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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Five Words for Female Professionals--Second Word

     Yesterday's word challenged you to be bold in pursuit of your goals.  As women, we can't deny ourselves the opportunities to compete equally in the workplace for what we are qualified to do.  Neither can we keep placing everyone else's needs at home before our own.  We have to go boldly forward in gaining what brings us fulfillment in our lives.  We have to enjoy life too!
     Today, I challenge you again to get closer to your goals (and you must have those in place first!) by considering words that will motivate you to achieve.  The second word for female professionals who are striving to improve their lives in 2014 is strategy.  That's right: strategy.  Just declaring what you want to do is not enough.  Talking about it to your friends or coworkers won't necessarily make it happen.  You must be strategic in your thinking and your planning when it comes to making something concrete come to fruition.  For example, if you have been wanting to write a book--a novel about cybercrime with a female protagonist--but it's only been a thought in your mind, then you've got to get it out of your head and onto paper.  I've spoken with several women who say they have a book in them.  But have they written anything?  No.  It's merely a dream.  A goal deferred.  They're not sure how to go about it.  And they keep putting it on the back burner because they weren't "bold" in their efforts to make it happen.  So other things got in the way.  Now they are years down the road, and nothing has been completed.
     Strategy says to the individual, I'm going to think critically about what I want to do.  Then I'm going to research it and talk to anyone who can help me.  I'm going to do the legwork, the arm work, the brain work and any other work necessary to set myself up to make this project a part of my life.  I'm going to work it like a job and get it done.  Women who create a strategic plan are more likely to reach their goals because they have something real to work from.  They have a path to follow.  Being strategic means thinking the project through from start to finish and putting all of the necessary resources in place to reach the awesome ending you've dreamed up for yourself.  Therefore, think, plan, do and achieve.
     If you want to learn how to be bolder and strategic in 2014, join us for the new "Women's Forum on Leadership" on January 14, 2014 at the Capital City Club in Columbia, SC.  Contact Betty to register and to get further details.  Look for the third word tomorrow.  Receive all five this week and be the first to state them in the comments section of this blog to get free tuition to this awesome series.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Five Words for Female Professionals

     With a new year on the horizon, most of us are looking at what we can do to make an improvement over the last.  We do it every year.  It is a time of new beginnings.  Kudos to those who have the ambition to do better.  Whether it's to grow your business, your circle of influence or your knowledge, striving to be better is admirable.  You are an exception when you are purposeful in how you live.  Far too many people don't want to or are afraid to make the next move that will give them what they want.  Many don't want to make the effort because it will be too hard or they fear failing.  Thus, they stick with what is comfortable and familiar.  They settle.
     For women, this belief is especially debilitating.  Not only do they limit themselves, but many people in the world couldn't care less if they stayed at a level of mediocrity.  Other females who don't want to compete with them and men who don't take them seriously won't urge them toward their own personal success.  But for women who want more and are willing to battle discouragement to get it, they will be rewarded handsomely if they don't give up.  The battle requires using words as one cache of weapons.  Positive words.  Motivating words.  Hopeful words.  There are five that I believe will help female professionals start the journey, stay on the path, and ultimately reach their goals.  Every day this week, I will share one.  By Friday, the first five women who can relay all of them to me in the comments section of this blog will receive discounted tuition to the new "Women's Forum on Leadership" to begin on January 14, 2014 at the Capital City Club in Columbia, SC.  The forum is a three-part educational series on leadership designed especially for female professionals who want to grow in their skills and knowledge about leadership.  The first female of the five to respond will receive free tuition.  The other four will receive half off.
     So write this one down:  boldness.  The first word to apply to your move toward goal attainment is boldness.  Approaching your goals timidly is sure to get you pushed aside due to circumstances, other more assertive people or poor timing.  If you want to hit your mark, you can't shrink back, wait, stand still or be slowed by fear.  You must take the necessary risks that will get you closer to the outcomes you envision for your life.  Want a promotion?  Go for it.  Want to increase revenues for your business?  Go get them.  Want to start a new business?  Do it.  Want to get healthier?  You can make it happen. Too often women allow their insecurities to hinder them.  They second-guess their abilities and allow doubt to cloud their vision.  Be bold in your desires.  Let your passion lead you.  Reject fear and set attainable goals.  What you want is within your reach.  If you are realistic about it, you can achieve your dreams.  It may take a minute, but go forth boldly like one who knows they will win.  Be confident.
#leadership #goalsetting #assertiveness #communications #womeninbusiness

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Critical Speaking is Not the Same as Critical Thinking

     In my daily Bible reading, I came across scripture in the awesome "The Message" Bible by Eugene Peterson that spoke plainly to negative people about their regularly unkind speech.  I like "The Message" because it breaks scripture down into the simplest terms for readers.  It's written in contemporary language, and it reads sometimes like an essay, editorial or novel without being irreverent.
     The seventh chapter of Matthew begins like this:  "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults--unless, of course, you want the same treatment.  That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.  It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own."  And that's just the beginning.  This is a word for believers and nonbelievers alike.  To be critical in speech is not the same as being critical as a thinker.  Critical thinking involves digging into the details, analyzing all angles, using logic.  This mindset is essential for making informed decisions and being precise in exploration and results.  Critical speech is entirely different.
     People who speak critically as opposed to thinking critically are negative in their speech.  They don't find things wrong in an effort to discover what is right, they find things wrong most of the time because they are whiners, gossips and hypocrites.  They are people who refuse to see the right side of an issue or to look for the positives in a challenging situation.  They seem to exist only to tear others down.  They are rarely satisfied, and for those of us who really do think critically, we can hear their insecurities.  You know them.  You've been exhausted by their constant sniping and putdowns.  Perhaps you've been the target of their sarcasm and accusations.  Perhaps you are them.
     Here's how you shut it down if you're inconvenienced by other people's habitually negative comments.  1) Draw the line.  Say:  "Hey, can we look at the better side of this issue or person?  I think you've covered all the bad stuff."  Don't participate.  Feeding into the conversation is like throwing a match in the forest during a drought.  2) For every negative they say, you present a positive.  Say:  "I didn't see it that way.  I thought she was great in her performance."  Every time you counter their negative comment, you show them how shallow they sound, and that you're not going to be a part of it.  3) Leave.  Walk away.  The energy around people like that is like wearing a yoke around your neck.  It is enslaving and weighty.
      Make the positive difference.  The world is not suffering from too few critics.  It is managing to survive in spite of them.
    

Sunday, December 1, 2013

When You See Me, What Does My Body Say?

     Tattoos.  Piercings.  Wigs.  Weaves.  Hair dyes.  Colored contact lenses.  Shades.  Suits.  Stilettos.  Excess weight.  Muscles.  Gold teeth.  Sagging pants.  Dreadlocks.  Afros.  Cornrows.  Diamonds.  Perfumes.  Body odor.  Halitosis.  Plunging necklines.  Thigh-high skirts.  Blonde hair.  Scars.  Cigarettes.  Stained teeth.  Shirt & tie.  Creased jeans.  Polished shoes.  A frown.  A smile.  A hoodie.  Sleeveless denim vests.  Ripped jeans.  Trimmed beard.  Toned body.  Heavy makeup.  Plain.  Eclectic.  Vibrant.  Drab.
     Any of these can be found on any human being every day all day long.  When we see it, we immediately make an assessment of the individual.  Positive, negative and neutral, we think we have people figured out to some degree when we see them.  A young person with violet hair and a tongue piercing may make a baby boomer shake her head.  A young African American male with sagging pants and a gold grille in his mouth may cause a police officer to slow down and watch intently on his patrol.  A middle-aged woman with a toned and trim body could spike interest from a man who thinks she believes in taking good care of herself.  Without uttering a word, a body and its upkeep say a lot to onlookers.  It's not always about your facial expressions or posture.  It is also about how you present your physical appearance that says more about who you are.
     We look at people who are well-dressed, polished, groomed and smiling and we say, "They are professional".  We look at a female with a short skirt and cleavage and say, "She's a cheap trick."  We look at a guy with a tailored suit, expensive-smelling cologne, and big diamond pinkie ring and say, "He must be paid well."  What you show is all we know.  We will judge, assume, analyze.  To some degree, we'll be correct in our assessment.  Therefore, if you want people to judge you well, consider what you're saying to them via your body habits.  Enhance your reputation with your swag.  You don't have to look rich or important.  But always consider what your body is saying to others because, ultimately, it's talking about you.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Words of Thanksgiving

     Oh sigh.  It's that time of year again.  That time to express our gratitude for all that we have.  Whether it's everything we want or not, we are grateful.  We are grateful for family no matter how crazy they are.  We are grateful for the material possessions we have because they bring us convenience and comfort.  We are grateful for our jobs because we are not homeless and hungry even if that job doesn't satisfy us completely or make us rich.  We are grateful for our health because even if we don't feel 100%, we are still breathing and opening our eyes every day.  We are grateful.  Whether you are grateful to God or some other entity you worship (for the record, I am grateful to God only), we take time to reflect on the current state of our lives.
     Since this is a communications blog, we should take time this Thanksgiving to say to God and anyone else we're grateful to that we appreciate them.  Thank your family and friends.  Thank your boss and your coworkers.  Thank anyone who you know has helped you at some point this year.  Let them know that you are not taking them for granted.  Words are powerful ointments for the soul.  You may be a soothing balm to someone who needs to feel appreciated today.  As the hustle and bustle of holiday time starts taking on that crazy life of its own, stop the whiplash movements of the season to say a kind word to someone.  Tell someone that you forgive them for some past wrong.  Ask someone for forgiveness for some past wrong you have committed.  Tell someone you've been trying to connect with for awhile that you are putting that precious time on your calendar right now and mean it.
     In a world filled with hateful, critical, and judgmental speech, take time to re-evaluate how you come across.  Think about how much more inspiring you can be to others, and exercise your ability to be kind through words of encouragement and love.  Happy Thanksgiving and I appreciate you for supporting and reading this blog.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Taunting: It's All Bullying

     The latest communications debacle comes via the poor decisions made by Miami Dolphins player Richie Incognito to let his mouth run while his brain stopped.  Apparently, he's done so on a number of occasions, and they have cost him dearly.  I've heard the story about his upbringing and how he, too, was bullied as a child.  Though I'm sure that was a difficult and disheartening experience for him in his elementary school years, it doesn't give him a pass on perpetuating the same hatred he endured.  In fact, I would think anyone who has first-hand knowledge of the pain inflicted on someone's self-esteem when they are taunted, called names, and verbally abused would have the opposite effect.  They wouldn't want to perpetrate the pain; they'd want to eliminate it.
     Being verbally abusive and threatening is unacceptable in any setting.  I don't care if the person is 6'5, 375 lbs., and has an arrest record for battery.  Human beings don't have to denigrate each other to, to...to what?  How do you finish that sentence?  What's the purpose in being loud and angry and threatening and offensive?  I don't see any value in it.  What's the yield?  Making the other person feel bad?  Then what?  So what?  Regardless of the dismissive comments I've heard around this story, bullying is NOT the game of football.  It may be the misguided culture of the profession and/or the League, but it has nothing to do with the game.  If you're an outstanding player, then do all of your talking on the field.  Which, by the way, based on the Miami Dolphins current weak performance record of 4-4, they're not talking, they're stuttering.
     So let's make this personal.  Are you a perpetrator of negative comments?  Consider your words.  Do you taunt?  Taunting is a remark made in order to anger, wound, or provoke someone.  More specifically, the constant badgering of another person about something personal.  It might be about how they look.  It might be about how they perform on the job or some other aspect of what they feel they do well.  It might be within a relationship (i.e. marriage) where one spouse is always demeaning the other.  Snide comments.  Accusations.  Harsh judgments.  Criticisms.  When they become the common language in how you deal with an individual, that's taunting.  It's also harassment.  And at some point, that person is going to get enough of it.  Regardless of what the repercussions are, they will be bad.  And so unnecessary.  Let me chime in with what I'm sure you've probably already heard from that individual--STOP IT ALREADY!!! Back off.  Leave them alone.  Stop being a bully.  It's too revealing on your part.  And what does it reveal?  The breadth of your stupidity and the depth of your insecurities.  They make you look like the real loser at the end of it all.

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness"

     The truth is black or white.  There are no gray areas.  It either is or it isn't.  Statements and actions can't be partially true.  Whenever any part of a statement is untrue, that makes the entire statement untrue.  If you're not telling the whole truth, you're lying.  Bottom line.  At least from my window into the world.
     Consider this:  a man with a gambling addiction tells his wife that he's going over to a friend's house to watch the ball game with a bunch of friends.  He does indeed go and watch the game, but at the same time, he indulges in a few hands of Poker and loses a couple hundred dollars.  It is true that he went to a friend's and watched a game.  But the truth falls apart when his real motive is revealed.  His intent was to play Poker; to gamble.  In essence, he lied.  Regardless of the fact that he actually did what he said he was going to do, the motives behind what he was doing were false.  Therefore, his words were too.
     Leaving out important information or even nonessential information doesn't make a statement true.  Just because it's not said doesn't mean the intent of the behavior is permissible.  If a person has to hide what they're doing in order to make an action credible, then that means they already know they're perpetrating fraud.  Therefore, modifying the truth to cover wrongdoing is a flat out lie.
     Your integrity ought to be one of the most important characteristics that you want out front about you.  You should protect it with everything you have.  Sometimes a person's word is all that matters.  In the past, many a deal was forged based only on a handshake and a promise.  A person's reputation and credibility is worth more than money when someone is willing to take a risk based only on what's believed about them.  Unfortunately, many of us have lied enough to ourselves such that we believe that we can get away with little things that are meaningless to us.  We call them "little white lies".  And though they may seem harmless, they can start off as minor and become distorted enough that they take on a life of their own.  Before you know it, you don't even recognize the truth anymore.
     So why do we do it?  Some of us feel that we are protecting other people's feelings by hiding the truth on occasion.  Others of us just want to keep the peace so we don't speak the truth for fear of somebody else's wrath.  And still there are those who want to make themselves appear grander than they really are.  They are putting up a facade to impress people who oftentimes couldn't care less about the things they place a high value on.  People lie for a variety of reasons, and they convince themselves that it's okay.  Here's the real deal:  The reason people lie is because the truth is too hard to deal with.  It can be ugly, brutal, and heart-wrenching.  People used to say "Give 'em hell, Harry" in reference to Harry S. Truman's direct and no-holds-barred approach in leadership.  But Truman said, "I never gave anybody hell!  I just told the truth and they thought it was hell!"
     Let the bottom line be this:  Truth does not need any accoutrements to make it believable.  It simply is.  Anything added to it changes its properties, and it is no longer truth.  It is something else.  It is a lie.  Make it easier for people to be truthful with you by not becoming angry when it's told to you.  You may not like it, and yes, it'll probably hurt.  But if you need to hear it, then it's not the other person's doing that needs changing, it's yours.  Be truthful with yourself first so others won't have to struggle with how to be truthful with you.
    

Monday, October 21, 2013

How to Say "I Was Wrong" and Remain Strong

     "It wasn't me."
     "Nobody told me."
     "That's not my job."
     Personal accountability is as fleeting these days as a Kim Kardashian relationship.  However, it is as necessary as toothpaste and mouthwash--refuse to use it, and you stink!  Unfortunately, there are a lot of us who refuse to own our part in mishaps that are bound to happen.  For whatever reason, we seem to think we must be perfect in all things and so should everyone else.  To make a mistake is to seem flawed.  Well duh.  Aren't we all?  I have not yet met perfection, and I much more prefer those people who drop the ball every now and then.  I would rather associate with a person who has failed and learned from their failures than to be with someone who presents him or herself as never having blown it at all.  Mistakes are our teachable moments.  They show us our vulnerabilities and keep us grounded--at least for those of us who are willing to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  Those who have not learned that it's okay to blow it every now and again, are not inclined to admit their mistakes.  They deny, justify, and excuse their behavior.
     Admitting our mistakes is difficult at best.  It says we've failed.  It says we fell short, and few of us want to admit that we don't always get it right even though we say the words.  "Nobody's perfect!" we yell, but we treat ourselves and everybody else like they ought to be.  We criticize and ridicule when people get caught or get caught up, and that's why many are reluctant to admit when they are wrong.  I've seen two erroneous reactions to failing.
     1)  The attitude that only other people fail.  We stand around and tsk, tsk at them for not living up to our standards.  We act as if we'd  never do anything as careless as the people we whisper and gossip about.  Then when we do, we don't hold ourselves accountable.  We find every way to duck our responsibility for our part in what broke down.  Somehow, people have come to think it makes us weak to say we didn't do something right.  What we don't realize is it takes a strong man or woman to say those three little words that make us human:  "I was wrong."  To refuse to admit the errors we commit is to be arrogant and egotistical.  To be either means you are destined to repeat your mistakes.
     2)  The attitude that you are an utter failure.  The person who takes on too much personal accountability is at the other end of the spectrum.  They beat themselves up for what they did wrong, and they find it hard to let it go.  They are their own worse critic, and they are annoyingly apologetic.  They then, indeed, appear to be weak because of their inability to check themselves and move on. 
     So consider this:  You said something that was offensive to someone.  You calculated wrong and cost someone a ton of money.  You were supposed to follow up on a promise to a customer, and you forgot.  You were picked to lead a project, and you are failing miserably at it.  Here's what you do right away:  1) admit your error, 2) say you're sorry, and 3) fix it.  Afterwards, do these three things:  4) reflect on it, 5) learn from it, and 6) never do it again.
     How you overcome adversity is what makes you strong.  Choosing not to make excuses but to hold yourself accountable builds your influence in the minds of those who watch you lay down your ego and pick up your reputation to fight another day.

Monday, October 14, 2013

MEN: How to Listen to a Woman in 4 Easy Ways

     So fellas, I know you may feel at times that women are an emotional mess of disjointed thoughts, endless chatter, and crazy impulses.  Some days you have the patience to listen to your wife, mother, boss, girlfriend or some other female in your life, and then there are days that you just don't want to be required to respond to anything she says.  I get it.  So let me help you out.  There are four things you can do right now that will help you in communicating better with females, and it all involves listening.
     1)  Don't try to fix everything she brings to you.  Yes, she wants to come to you and complain about issues at work or in the family, but her intentions are not always to have you throw out some hard-nosed solution.  Sure it may make perfect sense to you to tell your wife that she needs to tell her sister she doesn't have the sense the Lord gave a turnip and that's why men use her, but don't say it.  Women aren't always coming to men for solutions or their opinions.  Sometimes we just want a sounding board.  You'd do well to just sit and listen, nod a few times, throw in a "you're absolutely right" or "what would you like to see happen", and the conversation will go much better.  CAVEAT:  Be careful not to be patronizing.  Most of us are pretty smart, and we'll know immediately if you're just pacifying us!
     2)  Listen with your eyes.  When she is talking to you, don't look distracted. Give her your full attention.  Let her know you're interested in what she has to say even if you're not.  What you're saying to her is that she's important even though you feel what she's saying is not.  By showing her that you are willing to hear what she has to say, you're also saying you value her input, she matters and so do her comments.  The benefit to you is that depending on the setting (work or home), she may finish talking sooner because now she feels heard.  And if you've got a bright lady in front of you, it would do you well to pay close attention.
     3)  Don't interrupt her when emotions are high.  Let her get her feelings out in the open because women are at the very core sensitive beings.  We were created to be nurturing, compassionate, and emotional so that we can be mothers to offspring who in turn will possess some of those same qualities.  That's how we continue the pipeline of love in the world.  I get it that not every woman is a mother and not every mother is nurturing and loving.  But the majority of women yield to their special design, and they put more compassion out in the world than what's withheld.  And we do live in a world that's lacking compassion and sensitivity these days.  With that in mind, if she is upset, interrupting her will only worsen the situation.  Cutting her off will only make her repeat herself or start from the beginning again.  You want to end this thing if you want to act like a leader (even if she's the boss).  So let her speak.
     4)  Don't ask her to repeat herself over and over again.  This point complements point number two.  Showing a female that you're listening is one thing, but ACTUALLY listening is quite another.  By tuning in to what she has to say, you prevent that awkward moment of having to ask her the same thing she's already explained to you at length when you weren't listening.  Sure, you caught a word here and there to give the impression that you were tracking along.  But the minute you come back and ask something that she's explained before (and she knows exactly what she said to you and when), then she now knows you weren't listening.  That bumps you back to point three, and trust me, you don't wanna go there!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

WOMEN: Do These 3 Things to Get a Male to Listen

     It's no secret that most women feel men don't listen to them.  This belief  is especially prevalent in marriages.  Not surprisingly, men agree.  They don't listen to women that much.  A husband may tell his wife, "Yeah, I'm listening."  But as soon as she says what we all say ("Then what did I say?"), he tells her what he thinks she may have sort of kind of said if he were really tuning in.  Well ladies, there is an art to getting a man to give his full attention to you when you are speaking, and it doesn't involve talking about sports, money or sex.  Most men will try hard to listen if you do the following three things:
     1)  Make most of what you have to say substantive.  As women, we know we tend to ramble.  We will chatter on at length about almost anything.  This is not a criticism.  Actually, it's a skill.  We are witty, intuitive, opinionated, and compassionate.  We need all of those qualities in being effective communicators because they help us in our flexibility to communicate a variety of needs for ourselves and as a help to others.  As women, we get it.  However, if you're male, you may wonder if the woman in front of you is mayor of the Town of Babel.  She is all over the topic map, and all you hear is yak, yak, yakkety, yak.  So ladies, do this:  speak to the specific topic at hand unless you're in a social setting, and even then, you may have to tighten up the idle talk.  Stay focused because men don't travel from one topic to another as rapidly as we do.  If you move too quickly, you may cause them injury.  Give them time to follow you.  Make sure you get to the point and be done because they will surely turn off the rambling.
     2)  Be expressive but not emotional.  Say what you mean in as animated a way as you choose, but don't get all screechy or whiny or catty.  In other words, express emotion without becoming all emotional.  Avoid any loss of self control.  Are you raising your voice to some high-pitched decibel that resembles the caw of a crow?  Are your words quivering and cracking like your level of confidence is as fragile as an egg shell?  Though I don't suggest you try to present yourself as a wall of steel, I do recommend you try to temper your emotions in business settings, during difficult conversations, and in high stakes negotiations.  Always come to men from a position of strength with a bit of vulnerability that says you're not trying to emasculate him, but that you command a modicum of respect as well.
     3)  Show your intelligence.  If you are knowledgeable and smart about business, life, and/or your craft, then put it on display.  For too long, the wrong qualities in women have been exhibited by unwise females.  We've not been taken seriously, and men have overlooked us for opportunities that could contribute to our success, and even to their own with our help.  The media has helped perpetuate female stereotypes to the point that most of what our counterparts see is sniping, manipulation and selfishness.  Women on a large scale are better than that.  We have to make sure we show it more to dispel the foolishness that masquerades itself as truth.
     Therefore, ladies, be direct, focused, smart and self-controlled.  If a man still doesn't hear you, then he's not only tuned out, he's turned off.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Connect2013 Is the Place for Communications Specialists!

     We're only a few days away from Connect2013, a professional development conference for communications specialists in South Carolina.  Presented jointly by the International Association of Business Communicators and the South Carolina Public Relations Society of America, this conference will tackle the tough topic of communications--in my session, specifically communications styles.  Poor communications has long been the culprit in most soured relationships, personal and professional.  Intent, perception, tone, word choice--they all contribute to whether a message is effectively conveyed.  The greatest challenge I've found in my years as a trainer in communications is that people are more readily able to identify where others fall short rather than themselves.  Ask them how an interaction between them and another individual collapsed, and they can run down the list for you. 
     "He keeps too much to himself so how am I to know what's going on?"
     "She is too lengthy in her emails so I end up skimming and missing important information."
     "She thinks everything in her mind is coming out of her mouth, but I really can't follow most of her conversations. She's confusing."
     Now, ask them how they may have contributed to the failure in that interaction, and they would likely deny that they had much responsibility in it.  It was the other person's fault and here's how, complete with examples. 
     In my personal mission to help people get along better, I make a stronger effort at getting individuals to hold themselves accountable for their lane on this two-way street of personal connections.  We're often only a word or a careless tone away from causing some type of conflict in our communications.  Recognizing how we come across to others is the first big step in making sure we hit the mark in what we're trying to accomplish.  For me, making a presentation to a roomful of communicators is especially exciting because I know what I convey will be scrutinized, judged, and contemplated.  That's okay with me as long as something I present is actually useful and used.  Regardless of the fact that their jobs require that they be expert communicators, experts are developed through continuous learning, practice, and challenging the status quo.  There are no new ways to communicate in person.  Just better ways.  I can't wait to share them with the participants at the conference.
     If you want to check it out, I'm sure they'd love to have you.  Click here to learn more.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Crude and Rude Are Sooooo Unnecessary

     They call them trolls.  If you've ever read the feedback or input from online readers regarding newsworthy stories, you'll find that somewhere along the way some idiot will say something so tasteless and vile that you wish you were close enough to smack them one good time across the head.  I don't often call people idiots.  I think it's a cruel word, but in this case, there's no other way to describe them.  Well, there is, but I'm too much of a lady to use that kind of language.  However, you can feel free to use your imagination.  They're called trolls for all the reasons the word exists.  The main one is because they troll the comments sections of news stories and make awful remarks in an effort, I believe, to get a rise out of others commenting on the story.  The more controversial the topic, the more you'll find them.  They are crude and hurtful.  They will blame the victim even if that victim is a dead child.  It's sickening. 
     Contributors who want to have a meaningful exchange have come to recognize them and try to encourage others not to respond to them.  Nonetheless, it's annoying when they burrow themselves into a conversation and then pop out with some kind of hateful remark.  It's hard not to respond because the comments they make are so venomous that you feel you can't let them get away with it. Only problem is, you can't do much about it.  They hide like cowards behind anonymity and fake avatars.  Sites tend to have someone monitoring the comments, and they will delete the horrible stuff.  But they still allow quite a bit to remain.  I can't help but wonder if these trolls would be as insulting if they had to make their comments out in the open.  Who are they?  Could these people be working in the cubicle next to you?  Could they be your neighbors?  Could they be your child's teacher?  Are they that desperate for attention that they would use shock to get it?
     Words have as much power written as they do verbalized.  Regardless of the mode in which you choose to deliver them, cruelty and rudeness are enraging and painful.  They are also unnecessary.  You can disagree with someone without ridiculing them, insulting them, or resorting to name-calling.  Trolls are excessive in what they say.  You may not be as bad as they are, but any time you choose to be hurtful in your speech you're not much better.  Most often when I've dealt with a person who's rude, they were that way totally unprovoked.  I had no idea why they were being a butthead, but they were.  Like me, you've probably found it especially prevalent in retail places or restaurants where you were a customer.  Did you call the manager or vow to never return?  Perhaps it's come from people in your workplace for reasons you find puzzling.  I find unprovoked rudeness unnecessary because when a person masters communications, they recognize that the snarky statements could easily be converted to much more productive and reasonable conversation.  I can understand getting angry for a particular reason.  But most rudeness has rarely been about reason.  Some people have made it a way of life.  Some have shown their immaturity by not being able to speak without snide comments, sarcasm or harsh judgments.  So let this be a wake up call.  Choose to find a better way today.  Cruelty and rudeness have never resolved conflict.  However, patience, understanding, empathy and kind words have.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Assertive or Confrontational?

     Yesterday I had lunch with a bunch of friends in celebration of our closely timed birthdays.  We sat outside on the patio of a wonderful restaurant enjoying a warm, dry day.  This means a lot in the southeast where heat and humidity can ruin the best laid outdoor plans.  All was going well until our server was confronted by a demanding patron at another table not far from ours.  Ordinarily, I would have ignored such outbursts, but I was drawn into it inadvertently because the patron was now infringing on my space and time with her demands.  The server was at our table taking our orders when the other patron, a woman sitting a few feet away with a dog, yells at our server to bring her the drink she'd ordered earlier.  The server kindly told the woman she would be over to her in a minute.  I, however, experienced a flash of frustration that I could not contain.  So I responded, "Excuse me, m'am, but she's helping us at the moment."  The woman's irritated reply was, "But I've been waiting for awhile for my order."  To which I responded, "Well you'll have to be patient because we've been waiting awhile too, and she's helping us right now."  There were glances and murmurings from my table as well as those around us.  The server did the "OMG" look and said something about maybe going to get her manager because the woman was out of line.  I agreed.  She was.  That's why I asserted myself.
     So why was what I did an act of being assertive while what the other woman did was confrontational?  Well, it was in the approach.  We assert ourselves when we are attempting to right a wrong, correct a misunderstanding or stand up for ourselves or someone else when inappropriate behavior occurs.  I feel I needed to resist sitting idly by when our entire table was essentially dismissed by the other patron as if her needs were greater than ours.  She was rude to us and the server by first yelling out while the server was talking to us.  Secondly, she treated us as if we were insignificant because she interrupted the server while she was taking our order.  For a person to insert his or her needs into a situation without regard for others even while they are in the act of being taken care of is a selfish and disrespectful act.  So I dealt with it.
     She was confrontational in her tone and her actions.  She was brash in her speech.  She was arrogant in her attitude.  She was argumentative in her behavior.  Assertiveness does not pick a fight.  It lets the other person know that you will not turn a blind eye when you recognize wrongdoing or potential misunderstanding.  It is about speaking up when necessary.  The patron could have been assertive rather than confrontational by taking these actions:  Address the server when she got to her table and let her know about the unsatisfactory service she was providing.  Or wait until the server finished with us, then get her attention to come over to the patron's table and address her dissatisfaction.  She would do it in private so as not to disrupt the whole atmosphere, and she doesn't have to be mean about it--just firm.
     By asserting myself with the patron, she immediately backed down, and the confrontation did not escalate.  Many times this works.  If you find yourself being disrespected, taken advantage of, or disregarded in some way that offends you, assert yourself.  Take charge without confrontation, but make sure you're heard.
     By the way, all the hoopla from the woman was for a drink of water for her dog--which she also allowed to eat off the restaurant's plate.  Had my server known how to be more assertive, she could have squashed all of this nonsense.  It's a needed skill for us all.  Are you assertive or confrontational?  Let's talk about it.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"You Took It the Wrong Way!"

     Accountability in communications is often overlooked as an important part of relating to other people.  Far too infrequently do we hold ourselves responsible for what we say and how it is conveyed to others.  How often have you said or heard somebody say, "Well, you took it the wrong way?"  Have you considered:  You gave it the wrong way.  Saying someone else took what you said the wrong way takes the onus off of you as the speaker and places the burden on the listener to figure out what you're saying.  No one should be put in the position of trying to interpret what you're saying or speculate about what you meant.  If you are clear in your communications, then people should be able to know what you meant with accuracy.  There should be little doubt and little room for misunderstanding.  Therefore, since you are the speaker, it is your responsibility to make sure you are choosing your words with others in mind.  You should be thoughtful in difficult conversations and specific in your delivery.  Hold yourself accountable and don't cop out on others by blaming them for misunderstanding you.
     For example, instead of questioning someone's integrity by saying, "You're not being honest about what's going on in this department," you may want to think about how that sounds.  What it says to the other person is that you think they are lying.  You're basically saying you can't trust them.  And maybe you feel you can't because you don't feel like they're giving you the full story about happenings you think you need to know.  However, to tell someone they are not being honest is akin to calling someone a liar.  Is that your intent?  If it's not, then you want to choose another word--like transparent.  To say, "I don't feel there's enough transparency in this department" is more diplomatic and less judgmental.  First of all, you didn't accuse the person of not being transparent by saying the word "you".  Avoiding the accusation:  "You're not being transparent with us about what's going on in this department" does not erect a wall of resistance that usually comes when a person feels like they're being unjustly blamed for something.  By using the word "transparent", you're saying you don't feel enough information is shared.  Not that you think somebody's lying but that you want to be kept in the loop on things you think are important for you to know.  That's far different and a lot less threatening than pointing a figurative finger at the other person.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Do You See What I'm Saying?

    The saying, "It's not what you say, but how you say it" gets mentioned often in difficult conversations.  I agree with the statement to a certain extent.  I believe it's what you say, but also how you say it, and what you look like when you're saying it that makes a difference in how you communicate with others face to face.  Our facial expressions, stance or sitting posture, and ability to stay in place long enough to hear a person out says volumes without us even opening our mouths.  Let's look at these individually.
    Let's start with your face.  It's where most people are focused in conversation.  So do your words and your expressions coincide?  Does your look support your words?  For example, are you smiling and chuckling while telling someone they're being ridiculous?  Are you agreeing with someone while shaking your head like you don't?  Are you inviting someone to talk to you as if you're interested in what they have to say then look bored and disengaged when they do?  These all send mixed messages.  Moreover, even if you say nothing, the scowl, the rolling of the eyes, the cocked eyebrow, and the pulsating jawbone indicating you are clenching your teeth all send negative messages to the other person.  They say I'm unapproachable, I don't believe you, I don't trust you, and I'm ready to punch you in the eye, respectively.
    Now let's look at your body.  Miley Cyrus's was saying things that were more suited for a 1-900 call during her performance on the Video Music Awards.  What does yours say when people observe your actions in conversation?  A glance at your watch when someone is speaking to you says you have something more important to do.  Walking away while someone is talking says the same thing:  You're wasting my time.  I'm off to something more important than you.  Sighing, folded arms, and staring through someone all send strong messages that you're not engaged.  Considering that more than half of what you say is conveyed through body language and another 40% is conveyed through tone, your words carry weight.  But they pack a smaller punch when people are watching you versus what they're hearing you say.  And you know why?  Because we're such poor listeners.  Therefore, if you want people to understand you better, make sure you're showing them what you're saying.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Antoinette Tuff: How Her Words Healed

     If anyone ever doubted the magnitude of words, this week's dramatic event that played out in a lengthy 911 call confirms that words are powerful weapons for justice.  Antoinette Tuff is a school bookkeeper at a charter school in Decatur, GA.  When faced with a mentally unstable gunman toting 500 rounds of ammunition and an AK47 that he actually used on occasion (fortunately without hurting anyone), she used words of compassion, healing, empathy, and love.  The greatest of these was love.  Too often when given the opportunity, we overlook the chance to speak love to others.  We may find it awkward when dealing with people other than our family members.  And yes, it is hard to love those who seem unlovable.  I'm not suggesting you go around to your co-workers and start saying wonderful things you don't mean.  You ought to always be authentic.  To be disingenuous will be very clear to those who can spot a fake.  But to speak love is to be compassionate, encouraging, humble. 
    Antoinette literally said the word to the perpetrator ("I love you") and she showed it in her tone.  Her words were constantly comforting to him ("It's going to be alright.") and empathetic ("We all go through something.") and affectionate with the use of words like "baby" and "sweety".  She seemed to mother him advising him throughout a harrowing ordeal as he had to make rapid decisions in a mind that he admits was unstable.  As a result of her composure and compassion in a highly stressful and dangerous time, no lives were lost including the gunman's.  She is being hailed a hero and rightly so because she helped to save lives.  Most remarkable is that she did it with words and not weapons.  She did it with love and not hate.  She did it without judgment even of her husband who had left her after 33 years of marriage.  She shared her pain but did not judge.  She did not judge the assailant.  She spoke in love.
     How can we follow her example?  When speaking in volatile situations where we are afraid or hurt, how can we stay calm and speak in love?  It can be a difficult thing for a person to do, but it is the most humbling and courageous thing as well.  For those of you who have a hard edge, a rough tone, a bad attitude, this might be a stretch.  But you should never allow your deep-seated hurt and insecurities to force you into a life where you play the victim and everyone else is the aggressor.  Take responsibility when you find yourself constantly at odds with other people.  If your life is more often in turmoil and filled with controversy, hold yourself accountable for how you may be contributing to the discord.  Stop blaming others.  What did you do to fuel the flames?  We can all learn from Antoinette.  What can you do differently in your every day conversations?  At work?  At home?  With your enemies?  How can you use healing words?  Share your thoughts.
    

Monday, August 19, 2013

Living Out "Loud"

     We've all been in the awkward position of being in a public place when somebody is speaking loudly to someone else.  It's awkward because in some odd way--at least for me--I feel a bit embarrassed for the individual who's doing the talking.  They are loud and somehow don't recognize how they may be an annoyance to others.  They may be talking to another individual sitting right next to them, but they are speaking loud enough for everyone within a ten foot radius to hear them.  Worst yet, much of what they are saying, nobody around gives a bunny's tail about.  The whole scene reeks of desperation.  I use that word because it seems as though the individual is trying too hard to get other people to engage them.  Isn't the person sitting right in front of them enough?  Do they have to be the center of attention?  And what about the poor soul subjected to having unwanted attention thrown their way because they happen to be the one the loud person is talking to?  When it's happened to me, I wanted to just disappear.
     Speaking loudly is not a sign of confidence, intelligence or boldness.  It says you're either deaf or unable to control your own vocal volume.  I dare to believe the second option is the one we experience most often.  Moreover, it's not that the volume can't be controlled, it's that the person doesn't want to control it.  They don't often see anything wrong with monopolizing the conversation in public.  Even when the other person is speaking in hushed or normal tones, it's like the loud person doesn't get it.  They stay at the same decibel--blaring out their half of the conversation to anyone within earshot.  It's enough to make a person bolt.  So what do you do when you find yourself in such a situation?  There are no hard and fast rules, but a few techniques might get you off the hook or make a way  for your escape.  Try these three things:
     One, say quietly:  "[Loud person], can we keep this conversation between the two of us?  I'm afraid everyone is eavesdropping.  Maybe if you spoke a little bit quieter..."
     Two, look around like you think the person is talking to someone else.  Then say to them, "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were including the rest of the people around us in this conversation."
     When they say, "No, I'm talking only to you."
     Then you say, "Well, I'm right here.  You can tone it down a bit."
     Three, end the conversation quickly and walk away.  You don't need to be subject to unwanted attention.
     Living out loud suggests you no longer hide yourself away from the rest of the world as if you are a secret.  Living out loud means you free yourself to do as you please regardless of who sees as long as you're not doing anything illegal, immoral or offensive to someone else.  It's about being open and sharing with others your great joys and successes.  It has nothing to do with speaking loudly.  Sometimes your actions will speak volumes to others, and people are likely to trust you more when they can see you doing what matters.  There are times when words aren't necessary, and you can share your message loudly without uttering a sound.  Therefore, try living out loud more.  Save the speaking out loud for the stage.
    

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Your First Name is Not "Miss"

     Last week I trained front office professionals in a school district on, what else--front office professionalism.  They were a dynamic group of women who have tough jobs dealing with--among many things--angry, unyielding, and in some cases, scheming parents.  Being a parent of school-age kids myself, I'm not talking about the rest of us who go to schools willing to help and to be cooperative.  I'm talking about the ones who aren't.  The front office staff have to be master multi-taskers it seems in an effort to keep everything rolling at once.  Talking to people who walk through the front door, directing children back to class, finding paperwork, making announcements, and answering the phones have to be done all in a matter of minutes.  One of the discussion points in our training involved answering the phone.  The interim superintendent was adamant about this one pet peeve of his, and I think it's worth addressing.
     He doesn't want the office staff to use titles before their names when answering the phone.  He has a PhD, but he'd prefer not to use Dr. to introduce himself.  He finds it somewhat pretentious and unprofessional.  I agree.  Many of you may not, but etiquette suggests that you leave it up to others to call you by your title.  You don't--dare I say--arrogantly give it to yourself during introductions.  Consider this phone conversation:
     "Good morning.  Ultra-Fantastic Elementary School.  This is Miss Jones.  How can I help you?"
     So what "Miss Jones" has said to the caller is that you must call me "Miss Jones".  She hasn't given the caller the option to call her anything but that because she hasn't given her full name.  It's almost as if her first name is "Miss".  The appropriate way is to give your full name and allow people to choose to call you by either or give only your first name if you're not stuck on having someone address you with a title.  It would sound like this:
     "Good morning.  Ultra-Fantastic Elementary School.  This is Melanie Jones.  How can I help you?"
     "Good morning, Miss Jones.  This is Miss Smith, Tracy Smith's mother."
     If Miss Smith wants to be formal, then she should be allowed to be formal.  The front office staff should always address the caller as Miss, Mrs., Mr. or Dr. unless the individual gives them permission to be informal with them and use their first name only.
     Here's one reason why this is important:  It would be very awkward if the front office person is 30 years old, and the caller is age 55.  No 30-year-old should be requiring a person 15 years her senior to call her "Miss".  Likewise, someone my age should not require me to call her "Miss".  We are contemporaries.  You are not my elder so the respect of age is not built-in.  Where the staff member is older, say 60ish and the caller is 30, the caller should be keen enough to hear the maturity in the staff member's voice and know not to address her by her first name.  Thus, a young parent should not call an obviously older staff member by her first name even if given the option.  Some of this is common sense, even though the caveat here is that it's not always easy to detect a person's age over the phone.  Therefore, the default response for the person calling in if they're not sure of the age is to always address the staff person with a title.  For clarity, it's only when you're not sure of a person's age when you're calling in, default to using a title.  For the front office person, always give your full name so that you give all callers the option to choose.  The worse that can happen in any of this is that you get called by your actual name.
    

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Welcome to Straight Talk

video


Being direct in communication is appreciated by most people.  Time is of the essence for the majority of us so getting to the point is important.  The challenge comes when we are too direct in our approach.  Most people don't like it.  Watch this video to hear straight talk about this style of communication, and learn a tip on how you can improve it.  To sign up to receive a weekly video tip, click here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

When Comments Are Insensitive

    In light of the recent verdict in the Zimmerman trial, there were many comments exchanged via social media, mainstream media, phone conversations, church sermons, text messages, and face to face.  Since most of these discussions were held in a public forum--especially social media--there was ample opportunity to involve a diverse group of people in offering an array of viewpoints.  I think it's great when people are able to express themselves.  There should always be a forum for healthy discussions about difficult topics.  As long as the lines of communication are open, we can learn from each other.  However, when the topic is volatile and highly sensitive, contributors to the dialogue have to be especially careful that their viewpoint is not misconstrued because of a lack of skill in being able to walk the tightrope of sensitivity.  It takes a little more thought and effort, but the conversation can be meaningful if all views are accepted and respected even if there is no agreement in perspectives.
     I was glad to be able to spark a discussion and get a variety of responses.  Not everyone agreed with my opinion, and that was okay.  I didn't expect them to nor do I want other people to always pacify me by being agreeable.  The beauty of living in this country is that we get the chance to express how we feel through freedom of speech.  As long as that speech isn't hateful or insensitive, everyone can participate without backlash.  Since I train in diversity management, and  a large part of what I teach on that topic is meaningful dialogue, the Zimmerman trial has provided an ideal teachable moment.  Therefore, I'd like to offer these three points when engaging in discussion on highly volatile subjects:
  1. Realize that people who have an opposing view may have a larger, deeper perspective of the situation than you do. You may feel that they are being overly sensitive or that you're being forced to be too politically correct to state your case. But you may not know that person's full story or their personal experiences with the situation. So rather than judge their comments against your own, try to understand why they feel as they do. You might be surprised to learn that there's a story there filled with pain and goes far beyond a mere opinion.
  2. Refrain from joking about tragic events so close to the time of the occurrence.  Everybody loves a good laugh especially when times are tough. Too many traumatic experiences can cause life to become dark and depressing. We try to find ways to lighten the mood, but those efforts can be insensitive if the pain is still fresh and emotions are still raw.  The prank on the local TV news station regarding the names of the pilots in the fallen Asiana Airlines flight may have been funny at a later time.  But so soon after people have perished and while others are nursing injuries and even still in the hospital makes an otherwise harmless prank fall flat.  Be sensitive to death and the grief of losing loved ones before you try to make light of a situation.
  3. Respect other people's opinions. We're all entitled to ours. Ridiculing, belittling, disregarding how other people feel about an issue is not healthy debate.  It's an arrogant stance on one's own views--as if yours is on the only one that matters.  This is more than insensitivity to the topic but insensitivity toward another human being.  People matter.
As a disclaimer, these points are not directed at anyone who participated in my debate.  The volley of conversation on my Facebook page opened the door for me to demonstrate how it's done.  There is no need for hostility.  Emotion, yes.  Passion, certainly.  But bitterness, never.  I believe that if we all keep the three important points above in mind, then we can continue to grow and learn from others.  We can maintain our freedom to express our views.  And we can still keep healthy, wonderful relationships with other people regardless of the differences in our opinions.  Continue to express yourself.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Self Talk That Leads to Big Rewards

    Okay, so I'm not here to pump you up today about speaking positive things into your life.  You've heard all of that before.  As real as it is, and as much sense as it makes, sometimes we can be as positive in our minds as we choose, but life still stinks.  We can keep saying that all will be well when we know deep down it won't.  So we're essentially trying to fake ourselves out--to believe something that is unrealistic.  Having said that, let me not become the new host of your pity party.  But let's keep it real.
    In order for things to happen in our lives, we do have to tell ourselves a different story.  It doesn't have to be a fairy tale as we often choose to do.  It should be a story that reflects the reality of our present and the hope for our future.  Lest we spend too much time on our present situation and make ourselves depressed, we should remind ourselves of those times when we passed this way before and we overcame.  Too often we act like our trials are new.  More often than not, they're not.  It stunk then and it stinks now.  But what got you there?  What stories did you tell yourself that landed you back in the same spot?  "Oh, it'll be alright.  I didn't take control last time, and that's why it got out of hand.  But I won't let that happen this time."  Or "If everything else falls into place, then it won't be bad like it was last time."  Unless some unforeseen and uncontrollable tragedy strikes, you will likely face similar circumstances throughout your life if you're blessed to have a long one.  The goal is to learn from the first time so that when you see it coming again, you are wise enough to avert imminent disaster.
    The conversation you have with yourself is important.  It should not be some superficial, cursory consideration of an event.  But it should be well thought out and meaningful with actions that support your growth.  Say to yourself, "The parts of this I can control, I will."  Say to yourself, "I should not fall short this time because I know better.  And when I know better, I can do better."  Say to yourself, "I will take wise risks--risks I can afford to take.  I know that big risks yield big rewards.  But I will not jeopardize my peace because of bad decision making."
    Be conscious of your talks with yourself.  Don't excuse, belittle or doubt yourself.  Be strong.  Be courageous.  Be faithful.  And more than anything, be positive.

Monday, June 24, 2013

"I Don't Know What You Just Said"

     I had the opportunity this weekend to watch a movie called "The Dilemma" with Vince Vaughn and Kevin James.  It was an entertaining way to tackle the topics of honesty, fidelity and friendship when all of those have been compromised.  One scene in particular that caught my attention involved Vince and Kevin's characters engaging in a very confusing conversation.  Since communications training is what I do and effective communications is what this blog is all about, I couldn't resist bringing to your attention what a lack of clarity in communications looks like.  If you get the chance to watch the movie (you can online), pay close attention to when Kevin's character Nick tries to explain to Vince's character Ronny, some hypothetical situation about overcoming Ronny's fear of getting married.  It had something to do with ice cream, running over citizens on a sidewalk, and one percent.  Ronny's response after a perplexed look:  "I don't think I'm understanding what you're trying to say to me."  Ever felt that way?  Somebody's just shared some long scenario about what you think you were discussing with them, and you don't have a clue what they just said.
     Without clarity in communications, you completely miss your mark with the listener.  Imagine if the listener is a key person in referring you to a new client, closing a deal you've been working on for a while or deciding to hire you.  You may have just blown your chance at getting what you want.  So how do you speak with clarity?  How do you offer clear communications that leave no room for speculation or confusion?  Try these three things:
  1. If the topic is important or sensitive or urgent, make sure you plan what you will say first.  If you have to write it down, do so.  Practice it out loud.  Make note of how it sounds in your ears.  Would you be able to understand your point.  Is it clear?
  2. Get to the point.  Sometimes too much insignificant detail is added to an explanation, and the real message gets lost in all the minutiae.  Be direct and share information that adds to the clarity of the communication.
  3. Provide enough detail.  I know I just said get to the point and leave out the extraneous stuff, but in getting to the point, don't be so laser-like that you leave out important details.  Sometimes we think that in the course of our communications, we are telling the listener what we're thinking.  However, on many occasions, we may be saying it in our heads, but it's not coming out of our mouths.  Make sure the two coincide so that what you're thinking (that matters to the conversation) is actually being verbalized, and all of the dots are connected.
     With these three simple points, you can make your communications clearer and leave little room for miscommunication and misunderstanding.  Remember ABC: Always. Be. Clear.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Does Articulate = Intelligent?

    For some reason, being called articulate in the black community has become synonymous with being called idiotic.  Black people have often gotten offended when someone white says "He speaks so well" or "She's very articulate".  Remember the hubbub when it was said about President Obama the first time he ran for office?  Such an observation has been frowned upon because of the way it's been said in the past.  It sounds to black folks like the person saying it is surprised that a black person can put two sentences together and actually make sense.  For black people (who care), speaking well should not be treated as if it's a phenomenon in the African American culture.
     With that said, let's look a little bit deeper at this idea of being articulate when communicating.  The moment a person opens his or her mouth, a dozen assumptions are made about them by the way they speak. Some of them are right on target, and of course, some of them are totally off base.  For example, to hear a person be able to articulate his vision for his future or a plan to start a business or the reason why he feels passionate about his religious beliefs may cause the listener to think this person is a critical thinker.  He is decisive.  He is educated.  He is wise.  He is confident, and a whole host of other positive assumptions.  Regardless of his race, many would surmise he's a guy worth engaging.  Now take a young white man from a rural county in a rural state in the deep south.  Throw in a southern twang as part of his dialect, a few mispronounced and misused words, and an inability to clearly communicate how he's going to start a trucking business, and we immediately assume he's uneducated, lacks intelligence, and is merely sucking up oxygen someone else could be using.  More than likely, he wouldn't get much of our time.  Is that racist?
     The way I see it, acknowledging that someone's articulate has less to do with insulting someone's race than it does insulting someone's intelligence.  We automatically assume that a well-spoken person is educated, smart, and worth our time.  We're more likely to listen to them than we are to someone who is rambling, using slang, and limited in their vocabulary.  Without addressing the reality that people who are articulate can present themselves quite well to others but can be so full of bull that they stink.  Or people who are simplistic in their communications, who don't use a lot of big ol' fancy words, whose style is not to be pedantic and haughty can be successful leaders.  Those truths aside, think about how you view people who are well-spoken and good communicators.  Then think of those whom you've encountered that weren't.  What assumptions did you make?  And how valid were your assumptions?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Courage to Speak Up

     "Snitches get stitches."  Ever hear that term?  Apparently this is the threat in some neighborhoods where people who witness violent crimes are reminded that if they say anything about what they saw, they face retaliation.  Maybe even death. 
     Intimidation is a tactic used also in the workplace to prevent workers from speaking up when they see things going on that are unethical or even illegal.  The situation is especially difficult when the offending person is a leader in the organization.  Take the former superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, Beverly Hall, for example.  She and 34 other educators in the school system were indicted for a vast cheating scandal that rocked the community and grabbed national headlines.  The cheating is believed to date as far back as 2001.  Imagine the damage to the thousands of students who have gone through the system over the past dozen years and were inadvertently caught in this web of lies and deceit.  For those who worked hard to do well and did, and those who didn't but got the high marks anyway, all of the students lost.  Why didn't someone speak up sooner? 
      In interviews, some of the educators that were caught up in the scandal said that they cheated for several reasons:  "out of pride, to earn bonuses, to enhance their careers or to keep their jobs."  In every instance, the reason no one spoke up sooner was because they thought they'd lose something.  They feared that they'd have to give up something that was valuable to them.  It seems the repercussions to others were not as great as their personal repercussions had they spoken up.  So the unethical and illegal behavior was permitted to happen for years.  Fear and loss seem to be the major reasons most people will look the other way when they see or suspect criminal behavior.  The bookkeeper who is doctoring the books to present a better picture of the company, the treasurer who is skimming money from the coffers, the boss who is sexually harassing an employee, the coworker who is drinking or doing drugs on the job, the salesperson who is gouging the customer--they are all examples of what happens when unethical and illegal behavior is ignored.
     Where do we get the courage to speak up?  How do we overcome the fear of personal pain and loss to support justice?  Let me know what you think.
    

Thursday, May 2, 2013

CASE STUDY: Taking the Sting Out of Feedback



Marcia sat and reflected intently on her direct reports’ assessments of her leadership performance.  She’d taken the unusual and risky step of giving her team permission to provide feedback to her about her management style.  She promised them no repercussions for their honesty, and she assured them if there was consensus on any behavioral issue, she would consider making changes.  Initially, her team was reluctant to share.  She found this odd since she thought she’d created a culture of transparency and candidness.  Eventually five of the eight came forward and shared their observations.  Much to her surprise, she heard words like “overbearing”, “pushy”, “blunt”, and “demanding”.  They said everything but “micromanager”, she thought, which she realized had been thinly veiled by the other words they’d used.
            Marcia was dismayed.  She hadn’t realized she was perceived negatively by her team.  Sure, she could be a bit demanding at times, she thought.  But she had high standards, and she assumed they’d want to hold themselves to the same quality expectations.  She found the assessments to be a bit harsh, and they certainly stung when she heard them.  Her first impulse was to become angry and retaliatory.  But then she remembered a recommendation that a friend made once when it came to responding in tense situations—T.H.I.N.K. first.
            The acronym offered ideal guidance on any behavior that might prompt a defensive response as a result of receiving negative feedback.  Though hearing comments that are less than glowing can be painful, Marcia realized it would be unfair of her to invite people to speak openly, and then penalize them for doing what she’d asked.  She swallowed her pride, steeled herself against the verbal blows, and decided to T.H.I.N.K.  The concept forced her to ask valid questions about the feedback.  As she asked and answered them honestly to herself, she felt the sting lessen.  The questions went like this:
·         T=True. Was what they said True?  With five of the eight making similar comments about her in separate meetings and apart from each other, she decided they must be true.  Moreover, when she thought about it for a minute, the examples they gave of her overbearing behavior seemed valid.
·         H=Helpful.  Was what they said Helpful?  She agreed they were because she now had valuable feedback that could benefit her in becoming a better leader if she chose to push vanity aside and recognize her shortcomings.
·         I=Inspiring.  Was what they said Inspiring?  Yes, she thought, because they encouraged her to make the necessary changes to improve her leadership style.  She planned to step back a bit and give her team the space to perform without her constant prodding.  She would show them that she trusted them to do their jobs.
·         N=Necessary.  Was what they said Necessary?  Yes, she believed again, because she was killing morale around the office, and she needed to know that.
·         K=Kind.  Was what they said Kind?  Again yes.  No one was rude or malicious in their intent.  They responded to her request honestly but gently.  They chose their words carefully, and as difficult as it was for them, they delivered negative feedback in the most constructive way they could.  With that in mind, Marcia decided to receive it in the spirit in which it was given.
            When Marcia decided to T.H.I.N.K. first, she tempered her potentially adverse reaction so that the team felt more comfortable giving her meaningful comments in a difficult conversation.  Without realizing it, she was also creating the environment that she thought she’d already established—one that was open and honest.  Marcia could now excel as a leader.  Next time you’re evaluated, T.H.I.N.K. first and permit yourself to grow from what you know.