Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shame, Shame, Shame...

I love with this book! I also love the fact that I may never have heard of it if someone hadn't left it in my laundry room. So thanks neighbor!
In "I Thought It Was Just Me", Brene Brown focuses on shame and particularly women's relationship to shame. She writes: "Shame is about the fear of disconnection... We are afraid that we've exposed or revealed a part of us that jeopardizes our connection and our worthiness of acceptance." And before you stop reading this post, know that we all live with a certain amount of shame and most of us are too ashamed to even read or think about it. What I've learned from Ms. Brown is that NOT dealing with shame/acknowledging it and working through it can be crippling and dangerous. I began reading this book right after a relative of mine committed a totally unexpected suicide. I truly believe, his decision to end his life was closely related to his inability to deal with and process things he felt ashamed of. This book elucidates everything about shame (and so many other important issues) beautifully in ways that are clear, powerful and very easy to understand.
How does this relate to communication? As Brene articulately illustrates, shame often causes us to judge ourselves, and as a result others, harshly. She writes, "If, for example, we judge ourselves harshly and are incapable or unwilling to acknowledge our own emotions, we will struggle in our relationships with others. If we make a mistake and our self talk is, "I'm so stupid, I can't do anything right," then we are more likely to turn to our child or partner who has made a mistake and convey the same feelings... "
Brene also tell us that shame can cause us to put up what she calls "Shame Screens", behind which we engage in communication or lack of communication that is specifically designed by us to mask our shame. Needless to say, Shame Screens don't work and contribute to many ineffective and unauthentic communication habits. While reading this book, I've become so keenly aware of areas in my life where I carry shame. Will the shame in those areas ever go away? Probably not. But as Brene suggests, we can all benefit by developing Shame Resilience and this book and Brene's website, http://www.brenebrown.com/ helps us to do that. So go... read... enjoy... discover... become shame resilient.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On Your Mark, Get Set, PUNDIT!

The Washington Post ran an America’s Next Great Pundit contest. Check it out! www.washingtonpost.com/pundit
When I looked at pictures of the two finalists I immediately had a bias. One was a white male, the other a woman of color. I thought to myself, I could cast my vote right now. After all we don’t we have more than enough, young-ish white males throwing around their views and opinions? But I wanted to be fair and I know that you can’t judge a pundit by its headshot. So I went through and read a bunch of the blogs, Op-eds and Q&A’s that these two pundit wannabe’s had posted.

The writing by our two finalists was fine, but to me, the woman of color, Zeba Khan, seemed to have a huge breadth of knowledge and opinions and covered a wide array of topics. She had a very clear and sophisticated, no nonsense style and though she was criticized for not being engaging enough, her writing reflected a lot of self –reflection and unique ideas. The male contestant, to me, relied on wit, sarcasm and glibness to such an extent that he obfuscated his actual opinion. I came away from reading his pieces thinking, “but what does he really think?” I get enough confusing messages from my friends, family and the media. I don’t need any more mixed messages, thank you very much.

I also watched a video interview with the last three pundits standing. Since I’m so all about presentation that was really important to me. I was surprised to see that the recently eliminated third runner up, Courtney Martin, was someone whom I’ve met a couple of times and is a friend of a good friend. She’s a great young feminist writer but fell a little short on the relate-ability scale.

But let’s go to the videotape. In my opinion, the interviewer/host from the Washington Post, did not do that great of a job with his questioning. Lots of ums and uhs and many of the questions were too long and too shallow. There was a separate video where the host gave each of the three contestants feedback. I have to point out my favorite part of that was the fact that before he commented on their performance, he repeated a version of my mantra - that in television it’s not just what you say but how you look and sound when you say it.

So how did they look and sound? To be honest, none of the three wishful pundits were very engaging or interesting to me. Kevin Huffman, our guy, came across as someone who deserved to be there. He wore a slightly smug smile and used effective body language (sitting very upright, legs apart, not crossed - taking up a lot of space. Hands in lap - tented not folded. He kept his answers short which made them seem weightier than they actually were. He also used a vocal tone that said I know what I’m talking about and I don’t really care if you agree with me or not. Very pundit-esque.

Both of the women had legs crossed and hands folded like good school girls. They gave thoughtful, if more wordy comments, so the host interrupted them more often than he did the male. They breathed a little less frequently which communicates a kind of anxiety to get a point across. And - I have to say- Courtney could really use my vocal workout CD. She has that higher pitched “Younger Generation” voice that is a tad nasal and can be very grating on the ear and can also be hard to take seriously.

Zeba, on the other hand, though her voice was on the high side, it had some resonance to it and she spoke with a tone of authority. She sounded earnest, thoughtful and had a great weight about her answers. (The host thought she should smile more and I kind of agree but I believe that people’s presentation style should be true to their natures and Zeba has a no-nonsense way about her which is in itself engaging. So who did I vote for? I went with my original gut choice, and am proud to say that it was not based solely on her being a woman of color. I voted for Zeba because she was a woman of substance, intellect and has a broad base of knowledge.

I usually try to shy away from the “we was wronged” game, but if the male wins, I’ll have to wonder: Are the judges and voters so used to glib white guy standard for pundits, that we have no tolerance or acceptance for anything else? Can’t wait for the results!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Face to Face Communication Revolution!

I'm just getting into the social networking scene and it is pretty neat and awesome and effective. However, we have to remember that nothing can replace face to face communication. Human beings are visual and aural creatures. Based on the well-known study by Professor Albert Mehrabian, body language and vocal tone contribute to more than 90% of communication's effectiveness - two elements that cannot be experienced via blackberry, email or any other social media. Face to face communication is essential for creating connection, trust and loyalty. Several studies have discovered that people (men AND women ) take action based primarily on their emotions. It is extremely difficult to engage someone emotionally through written communication. Written communication is excellent for laying out logical information, which is important, but cannot take the place of face to face interaction in conveying emotion. No matter how much the human race has evolved, our brains still rely on our instinct to assess danger, trust and honesty. It's important to be able look into a person's eyes, hear the sound of their voice, see the confidence, or lack thereof, in their bodies in order to feel comfortable making major business decisions. There is also an exchange of palpable physical energy that takes place when people are in the same room with each other, an energy that cannot be replicated through video or teleconferencing. So join me in my campaign to not only celebrate and bring back face to face communication but let's raise it to a high art form!

Monday, November 9, 2009

It Stands to Reason

I just read an article in the November 9, Newsweek about the difference in cognitive growth, (basic language and speaking skills) of children whose parents reason with them and those whose parents command them. WOW!! I've been talking about these differences for quite awhile. When I work with supervisors in some of my leadership communication training. I often get the question: "Why can't I just tell them what to do? It's their job and I'm their boss." I usually tell them that of course they can demand obedience from their subordinate staff members but that it will come at a price. Usually the price is bad attitude; lack of motivation; unconscious or conscious sabotage; high turnover; increase in sick days; and the list goes on. Of course, some supervisors have the luxury of firing workers who exhibit those habits. But then, many employees these days are so protected by their unions that firing is not an option. This of course could lead to a conversation about how the unions have employers by the short hairs. But maybe it should lead to a conversation about how to develop leaders to adopt are more reasonable (compassionate) style of communication. Instead of demanding, ordering or even instructing something be done, why not try explaining the reasoning and the need behind it. It may on the surface look like it will take more time, but in actuality, it may save time, energy, stress, hard feelings, disciplinary warnings and pink slips. This of course does NOT mean to become a doormat and allow the employee to run the show by debating all of your requests. It simply means giving the employee sound reasoning behind your decisions. If the employee still wants to buck a request which you believe will improve your work place, bottom line or organization, then it's time to dust off the disciplinary code book. There are still many employees (and children) who have no problem doing just what they are told but I believe that these individuals might be happier and more productive if they were treated as though their imput and opinions mattered.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Total Body Enthusiasm

I recently saw a presentation where the speaker spoke about enthusiasm but failed to speak enthusiastically. That prompted me to think about how enthusiasm is communicated. It’s not always enough to believe in what we have to say. Because so much of our communication is non-verbal, we have to be able to SHOW listeners how much we believe in what we're saying if we truly want them to be engaged. Below are three tips for cranking up your enthusiasm quotient the next time you need to present.

1) FLUFF AURAS - Using your hands in an upward motion while you speak serves two purposes. It makes you look animated AND it has the added benefit of actually raising the energy in the room. I once heard it referred to as, fluffing your listener’s aura.

PRACTICE: Stand in front of a full length mirror. Make sure the arms are relaxed and slightly bent at the elbows, hands are open and facing upwards as well. Keep your gestures about your waist and coming from your heart center.

2) HIT THE SCALES – The vocal scales that is. We all know that monotone voices are the kiss of death. When you want to pump up the enthusiasm - pump up the volume and the variety. Think of your words and phrases like individual notes of music and sing! The most important words are the high notes the less important ones might be lower notes. Some phrases might come out soft and melodic, some might come out bright and bouncy.

PRACTICE - Find a poem, a song lyric or a well crafted speech. Choose the most important words in each sentence, then record yourself “singing” the selection several different ways. Exaggerate at first just so that your voice gets used to variety. And don’t forget to pause. Pauses are important parts of all music and all communication.
3) SMILE… This seems like a no brainer but you’d be surprised how quickly nerves can wipe a smile right off your face. Before you start a presentation or a pitch of any kind, remind yourself to smile. Write a note to yourself or draw a picture. And be sure to smile with your whole being. We all know how to turn the corners of our mouths up in the shape of a smile. However, it’s important to engage your eyes and your soul as well. PRACTICE: Look in a mirror. Imagine your closest, funniest or most supportive friend sitting across from you. Or imagine being in the most beautiful vacation spot in the world. What do your eyes do? What muscles in your cheeks are working? Keep practicing and remember that feeling the next time you need to sound enthusiastic!

Finally, one of the most effective ways to sound enthusiastic is to come from a place of contribution. Before you begin any speech, pitch or conversation, try to think about what you would like to give the other person. How you would like to connect with them, help them, inspire, or enlighten them. How you would like them to feel better, happier, safer, more informed, more connected, after hearing what you have to say. If you use the three tips above and come from a place of contribution you'll be sure to leave your listener wanting more.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's Not WHAT We Say...

Funny, the recent poll I just ran... okay so not that many people took it BUT..... the results were unanimous. People wanted most to improve the words they chose. Funny because.... the words we use account for only 7% of our messages effectiveness. 7%!!!! That's not to say that the words we use aren't important. BUT.... the way we sound and the way we look are even more important. Case in point. There was a facinating article in the New York Times recently http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/business/global/12iht-speech.html?_r=1&emc=eta1 It spoke about how all over Japan, CD's and videos of Obama's speeches were all the rage.... These speeches are being played all over Japan, in homes, shops and businesses. And they are being played by people who don't even understand English!!The times article states; "...there was a sincerity about Mr. Obama’s speaking style that listeners could perceive phonetically, combined with a delivery that was almost musical..... That seems to result in sensation, the kind of which you get from listening to good music,” So it doesn't really matter that they can't understand the actual words. Some of these listeners are moved to tears simply from hearing his intonation, rhythm and stress. Wouldn't it be fabulous if we could have that effect on people - in a language that they actually understand? The Times went on to say: " Other observers say that Japanese buyers probably feel as though they understand his speeches just from the nonverbal cues." which illustrates just how important our nonverbal cues are! When we can make our nonverbal cues consistant with our verbal cues we are truly communicating !

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Communicating Across Differences

The other day I saw an amazing communication on the NYC Subway. I was headed uptown. The train was crowded enough that I had to stand, but not the suffocating type of crowded that makes you question your sanity. A very tall African American man started walking through the car. Let me pause to let everyone know that I am African American. Anyway, this tall gentleman had the distinct body language of someone who wanted some kind of interaction/altercation. And for those of you who may question this observation, don't. I'm really good at body language and don't make these assumption lightly. As this same man passed by me, my umbrella touched him and he jerked around to stare. I, being the well seasoned New Yorker, did not make eye-contact and I felt him decide that he wasn't going to pursue that particular altercation possibility. As he walked by, I eyed him carefully, wondering, dreading, who he was going to "mess with” cause I and everyone else in the car knew, he wanted to "mess with” someone. Most of the other riders in the car, did what I had done earlier and focused their eyes anywhere but in his direction. All except one. A slightly vertically challenged Caucasian guy stood balanced in front of the subway car door facing in. The black guy stopped and stood directly in front of him. Facing him, staring at him. If the white guy looked down, he'd be staring at the man's crotch. If he tried to look any other place, it would be far too obvious that he was avoiding eye-contact and that would smack of fear and vulnerability. I sucked in my breath. I dreaded what might happen next. BUT, before the black guy could say anything or send out too many hostile vibes, the white guy, noticing the black guy's cap said: "Bronco's fan?" And what do you suppose the black guy did? He began to grin from ear to ear. He raised his arms, and did a little dance around the car. The riders who'd been avoiding eye contact, started to look up and smile. He let out a whoop about the Broncos and he and the white guy engaged in a passionate discussion about football, Denver and the recent game. The subway reached its next stop, the black guy got off but not before giving the white guy a high five and parting advice about his team. I felt like I had witnessed one of the most compelling demonstrations of the basic idea behind Nonviolent Communication. (NVC)(NVC) believes that people take action based on universal human needs. Sometimes these needs lead to positive actions, sometimes they lead to negative actions but the person is just trying to get a basic need met and will use any strategy available. I feel like this African American man had the need for connection. He wanted to connect to another human being badly. One strategy he was used to using was intimidation but that day, on that subway, a very confident, compassionate (or perhaps na├»ve) individual offered him another way to connect by offering him conversation about a shared interest.

The white guy and I got off at the same stop. I hadn’t realized it, but his girlfriend had been in the same subway car seated across from him. They got off chatting as though nothing unusual had occurred. I wanted to say something. Ask him how conscious the decision he made had been? Let him know how impressed I was with his ability to deflect a potentially uncomfortable encounter into a conversation. But I didn't. I didn't want to draw attention to something that had seemed so natural to him. I just hope that I can remember and learn from that example.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Sounds of Obama

The other morning, I was listening to National Public Radio (NPR) and they played excerpts from three different speeches that President Obama had made the day before. Three speeches on the same day and the what struck me was that each speech SOUNDED completely different. When he spoke at the Middle East press conference, his voice was strong, direct, no nonsense and, according to the NPR radio announcer, scolding. When he spoke at the Bill Clinton dinner, his pace was lilting, slower filled with carefully placed and lengthy pauses. You could hear him smiling. Then in the snippet played from a United Nations address, we heard pure old fashion oratory style - the slight sing song, the measured tone, the predictable rhythm. One man, one day, many voices.

Why does he do that? The sound and tone of your voice contributes 38% to the effectiveness of your communication. We wouldn't wear a swim suit to a banquet or a ball gown to a beach party. Every audience, every subject, every situation should warrant a slight adjustment to a speakers tone or style in order for communication to be the most effective. I marvelled at the skill Obama demonstrated on that one day. I hope we all take a lesson from his playbook and continually add to and adjust our vocal repertoire.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Emmy Speeches: Winners and Losers

I watched the entire broadcast of the Emmy awards last night for the pure entertainment value. As I went to bed however, I asked myself to reflect on the show from my professional viewpoint. Which speech really stood out? Which presenter or winner was the most memorable and why? At first my mind went blank. Of course Neil Patrick Harris as the host was memorable. But after him, the only person that popped into my head right away was Ricky Gervais. After a little more mental escavation, my mind brought up Jessica Lange. Why these two? I'm actually writing a book on this very topic. Ricky Gervais was memorable to me because he was so clearly playing up and playing into his type. Some people might say he was "being himself." Not knowing Mr. Gervais, I can't assume that. What I can assume, is that he has become an expert at presenting aspects of himself that are consistent with his inate type (a comic/curmudgeon).

When people are able to identify and use their inate type(s) to their advantage, they automatically make the listener (or watcher in this case) say... "yeah, I get you." That doesn't mean that the listener will always like you... but they'll get you and they will most likely remember you. Same with Jessica Lange. To me, Jessica Lange, even as she's aged, embodies the Leading Lady/Ingenue type. Honest, commanding, straightforward, yet still innocent and sweet. Last night she did not feel the need to cover up that innocence and sweetness with any over dramatic "meaningful" acceptance speech. (unlike Glenn Close) That is why I believe her speech was affecting and memorable for all the right reasons.

On the other side, were the memorable for the wrong reasons. The afore mentioned Ms. Close. In all honesty, I can not comment on her speech because her first few lines made me realize that it was time for me to leave the room to take care of something. Surprisingly enough, when I came back, seemingly several minutes later, she was still talking. In my book, I have typed Ms. Close as a leading lady/villain. Villian's are, pardon the pun, a necessary evil. I think all Villains need to embrace that part of their nature at all times. I believe Ms. Close presented herself as a leading lady period and left her Villainous qualities at the door (until the very end of her speech). That makes me, as a listener, feel that she's not being totally sincere. My second "loser" speech of the night was Patricia Arquette for so many reasons. Ms. Arquette was clearly uncomfortable be it because of her clothes or because she hates public speaking. Whatever the case, I say use it! If you're uncomfortable come right out and say it or maybe turn down the offer. I'd love to hear which speeches you remembered and why.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pause Perfect

Listening to Michelle Obama speak about health care, I couldn't help notice how well she used the power of the pause. Pausing makes everything you say, so much more powerful, important and understandable. So take a lesson from the first lady. Well there are a lot of lessons that can be taken from the first lady but as far as her presentation skills, this lesson is invaluable.

http://video.aol.com/aolvideo/AOL News/michelle-obama-us-health-care-is-unacceptable/40905123001

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Temper Temper!!

Okay.... so was Serena Williams right or was she wrong to verbally abuse a tennis line umpire during the semi-finals of the U.S. Open. I don't believe anyone is ever "right" to turn to verbal abuse. Do I understand her frustration? Totally. During a match of that nature, with a score as it was an a fault so minimal... was the umpire "right"? As I watched what transpired, I felt a little sick. An Asian official and an African American celebrity. I feared what the media would turn this into. It's sad to me that the expression of extreme emotion between two ethnic minorities brings up that fear in me. When John McEnroe had his outbursts, I had no such fears. But that's another issue.

In my opinion, Serena's outburst was irresponsible and unprofessional. No, it may not have been fair but let's face it, life has never been fair. But people and especially celebrities can not continue to rationalize their "acting out" because they feel the "cause" justifies the "effect". And don't get me wrong... I don't think that Serena should have just let it go. Experiencing intense emotion in a situation like that is natural. However, there are effective and appropriate ways to communicate anger. Serena finally released a statement that comes close to taking responsibility for her actions. I still think she owes her fans and the lineswoman a true apology. I think it's important for her to clarify that passion for a game should not be confused with license to "go off on someone." It's clear that more work needs to be done around teaching individuals how to communicate and express extreme emotions.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

30 Second Pitch!

CNN is doing a segment on their website, www. CNN.org called the 30-second pitch. It finds people who are out of work and puts them on film pitching themselves to perspective employers. The hostess is sunny and enthusiastically supportive of the courage the out of work individuals display. However, as I watched, I was struck by how much more effective these pitches would be if CNN had given each person a little coaching about the way they presented themselves.

I heard people dropping their energy and volume at the ends of sentences which made them sound like they were already totally defeated. I saw people whose grooming left a lot to be desired. People whose eye-contact wasn't connecting, even though they were talking to an impartial camera. But most of all... the pitches themselves, for the large part, sounded like pleading. A one note chorus of "hire me, please cause I'm out of work and I need a job"

When I coach interview skills, I like to have people express themselves more like... "Hire me because I can really help your bottom line" Let's face it, most people, employers especially, what to know "What's in it for Them" What do I get out of hiring you. I found many of the stories about the out of work 30-second pitchers on CNN.org compelling and I really hope this exposure helps them find work. I just wish that CNN would have maximized their effectiveness by giving them a few tips before putting them on camera.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Break Through!!

I'm teaching a continuing education class on business presentations right now at a local college. I have some really dedicated and wonderful students. The other night, two of my students had mini breakthroughs - nothing thrills me more! It made me wonder what creates a breakthrough. I asked one of my students and he said something like, after repeatedly getting up in front of the room doing the exercises I provided and struggling over and over with the same issues he just thought 'I can do this differently'!
I'm not getting his exact words correctly and to be honest, there really was no way for him to even communicate what he had done but all of us in the room got it. There's a time when you just get tired of being insane - doing the same thing over and over expecting different results - and you think, hey, maybe I should try doing things a different way!!! That's when you have a breakthrough. I love breakthroughs. What we also realized in class is that without repeatedly putting yourself out there, or up there in his case, you won't be able to have those breakthroughs. It's when you get tired of acting insanely that the breakthroughs come!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Nonviolent Communication

Why is it sometimes so hard to understand why people say or do what they do?

I've been reading about and studying Nonviolent Communication (NVC) www.CNVC.org for a few years. I'm taking a course right at now. It's a wonderful way to approach communication but it's not easy by any means. NVC teaches that all humans have basic universal needs (Connection, honesty, peace, play, physical well-being, meaning & autonomy) and all the actions we take are based on trying to get those needs met. Our feelings are the result of whether these needs are met or unmet.

Of course the interesting part is that even though we all share the same needs, we often use different strategies & take different actions to get those needs met. I believe that's one reason why it's so difficult to understand each other. A simple example: To get the basic need of nourishment met, some of us may choose to munch on a delicious fruit or salad and then experience feelings of satisfaction and happiness. We've met our need for food (physical well-being) But someone else with the same need for food might chow down on a jelly donut and fries. and they too may feel really happy and satisfied afterwards. Same need, different strategy for filling it. The donut eater may also have had a need for fun or spontaneity. And the fruit eater may have been filling a need for integrity. The difficult part comes in when the fruit eater meets the donut eater and feels intense judgement about the strategy he/she employed to get their needs met.

Nonviolent communication teaches us ways to communicate with each other as well as with ourselves so that we feel a connection even though we may not agree with the strategy employed. Do any of you have experience with NVC? If not check it out. www.cnvc.org

Friday, August 7, 2009

Speak Up but Don't Up Speak!

You know what upspeak is, right? It's that maddening speech pattern that has reached epidemic proportions - the habit of ending every sentence as though it were a question? I'm not sure where or when it started? It may have had its roots in Valley Girl speak? but it's now safe to say that upspeaking has left the Valley and spread far and wide? Even my clients who have learned English as a second language have fallen victim to it?

Upspeaking is problematic for two reasons; mainly because it makes the speaker sound as though he/she is not sure about the validity of what it is they just said. It makes them sound as though they are asking the listener for permission to make the statement they just made. For professionals it's even more problematic because it makes the speaker sound very unsure of themselves which does not instill confidence in the listener. If you are not sure of what you're telling me, how can I be sure of you. So remember, Speak up but don't Up speak!

Let me know your thoughts and issues with upspeaking.