Five Simple Acts to Amp Up Your Communication Skills

Small gestures and simple acts make a significant difference in how your communications go, specifically how the other person feels about you and the conversations you share.

Here are simple tips from The Way to Say It to amp up your communication skills:

mom with teenager

Sit down – By sitting down opposite your listener, their experience of the communication changes. They feel more heard, more valued and they get the feeling you have spent more time with them. Taking a seat improves connection and communicates caring and interest.

 

 

 

Beautiful Eyes

Make eye contact – It’s easy to get distracted by any number of activities happening around you. Might be a text coming in on your cell. Or emails appearing on your computer screen, or other family members competing for your attention. If in the midst of these “distractions” you can maintain good eye contact, the person you’re talking with will feel valued when speaking and more interested when you are speaking.

 

 

 

respond baby

Confirm interest verbally – An occasional “I hear you, that makes sense, or I’m sorry to hear that,” goes a long way in demonstrating to others your interest and attention. This is a habit generally more common among women than men.  Make a habit of a few verbal confirmations in every conversation, especially the emotionally-charged and difficult ones. Your listener will really feel you understand their point of view, even if you don’t agree.

 

 

office conversation

 

Face your listenerUse your body language to communicate “approachability” rather than distance. That means facing the person you are speaking with, focusing in on them and what they have to say.

 

 


open door green 
Communicate To communicate receptivity, openness, and a willingness to listen, unfold your arms. Uncross your legs. A relaxed body stance invites trust and demonstrates you are open to their thoughts and comments. It doesn’t mean you agree, just that you are open to other points of view.

 

 

Use Your Senses

Great communicators use more than one sense to communicate. That means auditory skills to listen; visual senses to observe another’s body language, facial expressions and gestures; kinetics to feel and sense the emotion and energy of the conversation; and even an occasional appropriate, supportive touch to connect and say what words cannot (it goes without saying the “touch” is non-threatening, non-sexual and appropriate to the situation). Don’t forget your intuition as another sense to utilize!

By implementing these simple steps and using multiple senses in communications, your talks will be more connected, more powerful, and more trustworthy whether you are chatting it up at home or at the office.

What simple acts make YOU a great communicator? Got any tips to share with our readers?

Stop Avoiding Your Difficult Conversations, Clean the Slate

clean slate 2In some stories, feelings change or circumstances change. Connections, employment, and friendships end with no warning. There’s no explanation. Nothing is ever said.

One woman told me a dear friend of ten years suddenly stopped calling. When she reached out to see if all was well, her calls went unreturned. She never heard from her friend again.  Years later she still feels hurt. She still wonders.   

A painting contractor told me of a long-time trusted employee who worked for him. One Sunday he called this man to review the week’s schedule. The man wasn’t available.  He didn’t call back. The contractor never heard from his employee again, even though the family confirms the man is fine.

Another woman shared that she talked with her out-of-state nephew by phone about his visiting her. One day she emailed him to confirm dates. No response. Repeated efforts to connect went nowhere. He is still at the same address and phone, but two years later she has not heard back.  She’s still hurt by the lack of response or explanation.

A young client was asked by a college friend to be her bridesmaid one year later.  She gladly said yes. Two years have passed since that day, yet my client has still not heard back from her college friend in spite of efforts to connect. She, too, wonders what happened.

On more than one occasion in my corporate career, newly hired employees didn’t show up for their first day of work. Instead, they became unreachable. They never responded to phone calls, never provided an explanation.

The stories are endless in both personal and business settings. They happen on the job. They happen with family members. They happen with friends.

In each case somebody wonders what changed. What happened? What should I do? In time, most people move on and let go, but until they do, it’s confusing, painful and stressful.

don't say nothingAnd it’s all because we’re afraid to face tough conversations. We’re afraid to “just say it.” Usually the excuse is we don’t want to create hurt feelings. But, usually, the truth is we don’t know how to say what needs to be said and we just don’t want to feel so uncomfortable.

What strikes me as so ironic is that when we avoid the conversation to avoid hurting feelings, the other person is hurt anyway. They don’t know what to think. They have no closure or explanation, and there’s no opportunity to learn to avoid a similar situation in the future.

Skipping a difficult conversation does not spare feelings! It does not avoid hurt. It simply avoids your discomfort. Take a stroll down memory lane in your life. What challenging conversations have you skipped to avoid hurting someone, or to avoid your own awkwardness.

It’s never too late to clean up mistakes or misunderstandings. Consider reaching out to people you’ve left hanging. Clean the slate. You don’t necessarily have to rekindle the relationship, though that’s an option. What’s important is saying what didn’t get said and creating closure for both you and them.

Just dive in. Have that difficult conversation you've been avoiding.

Just dive in. Have that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding.

 

I can honestly make these recommendations because I have had these difficult conversations. I have asked hard questions when I didn’t understand someone’s silence. I have gone back and shared my perspective where I had unfinished issues. I’ve cleared things up years after there was a falling out.

And every time I face a difficult conversation, the payoff is worth it. There’s relief.  Stress vanishes. Relationships improve. Conflict diminishes. And every single time, there is some positive element of surprise.  Some bonus I didn’t expect.

Everyone benefits…but especially you! Isn’t it time YOU jumped into that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding? Just do it!

Are You the Great Listener You Think You Are?

judge judy

Judy Judge, in her popular small claims court TV show, reminds the participants often “We have two ears and one mouth. Use them accordingly.”  If you’re a fan, you know her other favorite expression is “listening ears, listening ears.”

How are you at listening? Do you have your listening ears on?

If instead of focusing on the speaker, you,

  • interrupt often
  • talk over them to make your point
  • finish their sentences for them
  • formulate your response while they speak
  • hear only parts of the conversations
  • tune out shortly after they begin to speak…….

Then your listening skills don’t meet Judge Judy’s standards. And most likely, they are not serving you well at home or work.

To be a good communicator, you have to listen well. Period. There’s no sugar-coating it.listening ears

And when it comes to difficult conversations, listening skills are crucial because the stakes are higher in tough conversations. There’s more emotion. There’s more defensiveness. More left unsaid. In a difficult conversation, everyone is a bit tense. It’s not likely you can resolve a tough issue in a conversation when you aren’t hearing what is said.

As you read this post, be honest…are you thinking to yourself, “I’m a great listener?” Or do you know deep down that your listening ears could use a good cleaning out?

Challenge: Here’s a challenge for you to discover the truth about your listening skills with only two steps:

  1. Enlist help. Ask someone close to you (who will tell you the truth) to call you out for the next three days. Tell them about the challenge and ask them to raise their index finger every time they observe you interrupting, talking over, tuning out, or finishing other’s thoughts for the next three days. Make note of how often they need to point out your lack of good listening, and of course, don’t bite their head off when they catch you.
  2. Play it back. For the next three days, commit to repeating back to others what you heard them say.  No need to go word for word. Just confirm you heard them. You got their meaning. You are listening. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to review your performance.  Do you listen or only in part? Generally were you able to mirror their comments, or were you lost in your own thoughts?

If you are tempted to blow off this challenge, give this some thought:

We can’t get what we don’t give.

That means if you suck at listening, you can’t expect others to be attentive when you speak. How will you gain their attention if you aren’t giving it? Why would you think you deserve it if you don’t give it?

What comes around, goes around.

To be an effective communicator, a great boss, a good husband, a loving friend, a great parent, you need to listen well.

To listen well, you have to make the effort and create the habit.

To make the effort, you have to care enough about the other person and/or the outcome of the situation to choose to hear the conversation.

Skip the above behaviors and you can expect others will skip them with you.

It’s only by hearing what is being said, that you can ascertain:

listening = learning

    • what others need
    • what the situation demands
    • what their feelings and emotions are

It’s counter-intuitive. To be great at what you do or whatever role you are in, you have to be a great listener. In the end, listening well affects YOUR success, YOUR relationships, YOUR reputation.

If you’ve been thinking listening is all about the other person, it’s time to change your point of view. Great listening, in the end, is all about you. The better you listen, the more effective and successful you are.

Do I have your attention yet? Being a great listener benefits YOU.  Stay tuned for Part II on listening to pick up some habits and routines that will make listening easy.

In the meantime, will you do the challenge? I’ve got my listening ears on and would love to hear your thoughts.

Put on Your Big Boy Pants: Have that Tough Conversation NOW

road block

Road blocks to difficult conversations exist only in your head!

What’s stopping YOU from having the difficult conversation lurking in your head?  

Is it……?

Procrastination……Fear of rejection……Fear of anger……Embarrassment……Not knowing the way to say it……Fear of reprisal……Shoot the messenger fears……Your own discomfort…..You’re afraid you’ll be emotional……Your fear of their reaction–uh oh!……Not wanting to face the truth……You’re STILL waiting for the right moment……Your refuse to own your own your stuff..….Fear you might lose control……They should come to YOU…..Certainty that YOU’RE right……You are much too hurt……You don’t believe in talking about such things……You can’t admit you were wrong……You’re waiting for THEM to go first……You just don’t know where to begin……You tried already……You think, “Oh, it will all just blow over”……You don’t believe it will make a difference?

ostrich

Is this you?

Whatever the reason is (or reasons) for your delay, the end result is the same. Nothing and I mean NOTHING improves when you avoid an uncomfortable, difficult conversation regardless of all the excuses you make in your head.

According to J.D. Schramm in Harvard Business Review, “Often our fear of having the conversation with somebody about a sensitive subject can be worse than having the conversation itself. We put off bringing up a tough subject because we are waiting for the “perfect opportunity.”

But the uncomfortable truth, the truth we all know, is this:  there is no perfect opportunity. If we wait, the conversation will never happen.

We have to just put on our big boy pants and do it. WE need to make the first move regardless of who spoke last, or who we think is wrong, or exactly what happened, or who we think SHOULD reach out first. We need to take a breath and begin.

go sign

Follow these tips to help you get started on that difficult conversation you’re avoiding:

  1. Write out your thoughts – If time allows, write. Write how you think you’d say it, without the anger and without the judgment. Consider it brainstorming. You’ll find both things not- to-say, and things very well said. Use your writing as a guide.
  2. Make a commitment.  If you’ve been procrastinating, set a time frame. Say to yourself (or even better, to someone who will hold you accountable) I’ll have this conversation by tomorrow, two days from now, a week from now. Just set a date that is close enough to break through your procrastination.
  3. Come up with a few good openers. Make sure you have one or two good opening lines to start off the conversation. Rule of thumb is:  be real, express yourself honestly (even if you have to say you are somewhat nervous), and be direct. Get right to what you want to talk about. No beating around the bush.
  4. Keep it private. If the topic is stressful enough to qualify as a tough conversation to you, regardless of what anyone else thinks, then privacy is a must. Never begin one of these talks in earshot of others, unless they, too, are part of the conversation.
  5. Tolerate imperfection. These talks are challenging. That means they often won’t be perfect. With that in mind, congratulate yourself for facing the issue instead of judging yourself for not saying it perfectly.  Even an average job of a difficult conversation IS an accomplishment.

None of us can avoid difficult conversations in life. They are a part of life. Unless you are a hermit, you might as well begin to develop this skill now.

Instead of avoiding the conversation, you’ll avoid the drama that unexpressed issues create. Problems, misunderstanding and disagreements not brought to light, create relationship issues and ongoing stress. As Kevin O’Leary (also known as “Mr. Wonderful” from The Shark Tank), would say, “Stop the madness.” Have the conversation and the sooner you do, the easier it will be.

Don’t String Me Along

maybe notJust say “no!”

Call it a pet peeve, but it drives me crazy when people respond to my request with a “maybe” when clearly, they want to say “no.” Don’t get my hopes up with a “maybe.”

Saying maybe only delays the discomfort temporarily. Eventually, they will still have to say “no.” The delay of the inevitable, the avoidance, the bs answer only makes it more difficult.

Everyone asking for help, extending an invite or making a request is well aware they may be turned down. And though none of us like that rejection, it does go with the territory.  We don’t get everything we ask for.

The inability to decline a request only complicates things. Being turned down is acceptable. Maybe not our preference, but certainly acceptable and manageable.

Being told “Maybe…maybe I’ll make it. Maybe I can do that for you. Maybe I’ll be there” when it’s obvious that won’t happen is frustrating. It keeps us hopeful. It keeps us waiting and thinking our invite might actually be accepted.

Eventually we have to step up and take personal responsibility.  We need to communicate directly and use common courtesy. The other person is waiting on our response, planning around our possible “yes.” Often in their minds, it’s as if we already said “yes.”

When we are asked to attend a meeting or help with a project or offer support that we either cannot or do not want to do, we have to say so. Preferably right then and there. On the spot.

If you know the moment you’re asked for help that you aren’t available (or interested), say it. Say “no” in whatever form suits the situation. Whether it’s a family member, a neighbor, a close friend or a colleague, your response can be the same.

The way to say it should sound something like:

  • “No thank you, I’m not going to be able to help with that.”
  • “No, I’m sorry. It’s not possible this time.”
  • “No, I wish I could help but I’m already committed.”
  • “No, thanks for asking but I’m overwhelmed with commitments at the moment.”
  • “No. I appreciate the offer but that’s just not my thing.”
  • “No, I’m not going to be able to help you out.”
  • “Sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t make it.”
  • “Thanks for thinking of me but I won’t be able to join you.”
  • “You know, I appreciate the invite, but I’ve done that and it’s just not for me.”

Guidelines for turning down a request look like this:

1.     Don’t hesitate.
2.     Keep it short.
3.     Don’t explain.vote maybe
4.     Leave no doubt.
5.     Be courteous.

Essentially, keep it simple. Tell the truth and be sure you were understood.

Don’t say “maybe” when you mean “no.” You’ll save time. Avoid prolonged discomfort. Eliminate their wondering and no longer be chased for your answer. No one likes to be strung along. No one wants to wait and wonder. Without answers, it’s difficult to plan.

Next time someone in your life makes a request, asks a favor, or shares an invite, give your honest answer. Say it clearly, courteously and with grace, but say it.

Seven Tips on How to Share Your Ideas So Your Boss Will Hear You

skeptical attitudeThe bosses and business owners I talk to all agree on this issue. They want their employees to offer solutions, not just problems. But that doesn’t mean off-the-cuff ideas that have not been thought through or prepared.

Here’s the way to say it soyou’ll know how to deliver your suggestions with the problem you’re addressing:

Be confident, not apologetic – This especially applies to women who can be too apologetic. When presenting your ideas your boss wants to see YOU believe in them, otherwise why should he?

Be concise, not detailed – Your boss will let you know if she wants detail after hearing your suggestions

Be prepared, not off the cuff – In order to be heard, taken seriously and not be viewed as a time- waster, you must have your thoughts in order. Organize yourself. Anticipate questions and be prepared to address them.

Be responsible, not a blamer – Should your solution require talk of the problem in detail, make sure you don’t throw others under the bus. This will only hurt how YOU are viewed.

Be transparent, not manipulative – Good chance your boss is savvy enough to read through manipulation, if not at that moment then further down the line.  Manipulative behaviors will damage your credibility. Not worth the risk.

Be neutral in tone, not dramatic – When reviewing problems, leave the theatrics for Hollywood. It won’t help your case. Just report the facts, the situation and address them.

Be respectful of time, not self-absorbed – Don’t let your opportunity for time with the boss turn into an all-about-me session.  If you do, there won’t likely be much time for you in the future.

listeningConsider implementing these approaches when you deliver your next problem…and its solutions, of course. It will go a long way in your boss valuing your input and not seeing you as part of the problem too!

P.S. Don’t forget to offer more than one workable solution for consideration!

Why Difficult Conversations Require a Balance of Honesty AND Kindness

got balance

The strongest relationships weather storms. They deal with conflict, disagreement. They aren’t always pretty, but they are always real.

Healthy conversations are the same. Truly healthy conversations are based on honesty AND kindness, not one or the other.  Like a chair with a missing leg, conversations that don’t value both characteristics are bound to collapse at some point. Healthy conversations cannot exist without the weaving of both honesty and kindness into them.

With only kindness, our conversations  avoid issues.  Anything that might cause pain, discomfort, hurt feelings, anger or conflict will be skipped in an effort to be kind above all else.

The moment kindness trumps truth, we pay a price. Every bit of information that appears “not nice” gets sugar-coated, or toned down, or simply censored altogether.  Such watered-down communications are inauthentic, too worried about sensitivities. Like the famous line in the movie, Top Gun, we “can’t handle the truth!” Waving the flag of kindness, we gloss over  anything that might cause the smallest blip.

But everyone pays a price when the hard truth is avoided. Communication floats over the surface. It avoids. Conversations based only on kindness are weak, filtered, and rarely very truthful, entirely avoiding what matters most.

The reverse is also true. Honest conversations that lack kindness are just as unbalanced and ineffective, but to the other extreme.

Conversations that value ONLY honesty have the potential to be brutal, hurtful and insensitive to feelings.  In my head I still hear my dad bellowing, “Well, I have to be honest!” as license to voice his opinions thoughtlessly as if honesty made it ok. It didn’t. It always hurt.

honesty kindness

Honesty and kindness need to be married into conversation to create healthy communications.

Together, the pair is powerful.  By speaking the truth we express what matters, what’s real. We get to issues. We have the opportunity to work through the awkwardness, the difficulty and come to understanding.

It isn’t always pretty or comfy but delivering communications with kindness AND honesty means we will not sidestep an issue. We will not ignore the truth simply because it might be upsetting.

What we will do, however, is opt to speak truthfully AND graciously with awareness.  Awareness of how it might sound and feel.  We’ll speak our words truthfully AND with thought.

By being honest, we face challenges and gain understanding.

By being kind, we deliver our communications thoughtfully and with awareness.

Combining the two qualities in the office and at home that takes practice and commitment. It takes courage to always speak the truth, knowing it might be difficult to hear.  Knowing it will feel great when we’re through the conversation encourages us to speak up. It’s a great motivator.

Do you struggle more with the “being honest” part of healthy conversations? Or is your challenge being sensitive and aware of others’ feelings?  Not sure? Just ask someone close to you. I promise, they’ll know and if you ask, they’ll tell you. Let me know you’re out there, tell me what you think. Agree or disagree?

 

Who Are You Listening to….Them or You?

Be honest. What’s your motivation for listening?

Though we hate to admit it, most of us are listening with the focus on what we’ll say next.  Often we reply before the speaker is even done talking, so sure are we that we know what they are about to say.

listen to respond

Could this be you?

That’s not really listening. That’s making it all about “us.”

Have you ever responded to someone so quickly that they had not finished speaking yet? I recently busted myself. I replied too, too fast, feeling pretty sure I knew what my husband was about to say. Not only did I have to own up to interrupting, but my response had nothing to do with where he was going in the conversation.

True listening is about hearing the speaker. Both what they are saying and what they are not. It’s about catching their tone, their meaning, and their feelings about what they are communicating. What is NOT said is sometimes more important than what is. Body language and tone often beat out words as being more true.

This week, let’s keep it simple. Observe yourself, at home and at work, when you are listening. See just how often it’s to compose your reply before you have truly heard what is being said.

Then, if you want to be a better communicator, switch gears. Tune in. Pay attention. HEAR what is and isn’t being said. Truly listen. I guarantee it will change your reply, as well as the feelings you and the speaker have during your conversation.

I’ll be waiting for your comments, your outcomes. I’ll be waiting to hear how you caught yourself, what you observed and even what shifted.

Ready Responses for “Working” Your Next Networking Event

two handed hand shakeNetworking is a skill requiring a certain amount of grace, confidence and courtesy to do well.  Some people are naturals at it. Yet many business professionals are unsure of just how to “work the room” with grace when they attend an event.

Here’s what gracefully working the room includes: 

  • Keep conversations short to allow connecting with many
  • Be positive and courteous to those who interest you and those who don’t
  • Graciously terminate conversations
  • Be smooth and pleasant as you move from one contact to another
  • Leave everyone you meet feeling better because of how you treated and respected them
  • Listen and be present to each person you speak with in conversation

Your success is based partly on your attitude and approach, and partly on what you say. 

Here are some ready responses that will make you a better networker…that’s assuming you bring a good attitude with you as well:

 

  • “Thanks for your time! Will you excuse me? Someone I promised to meet just arrived.”

 

  • “Hey, there is someone I’d like to introduce you to. Will you follow me?”

 

  • “Great to chat. I’ve got to take a quick break. Hope to see you later.”

 

  • “Well, good to see you. Gotta make sure I get around the room today.”

 

  • “Wish I good chat with you longer, but I promised myself I’d meet lots of people here to today.”

 

  • “You know, I’m sorry to cut you short, but the time here is so limited! We both need to meet others in the room today.”

networking

 

 

  • “Looks like it’s time for more networking. Thanks for your time.”

 

  • “I’m glad we finally met. Can we talk about this more by phone? I’d like to call you to follow-up.”

 

  • “That’s very interesting. Thanks for sharing. You’ve given me something to think about. Now I have to see if I can catch this person I just saw arrive.”

 

  • “Pleasure to meet you. See you again. I’m going to make the rounds now and will catch you another time.”

 

In networking like everywhere in life, you’ll meet business professionals you really want to connect with. And others, not so much. Some people you won’t find professional at all, and some you just won’t want to spend your time with.

 

friendly attitudeBut, it’s networking! Your impression and your reputation are important, not just to those you like, but to all those you meet. Ideally you want to leave a flowered path behind you full of people who find you gracious and pleasant, not to mention professional and business-like.

 

Your goal is to connect, be sincere and leave a lasting positive impression with everyone. Having some ready responses will help. It will keep you from fumbling with your words and wondering how to move around the event with ease.

 

Tell me…which phrase, or two, above is one you’d use? Your favorite “line” so to speak? Love to hear what works for you!

Reduce Drama with Six Boundary-Setting Statements

draw line in the sand

Boundaries are lines in the sand. Verbal ones that we draw by telling other people how to treat us or what we find acceptable or even what behaviors we’ll tolerate.

But if we neglect to open our mouths, to speak up, to state our preferences, then others just assume anything goes. They have no reason to think otherwise.

Without meaning to, the absence of boundaries says, “Eh…it doesn’t matter. I have no limits. It’s all good! Whatever YOU decide about how to treat me is fine with me.”

Now, I get you aren’t actually SAYING those words, but saying NOTHING creates that affect.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Once again it comes back to speaking up. It comes back to the way to say it . I get that it isn’t easy to be direct and assertive, but mind-reading is not an effective alternative.

Nor is assuming others know what we want. Or assuming that they want the same things we do.

What if you had some go-to phrases to whip out when you need to stop someone in their tracks? Before it’s too late! Before there’s tension and resentment.

Stopping someone before they cross a line or before they assume they know what you want is much easier than backtracking and having a clean-up conversation.

what to say

Here are a few of my go-to boundary setters:

“Before we get too far, can you tell me what your plans are for this project?”

“You know, it doesn’t seem my feelings are being taken into account. Let’s talk about this before things progress any further?”

“It’s really important to me that ____________ (fill in the blank). Are we on the same page with that?”

“I certainly respect your needs. I’d like to talk about this to make sure my needs are being met too.”

“I tend to be direct to avoid problems down the road. Let’s compare plans and make sure we’re in agreement.”

“This isn’t really what I had in mind. Can you tell me what you’re thinking so I can be sure we agree?”

 

One of the real pros about saying things upfront is this:  you avoid future drama! Pre-empting is a great strategy.

Here’s why. Speaking up before there’s tension may be uncomfortable. But it won’t be anything worse than that…a bit uncomfortable…because nothing bad has happened yet.

When we speak up in advance, everyone is still on neutral ground. There’s no tone or  negativity or resentment. Not yet. Because all we’re doing is inquiring or checking in to make sure those involved in the issue or project are seeing things, planning things, taking action with the same point of view.

The stress, tension and resentment avoided this way is huge. All that’s needed is to develop a habit of saying to yourself in the moment, “I had better check now. I had better ask now. It will be so much easier to just ask now and avoid the possibility of drama and conflict later.”drama free black bakcground

Wanna reduce the drama in your life, your office? Start here with boundaries.  Set them BEFORE things go sideways. We’ll talk another day about boundary setting AFTER the fact in the midst of tension and drama.

As my neighbor says to her three and six-year old boys, “Use your words.” I can’t think of better advice to share.

What are “your words” for boundary setting?  I’d love to hear how you set boundaries at the office or home. Can’t have too many good responses to avoid drama!