IMPROVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS AT WORK

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RECENT BLOG POSTS

You always hurt the ones you love

Interpersonal Relations

Maybe we don’t hurt the ones we love intentionally, but we often hurt others through unintentional negligence: we just don’t thank them for the little things they do.  A little appreciation can go a long way.  As a matter of routine, the people you work with may do many small things with great attention, more…

So it’s your fault then

Global Communication

- “In your email you claim that we agreed to have the audit finished by last Friday. We absolutely don’t remember having agreed to that.”

- “Sorry, I clearly remember that you did agree to that.”

- “Well, we don’t.”

- “Well, we do.”

- “We don’t. And you’re ugly.”

- “No, you are.” more…

Timing is everything…

Interviewing & Meetings

I have been asked to do much more coaching lately, and I’ve been realizing the importance of timing.  If the timing is not right, the coaching will seem unimportant either because it is too soon to be relevant, or too late to make a difference. Imagine you are on a lake in a small boat and the outboard motor fails. more…

Make Every Meeting Minute Count

Blogs

I just received a client’s minutes of a two-day meeting.  It is a stapled 20-page doubled-sided Word document.  I am happy I am not a stakeholder and don’t have to read it.  I can just comment on it.  Negatively. more…

Body Language: Credibility is Built on a Lot of Little Things

Blogs

I recently had a conversation with someone, and all I could think was “I don’t believe a word she is saying!” What was it? I had no real way in the moment to check her facts, which could have been true, but my sense was that she was lying.

For one, her eye contact was sporadic. She looked at me occasionally, but mostly looked away, at nothing specifically. She forced a smile but always after a micro-second expression of pain and annoyance. Her questions and responses were abrupt and incomplete. And she shifted from foot to foot.For as skilled as some people may be at lying with words, only truly skilled actors and con artists can lie with body language and vocal tone. And, experts say, that the conscious affectation is always a beat behind the reflexive, true response. So, there is a micro-moment of body language truth that is revealed before we can consciously try to mask our feelings. As someone who is being lied to, we may not even be consciously aware that we detect the micro-moment of truth. But some part of us–our “intuition”–knows.

So, if you feel funny about someone, if they feel creepy, and strange, it’s a good idea to trust that feeling. After all, before our ancestors invented words, they relied on their intuition, and the ones who did lived long enough and well enough to get us where we are today.

Do the Needful: Comments from an Indian Client

Blogs

Over the years I’ve been impressed by my Indian clients’ and colleagues’ strong work ethic. Many of them, in fact, have demonstrated a resolute desire to understand a task and to perform it perfectly and on time.  A noble quality, but one that can frustrate some Westerners, especially when certain tasks and instructions may not be clear-cut.

Recently an Indian client of mine explained that this laser-like focus on perfection stems from a culture where people learn that they have one shot to get things right. Or, as he pointed out: “We’re taught that if we miss our train there won’t be another one coming after.”

Moreover, his school’s grading system didn’t exactly take cues from the boost-your-child’s-ego progressive education model. Grades were: “good,” “should have done better,” “poor,” and “very poor.”  Getting a “good” was truly outstanding achievement. When he later studied in the U.S. and received a “good” on his first paper, he was thrilled, only to learn soon after that an American “good” is pretty middling.

My client suggested that Americans may want to focus on process rather than outcome when working with Indians on projects where goals are undefined.

Finally, here are some phrases that don’t translate well between Western English and Indian English.

1. “Hmm, that’s interesting.” Although we might use the phrase as an automatic response to people when we’re not really listening to them, Indians take the word literally.

2. “Hmm, that’s funny.” See above about taking it literally. We often say it when we’re puzzled, not doubled over in hysterics.

3. “Do the needful.” I’ve seen this phrase many times in emails coming from India. Westerners just don’t understand the phrase, which roughly translates as “Get it done.” In a nice way.

Consider Cultural Differences

Blogs

I’m in the Middle East and thinking about different communication styles and patterns. By comparison to many other cultures, Americans, along with many northern European cultures, and more direct and explicit. We may not hesitate to begin discussing business matters relatively quickly, and we may look to have arrangements made efficiently and specifically.

Mediterranean cultures, by comparison, slow down the process by establishing trust through personal relationships and social interactions. Planning and negotiating are slower and more ritualistic. Many Asian cultures slow down the process even further.

1. Consider what is realistic to have happen in the first few conversations or meetings given the routines of the culture.

2. Think about your credibility. Does this culture value rank or title? Age? Gender? Do you have goodwill credibility?

3. How direct or indirect should you be? If you are too direct, you may come across as abrupt or demanding and spoil the relationship.

It’s relaxing and very pleasant to socialize at the start of a relationship, and makes for a nice experience. This is an example of a time when it feels good not to push an agenda too soon, for as inefficient as it may feel.

Presentation Tips – It’s not All about You!

Blogs

I recently spent several days college shopping with my daughter and sat through many interminable “info sessions” where reps from admission offices try to make their colleges sound like the most amazing, fantastic, innovative and totally cool places on the planet. After hearing their spiels I’m ready to explore colleges on different planets.

Many presenters rambled, shifted from foot to foot, ambled around their little stages without purpose (I wanted to yell: “Can you just please stand still?”), used tons of, um, filler words, and read their presentations off their screens instead of developing eye contact with the wide-eyed high schools students and their anxiously neurotic parents. I heard the same lame jokes over and over. (“You can study in any other country in the world. Except Antarctica!”) I was thrilled each time my phone buzzed so I had an excuse to walk out to take “important” calls.

There was, however, one info session that held my attention. Whereas other admission officers gave lists of possible majors, study-abroad options and notable alumni, this fellow looked at the crowd and began with statement: “This session is all about you.” He said the whole college search process was a chance for the students to listen, observe, and learn about themselves. Maybe his college wasn’t even right for them.

I wish I had taken credit for coaching him. When I work with corporate speakers, I help them identify what audiences are thinking and what they need to know. We craft messages that resonate with their audiences allowing them to think, and ultimately be persuaded. This admission officer recognized that the best presentations are not about the presenter, but all about the audience: their concerns, their goals, their emotions. Once he had us, he told us what differentiated his school.

I was completely sold. I hope he’s reading this blog and accepts it as part of my daughter’s application packet.

Finding the “Sweet Spot”

Blogs

I coach lots of people in developing and delivering presentations. The development includes considering lots of details about their audience and thinking through how the audience will benefit. Along those lines, we identify specific goals the speaker hopes to achieve…in other words, what will be the measure of success?

In addition to these strategic elements, I spend a lot of time with speakers on their delivery and “stagecraft.” We describe and practice the look of confidence and professionalism that serves as the platform for their strategic messages. How should they stand and move? How should they gesture? Where should they look? As we practice theses delivery skills, we sometimes rehearse a lot. Sometimes too much.

If a speaker looks over-practices and robotic, it can be a real turn off to an audience. Audiences respond well to realism and spontaneity. As speakers and presenters, we all need to find our “sweet spot” of rehearsing enough to feel comfortable with the flow of material, but not too much so that we appear lackluster and robotic. And everyone is different. I have one colleague who is stale after two rehearsals, and another who is still stumbling after ten. As with anything, you can only find your “sweet spot” with practice.

Business Dress Code – Your Undershirt is Showing

Office Etiquette

I received a lot of feedback from young workers this week about our recent video “Lunch with the Boss.” Apparently many young guys have very strong opinions about business dress code, especially the pros and cons of wearing an undershirt. I didn’t realize it was such a hot-button issue. The young anti-undershirt guys claim that:

1. it’s expensive to stock up on packs of Hanes.

2. It’s gets too hot to wear another layer.

3. I’m not a smelly, hairy old guy.

I’m afraid I am militantly pro-undershirt, even if I weren’t a smelly, hairy old guy. Here’s why:

1. Contrary to what you think an undershirt keeps you cooler in the summer.

2. Most people don’t want to see though your shirt to see your body topiary status.

3. No one wants to see big wet rings under your arms–or the crusty yellow stains that are left at 5 PM.

Some of the young professional women I heard from, however, agree on what to and what not to wear. Some of their comments about business dress code:

1. Sleeveless tops may be inappropriate even if you have Michelle Obama arms.

2. Skirts should adequately cover knees when you’re sitting.

3. Guys without undershirts are gross.

One last point to remember: everything, including what you wear, communicates. Do you want to be remembered as the guy who wears those low-slung pants or the woman who wears very short skirts? Or would you prefer to be remembered as the person who adds value to the company?

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