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Mastering communication skills: Power of Positive Mental Images


Luanne Paynick


Posted by Luanne Paynick



Mastering communication skillsScientists in a variety of fields have found that the images in our mind profoundly impact our physiology and our behavior. For example, medical studies have documented the “placebo effect.” A significant number of patients who have taken the equivalent of a sugar pill show marked improvement in symptoms just by believing they are receiving an effective treatment. In another example, if you anticipate a hostile encounter, your anticipation can raise your blood pressure as much as the encounter itself. On top of this, the anticipation shapes your behavior and increases the likelihood of hostility during the encounter. Just as plants grow in the direction of the source of light (heliotropism), people tend to move toward the images of their anticipated futures.

How can we use this knowledge in mastering communication skills and to be more effective leaders? One way is to learn from the world of sports. Dr. Judd Blaslotto at the University of Chicago compared mental visualization with actual physical practice of basketball free throws. His amazing discovery: Those who visualized but did not physically make a single free throw improved their percentages almost as much as those who physically practiced everyday for an hour. Top athletes now include visualization (or mental rehearsal) as part of their normal routine.

In the same way, you can be more intentional about what you think and what you visualize. Visualization is the process of creating a mental image (or intention) of what you want to feel or have happen. Managing what and how you think can be tricky, but a few key principles can help.

  • First, visualize what you want, not what you don’t want. Remember, movement goes in the direction of the image. So if you’re riding a bicycle, look in the direction you want to go, not at the ditch at the side of the road, or you’re likely to steer involuntarily toward the ditch. Likewise, when you walk into a high-stakes meeting, instead of concentrating on not being nervous, visualize yourself projecting composed confidence.
  • Second, listen to your “inner monologue.” Your inner monologue functions as guiding imagery for you and molds your behavior and performance. So if you realize you’re thinking things like: “I’m over my head” or “I’m blowing it,” make a choice to replace that self-talk with something more helpful, such as: “This is a problem to solve and I can figure it out” or “I am handling this.”
  • Finally, when communicating with others, rather than focusing on the removal of something negative, focus on the presence of something positive. Rather than ask, “Why didn’t someone catch this error?” ask instead, “What can we do to ensure fewer errors in the future?” This may seem like a minor shift, but the effect on your communication, influence, and results can be profound. Remember, you will move in the direction of your mental images, so if you anticipate positive results, you’re more likely to achieve them.

We face challenging situations everyday. Much is out of our control; for instance, what people’s predisposition might be, what could get pitched our way and blindside us, or even what might happen when we’re looking the other way. So when something solidly within our control is actually within our grasp, we must seize on it. Our thoughts are well within our control, and if visualizing a successful outcome will hedge our bets, then our course is clear.

Image by qthomasbower

Authenticity equals influence. How do others see you?


Communication skills AuthenticityThe Gallup organization does an annual survey to determine who Americans believe have the highest level of honesty and ethical standards. Nurses lead the pack, followed by druggists, medical doctors, police officers and engineers. At the bottom of the list? Members of Congress, who barely beat out car salespeople, stock brokers and HMO managers in the race to the bottom. The rest of us? Somewhere in the middle.

It’s interesting (and, well, just a little entertaining) to look at the world in that cut-and-dried way. But we all know people in every profession everywhere whose authenticity we can count on. You’ve bought a car from someone you trust. You’ve voted for a legislator you believed in. How did you know you could trust them? We say it’s “just a feeling.” However, the fact is, human beings are constantly gauging credibility by reading very real signals people give in every interaction.

Now you’ve probably got two questions in your mind.

  1. What are the signals of credibility? (More on that in a minute.)
  2. Are people judging me by them, too? (You bet they are.)

Let’s take a look in the mirror and see how the way we communicate affects perceptions of our authenticity and credibility – and what we can do to raise our scores. The good news is, the indicators people watch are skills you can learn. With this knowledge – and practice – you can communicate credibility that builds your influence. You can take steps to boost the trust of colleagues and customers, supervisors and employees. You are in control of how much impact your words have with others.

Here are some proven tips we’ve been sharing with others at VoicePro for more than two decades. Try these ideas in your next presentation or conversation and see the difference:

  • Be open. Credible people have nothing to hide, no need to be defensive, and nothing to prove. They can listen, keep eye contact, and have relaxed body language. Their easiness communicates integrity.
  • Breathe deeply. When you speak you’ll project your voice with an air of confidence. When a situation gets tense, this advice gets twice as important.
  • Turn off the “internal critic.” You know that voice that tells you you’re not smart enough or strong enough? Don’t listen. It can unnerve you, cause you to act in ways that aren’t authentic. Learn to trust yourself – and others will, too.
  • Loosen up and share your enthusiasm. Your comfort is contagious and so is your dynamism. You’ll connect with people and they’ll respond with trust and respect.

Want to dig a little deeper? You’ll find more tips and newsletter ideas on building influence, creating more powerful presentations and developing a strong presence at our website.

Image by Gregg Obst

Go Ahead and Criticize– I Can Take It (Part 2)


Communication skills critiqueLast week, I addressed the awkward and difficult task of giving feedback to a reluctant employee. It can be the most unpleasant of a manager’s responsibilities, and our clients often report that giving a negative appraisal, especially when it’s face to face, is the most stressful aspect of their jobs.

If giving feedback is this taxing on a boss, think of how it can seem to the recipient. No one likes to be judged and found wanting. If you remember, one definition of the word criticism is: to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly, to evaluate. But even if the intent is to be constructive and the criticism we receive has positive features, we still latch onto the negative comments and translate them into: I’m no good, I can’t do anything right, or worse, I’m a bad person.

These destructive thoughts are the first things that have to go. If you perceive negative feedback as an attack on your worth as a human being, you’re digging yourself a big hole to climb out of before you can accept the comments as useful. You are shaping the meaning of the feedback, turning it into something that doesn’t exist. The idea is to grow personally and professionally and to take your skills to the next level. You can’t do that without accepting legitimate feedback from other people.

It would be great if everyone you encounter had read last week’s post and was an outstanding communicator, skilled in providing feedback so it was readily accepted. But that’s not always the case. It’s because folks are so uncomfortable with the task of criticizing that they often word their statements in ways that cause hurt and misunderstandings.

When you’re told you’ve done something wrong, it’s tempting to try and explain it away. “But this is why,” you say, and you launch into a lengthy attempt at justification. This way lies danger. If you’re not fully exonerated by your explanation (which is unlikely), it’s apt to digress into an argument about why you thought wrong, and you’ll end up more and more defensive—more and more uptight and angry.

Therefore, it’s up to you, the recipient, to manage the exchange so you stay in command of yourself and your brain is able to process and sort out what you’re being told. Here’s what you can do to get the most you possibly can out of a feedback session.

  • Sit in an open posture with your muscles relaxed. This includes relaxing the muscles of your face so you don’t frown throughout the entire conversation. Guard against the inclination to close up when you hear something you don’t like.
  • Breathe. Deep breathing will keep you relaxed and centered, especially if or when your mind begins to race.
  • You can keep your emotions under control by maintaining a positive inner monologue. In spite of how it’s coming across, she has good intent. Or, He’s probably very uncomfortable and it’s having an impact on how he’s saying things.
  • Listen. You don’t need to agree or disagree with what’s being said. Simply listen.
  • Ask for clarification. Can you give me an example? Is this what you meant? (and you give an example).
  • If, in spite of everything, you feel your emotions ramping up, request a cooling-off period. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Can we schedule some time to discuss it once I’ve had time to process it?

At all times, keep the conversation focused on what you can do to improve, not how you can become a different person. You don’t want to become a different person; you only want to better your skills.

You cannot control what the other person says, or how he is says it, but you can control your responses. In doing so, you’ll not only learn how to improve on the job, but you’ll raise your communication skills to a higher level. How’s that for feedback?

Image by TakenByTina

The Four Faces of Effective Communication skills


Effective Communication skillsYou’ve carefully thought through the logic of a proposal. You have your facts. You’ve got an organized flow. You’re ready to take it to your boss, your team mate, your colleague. Right?

Not so fast. No presentation is complete until you’ve considered your audience. Why? The person who’s hearing your message brings his or her own way of interpreting the world to the conference room table. To communicate successfully, you need to take that into account. Every conversation is a collaboration. You need to send messages in a way that the listener is truly able to receive them. Think of it this way: if you’re throwing a football and your listener is holding a tennis racket, there’s no way to score. Better communication skills can help you convey information in a way that makes you more persuasive, a better negotiator, a stronger leader.

Psychological research suggests a person tends to respond to communication in one of four styles: dominance, influence, steadiness or compliance. The styles aren’t good or bad – just different. When you learn to “speak the language” of others, you’re likely to make the most progress. And remember, it’s not just what you say that counts — how you say something is just as important. Human beings are wired to respond to the expressive quality of our communication. So our speaking style and body language are all part of the message.

Let’s look at the four communication styles and ways to address them.

1. Dominance. Think of the dominant person as a “bottom-line” type – direct, active, competitive, results-oriented. She is focused on speed, flexibility, and achieving results.

Approach: “Cut to the chase.” Be crisp and to the point. How are you solving a problem? Moving the organization ahead? If you’re naturally gregarious, you’ll want to tone it down for the bottom-line personality. Quiet hands, serious demeanor, limited small talk are all effective.

2. Influence. This person is characterized as expressive, fun, creative, friendly, adventuresome, spontaneous. He is people-oriented, values recognition for himself and others, and focuses on challenges and action.

Approach: Address people issues with an influencer. Keep in mind that your spontaneity and passion – in word and body language – will help him respond to your proposal. A stolid, grim delivery will interfere with message transmission.

3. Steadiness. This is someone who values concern, dependability, consideration and cooperation. Appreciation is good, conflict brings discomfort. Feelings and relationships are important.

Approach: How ideas are implemented is important to him. Will it disrupt good systems? Have you thought through how to eliminate snafus to help keep people in their comfort zones? Be sure not to rush through or brush off his concerns, either in words or manner.

4. Compliance. Solutions that are safe and proven rank high with this analytical type. She looks for logic, accuracy, precision, efficiency. The wise course means proceeding with caution to ensure quality and no mistakes.

Approach: Understand that this person will want to know that you’ve thought through the details. You’ve planned for disruptions so nobody drops the ball. Even if you’re in the early stages of a project, you may want to outline the steps to assure her of a careful process. Close attention to details will win the day when your personal excitement or anticipation of potential of results will make no difference at all.

But, what if you’re talking to someone you don’t know? A sales prospect? A new team member? A consultant? That’s when you use what may be the most powerful communication skill of all: listening. Put your script aside. Look the person in the eye. Ask questions. Watch for signs that reveal his or her communication style. As you’re watching and listening, you’ll be able to adapt your message accordingly.

Want to know more about motivating and persuading others? Click here.

Image By Meltin Mudd Studio

I’m Human Too!


Conflict and communication skillsI recently had an experience that reminded me that I am human. Even though I teach people to communicate more effectively, I recently found myself in the middle of an interaction that, to be quite honest, I’m not proud of. That interaction was with someone who is important in my life. Instead of handling myself in a calm, objective and “in command of me” manner, I got angry, lost control, and showed no empathy. (Shame on me, I do this for a living!) At the conclusion, I even jumped immediately to fault finding (of course he was wrong). After several rounds of (in my head, of course), “How could he?” “What an insensitive person,” another voice began to make its presence known. “Put yourself in his shoes,” it whispered. And, “How did I sound and look when I said what I said?” Darn!

My knowledge of emotional intelligence took hold, and I couldn’t simply walk away complaining, “It’s all his fault.” So I decided to step up to the plate, practice what I teach at VoicePro®, and use some tried and true communication skills. The first step was to gain a deeper understanding by analyzing what had taken place. The analysis went something like this:

I thought or felt / He thought or felt . . . I said / He said . . .
I thought/feltWhat are you thinking? I have to leave early today! Thanks a lot. (My voice was strong and my face reflected anger and irritation.)He thought/felt

He had a look of surprise and confusion. He was possibly thinking, “What does my taking a shower have to do with anything?

I thought/felt

I sounded urgent. I was thinking, “I told you last night I had to leave early. You weren’t listening.”I’m sure he felt frustrated by my attack.

I thought/felt

“Come on!! Don’t you remember? You always have your head in the computer and you don’t listen.”

He thought/felt

He was really ticked and was probably thinking, “What’s your problem? You are disrupting my schedule and you don’t even have the courtesy to give me a heads up.”

I thought/felt

I was angry. I thought, “Whether I did or not isn’t the issue. Just go ahead and get in the d— shower?”

I saidYou haven’t gotten in the shower yet?He said,

No. Why?

I said,

I have to leave early today.

He said,

Well, why didn’t you tell me? You know, all I need is a heads up.

I said,

I did tell you last night!

He said,

No you didn’t!

I said,

Yes, I did. Not that it is any big deal at this point.

Needless to say, tension was high. Drawers were slammed, and the goodbyes were a bit less loving. For both of us, the day started off all wrong.

So, having analyzed the exchange, what can I take away? What responsibility do I have for this not-so-happy outcome? What leadership and communication skills could I have employed?

  • I could have paid attention to the climate – what was going on around us that might have interfered with good communication.
  • When I saw his “head in the computer,” I might have noted it was not the time to remark, “I need to leave early tomorrow,” and expect him to hear me.
  • I could have communicated my expectations more clearly. If I needed him to take an early shower, it might have helped if I had shared that expectation with him before the fact.
  • I could have recognized that sometimes it’s not worth being right.

Yes, I did tell him I needed to leave early the next morning. So what? He didn’t hear me. The mere fact that I needed to prove I had told him escalated emotion on both our parts. Now we both needed to be right. Now we both dug our heels in. Now neither of us was listening.

To avoid a negative interaction with someone important in your life – whether at work or at home – follow the advice we give in Results & Relationships™ :

  1. When you’re communicating, pay attention to the climate.
  2. Communicate what you expect.
  3. Remind yourself that sometimes being right isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

If things do go wrong and you have an unintended flare-up, analyze what took place for a deeper understanding. Use the left hand/right hand column approach (as I did), paying attention to thoughts and feelings, as well as actions and words. It’s amazing what you’ll learn.

Image by Mintball

Three More Keys to Credibility in Communication Skills (Part 2)


Carolyn Dickson


Posted by Carolyn Dickson


VoicePro Communication SkillsLast week I wrote about the Integrity aspect of credibility and how honesty and trust make such a difference in whether you’re believable in the eyes and minds of other people. If you remember, I said that credibility isn’t something you inherently posses, but is a quality bestowed on you by others. They decide if they can believe you and believe in you. There are, however, four components of credibility that you can influence, both by your behavior and the way you present yourself to the world. The four components are: Integrity, Expertise, Dynamism and Openness.

Please take a look at my article, You Can’t Fake Integrity, for a discussion of Integrity. In the meantime, let’s look at the other three components in more detail.


My husband and I attend a Sunday evening discussion group, where we watch DVDs of interest to the entire group and discuss their content as they relate to our own lives. The DVDs are produced by The Teaching Company. Last week we were looking ahead to the next program. One particular topic had caught my eye and I suggested it to the group. Two questions were instantly fired at me, even before we examined the program’s content: “Who is the lecturer?” And, “What are his credentials?”

It goes almost without saying that, to be credible, you need to know what you’re talking about. This means becoming an expert in your field, doing your homework, and backing up your ideas and opinions with facts. We look instinctively at a person’s credentials—on a resume, in a curriculum vitae, in a biographical sketch. Who is this person? What has he done? What does she know? Are they credible?


As soon as our group had established the lecturer’s credentials, another question arose. One woman was passionate. “What kind of a speaker is he?” she asked. “I’ve seen too many of these programs where the subject was fascinating but the lecturer was so boring he killed the whole thing.”

One definition of dynamic is: marked by energy; forceful. At VoicePro® we often refer to passion, which is the spirit with which you approach life. Your strong commitment to your job, your colleagues, your company—all mark you as a credible person one can believe in. If you’re content with going through the motions and just getting by, your credibility will suffer.

At the same time, this energy—this passion—must be apparent to your audiences, those with whom you communicate. “Let your light shine,” the Scriptures say. Believability comes when people feel the strength of your commitment.


One mark of a truly credible person is his or her willingness to listen to the other side (or sides) of the story. This doesn’t mean you are obligated to agree, only that you’re open to the hearts and minds of other people and willing to recognize their points of view, even if you hold a different position. If you can keep from becoming defensive when your ideas, or even your actions, are questioned, your status will rise. Keeping cool under pressure, remaining open physically and emotionally, is a sign of confidence and stature. Open mindedness shows respect for others. It also conveys a sense of your own confidence and personal power, i.e., your credibility.

These four components—Integrity, Expertise, Dynamism, Openness—are integral to building and maintaining your credibility. If any one is missing, your overall credibility will be diminished. Elements of all of them can be developed and practiced over time until they become your normal way of life. Until you don’t have to think about them ever again.

Image by ~Brenda-Starr~

Don’t Criticize Me, I’m Too Sensitive (Criticism Part 1)


communication skills with SensitivityHow many times have I thought that in my life? Too many to count. How many times have I actually said it? Probably none, although my body language has undoubtedly screamed it loud and clear whenever I’ve felt I’ve been judged too harshly.

The workplace is supposed to be an environment ruled by reason and logic, where feelings, i.e., emotions, have no place. Work relationships, however, are built on emotions. Emotions that are fragile and so very easily damaged. We women joke about the “male ego,” rolling our eyes when we encounter it in the men with whom we work. And women quiver with unexpressed anger when told by their male counterparts, “You’re overreacting. Don’t be so sensitive.”

The truth is we are all touchy about what we perceive as negative judgments about who we are as human beings—certainly more than we’d like to admit. Comments about what I’m doing wrong can quickly disintegrate into: I’m no good, I can’t do anything right, or worse, I’m a bad person. That’s what makes performance appraisals difficult for all parties, the giver feeling awkward and uncomfortable in the role of judge and the receiver feeling bitter and/or betrayed by yet another negative evaluation.

Two definitions of criticize are relevant here. The first is: to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly, to evaluate. This definition is most often applied to literary and artistic venues and is assumed to be the role of theater, art or music critics. But it’s also the charge assigned to anyone who must make an evaluation of someone else, for any reason at all.

The second definition is: to stress the faults of. Whatever the intent of the giver, the receiver almost always views an appraisal in this light. All we hear is commentary on our faults. In fact, it is so emotionally charged, hardly anyone uses the word criticize anymore. Instead, we speak of giving and receiving feedback, as if a word change will make harsh judgments more acceptable.

I’ll discuss how to gracefully receive feedback in my comments next week. Today, however, let’s look at the practice of giving it.

In 1991, I was first introduced to an extraordinary little book entitled, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, and Bruce Patton. In this book, the authors who have been part of the Harvard Negotiation Project, offer a simple yet profound piece of advice that changed my life. If I could choose words I wish I had written and make them mine, these would be the words: Be hard on the problem and soft on the people.

Remember these words when you’re giving feedback to another person. Whether it’s a formal appraisal or a casual conversation, you must evaluate what he is doing, not who he is or the content of his character. You can value her as a human being and not be happy with her actions. When you stress the worthiness of the other person, you’re in a better position to examine the choices he or she is making.

Here are the two features of the VoicePro® method of giving feedback:

  1. From your vantage point as the giver of the feedback, state what it is about the other person’s behavior that worked . . . and why. I liked the way you handled the meeting, because you avoided arguments and kept the group working together.
  2. Now, state what you need from the other person in order to improve the situation . . . and why. Next time I believe it would help if you were to end the meeting on time, because people have other, equally important, commitments.

Be hard on the problem and soft on the people. By reinforcing the inherent worthiness of others, while at the same time pointing out areas where they can improve the work they do, you’ll move your moments of criticism to a high art.

Next week, I’ll address the equally sensitive issue of how to receive feedback and get your money’s worth out of it. Stay tuned.

Image by raumoberbayern

You Can’t Fake Integrity (Credibility – Part 1)


communication skills CredibilityOn February 26, 2010, The Wall Street Journal did an excellent job of summarizing the problems currently facing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). According to the WSJ, the panel’s scientists, in an attempt to placate impatient policymakers, have “tweaked” data and oversimplified complex issues surrounding the controversial subject of global warming. This in turn has led to concerns about the panel’s neutrality and to questions about its judgment. In short, it has been a blow to the organization’s international reputation and its ability to supply objective information to decision makers around the world.

Whether or not the panel’s actions have undermined basic theories of climate change is not the subject of my comments here. What struck me about the IPCC’s situation is how dependent we are on trust when we do business with each other. To put it bluntly, the questionable actions of some—not all—of the people at the IPCC has severely damaged the credibility of the organization and has given its opponents the opportunity to call for its demise.

When you meet someone for the first time, your first thoughts are likely to be: Can I believe this person? Can I believe in this person? The word credible comes from the Latin word credere, which means to believe. So if you are credible, you’re believable in every sense of the word.

The scary thing about credibility is that you can’t decide if you’re credible. That’s a judgment call made by other people. Public perception of the folks at IPCC is that individuals there either don’t know what they’re talking about or they’ve become advocates in a cause where they’re supposed to be unbiased and impartial. Either way, they’re no longer quite as believable as they once were.

While you can’t actually serve up your credibility to other people on a silver platter, you can influence their perceptions in a significant way. There are four components of credibility where you can make a difference. They are: Integrity, Expertise, Dynamism, and Openness.

Let’s examine Integrity here. This is the big one, and it’s where the problems of the IPCC show up. When you work with someone, that person must be able to trust you implicitly if the two of you are to have a good relationship. Your word must be as good as gold. Your handshake must be binding, even if you don’t have a written contract. Your work life must be an open book, with no hidden agendas or self-serving machinations going on behind closed doors.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s tempting, when you want to be seen as the good guy, to hedge the truth and tell people what they want to hear. Office politics may make it difficult to be totally honest, and whistle blowers often find themselves penalized for calling attention to design flaws or violations of procedure no one wants to acknowledge. At its worst, an atmosphere of deception can disintegrate into “group think”, where everyone knows there’s a problem, but no one will step up and tell the truth.

To be credible, you must have a reputation for being honest with other people – for telling the truth even when it hurts. You can be kind, caring and diplomatic and at the same time be forthright in the way you approach your work and your relationships.

The IPCC is in trouble because it didn’t stay true to its mission: Take sophisticated and sometimes inconclusive science, and boil it down to usable advice for lawmakers. Scientists made the mistake of forming conclusions from inconclusive evidence and inserting them into their reports. This is easy to do unless you’re always on guard against the temptation to fudge—even a little—when the truth matters.

In a future article, I’ll have more on how to stay credible in today’s workplace. Stay tuned.

Image by Don Moyer
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