CertaintyI was just working on another blog and I caught myself. I was about to write ‘I feel that communication is…’ Suddenly I realized I had fallen into the language hole that so many women fall into every day, sometime several times a day. I stopped myself, hit the backspace key and simply typed ‘communication is…’. You can go to my last post to see the where I made the change.

It is such a common habit for women to use terms such as ‘I feel..’ to state their options. The truth is, however, it puts the ideas and opinions that follow in the context of an emotion, not a fact. By saying ‘I feel..’ I was trying to soften or preface an opinion. For me it is partially because I have a tendency to be opinionated. Since this isn’t always a welcome trait, I endeavor to soften my tone. However, framing it as something based on emotion weakens the value and conviction of my opinion. Unfortunately it also plays into the still present stereotype that women get emotional at work. We know that’s crap, but that is for another post. By simply stating that ‘communication is…’, I show my point of view with conviction and certainty.

So next time you write an email or present at a meeting, listen for those moments of ‘feeling’ and change your tone. It will add to your credibility and keep the conversation on the facts not the feelings.

Squeaky wheelThis week I was reading an article on employee retention. It’s a subject I find interesting because communication is at the heart of engagement and retention. Whether it is the language of the company’s culture, the frequency and method of providing feedback or the lack of a clearly articulated and inspiring vision for the business – communication plays a vital role.

The article mentions the tendency of leaders and organizations to spend more time and energy on improving poorly performing employees rather than supporting and rewarding those who are excelling. They suggest changing the dynamic so that more effort is going towards those who show the greatest potential. While I agree, I had two thoughts.

One, what message is a company or a leader sending if they giving all their time and attention to the ‘problem child’. Is the company culture in some strange way rewarding these employees, while those who keep their head down and do a great job go unnoticed and unrewarded? Are you communicating that hard work is expected by not particularly valued?

Two, how are companies spending this extra time? Are they offering training and coaching? Are they giving repeated harsh reviews with no tools to help improve skills or attitude? Are they micromanaging to ensure the job is getting done right? It is important to think about the answers to these questions because not every struggling employee has an attitude problem and even then, sometimes lack of knowledge, tools and confidence may be at the core. What is the ‘tone’ of your attention?

Approach your role as a leader as someone who is there to coach. Identify how to best support each team member. Give them equal attention through regularly scheduled feedback sessions and give people the tools to grow.

Couples TherapyI came across an article in Inc Magazine today which proves what I say to clients all the time. Fix communication and everything else gets easier. Communication is the life blood of any organization. It courses through every department, every initiative and every employee. If you organization gets a clot, the whole organization suffers. Being aware of this helps but ultimately, you need help to improve your communication style and repair and improve relationships with your team, investors even clients.

For inDinero, that help came in the form of a marriage counselor for the two co-founders. This help allowed them to save their relationship as co-founders and by extension a business that had lost its way.

How can improved communication improve and grow your business?

How couples therapy brought this company back from the dead

DiversityGood news from Apple, they hired 11,000 female employees over the last 12 months. That is a 65% increase from the year before. This is truly good news, but as I was reading the article in Fortune http://fortune.com/2015/08/13/apple-hired-11000-women/ I wondered where are the retention numbers? Sure hiring for diversity is a start, but keeping diverse employees is the goal. Just because they are coming in the front door doesn’t mean they aren’t running out the back.

Organizations think that the only issue lays with the hiring practices and lack of diverse candidates applying for positions. The truth is that culture and opportunities for growth play a key role in ensuring a diverse organization. You don’t have to look far to find stories that highlight the issues. Just yesterday I read about a recent study that showed that if a woman holds one of the top five executive positions at a company, the chances of a second woman joining the top executive ranks falls by 51%. http://theglasshammer.com/2015/07/17/why-real-progress-doesnt-have-a-face/?hootPostID=8c46ccf91f1e0c80aa3bd536e441dd34

So if your organization is truly committed to growing a diverse workforce, focus on hiring, but then ensure you provide opportunities for growth. Train managers to provide focused feedback. Create supported and detailed leadership development. And create a culture where diversity is evident and not just numbers on a spreadsheet.

DefensiveHaving confidence in what you believe is essential in business. However, when someone gets defensive about their idea or point of view, it is usually a clear sign of insecurity.  We only get defensive if we know we aren’t comfortable with what we are saying or doing.  We aren’t prepared or we are worried someone will get too close and see a chink in the armor.

If you are wrong or unsure, it does not serve you to put up a wall, dig in your heels and defend your ground.  It only makes one look weak and difficult.  It also creates barriers which make collaboration and communication more challenging.

Make no mistake, I am not talking about defending your position if it’s well founded.  But that does not show up as defensiveness.  It shows up as conviction.  Your tone and body language are different and will always give you away.

So next time you feel defensive, check in with yourself and see what you may be trying to hide.

Candidate's debate (2)Last night was the first candidate debate of the next election. While I think it’s much too early to be doing this and I hate the spectacle presidential campaigns have become, as a communications professional, they are great for business. Nothing is easier to understand than how body language, vocal tone and messaging effect how you are perceived, than watching candidates on the campaign trail

First, we all make judgments of credibility, authenticity, leadership ability and presidential presence by watching these candidates on the stump, in interviews and in debates. We notice Donald Trump’s tone. We see the emotion in John Kasich when he speaks about his daughter. We sense Chris Christie is uncomfortable not being the center of attend stranded out on the fridges of the debate.

Second, once the debate or interview is over we have an endless array of pundits to dissect, tone, gestures, energy and whether or not someone seems ‘presidential’. They will mention how Mario Rubio has ‘concise and credible’ answers, or how Carly Fiorina was ‘commanding’.They use the words all leaders either crave or dread in describing presence, credibility and influence.

These candidates spend a great deal of time, energy and money improving everything from their answers to specific questions, to what to do with their hands, to how to react under pressure. So as a leader in your company or your community, how much time, energy and money have you put into crafting and executing an authentic and persuasive presence that will allow you to increase your influence and credibility.

Whether you have given it some thought or not, you have a presence. People use words like confident and charismatic or maybe frantic and defensive. What are they saying about you?

Today is the day to start crafting the presence that will get you to your version of the White House.

 July Deck

Trump 2I have been using a picture of Donald Trump as an example of Authenticity for years. Every time his picture came up next to the word authenticity, audiences laughed. But the truth is whether you liked him or not, you always knew who he was, what to expect and what he thought. He never behaved out of character. That is why his brand is doing so well with potential voters.

Audiences are becoming more and more attuned to inauthentic and manufactured speakers, whether they are on the campaign trail or at a conference. That is why Authenticity is the cornerstone of anyone’s speaking style or leadership style for that matter.

Don’t try to “Present like Steve Jobs” or to lead like your favorite boss. Be authentic. Be yourself. That is at the root of confidence. Anything less and you’ll fall short of your goals.

Same languageJust because you speak the same language, doesn’t mean you speak the same language.

I was in London recently. I lived there for years and am familiar and comfortable with the common phrases and dry tone. However, I was travelling with some others who were not and it got them into some trouble. Not just because they got a few words wrong, but because their way of communicating seemed a bit off putting and pushy to the British. They were at a loss to understand how they were creating issues. “We’re speaking English for goodness sake.” This got me things about how often this happens at work.

I am not talking about cross-cultural communication now. I am talking about challenges within companies where everyone speaks English. I often find that a CIO and a CMO, for example, might have the same strategic goals for their organization. But, because they speak completely different mental languages they may find themselves at odds or believe the other to be following a different path.

Because they both speak English and because they have the same corporate goals, they think the other is being difficult or does not respect their team’s contributions. The truth is they are speaking different languages. The language of a technical mind and that of a creative mind process and innovate differently.

Be aware and learn the language of those sitting at the table. You may find that you pick up enough to make your point of view clearly understood.

Virtual Comm tools

Every day more companies rely on phone, email and WebEx to conduct business both internally and externally. The phone has been a part of business for decades, but the problems of ‘virtual communication’ have only recently been discussed. Why is that? Why should email or Skype provide better communication? Well, it doesn’t! For some reason people have been lead to believe that email, text and especially video conferencing is virtually as good as being there, but it’s not.

It is better than no communication certainly, but it is hardly virtually as good. There are too many factors lost, too many variables and too many things that can undermine the effectiveness of communication to ever consider these tools ‘virtually’ the same.

There are 3 main factors to keep in mind when communicating via something other than face to face.

  1. Tone – In person our tone of voice accounts for 38% of how we are perceived. But when others have no visual cues to help them put context to our tone i.e. virtually, it accounts for up to 82% of how we are perceived. That means your calls and emails can be sending unwanted signals to their recipients that you may not intend. Your tone is everywhere in your writing and certainly in your voice and can override the actual words on the page.
  2. Energy – you can call it a vibe or sense or setting the tone for the meeting. However, whatever you call it, energy plays a big part in communication. Someone with high energy might engage a room one-on-one. However, over the phone they can sound like a blowhard and not let anyone get a word in edgewise. A low energy person can still make their presence felt in a room, but might blend into the beige background on WebEx.
  3. Distraction – It would be crazy to believe that we don’t get distracted in face to face meetings. We all do. However, the likelihood of distraction is much higher in virtual communication. We’ve all been on a call and heard someone typing in the background or glancing up as someone walks by while on Skype. It is just human nature. There is just something about getting caught being distracted that doesn’t really happen virtually.

No one can argue that having meetings face to face isn’t always more effective. Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t use Virtual Communication tools. It is important, however, to always remember that it is not virtually the same. As a result you need to give it more attention, not less. Take the time to prepare more carefully, be more present and take the time to gauge the listener engagement. You may find virtual conversations less challenging and more productive.