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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.
- Begin meetings with small talk or each person sharing an observation or personal update to develop trust and increase interpersonal communication.
- 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!
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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!
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.”
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:
- Identify the communication channels available at your disposal as a leader/communicator
- Use each option wisely and in an acceptable way for the message you need to convey and target your audience
- 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.
Since many salespeople and business professionals are still conducting remote video sales calls and running virtual meetings, here are some important tools and techniques to give those interactions greater impact, and be more persuasive with both internal and external participants.
As an Executive Communication Coach at The Speech Improvement Company, I see professionals struggling to show leadership as virtual facilitators and presenters. If you are moderating or facilitating a VIRTUAL sales call, team check-in, meeting with senior leaders, or aiming to PERSUADE the listener, you need a more intuitive approach to engage participants.
A skilled moderator or facilitator helps the group understand the common objectives and reaches them in a short amount of time. The facilitator or moderators’ goal in a virtual setting, such as Zoom, Teams, or Google Meet, is to encourage participants’ involvement and control the conversation’s flow.
Facilitating and moderating virtually creates challenges. During the event, participants can multi-task, walk away, or disconnect entirely, any time they choose. How many of you reading this do more than one thing if your camera is off during a virtual meeting? (Even if our camera on we can be sneaky about paying “fake” attention) During a virtual video call, have you ever checked an email, sent an email, wrote and responded to a text, turned off your camera to go make a coffee, or anything else that seemed more interesting and appealing?
Don’t let this happen to you. Remember, successful facilitating means creating opportunities for interaction, engagement, and a synthesis of the information throughout your meeting. It’s critical for the success of your video meeting to know how to support these engagement opportunities.
As an experienced corporate coach for over 20 years, and a chronic Zoom user, I repeatedly see the same fatal errors. But there are plenty of ways to succeed in virtual meetings. Here are five of my top tips for virtual facilitators and moderators:
- Engagement starts with eye contact.Use direct eye contact with the camera lens when you are talking and when listening. Most people are looking at the gallery view of participants or their own image when they speak on video. My company has helped thousands of people get their eyeline set up correctly since the pandemic kicked off video meetings. If you aren’t sure about your eyeline, but suspect you are doing it poorly, email me, and I can talk you through it.
As a moderator, you’ll also be checking the platform dashboard to monitor chat, participant questions, and feedback about technical issues. Still, when you are talking and listening, you need to be looking at the camera lens. This takes practice and feels counterintuitive, but trust me, it looks great, and adds a level of polish and connection.
- Review the attendee list.First, who is attending this virtual meeting? What do they already know? What do they want to know? What type of content or information would be valuable for them? Ensure you are providing what they want. Why do they care about the agenda topics and what is the benefit of listening?
When you know your participants’ demographics, you can then provide them with tools they feel comfortable using to interact with you, the other speakers, and each other. Will you use a formal agenda, a variety of speakers, chat feature, camera’s on or off, demos, polls, Q and A, pre-reads, pictures, screen share? How will you use these features in real-time? Take the time to understand who is listening and how they prefer to participate.
- Make time for a technical run-through in advance and be purposeful about the sound and video settings.Practice interacting on the chosen platform based on your plan above. Almost every virtual meeting will have some small (or large) technical issues, (a few of the ones I see over and over are some people did not get the Zoom link, someone comes in with no audio, someone is calling from the car while driving, someone has a hard stop in 20 minutes, screen share won’t work, the person who has to record is not the Host, the video sound won’t work, the PDF disappeared, you can’t find the latest version of the deck, there is someone installing a new roof and people can hear the banging, the dog is barking, your WIFI goes out). For important sales calls, meetings, or alignment discussions, always be ready for a Plan B when it comes to technology.
If appropriate, make sure everyone has a chance to participate. Leave longer than comfortable pauses to allow space for people to speak, (it takes longer to decide to unmute or not and people will often chime in at the exact same time) and call on people to make sure everyone has an opportunity to weigh in.
‘Tis no lonelier an experience than a presenter who makes a hilarious comment virtually but is greeted with silence since everyone is on mute. Think about having some portions of the meeting where everyone’s microphones are ON (but if someone has a screaming child or barking dog in the background they’ll still need to mute as needed). The benefit of all mics on is that it feels more like a real, spontaneous conversations and adds human connection so Mike can make a crafty joke and hear everyone crack up, and then you can say things like, “Mike, that story about the new hire TAM on the field ride was hilarious!” and we know this is true because we heard everyone laugh.
- Follow the “one person at a time” approach. Facilitators ned to have “rules of the virtual road.” Use the raise handfeature in some platforms to call on people, state the rule of one speaker at a time, and don’t be afraid to say, “Tracy, let’s hear from you, and then it’s David’s turn.” Master various inclusion techniques that an excellent facilitator relies on.These tools help to maximize participation by all, even the introverts, or speakers that are reluctant to make the effort to unmute unless they are absolute sure they are saying something new and helpful to the conversation. Or, perhaps you want it to be a free-for-all, where anyone can chime in at any time. Whatever you choose, be purposeful and clear about expectations.
- Reserve ten minutes at the end of the meeting to recap and review. Find bridges between information shared and synthesize what it all means. “This has been a terrific alignment call. In an effort to stay on time, let’s start to summarize our final thoughts and action items. I want to be sure we end on time or maybe even a little early.” If you can end a virtual meeting ten minutes early, you will be the unsung hero that our bladders and mental health deserve. At a minimum, ALWAYS end one minute early. We need to survive continued long days of back-to-back zoom meetings for the next 30 years or until something better comes along like asynchronous virtual-reality meetings in the French Polynesia. “Hey team, check the coconut tree by the daiquiri shack for your tree mail, and be sure to sit by the ocean for 20 minutes before you log off!”
These tips are an effective way to improve your virtual communication skills, from selling to celebrating. Even if we can’t be in the same physical room, we can still be connected, productive, and aligned.
Eye contact is generally considered the most important visual reinforcer a speaker has. Listeners like to be watched;, this is particularly true in persuasive business speaking. The American business culture relies heavily on the “look ’em straight in the eye” approach.
Generally speaking, eye contact should be a controlled speaking behavior. Don’t stare at people, yet don’t be too fleeting. That may sound contradictory, so here are three tips for effective eye contact while speaking:
- Hold eye contact for approximately one to three seconds, then move on to someone else. If you’re in a deep and serious one-on-one conversation, the time could easily double or triple.
- Use the X-Y-Z method, which means moving eye contact around the room in an X, Y, or Z pattern. Imagine yourself drawing one of these letters with your eyes.
- Move your eye contact everywhere; don’t look at only one or two people. This is a common mistake. You may find textbooks on speaking that urge you to “find a friendly face in the audience, make eye contact with, and talk to that person.” Don’t do it. It’s nice to feel comfortable with your listeners. However, if you get too comfortable and have too much eye contact with one listener, you’ll lose the others. They will feel rejected and ignored. Be careful of this common mistake. Move the eye contact around.
Manipulative communication in the workplace decreases work efficiency, increases job dissatisfaction, contributes to a hostile environment and lowers morale. Most people are challenged to identify manipulative tactics and even when they spot them, they do not feel competent in responding effectively.
Spotting the manipulator can be difficult. They can be everywhere that humans are found. The manipulator can be anyone! They are difficult to identify because they are so well camouflaged and have no outwardly identifiable physical markings.
Manipulators are not restricted to certain locales, climates, social environments, or work settings. They prey on other humans. As a result, you may find them in any place that other humans frequent. You won’t have to “find” one; they will find you and, before you even realize it you will be engaged in a charismatic conversation! In fact, they only way you can be manipulated is through communication.
To identify the manipulator, you must be a keen observer of behaviors and a critically active listener. You must understand the manipulator’s mindset to interpret your observations and know what you are listening for. Here are some key indicators:
They think in terms of win and lose. If someone is winning, they are losing, and they keep score of everything. Win/win does not exist for them. You will notice this in a random conversation where they bring up something from the past that seems minor or odd.
They show a need for controlling others and situations. They are the puppet master controlling everyone’s emotions and actions. It may be part of a strategy to achieve a goal, or it may just be for the sake of feeling more intelligent and powerful than others. Think about the cat playing with a mouse that it never kills so that the fun won’t stop.
They have an insatiable need for adoration and attention. Typically, they are charismatic and adept at attracting people. They are usually glancing around to see who is looking at them instead of making genuine eye contact with someone.
They are deeply insecure. They try extremely hard to hide their insecurity. They may cover it with arrogance, confidence, and bravado, or they could use shyness and helplessness – all means are at their disposal. This insecurity will leak out randomly, so you must pay close attention. You could be having a wonderful conversation, and they slip in a question or comment revealing their insecure nature. If you dig deeper, it will go nowhere. They will change the subject if they think they revealed too much. Thus, the “insatiable need” to control.
They will NEVER allow themselves to show vulnerability. This is difficult to figure out because when another human shows vulnerability, an average person’s instinct is to show sensitivity. In contrast, to a manipulator, displaying vulnerability is a sign of weakness. On the other hand, they will feign vulnerability as a manipulative tactic. Of course, you will want to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who appears vulnerable, and you should.
They show feigned empathy to others. They are incapable of truly feeling empathy. If they did feel it, they wouldn’t be able to manipulate. Watch for consistency. You may have a relative dying of cancer, and the manipulator may tear up (not real tears, though), hug you, and offer to help. One week later, your relative may come up in conversation, and they don’t even notice or acknowledge it. Showing empathy in the moment is a common tactic used to cause others to see them as good and compassionate.
They ask a lot of questions. One identifiable behavior of a manipulator is that they traditionally ask many questions if they are going into an unknown situation. Of course, that’s normal for most people, so you have to pay attention to the types of questions; the manipulator needs to strategize to control. Some of their questions will seem odd, nuanced, or detailed.
Now that we have reviewed the manipulator’s mindset, you may realize that this mindset’s manifestation comes through infinite types of conversations, behaviors, and circumstances. Are you to go through life suspicious and paranoid? No!
While you are learning, you will likely start thinking many people are manipulators who are not. In other words, they may be persuasive to get something to go their way – as we all do – but are not necessarily seeking to control another’s emotions, beliefs, or actions. The definition of manipulation is “the tactics used by adults on other adults for the sake of self-gain at the other’s expense.”
Over time by paying attention, you will become proficient at identifying manipulators. The manipulator will sense that you see through them and avoid you as they prefer easy targets.
In the past three years, we’ve had to look for creative ways to collaborate. We’re in the era of real-time virtual technology mixed with in-person meetings. It’s overwhelming. When we’re overwhelmed and spread too thin, we tune out and barely participate in one meeting as we often try to multitask.
Zoom, Teams, Slack, WhatsApp, and many others give us no reason not to collaborate on our day-to-day jobs. However, with so many meetings, are we really getting anything done?
Interestingly, a recent McKinsey survey found 80% of those leaders surveyed say they find themselves spending too much time in countless interactions that produce an overwhelming amount of information and drain their productive energy. They report making changes to reduce the number of non-collaborative meetings that could be done asynchronously or in a condensed timeframe.
One suggestion in this research for improving collaborative interactions is to categorize them into three types of communication:
Decision making – Major committee decisions, like an investment committee.
Creative solutions and coordination – Innovating/brainstorming for a new product or service.
Information sharing – One-way sharing: videos and two-way communication such as at Q&A sessions or Company Town Hall.
The common thread in all these is knowing your communication strengths and areas for improvement.
Having a good framework to hang your thoughts on when you collaborate in a meeting is crucial. We know that 65% of the time we are in virtual meetings, at least one participant is busy doing other things.
Frameworks for delegating, problem-solving, and giving feedback are just a few of the tools a good Coach or Team Leader will use to grow their team members. A good Coach can help you speak and lead with confidence. This is a driver for effective collaboration.
Read the study here:
If your listener is defensive, your point is probably missed. They have been left with the impression that you, intentionally or not, are criticizing their idea or them. Instead of focusing on getting solutions, they will be driven by this passion for defending the idea or their persona. They are struggling, and it may be your fault. You may have needed to set the right expectations; your tone may have needed to be more appropriate for the message you were trying to convey; you may not have provided them with the necessary resources to accomplish their goals, or they could just be worn out. If you take advantage of their defensiveness, it will only get worse. If you understand how to handle their defensiveness, you can rapidly shift their negative energy—whether fear, doubt, or worry—and help them leave the conversation with your message.
They say, “No.” You say, “Yes.” They say, “I didn’t know.” You say, “You should have.” Perhaps you were taught to ask questions to manage effectively, so you say, “How could you not know?” But, the presupposition in this question suggests that they are somehow not smart because they did not know. While that may not be your intended message, it’s there, their spine will rise, and their eyes will narrow. If you react to their posturing instead of listening and assisting them to sit back and reflect on what’s bothering them, they will also react rather than focus on the real purpose of your conversation.
If you are in a conversation and you notice someone getting defensive, stop. Do not go any further with your point, as attempting to argue your idea differently rarely works; they won’t listen when defensive. They have one agenda: to deflect whatever they think you are attacking. You may need to just listen, ask a question, or make a statement like “What do you need?” or “Help me understand your point of view.” You may have to continue the conversation at another time. The fact that you take time to process and digest that conversation is validation, and that’s the first step to overcoming their defensiveness.
If you do not plan how you’ll approach their emotion, rigid beliefs, or confusion ahead, they will stay shut down and retreat deeper into themselves. To help them come to a decision or understand your point of view without feeling defensive, use a format called “Defensive Persuasion.”
The Format: Defensive Persuasion
- Validate. If they are going to be comfortable, they must know you value whatever issue is causing their defensiveness or their opinion—even if you disagree. Choose your mode of validation; will it be a head nod, listening, or paraphrasing? They can’t open their minds until they know you have heard and understood their point—especially when you disagree entirely. Even in established relationships, you will need to validate the other person. Not as often, but if they are fired up, the only way to cool them down is to show them you recognize their view or the value of their contribution.
- Frame. What message are you trying to communicate to them? You have to decide this ahead of time, and that’s why if you run into someone who is defensive and can’t figure out why and they won’t tell you, you have to pause the conversation. If you don’t’ know the message you want them to understand, the conversation will still go in circles, and they will stay defensive.
- Decide your timeline. It can take several conversations to overcome their emotion. Before stating what you want from the other person, you may need to validate for two or three conversations. If you do this correctly, the trust you build will enable you to communicate more easily next time.
Here are 10 important questions to ask before the business presentation process. These 10 questions relate to listener analysis, and therefore, your needs:
- Why am I speaking to these listeners?
- Why are they listening?
- What relationship do we have?
- What relationship do listener members have with each other?
- What do they know about this topic?
- What would they like to know?
- How will they use this information?
- What are they doing the day before I speak?
- What will they be doing the day after?
- What are the logistics of the event?
This last one, logistics, is often overlooked. What do you need to know about the speaking situation before you speak? Answers to the following questions will help you to gather information. Add additional items to fit your particular situation.
- Where will I be speaking?
- What time of day will I speak?
- How long will I be speaking?
- Who is speaking before and after me, and on what topics?
- Will there be a moderator? Will I be introduced?
- What is the size of the room?
- How will the seating be arranged?
- Will the setting be interactive? Will it be formal or informal?
- What audiovisual equipment do I need? Will a technician be available on site?
- What are the lighting and temperature of the room?
- How far in advance may I check out the room before speaking?
The information you gather from all these questions will make preparing a speech much easier. Additionally, if your listeners understand that your research has helped you tailor your preparation specifically for them, they will be more likely to respond positively.