Or am I the person who invites the assistance others can offer with a comment like, “I need help doing this.”

 It is exciting to me to know that my reaction to the world, the words I choose to define the experience or situation, will determine the possibilities for the actions I will take. I certainly see how our participants experience this reality in our programs. How they define their learning experience most definitely determines the actions they take within the program, and even more importantly the results they gain upon completion. For some reason, I haven’t really sat back and thought about the magnitude of this concept, and it’s impact on my world outside the classroom. I believe it’s time for me to pay more attention to the language I am using and what it says about me, and the actions I take that define my life.

So, I invite you to join me by doing the following:

  • Become an observer of YOU! Pay attention as you interact with others.
  • Listen to how you define the challenges facing you – personally or in the work place.
  • What does your language have to say about how you approach your world?
  • What kind of impact is it having on your outcomes?
  • If you were to define it (speak about it) differently, would you get a different outcome?

 Let me know what you find out. I’d love to hear!

Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/dexxus/2532351811/
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