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13 Feb The Unique Challenges of Neurodiverse Communication in the Workplace

As an Executive Communication Coach, I’m thrilled to see Neurodiversity becoming more recognized and celebrated at work. However, its nuances in the workplace can cause frustration and miscommunications.

For example, if you work with someone who rarely makes eye contact, you might assume they are shy, nervous, or uncomfortable. Using eye contact is an essential nonverbal communication behavior that most of us use automatically in work interactions. Eye contact helps people communicate their interest and attention to a conversation. Yet, making eye contact with others can be very challenging for some people with Autism. There are many books and articles written by adults with Autism who describe the stress they felt when well-meaning bosses and managers tried to force them to make eye contact during conversations, client meetings, or presentations. In many cases, they describe being further distracted and unable to focus on the conversation because of this insistence.

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits. Still, it is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as other neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities.

Here are a few additional definitions for clarity:

Neurotypical is an informal term describing a person whose brain functions are considered usual or expected by society. This term is often applied to people who do not have a developmental disorder like Autism, differentiating them from those who do. It is neither a mental disorder nor even an official diagnostic term.

Neurodivergent describes someone who isn’t neurotypical, and Neurodiverse generally refers to differences in brain function among people diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These words can be applied to other neurodevelopmental conditions like dyslexia or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

There are many forms that Neurodiversity can take, but for this article, I’ll speak specifically about the Autism Spectrum.

I’ve had the opportunity to coach professionals who identify on the Autism spectrum and also have a close family member on the Spectrum, so I have no shortage of practice when it comes to noticing the small microcommunications that are often lost or misperceived. I do not claim mastery but merely the complex process of listening and communicating with clarity, patience, and an open mind.

You may wonder if you currently work with someone on the Autism Spectrum, or perhaps someone has told you specifically that they are Autistic. Either way, how we communicate needs to be looked at with flexibility and deeper understanding.

If you consider yourself Neurotypical, consider the workplace examples below. You’ll see a few ways a Neurotypical person might communicate with someone on the Autism Spectrum (let’s call this person with ASD your “colleague.”). Observe below how messages and information can get crossed:

You don’t get any eye contact from your colleague when speaking with them, and it feels like they aren’t listening.

After a long conversation, your colleague didn’t speak much and only said ‘OK’ and then walked away, but you aren’t sure if they understood.

After an excellent co-presentation with your colleague, you raise your hand to high-five, but they walk back to their desk right past you.

In the elevator, you ask your colleague how their weekend was, and they say “Fine” and don’t ask you back.

You pull a piece of fluff off your colleague’s coat, and they jump away and recoil from you.

Your colleague is the only one who never joins the team for happy hour on Fridays.

You run weekly stand-up meetings where everyone shares their work progress, but your colleague only sends theirs via Slack.

What do you think of these examples?

It might be tempting to diagnose this colleague as…. a JERK!

And maybe that’s true?

In that case, we might be brought in as coaches to help this person come across better in terms of their communication style and approach to relationship building.


It could ALSO be that your colleague is on the Autism Spectrum, which means they may function differently than you when it comes to understanding nonverbal cues, processing verbal information, expressing emotions and thoughts, managing sensitivities to food or sounds, physical touch, social gatherings, knowing how to engage in small talk, and much more.

There is no quick and easy solution to creating harmonious relationships at work with a Neurodiverse colleague. One place to start is recognizing the need for deep understanding and tailored approaches. Acknowledging and addressing distinct differences can lead to a more harmonious and supportive workplace where everyone feels heard, respected, and appreciated.

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16 Jan Why Your Team May be Failing at Presentations

Usually, team presentations are done when the stakes are high and the consequences are critical, requiring subject matter experts to weigh in on their topic. These presentations are most often geared toward complex projects, strategic alliances, acquisitions, etc. Of course, they all have large sums of money involved.

Team presentations have many more challenges than individual ones. Most teams preparing on their own without a speech coach will spend all of their preparation time on the following:

  • Who will say what during which slides
  • The order of presenters
  • Making the time fair/equal, etc.

While those logistics are important, we spend far too much time on those three rather than ensuring the team comes across as cohesive, knowledgeable, and collaborative. The decision-makers listening to and observing the team will be acutely aware of the team’s non-verbal and interpersonal communication. Research shows that more people rely on non-verbal communication than the spoken word.

For example, I had a client who was a well-known architectural firm who brought me in because they started losing projects they should have won. After assessing the team, I realized that one of the members did not get along with the others.

Despite well-planned, streamlined presentations, they still lost and they were dumbfounded. What were they missing? Their subtle nonverbal behaviors revealed team discontent. Despite the polite and professional words, there was discord within the team revealed by their facial expressions, lack of eye contact, awkward transitions, etc.

People believe what they feel and observe over the words they hear. Non-verbal communication can be very subtle via micro-expressions. This client needed an additional kind of coaching to get past the issues plaguing the team. It was much easier for an objective outsider like myself to point this out than someone on the team.

One helpful way to identify these behaviors in your team is to videotape the practice session. I assure you that unless you have analyzed a video of your team presenting, you may never know the subtle nonverbal behaviors that are blocking the successful communication of your message. It will help to watch the film with no sound and take notes.

Here is a list of nonverbal behaviors I have coached teams to improve:

  • The way the team walks into the room and takes seats
  • The way team members treat the furniture and items in the room
  • The way the team walks out of the room
  • The facial expressions, eye contact, and body language of those not presenting
  • The way team members hand the clicker (or other items) to each other
  • How the members address each other- tone-name
  • How the members help each other with questions
  • Tone alteration before and after the presentation – sounding authentic and natural
  • How to handle smooth transitions between speakers

The list could go on and on. When there are high stakes, there are also savvy, intelligent people evaluating your team. Your team may have the most compelling content; however, if your non-verbal communication reveals discord or disconnect, you may be losing without ever knowing why.

It only takes one person to render your team presentation ineffective. A good speech coach can assess your team’s effectiveness objectively and give appropriate coaching techniques that help you with important team presentations.

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4 Dec “84% of employees expect this job perk—but most executives think it’s a ‘waste of time’”

Can you guess what it is?

Answer: Eighty-four percent of employees expect their employer to provide the training and education they need to stay up-to-date with changing skills in their industry, according to a recent survey of more than 800 C-suite executives and 800 employees from online learning platform edX.

But senior managers aren’t seeing that way according to an article in CNBC by Ece Yildirim.

The article shares that employees value their career development and want to utilize L&D programs. And they’re willing to look elsewhere if their bosses fail to provide. In the survey, over three-quarters of employees said they’d stay with their current company long-term if it offered better training and development opportunities. More than half said they want to develop skills to position themselves for better future opportunities at their current jobs, but 39% said they’d likely leave within the next year for a job that offers better learning programs.

We know the modern world requires constant upskilling throughout a career. Clients who engage our communication firm The Speech Improvement Company know that driven employees want the opportunity for career growth, not just more work. If you want to attract and retain the best talent, they must be offered the opportunity to get to their next level of mastery. There are a lot of options. How do you know if a specific learning and development program will work for your company?

This training must happen during the work week, not in a fluorescent-lit room off-site over the weekend.
This training should be customized to your company, no one-size-fits-all program that’s delivered to many different companies. Your team should be able to apply the new learning immediately.
This training should be interactive and organized by teams or departments. There should be plenty of time for breakouts and practice with immediate peer and instructor feedback.

Our advice: start talking to trusted advisors about how your company can prioritize learning and development programs to keep your people happy, upskilled, and motivated.

Read the CNBC article: https://www.cnbc.com/2023/11/13/workers-want-ld-job-perks-bosses-say-theyre-a-waste-of-time-survey.html

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25 Oct Artificial Intelligence is Fake

Now, before you jump to conclusions, allow me to be clear with a few definitions and thoughts.

The growing nervousness and fear that AI will take over our educational systems and produce future generations of bot brains and wobbly children is ridiculous. That is just the start of the pervasive concerns that writers and artists fear about losing their jobs. Let’s not even start with the apprehension that educators face about their societal roles. One needs only to read the first two paragraphs of news stories about AI to validate what I am saying.

But wait!  There’s more! I’m sure there is, and we won’t follow that winding path.

I’ll begin by defining the words that clutter this hysteria – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE:

Merriam-Webster identifies the word ARTIFICIAL as an adjective that carries the meaning humanly contrived, “man-made” or “produced for a social or political agency”.  In other words, it means that it is not real or natural, such as in ’artificial limb’ or ‘artificial flavoring’.


Merriam-Webster identifies  INTELLIGENCE as a noun that carries the meaning as “the ability to learn or understand”, “the act of understanding”. In other words, it means the ability to reason, shrewdness, and comprehension, such as ’superior intelligence’ or ‘gather intelligence’.

As you read this, I suspect that you would agree, more or less, with these definitions and how these words are used. My concern is that the current application of these words as they are abbreviated, AI, and how they are used to describe the capability of such products as ChatGPT and others, is producing entirely undue anxiety.  Of course, I see the amazing possibilities that this new technology enables.  I dare say that similar concerns and anxieties were present when electricity, radio, automobile, and many other new technologies were introduced.  They weren’t called “artificial”.  So, the current brouhaha over ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) is a misplaced source of energy.

Allow me to redirect your thinking a bit.  It would be far less threatening or worrisome if ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE was named what it really is: AUGMENTED INFORMATION (AI) or AUTOMATED IDEAS (AI).  That is what this new technology is all about.  It is a new technological tool that humans are still understanding and learning how to use.  It cannot do anything on its own. It reflects, re-organizes, and re-distributes information other sources give it. Like all new technology over the centuries, we just have to learn how to use it.  As a communication expert for over 50 years, I am well aware of the power of words.  Hence, I suggest we start calling this new technology by its real name: AUGMENTED INFORMATION.

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28 Sep Why Do They Say “Look”?

Have you noticed how many times a political candidate or commentator will say the word “look”? Why do they say that?

Well, let us zoom the picture back a little and think about this. Linguists and psychologists have introduced us to what they refer to as “representational systems.” They tell us that people are prone to expressing their feelings, attitudes, opinions, and using one of three ‘representational systems.’ They have named these to be Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. That is, people who think, express themselves, and understand others best when the language is visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.

Visual people tend to use words and phrases like, ”see what I mean,” “it’s clear to me,” ‘let’s look at,“ and other words or phrases that have a visual orientation.

Auditory people tend to use words and phrases like, “I hear ya,” “I like the sound of that,” “the word around town,” and other terms that have an auditory orientation.

Kinesthetic people tend to use words and phrases like “get a grip,” “I can’t get my arms around that,” “I’ll give you a hand,” and other words or phrases that have a physical orientation.

So, it would be easy to say that those “experts” we hear everywhere say the word “look” because they are visually oriented; I don’t think so.

A while back, I wrote about the incredible number of speakers from all walks of professional life who begin many statements by saying the word “well.” Have you heard it? Many people have commented to me that they now notice the overuse of that word. In my original writings, I explained why I thought that word was so overused; it still is.

Now we have a new word that is being overused. It is the word “look.” Why do they say “look”? First, I urge you to listen in for the word. It most often occurs in the middle of a reply to a question or an explanation of an answer or viewpoint. Unlike the word “well,” which is overused at the beginning of a statement, “look” is most often used in the middle.

When you listen to the context in which it is used, you will notice that it comes in the middle of a statement as an attempt to clarify what has just been said or is about to be said. The implied meaning of the one word is, “let’s be real,” “the reality is,” “here’s the truth about this issue,” or “I’ll give you a good example.” It has become the go-to word for pundits whose commentary may be obscure, perfunctory, canned, or even diversionary.

The belief seems to be that if I say,” look,” it implies that I will give you some inside perspective or a pragmatic truism about the topic. Speakers seem to think that if they say “look” somehow, listeners will drop the pretense of intelligent comprehension and insert an ordinary man, sometimes, “aw shucks” kind of receptivity. I, for one, am tired of hearing it.

Speakers need to learn how to say it right the first time. Stop trying to make us think that somehow you are now going to be more honest, more transparent, more sincere, etc. Saying “look” is not a characteristic of a visual representational system. Rather, it is a rhetorical trick, an attempt to seem more down to earth and talk like a friendly expert. I suggest you “look” somewhere else for a way to express your thoughts accurately the first time you say them. See what I mean?

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14 Sep Tips for Leading Effective Meetings

Our coaching team appreciates the challenge of masterminding the right mix of talent, personalities, and action items.

Fortunately, easy tweaks often go a long way to enhance comfort, participation, and awareness of nuances in a team member’s behavior.

Recently, I worked with a senior leader in financial services who felt it was his responsibility to control the agenda and results of all meetings; in fact, he considered it part of his job. He was baffled that his group was quiet, rarely initiated topics, didn’t show passion regarding action items, and only engaged in small talk after the meeting.

He asked me how he could change the situation. Our team of communication experts developed easy-to-apply key strategies to help this and other clients develop more productive teams.

We advised:

  1. Begin meetings with small talk or each person sharing an observation or personal update to develop trust and increase interpersonal communication.
  2. Develop an agenda to which team members are expected to contribute. Research indicates that 1/3 of all meetings are viewed as a waste of time. Change that!
  3. Use meetings for discussion and problem-solving rather than just providing information. One of my favorite sayings is, “Go from information to inspiration and impact.”
  4. Try an approach like “round robin” or going around the room when possible. The goal is to keep the talkers from dominating and allow quiet people to contribute more. This is essential for equalizing talking time, a key ingredient for team success.
  5. Have some fun and novelty with a bit of partying, such as lunch meetings outside the office and/or appealing surprise guests. Refreshments always help. I had a client who wanted to tighten his budget by eliminating the snacks. I told him I’d give him the 25 bucks for goodies to save all the gains we’d made in coaching.


Try out these suggestions, and your team meetings will be more engaging, valuable, and productive!

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17 Aug Listen to Your Gut

Microexpressions are brief, involuntary facial movements that reveal a person’s true emotions. They may last for only a fraction of a second and are often difficult to detect with the naked eye, but they can provide valuable insight into a person’s inner thoughts and feelings.

In order to use microexpressions effectively in communication, it is important first to understand their significance. Microexpressions are believed to be universal and biologically based, meaning that they are hardwired into the human brain and can be found and expressed across all cultures and demographic groups.

They are impossible to control and will reveal a person’s true feelings. Because microexpressions are typically 1/5th of a second, it’s quite difficult to ‘see’ or ‘notice’ them unless you film someone and analyze each frame. However, your subconscious mind will pick up on them as long as you are paying close attention. This may show up as a ‘bad feeling’ or something ‘being off.’ All of the words and facial expressions of the other person may be in alignment, but you still feel something ‘in your gut.’ According to this article, Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut–brain communication:

“The concept that the gut and the brain are closely connected, and that this interaction plays an important part not only in gastrointestinal function but also in certain feeling states and in intuitive decision making, is deeply rooted in our language.”

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8 Aug Management Communication: Digital, Telephone, or Face-to-Face?

I was recently told, “You’re not going to believe this, but one of my friends was just let go for laying off her employees by email.”

Imagine how her colleagues must have felt when their termination notice was communicated electronically; unappreciated, disposable, and confused. An email disaster like this may sound unusual, but I regularly hear variations of similar stories in the business world.

Over the past decade, email and text messages have become increasingly important forms of communication in the workplace. It is estimated that worldwide email traffic alone totaled 333.2 billion messages per day (2022).

As a communication coach/consultant, people often ask me how these digital channels can be used effectively to lead, manage, and communicate in the workplace. My overarching advice is three-fold:

  1. Identify the communication channels available at your disposal as a leader/communicator
  2. Use each option wisely and in an acceptable way for the message you need to convey and target your audience
  3. Follow basic guidelines to model and reinforce professional email etiquette within your work environment

Effective leaders understand the advantages and the differences between the three main elements of workplace communication: digital (email & text), telephone, and face-to-face/ interpersonal communication. They utilize each aspect depending upon the type of message that needs to be delivered and an analysis of the intended recipient(s) needs, bias, knowledge, and anticipated reaction.

A competent leader, for instance, would never use email to communicate a difficult or confrontational message, where tone and intention can be easily misinterpreted, causing great hardship for all parties involved. Instead, a good leader understands that it’s best to convey uncomfortable messages in person, where clear, two-way dialogue, thorough explanations, and opportunities for questions and answers can promote a “meeting of the minds” (or at least a basic understanding from the recipient of what needs to be improved). This approach is especially pertinent to those recipients who tend to be overly sensitive or defensive.

Am I suggesting that leaders avoid using digital channels? Impossible! Besides the fact that it would be unrealistic in today’s work environment, email and text (especially with the growth of Slack and other popular apps) offer many distinct advantages over other forms of communication in the workplace when used correctly. Email is quick and efficient (eliminates “phone tag”) and is a cost-effective option for conversing with colleagues off-site. Also, there is no better tool for sending documents or communicating the exact basic message to many recipients simultaneously.

However, the increase in email communication in the workplace brings with it the need for a better understanding and practice of professional email etiquette. In addition, while some may view email as casual and treat it as such, I always remind my clients that their emails reflect their professionalism (or lack thereof) and set the tone for how they gain respect, establish trust, and manage effectively.

Now more than ever, digital communication is changing the dynamics of how we engage in the business world. I have found that this type of communication is most efficient and effective when everyone in the same workplace agrees to some “rules of the road,” such as “Who do I need to cc?” or “What needs to be in the subject line?” or “When is it appropriate to forward?” To achieve this goal, I strongly encourage businesses to adopt, educate, and reinforce professional email etiquette. The result will be clearer and more efficient electronic communication that increases productivity and camaraderie across the entire organization.

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