Take Off Your Mask and Speak from Your Heart

This is a guest post by Dr. Quentin Schultze, Professor of Communication Emeritus at Calvin College, a media company CEO, speaker, and author of many communication books, including the newly released Communicate Like a True Leader: 30 Days of Life-Changing Wisdom. Visit his blog.

 

Speak from Your Heart

A fine friend and skilled speaker landed in a dreadful situation. He had agreed to address a convention of toastmasters—persons who lead local public-speaking clubs where members overcome common speaking fears and practice effective speaking techniques.

When he arrived a few minutes early for the event, he met with his friend who had arranged the speech. He discovered that the audience was not toastmasters, but postmasters who run local post offices.

He frantically tried to organize a speech in his head while his friend introduced him. Then he took the stage, mic in hand, alone with the whole banquet hall of postmasters peering directly at him. What could he possibly do?

He relinquished his facade.

 

“I never saw a well-fitting mask. It is a great relief to take them off.” —Robert Greenleaf

 

My friend explained to his audience that he had planned a speech for the wrong group. That he didn’t even know what postmasters actually do. That he was thoroughly unprepared.

Then he spoke from the heart about what he knew intimately. He told stories about his loneliness. About his fears. About the stifling lack of meaning in his own work sometimes.

My friend’s message was simple but profound: We are all first and foremost human beings, not workers. We share a common humanity. We experience fear as well as hope. We all feel this in our hearts.

Then he thanked the postmasters for the opportunity to share his off-the-cuff thoughts and feelings.

He received a long, standing ovation. The wounded storyteller had connected with the wounded postmasters. By taking off his “professional” mask, he had honestly led them into a shared, human journey of hope. In spite of being unprepared, he had served them as a great leader-communicator.

 

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” Thomas Jefferson

 

If You Fake It, You’ll Eventually Fall

Phrases to Defuse Difficult Workplace Situations

Defuse conflict

Are you ever at a loss for words?

Do you approach a potentially volatile situation with trepidation because you don’t know what to say?

The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book by Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem is for you.

It’s a handbook of sorts, a reference book, filled with clever phrases and questions all designed to help you in conflict situations.

After reading it, I decided to put it to use immediately. I read a few of the phrases before attending most of my meetings. What I found was that I was asking better questions and was a more focused listener.

I recently asked Barbara more about her work.

 

“Knowing when to fight is just as important as how.” –Terry Goodkind

 

Build Your Conflict Muscle

How do you best build the conflict muscle so that you don’t shy away from it?

Practice, practice, practice!  Many of us are uncomfortable with conflict to the point where we not just shy away from it—we run from it and give in rather than dealing with it. It takes courage and practice to have conflict muscle, but we also want people to know that not all conflict is “bad.”  Having differences of opinion can spur creativity and positive change in organizations and personal relationships.

 

Talk about the power of listening.

Most of us think we’re really good listeners, but what we really do is, while the other person is talking, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say when they stop speaking.  That’s not listening.  Listening is putting your own thoughts aside to focus on the words being said but also observing body language and facial expressions to really get what the person is saying.  Our ever-increasing virtual world makes listening even more difficult, so whenever possible, have difficult conversations face to face. But if you can’t be in the same place, use Facetime or Skype so least you can see each other. A good listener uses techniques like paraphrasing back what they heard to ensure both people are on the same wave length. Listening takes practice—just like any other communication form. We spend a lot time learning how to speak to be understood or how to write well but not much time learning how to listen.

 

“If I could solve all the problems myself, I would.” –Thomas Edison

 

Ask for Clarity

Alan Alda on The Art & Science of Relating and Communicating

The Art and Science of Communication

Alan Alda needs no introduction. He played Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, appeared on ER, The West Wing, and he’s appeared in numerous films from Crimes and Misdemeanors to Bridge of Spies. For eleven years, he hosted the award-winning series Scientific American Frontiers, and he founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. He has also won seven Emmy Awards and received three Tony nominations, is an inductee in the Television Hall of Fame, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator.

For many years, he has been studying communication. His latest book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating will have you laughing and contemplating the art of communication. You’ll find his insights and tips immediately useful in both business and personal settings.

I recently spoke with him about his latest work.

 

“Real conversation can’t happen if listening is just my waiting for you to finish talking.” –Alan Alda

 

It’s a gross understatement to say that you see things differently. For instance, most people don’t go through a difficult surgery at the dentist, one messing up your smile, and end up with ideas about improving communication. I’m interested in two aspects of this experience.

 One, how did it inspire you?

The experience of a dentist’s poking in my mouth with a scalpel — without seeming to care if I understood his terse one-word description of the after-effects – was pretty much the essence of poor communication. All he said was, “Now, there will be some tethering.” What? Tethering? “Tethering. Tethering!” He just kept saying the same word over and over. Too cowed, I let him go ahead, and my smile after that was really suitable for playing villains.

He knew what he meant, but he didn’t notice that I wasn’t getting it. To the extent he did notice, it made him impatient. That story has come back to me many times, especially the more I see that it’s up to us who are trying to communicate something to be aware of what’s going on in the other person’s head.

 

“People are dying because we can’t communicate in ways that allow us to understand one another.” –Alan Alda

 

And two, have you always had a unique way of viewing the world or was this cultivated over time?

I don’t know if this is unique, but some of my earliest memories are of trying to figure out how things got that way, or why adults were behaving the way they were. My mother was schizophrenic and paranoid, and I always had to check her reality against real reality. I think that helped me question things and always check them out from another point of view.

 

 

The Importance of Relating

Your book starts off talking about the importance of relating. I’m struck by your humility. You’re always up front with your mistakes, what you should have done, what you didn’t know at the time. For example, you say:

My first blunder was assuming that I knew more than I did.”

I was paying more attention to my own assumptions than I was to him.”

I wasn’t listening.”

And then your story teaches us about relating, but also, we immediately relate to you because of your openness. Is this a relating tactic?

How the Best Leaders Energize People Every Day

leaders unlock potential

How the Best Leaders Energize People

If you want to be a great leader, you must be a great communicator. The Inspiration Code: How the Best Leaders Energize People Every Day  explores the link between leadership and communication.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach specializing in executive communication. You may have read one of her articles in “Forbes” or encountered her other book, The Power of Presence . Her extensive research and survey into what inspires people was fascinating. I recently asked Kristi about her latest work on inspiration in the workplace.

 

“When we highlight potential, we boost confidence.” -Kristi Hedges

 

4 Factors to Enhance Your Inspirational Effect

Tell me more about the four factors that enhance our inspirational effect, what you call the Inspire Path.

The Inspire Path puts a structure to the research I found that uncovers what communication behaviors inspire others. It’s a guide to increase inspirational impact. While we can’t force someone to be inspired—and if we try to push, it backfires—we can create the conditions that foster inspiration. People are most often inspired through certain types of conversation with others. If we want be more inspiring, we should focus on being:

 

“What we concentrate on gets stronger.” -Kristi Hedges

 

PRESENT: investing our full attention and letting conversations flow

 

PERSONAL: speaking genuinely, listening generously, and acknowledging the potential of those around us

 

PASSIONATE: exhibiting sincere emotion and exuding energy attuned to the situation

 

PURPOSEFUL: helping others find meaning and see their place in the bigger picture

 

Copyright Kristi Hedges, All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

 

“Our choices bring our purpose in sharp relief.” -Kristi Hedges

 

How do you train Type-A, driven, device-obsessed executives to be more present?

Communicate Like a Leader

Connecting to Inspire, Coach, and Get Things Done

 

Do you communicate with power?

 

Leadership is intertwined with communication. It’s a critical skill and it’s becoming more and more important in a world of social media and constant news cycles.

If you want to be an excellent leader, you simply must become an excellent communicator.

Dianna Booher is one of my favorites in the area of communication. She’s the CEO of Booher Research and she’s authored a staggering 47 books, including her latest Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done. She works with organizations to help them communicate clearly and with leaders to expand their influence by a strong executive presence.

I recently spoke to Dianna about her latest work.

 

Leadership Tip: Ineffective leaders communicate in one direction, by telling.

 

The Signs of an Ineffective Leader

What are some of the signs of an ineffective leader’s communications?

Ineffective leaders tend to place great trust in their own expertise and control. Their thinking seems to follow the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So most of their communication is one-directional—telling.  By contrast, more effective leaders like to get input from several trusted sources. They listen with an open mind and weigh facts and ideas before rushing to accept or reject these ideas as valid. The majority of their communication is collaborative.

Ineffective leaders often communicate with vague abstractions so as to avoid offense and blame on sensitive issues. More effective leaders, however, understand when an ounce of specificity is worth a ton of abstraction.

 

“Effective leaders understand an ounce of specificity is worth a ton of abstraction.” -Dianna Booher

 

While ineffective leaders may communicate directly and frequently (good habits), they often focus on controlling processes and people. Consequently, these leaders often come across as manipulative and uncaring. In addition to direct and frequent communication, more effective leaders are tactful, compassionate, and passionate when it comes to people.

Although ineffective leaders would probably never see their communication lacking in this way, they focus on detail—the “how” of a job, doing things right. More effective leaders communicate the bigger picture—the “why” of a job. And communicating that “why” to team members tends to inspire them to do their best work on the right things.

 

“What we’ve got here is  a failure to communicate.” -Cool Hand Luke

 

What to Do about that Micromanaging Boss