Posted by Leslie Dickson
Did you see the article in The Atlantic magazine? The End of Men, the title reads. Women outnumber men in the workplace, and there are more female than male managers, according to author Hanna Rosin.
It’s a timely reaffirmation of what we’ve long taught at VoicePro about communication skills. We shouldn’t think in terms of “feminine” and “masculine” behavior. There’s a fascinating study that says male witnesses who use powerless language are seen as week, while female witnesses who use powerful language are viewed as strong. Focus on personal power instead.
If you’re a woman who feels like your ideas are not being heard, here are some strategies to help:
1. Fill your personal space.
In VoicePro's professional development programs, we sometimes notice that women pull in, adopting a posture that makes them seem smaller. Do what powerful, assertive people do: own your space. Take a strong stance, with your shoulders down and your chest open. When you are sitting at a desk or conference table, keep that open posture, with your elbows away from your sides and your arms on the arms of your chair. Don’t clasp your hands in your lap.
2. Convey your credibility with your voice.
Are you whispering or have a tight voice? A weak "sound" will undermine your message. You want a full, rich and resonant voice to convey the strength that drives credibility. Here are two tips that can help: 1) relax the muscles in your face and throat, and 2) breathe deeply for power.
3. Light and easy does it.
In the competitive stress of the business world, nothing conveys strength like a light touch. You can take your job very seriously - just don't take yourself too seriously. Be focused, but not strained. And don’t forget that a hearty laugh can sometimes diffuse the tension better than a strident harangue.
4. "There’s no crying in baseball.”
The popular line from the movie A League of Their Own applies in business, too. Emotion is a necessity in business - not emotionalism. Tears undermine working relationships. So does defensiveness or sulking. Show your passion, but if you feel the tears welling up due to stress - take a break to calm yourself down. You will remain in command of yourself and your situation.
Some practice, some preparation, and you’ll be hearing accolades. Choose your favorite: “You go, girl.” Or “You’re the man.”
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Posted by Carolyn Dickson
“Breathe,” we tell our clients. “Whatever you do, don’t forget to breathe.”
The other day I looked over our roster of course offerings and realized that every program, no matter what its subject matter, contains a segment on breathing. Breathing has become an integral part of everything we do at VoicePro®.
So it’s time, I told myself, to spell out the mechanics of breathing in a way that makes sense to busy people and to explain its benefits to those of you caught up in the hectic and stressful world of business today.
The role of breathing is twofold: to move oxygen from our lungs into our red blood cells and to remove waste (carbon dioxide) from our lungs into the air. When we are relaxed, the body maintains a healthy balance between these two functions, so we’re absorbing just the right amount of oxygen and getting rid of just the right amount of CO2.
The diaphragm is the primary muscle involved in breathing. The diaphragm is a large, pancake-like muscle that rests just below the lungs. When we inhale, the ribcage expands and the diaphragm contracts and lowers, creating a vacuum in the lungs into which the air flows. Upon exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes into its resting position and the air is expelled. This breathing process is regulated in the brain. It’s involuntary and we don’t have to think about it at all. It’s deep, easy, gentle and effortless.
Problems arise when this natural breathing sequence goes out of balance. According to the Better Health Channel, “When a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes. Typically, an anxious person takes small, shallow breaths, using their shoulders rather than their diaphragm to move air in and out of their lungs. This style of breathing empties too much carbon dioxide out of the blood and upsets the body’s balance of gases. Shallow over-breathing—or hyperventilation—can prolong feelings of anxiety by exacerbating physical symptoms of stress….”
These symptoms, which are the very same ones we see in VoicePro® clients when they first come into class, include:
- Tightness in the chest
- Brain cramp
- Feelings of panic
- Heart palpitations
- Muscular stiffness or nervous twitches
- Cold, sweaty palms
- Stomach ache
At this point, nature helps us out, because not only is the breathing process involuntary, which means it’s automatic and we don’t have to think about it, but it can also be regulated using conscious effort. We can learn to use diaphragmatic breathing techniques that will offset the negative effects of stress. These techniques plug into the autonomic nervous system and encourages it to relax. In this way, you can calm your nerves and stay cool under the pressure of any high-stakes interaction.
Here’s the first step in understanding how your breathing works and in gaining command over your nerves.
- Sit upright in a straight chair with your feet flat on the floor.
- Relax your shoulders, letting them settle into a lowered position.
- Relax the muscles in your face, including your jaw. Keep your mouth lightly closed.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other over your midsection.
- Now let yourself breathe easily and naturally. Notice how your chest and shoulders remain still, while your abdomen rises slightly with each inhalation and falls with each exhalation.
- Let your body do the work. You are only the observer. Remain in this position for several minutes, breathing in and out through your nose, allowing the process to settle and calm you.
But this is only the first step. To learn more . . .
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Posted by Leslie Dickson
I love email. I do. I use it with my VoicePro colleagues and clients daily. It’s a great way to connect to people 24/7. It’s handy for sharing the same message with a large group all at once. It gives you a running record of a conversation.
But email is like chocolate: too much just isn’t good for you – or your career. Why? Every effective working relationship is more than information interchanges. And every person is more than words on a page. Body language, speaking style, the ability to interact – these are important elements in your ability to communicate effectively and influence an audience (even a one-person audience).
If you want to be a stronger leader – and be recognized as one -- here are six times to get up from the keyboard and have a face-to-face interaction:
- When you’re building trust with someone new. I’ve had family members and close friends misread an email. Maybe they took a joke seriously or misunderstood my attempt at brevity as anger. Now imagine how difficult it is for someone who doesn’t know you to read between the lines of your messages. Especially in the beginning of a working relationship, you need to see each other if you’re really going to hear and understand each other.
- When you want to build a team. We’ve all heard the stories of relationship break-ups in emails – or on Facebook! I suspect those weren’t really relationships at all. It’s in face-to-face meetings that team members begin to build trust and understanding. More important, if you’re going to tap into the synergy of a team’s capabilities, you need to provide forums in which ideas can bounce around like popcorn in the microwave. That’s when you really get results.
- When you want to solve a problem. We’ve all had the email exchanges that go back and forth so many times that your spam filter tries to dump them into the junk folder. If there are many facets to your discussion, each answer tends to spark another question…and another email. With serial emails, we lose the thread – both literally and intellectually. 15 minutes in the same room is probably far more productive than two hours devoted to emails.
- When you want to increase your leadership influence. The look in your eye says you’re committed. The tilt of your head says you’re listening to feedback. The tone of your voice says you’re certain that a course of action will work. All the emoticons on the planet won’t accomplish 1/100th as much.
- When you want to inspire. With apologies to Shakespeare, Hemingway and your favorite blogger, it’s not easy to change the world in a few well-chosen words. Engaging others requires a personal connection. How you speak, look and act is as much a part of the message as what you say.
- When you want to persuade. One of the most powerful ways to turn information into persuasion is with storytelling. And there’s a reason we like live performances of storytellers, comedians, musicians and actors. The storyteller’s energy is palpable in a way that a script can never be. Executives who’ve taken the VoicePro® workshop Persuasive Leadership™: Storytelling that Inspires tell us the new ability has changed the way they think about communication and the way others view them.
Want to help others become more effective communicators? Why don’t you send them an email with the link to this blog? Better yet – go to their office and talk it over.
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Posted by Carolyn Dickson
I hate the word gesture. Let me tell you why.
David was preparing to deliver the kickoff speech for the United Way at his company’s corporate headquarters. He was almost ready to go, he told the VoicePro® staff. All he needed was someone to observe his final rehearsal and provide a little fine tuning.
David (not his real name) opened with a quick story to set the stage. He provided just the right amount of data to show the impact of corporate contributions and added interesting examples from real life designed to tug at the heartstrings of his audience. He clicked his slides along smoothly, with no awkward, fumbling moments. He closed with a clear call to action. Then he waited expectantly for our reaction.
David was organized, prepared, and rehearsed. There was just one problem. His facial expressions, his movements, and—yes—his gestures were all just a little bit off. His performance seemed wooden and lacked spontaneity. In short, at the very moment when he needed to inspire people to open their pocketbooks, he came across as insincere.
To me, the word gesture carries the connotation of stock movements that are supposed to mean something. Therefore, if you use the right gesture, the audience will get your meaning and be satisfied. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. That’s because by the time you think about a gesture, the time for using it has passed. You will always be behind the beat.
We told David to imagine himself in his kitchen, leaning against the sink with a beer in his hand, describing the United Way to his best friend. The change was astonishing. His body relaxed, his hands moved freely, and his eyes sparkled. He painted beautiful pictures with his words and with his actions. He didn’t have to think about gestures. Every movement was spontaneous and fit perfectly. Nothing was out of place.
Here is some advice that will help you appear natural and authentic and eliminate the stock gestures that create woodenness in a speaker.
- Don’t memorize your speech. When you try to duplicate a presentation exactly the way you wrote it or practiced it, you will block the natural flow of energy that makes you come alive. When you practice, your presentation should be different each time—not the basic framework, which remains steady and unchanged, but your wording, your inflection and pauses, and the way you express yourself physically.
- Don’t plan your gestures. Your speech should feel like a conversation you’re having with friends. When you’re speaking spontaneously in a natural setting, you don’t worry about what to do with your hands. Your entire body comes alive. Even if someone were to press the mute button, people would know instinctively if you’re happy, excited, serious, or in despair. Expression oozes out of you. It comes without thought, without intent.
- Don’t practice in front of a mirror. Like other forms of expressive pre-planning, practicing in front of a mirror takes you out of yourself and turns you into a judge instead of an authentic speaker. Oh, that looks good, you tell yourself when you spot a gesture you like. This will backfire every time. The next time that same gesture will look and feel awful. Your timing will be off and your focus of attention will have been diverted away from your audience and onto your own actions. If you really want to improve your professional presentation skills, practice your delivery with a video camera and view it afterwards.
Contact VoicePro® for more information on how you can raise your presentation skills to the next level.
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Posted by Carolyn Dickson
Stagefright knows no bounds. At one time or another it strikes almost everyone, ranging all the way from a mild case of jitters to feelings of abject terror. At the beginning of our workshop, Speak, Present, Influence, we ask the participants what they want most to gain from their presentation skills training. Nearly everyone says something about wanting to feel more comfortable when speaking before a group. Of all the qualities, a good speaker can possess, the most prized is the ability to relax under the pressure of performance.
When stagefright strikes, our inner judges take over. “Okay,” they whisper, “the stakes are high, so you’d better be good. If you make a mistake you’ll look incompetent, so be careful. If you’re not perfect, they won’t like you, so be careful. If you don’t dazzle them, your career will suffer. So be careful, be careful, be careful.
Thus the need for perfectionism is born, and with it the fear that we won’t live up to some unattainable standard we have set for ourselves.
I’ve just finished reading tennis great Andre Agassi’s autobiography, Open, now out in paperback. Agassi’s father drove the young tennis phenom without mercy—Harder! Faster! More!—until eventually he internalized his father’s words and made them his own. From then on, Agassi’s inner judges gave him no rest. He became the number one tennis player in the world, but was haunted by the constant haranguing going on inside him until every move he made, before, during and after a match, was driven by the need to be perfect.
Finally, Agassi hired a coach, who made this powerful statement. “Andre,” he said, "perfectionism is a choice.”
Think about that. Perfectionism is a choice. We aren’t born with it. Perfectionism isn’t genetically inscribed on our DNA. We are taught it by our parents, our teachers, our bosses—all those well-meaning people who mess with our egos until we’re paralyzed with fear.
Therefore, we can choose not to try to be perfect. We can choose not to be overwhelmed by stagefright. We can choose to let our vulnerability show. We can choose to be human.
Here are some things you can do to help yourself when stagefright strikes.
- Don’t misinterpret the jitters that come right before you’re about to give a presentation. That sensation is caused by the secretion of hormones such as adrenaline that will help you focus your thoughts and will give you the energy you need to do a good job. Athletes and other professional performers rely on this adrenaline rush to get them “up” for the performance. They become addicted to the high they feel and can’t live without it. So, instead of getting all flustered and thinking, Uh oh, here it comes, welcome it and make it work for you.
- Put your inner judges aside. By that I mean, talk to them. Tell them you’re tired of listening to all that doom and gloom. That you’re too busy right now and don’t want to be bothered by them. Then take them in your hands and find a place to put them. Set them on a shelf. Or shut them in a drawer. You can get them out later and deal with them if you want to, but for now they’re out of your way and you can proceed with confidence.
- Don’t forget to breathe. Deep breathing technique is the first step in any relaxation or calming practice. Exhale completely, pushing out the last bits of breath that remain in your lungs. Hold the emptiness for a count of five. Then allow the breath to recover; take it in deep down in your body. Keep your shoulders down and your upper body relaxed. Do this five times. Feel the difference.
The message of this article is, you don’t have to be afflicted with stagefright. You don’t have to be perfect. You can banish your inner judges to a shelf in the deep recesses of your mind. And you can present yourself and your ideas with confidence and flair.
We have published several articles that address stagefright issues, including:
Have a Fear of Public Speaking? Get Over It!
Public Speaking body language, it's half the show
Mastering communication skills: Power of Positive Mental Images
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Posted by Leslie Dickson
It happened to me twice in the same day, just last week. Two colleagues, both in their early 50’s, who work for two different companies, were bemoaning the instability in their job situations. Both shared a sadly similar version of the same sentiment: “This job needs to last me at least 8 more years.”
Unfortunately, statistics aren’t on their side. According to research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure in a job is 4.1 years. That computes to 7-10 jobs in a career – and probably one more for each of my friends before retirement. My colleagues are first rate professionals, executives with excellent skills and years of valuable experience. Yet, that may not be enough in this economy – or any economy.
The reality is, whether we’re staying with the same employer or moving on to a new one, we should think of ourselves as applying for a job every day of our lives. Each of us needs to be asking ourselves the question that candidates are asked in job interviews every day: “What can you bring to this position?” Not what did you bring yesterday …what can you bring tomorrow? That’s why ongoing training throughout your career isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.
Clients often ask me what kind of training choices will help advance their careers. I always urge them to consider leadership training. Here’s why:
- Leadership training takes you beyond business knowledge. In a great article in Chief Executive magazine titled Why Some CEOs Fail and Others Succeed, Author Rommin Adl included this quote from the storied former CEO of GE, Jack Welch. “Getting every employee’s mind into the game is a huge part of what the CEO job is all about…There’s nothing more important." The ability to communicate effectively, to engage people, to skillfully present ideas is as crucial a skill as any. These are the skills participants focus on in VoicePro’s Executive Presence™ workshops. They’re key to helping them leave their mark on others in every interaction and increase their influencing power in an organization.
- Leadership: there’s always room to grow. I’ve worked with up-and-comers and veteran executives – even CEO’s. No matter what the innate abilities, no matter where people are in their careers, new leadership skills can be learned and mastered.
- Build on strengths or correct weaknesses? Both, of course. Be honest with yourself. If you know you have a particular deficiency, stop ignoring it. You can learn new skills to change; you just need to decide. And if you’d rate yourself “average or above” in most areas, what’s holding you back from “excellence”? It’s never too late to surprise others – and yourself!
- Get outside your comfort zone. Training is more than a resume builder. It’s a cornerstone of confidence. When you extend yourself, you will learn more than if you just stay with what is comfortable. You will feel more in control, more motivated, and more engaged.
- Your company will value your new commitment as much as your new skills. Your willingness to put in time and effort to develop leadership skills will have supervisors looking at you with fresh eyes. Your decision to take on new challenges is as impressive as your results.
So, what are you waiting for? Whether you have 8 years or 38 left in your career, leadership training will help you make the most of it.
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Posted by Carolyn Dickson
If you’ve ever found yourself in an ongoing conflict with someone, you know it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what exactly is going on. You dread any interaction with the person. You leave every meeting irritated. Or angry. Or drained of energy. “I don’t know what it is,” you tell yourself. “Our personalities just clash.”
Whatever your situation, the first step in correcting the problem is to get a handle on what’s actually happening. And the best way to do this is to undertake an analysis of the conflict. Learning to analyze is one of the ways to improve business communication skills. It will serve you in good stead whenever you find yourself in a difficult situation.
The key to all good analysis is detachment—the ability to step back and view a situation with complete objectivity. So, to gain the insight that comes from good analysis, you must look at your conflict from the viewpoint of a disinterested bystander, almost as if you had hired yourself as a consultant to come in and give yourself a fresh perspective.
Here are some of the questions you, the consultant, will ask as you probe for answers to the ultimate question: What are we fighting about?
How often does the situation occur?
Jeff and Sarah argue over the merits of Internet marketing. They argue over deadlines. They get into it whenever they try to plan for a client meeting. But the reality is that Internet marketing, deadlines, or clients have nothing whatsoever to do with their conflict. It doesn’t matter what the topic is; introduce a new one and they’ll start to bicker.
A conflict recurring three times without resolution isn’t about content at all. It’s about the relationship. Who am I in relation to you? And: Who are you in relation to me? A large number of episodes will require a greater emphasis on relationship issues as you proceed.
Who has the power?
The struggle for power is a key component in all relationship conflicts. People often view power as finite. That is, there is only so much power to go around and if you have it, there won’t be any left for me. In other words, one person’s gain is the other’s loss.
In your conflict analysis, who grabs the power and who gives it away? Who controls the conversation? Look carefully at your conflict and see if you can spot moments when the two of you are jockeying for power.
How do you feel?
A client came to Results & Relationships denying any conflict with her boss. “There’s absolutely no problem,” she claimed. “We never, ever argue.” We asked how she usually felt when she left her boss’s office after a meeting. “Terrible,” she admitted. And she burst into tears.
If you come away from an interaction feeling diminished as a human being, you have a relationship issue. By the same token, if you’re feeling smug, self-satisfied, or superior in any way because you came out ahead in a skirmish, you’re playing the power game, and the relationship will suffer.
Conflict analysis is a proven communication tool. You’ll be amazed to learn that what you’re fighting about is much different from what you originally thought. Once you know that, you’ll be in a good position to resolve the conflicts that are bound to occur throughout your professional life.
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Posted by Leslie Dickson
You want your team to be stronger. You want to fix problems. You want your organization to improve. So you devise a plan, call a meeting to make something happen ASAP, right?
Not so fast. If you want real change, a top-down mandate may not get you to the goal quickly -- or ever. Instead of jumping in with answers, start by asking questions.
A culture of questioning helps you build a thinking organization.
You and your team look at situations in terms of analysis, root causes, and teamwork. Just as important, you learn to listen to each other and explore new directions. That’s why powerful questioning is one of the key topics in the VoicePro® Results & Relationships™ program, which focuses on the skills of listening and inquiry.
Developing a strong questioning organization will take practice. When you start out, questions can feel like challenges or interrogation. To help you get started, here are some questions of ours to guide you:
- Does anyone have a question? Put an end to the one-way conversation. Invite people to ask questions. Encourage making questions a part of your every day interactions. Model the behavior yourself. In time, people will understand that engaging colleagues in dialog will bring new solutions to the table. If you are in a meeting or large group it might be wise to make a list yourself of some of some of tough questions and plant them with someone in the audience. That can help people overcome the reluctance to bring up difficult topics.
- What can we learn here? This is a reminder that every question deserves a positive first response. A negative one shuts down the discussion before it begins. Give others respect and you leave the door open for further exploration.
- What’s your hurry? When you’re asked a question, don’t rush to respond. We tend to think that responding quickly shows how much we know. Actually, it is okay to let others see you think. Take a moment to consider the question, examine your emotions to see if they’re coloring your response, and return a useful answer.
- How’s your body language? Whether you’re asking or answering a question, be sure your body language doesn’t create an atmosphere of anger or anxiety. Keep your posture open and relaxed. And remember to breathe deeply. It will help you be calm and focused.
- Why, why, why? When you hear an idea, complaint or problem, dig deeper by asking the person why. Why do you think this? Why do you believe this will change things? You may be surprised how much you can learn.
The bottom line is none of us knows it all. But if we’re willing to ask the questions, we’re more likely to find the answers together.
Image by By DoBeRaGi