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Have questions about a blog post? Email the author directly. We love hearing from people.
This week, we caught up with Senior Coaching Partner Monica Murphy.
Monica is currently leading a lengthy customer service training program with software developing company Pega Systems. This unique program, called Communicating Extraordinary Service, was developed by Monica and fellow TSIC coaches Kristen Curran-Faller and Debbie London, and has led Pega Systems to great success.
>What is Pega Systems and how did you become involved with them?
“Pega Systems is a software developing company that helps businesses automate their business processes. We have had a 10-year relationship with them, originally beginning with Presentation Skills Training for some of their managers in the engineering group. It was a combination of presentation skills coaching and individual communication coaching.”
>What sorts of customer service skills are you working on with them?
“Pega Systems wants to remain number one with customer service. We are working with their global customer support team with the goal of helping them strengthen relationships with their ongoing client base. They are currently receiving accolades for their product. Pega Systems understands that a company is only as good as the relationships that their customer service employees can maintain with current clients. They realize the need to make the client feel good about calling. They also understand the importance of the relationship piece and that maintaining a client is so much more profitable than trying to find a new client.
We’ve designed a 3-part program. The first part focuses on instilling some key customer service concepts. Things like how to build trust with a client, how to manage a client’s expectations, and knowing how to say “no” without saying “no” when you have to, are crucial customer service skills. Another important skill is balancing human and business dialogue, specifically on the phone and by e-mail. E-mail is so impersonal – you never know how your words are going to be interpreted. There are certain language tools that you need to communicate effectively in this medium. The greeting and the closing of an e-mail can help a person feel valued or discounted.
The second part is customized to work both in small groups and individually to strengthen individual communication style. This is important because each member of a company is different. Pega Systems is a global company with global employees, so communication styles are going to be different. Our program offers global practice opportunities, which are necessary since the customer service group is so spread out.
The third part of the program is all about teaching strategies for keeping these skills alive. In the past we have found that our most successful programs involve offering ongoing strategies for support and practice.”
>How has the customer service team responded to the program?
“We’ve received terrific feedback from the team. They appreciate learning the newest tools that make people comfortable. The also appreciate practicing with each other in a safe environment, and receiving coaching and feedback. Unfortunately, feedback is usually only given when you’re doing a bad job. Our program is structured to tell the team what works well and what the can strengthen.
I think the team feels so much more confident, competent, and in conrol in converstaions that they have with clients. They have more resources, and more creative ways to help problem solve, which is why they are number one in business process software.
Their level of commitment shows by the various awards they’ve won. Most recently, Pega’s CEO, Alan Trefler has been awarded the title of Software Executive of the Year.”
(learn more about it here)
>Why do you think Pega Systems has been so successful?
“Over the past 20 years, part of the reason that many prestigious companies are successful is that they see the value of good communication. Not just computer-based communication, but human communication. When person has a problem with software, they look to humans. When you feel cared about, you become a much more loyal, satisfied client. When a customer calls Pega Systems for problem, that voice represents the entire company at that moment. Customer service is only as good as the last person that you speak to. Good communication is good business. Pega Systems embraces that. That’s why they’re so successful, and that’s why we’ve had such a long relationship with them through the years.”
The Speech Improvement Company Inc., has announced today the promotion of Ethan F. Becker to President, and Kristen Curran-Faller to COO (Chief Operating Officer). Dr. Dennis Becker will remain on as the firm’s CEO and Dr. Paula Borkum Becker will remain as the firm’s CFO.
“For 45 years, Paula and I have been holding the reigns for all the operating functions of the firm. We will continue to coach and remain infuential in the firms decisions as we hand over the day to day operations to the next generation,” said Dr. Dennis Becker. Dr. Paula Borkum Becker added “Kristen has been with the firm for 18 years and heavily involved in the daily operations, from engaging with clients to back end office to billing and other company needs. Ethan has really expanded the thinking of the firm, bringing in new technologies and clients from all corners of the world. I’m excited about the engery and expertise they will bring for the next 45 years.”
Ethan, 38, holds an undergraduate degree in Communication, a graduate MBA with double focus in International Business Communication and Leadership. He is currently enrolled in a PhD program in The Psychology of Business Communication. He has been a senior coach and trainer with TSIC since 2001. Prior to joining TSIC he held positions as Project Director and Team Leader for Media One Hundred. Ethan has also held positions as a motivational trade show speaker for major corporations. In addition, he began his career as a corporate video producer, and music video producer.
Kristen holds an undergraduate degree in Speech Communication, and a graduate degree in Training and Development. Before assuming her role as senior trainer and coach, she worked in advertising and marketing, and served as Director of The Customer Service Training Center. During her 18 years of service to TSIC, she has initiated many policies and pioneered many programs, including the worlds’s first, and TSIC patented, Virtual Reality Therapy regime. She has strong integral knowledge of the inner workings that keep the firm strong and thriving.
“We are all excited about the transition to these two highly qualified and dedicated professionals. It represents the foundation for growth and the clear continuation of the firm in its mission to help all people strengthen their oral communication skills. Kristen and Ethan hold the respect of everyone on the team and we support the move 100%,” said Monica Murphy, a Senior Coaching Partner with TSIC since 1990.
A recent article on the New York Times titled: “No Doubts: Women Are Better Managers” sparked this reaction from Coach Laurie Schloff.
Communication Coach Laurie Schloff of The Speech Improvement Company (Boston and Tampa) agrees with Carol Smith (right) of the Elle Group that women are often better managers, but based on her work with hundreds of females aiming for the C level she cautions ambitious females:
1. Women are still cut little slack in terms of ‘acceptable’ management behaviors.
Not only do you have to be viewed as competent, you must also be warm and nice.
Remember the Hillary Clinton candidacy lesson. She was widely viewed as too “bossy”until she shed a tear at a New Hampshire press conference, Glad that Carol Smith learned not to be bossy back in sixth grade. Many of Schloff’s client’s have tried to show strength by being tough, and though that works for some males, it almost always translates into bad press for women (Think the word that rhymes with rich).
2.Women who are too nice also suffer.
One client described her boss as “Pollyanna” always looking for the good side. Carol Smith wisely trained herself to give direct and specific feedback and to tell her reports HOW to improve. Many of my senior female clients avoid Carol’s wise ways for one reason that doesn’t work in the workplace.
They are afraid to hurt someone’s feelings.
Laurie will be hosting the following event: “Effective Presentations Certificate Program” on July 30/31st 2009.
Schloff’s advice: Get over it!
by Dr. Dennis Becker.
“Isn’t human communication fascinating?! This whole Gates-Cambridge Police-Crowley-Obama flap is just the latest in the ongoing saga of humans attempting to communicate with each other. By this time, we all pretty much know what happened:
Gates lost his keys to his home and couldn’t get in, Gates asks help of his limo driver to push the door in, Neighbor observes two “black men with back packs” doing this, Neighbor, being good neighbor, calls the police and reports attempted break-in, police arrive, Officer Crowley knocks on door, Gates comes to door, Crowley asks for identification, Gates retrieves Harvard ID card to verify his ownership and occupancy, Crowley accepts response and turns to leave porch, Gates complains about being harassed because of being a black man, Gates emerges from house onto front porch and continues commentary, Crowley replies with comment on Gates being public disturbance or disturbing the peace and arrests Gates.
Gates is placed in handcuffs behind his back, Gates complains he uses a cane and can’t walk with hands behind him, different officer intervenes and handcuffs are changed to front of Gates as he is taken to jail.
Now, obviously I’m summarizing broadly here. You can watch the video of both Gates and Crowley describing what happened.
I realize that there were nuances of inflection, facial expression, body language, volume, vocabulary, and more which were in play during the actual incident. I realize that it is important for us to engage in rhetorical analysis of the micro elements of this communication, if for no other reason than to learn from it. All of this can be justified from the perspective of wanting to help others who may be confronted with similar situations. I get that.
So, as a communication coach with more than 40 years of experience, allow me to suggest what would have served better for both Gates and Crowley. These two intelligent, accomplished professionals should be embarrassed for themselves for not being able to simply chalk this up to poor, but understandably human judgment at the time of the incident.
Each of these men entered that situation with personal and professional “baggage,” probably harkening as far back as early childhood, regarding issues of authority, privacy, race and respect. Each of these men, in retrospect, is still being controlled by those same long-standing attitudes which enable the “baggage” they carry. Gates should have thanked the officer for doing his duty. He should have overlooked the “attitude” that may have been conveyed in body language, vocabulary, etc. He should have immediately called his neighbor and offered thanks for the caring, watchful eye.
Crowley should have, after verifying the identity of Gates, apologized for any inconvenience and explained that he was simply responding to a report of a break-in and following usual protocol. He then should have simply turned and left the premises. He has probably done this many times before. So, as my Jewish friends would say, “Why should this night be any different than any other night?” Well, that’s human nature. We get very defensive as an initial means of interaction in what appears to be a threatening situation. No, not necessarily physically threatening, but threatening to authority, privacy, race and respect. Most of us lash out with the first two human communication tools we have – body language and speech. That is, we give a “look,” a “gesture,” a “mumble,” a “snicker.” You all know what I’m describing. We have all done it on occasion. It’s a human’s way of “defending” turf and self. On the receiving end, it gets regarded as disrespect or a challenge. If the reaction isn’t strong or obvious enough, there are always onlookers who can add “Ooh, are you gonna’ take that?” and we all know where it goes from there. Suddenly, all our “baggage” starts to unravel and the humans have two options: one is verbal/nonverbal and the other is physical.
Both of these men were at fault. Each should have acted more responsibly in recognizing the setting and circumstances that brought them together. Both of them should simply recognize their actions as the heat of the moment, while not being “wrong” were triggering and were triggered.
To top it off, now Obama is in it! His remarks did not serve him well. His vocabulary did not serve him or others well. He does not have an equal right to proclaim positions and expect little or no repercussion. He too has “baggage.” He’s human. All humans have “baggage,” but he is the President of the most powerful nation on the planet. He is a historical figure in so many ways. Whether we agree with him or not, he must be a bit more accepting – his casual, over the back fence, friendly, neighborly opinion just ain’t that. He’s The President of the most powerful nation on the planet! However, the rest of us must also accept his humanness and be able to step back from the fake heat that is generated by those who live off the “baggage” of others.
There are so many more critical issues in the world. Why are we not blogging about Darfur, or child molestation, or hunger, etc. Come on folks, keep it real! Try carrying your “baggage” in the other hand for a while.”
Dr. Dennis Becker is CEO , Principal & Senior Coaching Partner at The Speech Improvement Company.
If only everyone had obeyed our SOS Stop-Observe-Strategize Principle, one esteemed Harvard professor and one well regarded police sargeant in Cambridge Massachuseetts would be sleeping better tonight.
So to the both of you, think mind over mouth next time.
1. Sgt. Crowley: Couldn’t you have used your astute observation
skills to surmise that the well dressed, articulate and arrogant fella
was likely a Harvard man? Could you have made nice?
2. Professor Gates, yes you just returned from China and couldn’t get
into your own house but you’ve been controlling your demeanor for good
results your whole life.
Could you have told yourself “this is really not my day” and come up with a way to humor the stone faced officer? How about finding out more about what job he had turned up at your home to do, then proudly shown your ID?
Ok no one, black or white, likes to show identification at their own house, but the officer would have called it a day and you would have had the time for tea and jet lag recovery
3. Hey guys, you are both supposedly experts in racial profiling.
Shouldn’t this have led to a bond not a breakdown?
Imagine a rewind:
Gates: Here’s my ID. I’m head of African American Studies here at Harvard–just got back from China
Crowley: Sorry Professor, this isn’t your day is it? Sorry for the inconvenience but we got a call and there’s been quite a few burglaries lately. Well I’m off to the police academy to teach.
Gates: Really, what do you teach?
CrowleY: Ethics and avoiding racial profiling
Gates: Terrific… that’s my expertise too. well keep up the good work. And thanks for watching out for the neighborhood. And keep being cool before you use those handcuffs on some dude.
Crowley: No problem professor. Remember your keys next time.
Following the great success and interest in our first Social Media seminar, I am planning to organize a tweet-up in the first half of August.
Please get in touch with me by email or leave a message below, and suggest topics of discussion as well as preferred day/time.
Director of New Media / Coach
The Speech Improvement Company, Inc.
1614 Beacon Street
Brookline, MA 02446
Phone: +1 617-739-3330
Fax: +1 617-232-9430
Commentary by Laurie Schloff
“When Obama’s telempromter screen shattered abruptly at a White House press briefing last week, the audience held its collective breath.
Obama’s communication strength lies in his ability to deliver a prepared, pre-written speech, not to ad lib, “wing it” or be impromptu. Communication coaches observe that this difference in skill depending on context is not unusual at all. In fact, John McCain (remember him?) was way more smooth when responding to on-the-spot questions than
reading off a teleprompter.
Luckily for Obama, there was an additional teleprompter screen at his briefing and he continued on with his usual grace.”
Question: What do you like or not like about the way Obama speaks?
Next Obama Talk: What’s he doing with his hands?
Sarah Palin’s resignation speech, given a few weeks ago in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, caught the attention of many people across the country, including our TSIC Coaches. The speech was met with mixed reviews from various news sources, so we decided to give our analysis. Here’s what Dr. Dennis Becker thought:
“From my perspective, the most “telling” part of her rambling speech was the part she seemed to emphasize and relish in the most – the Sarah “Barracuda” basketball analogy. In that portion, she compared herself to the point guard in basketball. She proclaimed the role of decision maker and initiator of action for the team. Her inflection and emphasis were sincere, I thought. She was actually excited by the prospect of being in that role, again. However, as I listened to that portion, knowing the role of point guard, and reflecting on her past roles, it brought me to a conclusion.
I believe that her past successes as a prom queen, basketball star, college tv personality, popular and articulate Mom, attractive female (and remember, we’re talking Wasilla, Alaska – so, everything is relative), all gave her the PTA platform. Her position as the outspoken one in this group, like in any group, gave her the platform for City Council, and even the platform for Governor. So, as a “communicator,” recognizing all her attributes, she was able to progress on her “popularity and personality.”
Last year at this time, the Republicans recognized that their candidate was a bit too old, a poor speaker, and needed help. Palin knew how to be popular, she was articulate, she had some achievements, etc., etc. So…”HERE’S SARAH!!”
Then, of course, she/we learned that popularity and personality were not enough, hence cries of “You’re not in Wasilla anymore, Sarah”.
Now, back to the question at hand – her speech. I think that what we heard was what could be expected of a popular kid who is used to getting her own way and being fawned over, and is then suddenly rejected soundly. Going home, she is met with only mild acceptance. Her own legislature is way over-balanced against her. So, what does a popular kid do when she gets dragged away from the only spot she’s ever known? She says “Fine! If I can’t play my way, and you don’t accept me, I QUIT.”
I think her speech was the representation of “sour grapes,” with no particular goal in mind other than to say “Na, na, na, na, I’m still Sarah, and you’re not. I’m going to play someplace else.” She came across oddly like Stuart Smalley (Al Franken’s character on Saturday Night Live), who claims “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and by golly, people like me.” I hear it in the inflection, the tremulous voice, the speed, the anxious tone, and the overconfident, self righteous style that accompanied her somewhat pointless speech.
Frankly, I feel bad for her.”
You can find a video and transcript of Palin’s speech here.
The Coaches at The Speech Improvement Company are constantly working with new clients and launching new projects.
Laurie’s main focus at the moment is continuing her successful collaboration with the Healthcare Business Women’s Association. She and two other TSIC Coaches, Nancy Goldberg and Lau Lapides, have developed a series of workshops called The Leadership Success Series.
>Laurie, tell us more about this series
“The series involves six workshops aimed at helping female leaders enhance their communication skills. In these workshops, we cover topics like Speaking for Success, Effective Presentation Skills, and Top Teamwork. Our latest workshop, called Masterful Meetings, will be presented on September 17th.
The series has been very successful. In fact, it recently won an award called the Global HBA President’s Award for Innovation. We received it not only for designing a unique program, but also for drawing a high level of participation from the HBA membership.”
>How did you become involved with this organization?
“I had been speaking with Dennis O’Brien, PsyD, an organizational psychologist with RHR International, who told me about the HBA’s need for our services. He put me in contact with them, and it was smooth sailing from there.”
Another exciting program that Laurie is planning is her Effective Presentations Certificate Program on July 30th and 31st. The program is designed for business professionals who need to be more comfortable, effective presenters.
>What does the certificate mean?
“This is a 2-day program. It is a small, group-oriented, informal program but it is also very intensive. We award the certificate of attendance to all the participants in appreciation of their courage and efforts throughout the program. The certificate can be very useful for demonstrating continued career development and strength in the area of presenting.”
In addition to these programs, Laurie is also in the planning stages of a new book entitled “Speech Gems.”
>What are Speech Gems?
“Over the course of my career, I’ve created numerous sayings about speaking. I call these sayings my “Speech Gems.” Clients have told me how useful and inspirational these quotations are, and that I should write a book about them. I have experience writing, and I decided it would be a fun project to take on. I’m hoping to complete it this year.”
Laurie is also the author of Smart Speaking and He and She Talk (Plume Publishing).
Ms. Cooked joined participants learning how to Speak for Success, part of an award winning Leadership Success Series Sponsored by the organization.
Coach Schloff heads up a team designed to build leadership communication
skills in the healthcare industry
For more information about these programs , contact
Speech Improvement Inc is delighted to have Emmett Patton as our intern for the summer.
> Emmett, why did you chose these majors?
Understanding people’s behaviors and the biological and environmental factors that contribute to those behaviors has always been fascinating to me. I’m also very interested in language – how it develops, and the ways in which it can be used in social interactions to influence people’s behaviors. Combining these studies has been an interesting endeavor. The Speech Improvement Company seems to be a very good platform for observing these phenomena.
> How did your passion for music develop?
My passion for music developed as a result of being surrounded by musicians my whole life. My parents were in a band together when they were younger – my mom was the lead singer and my dad played bass. They encouraged my brother and I to learn to play instruments as kids. My brother picked up the guitar and I learned the piano. There was always someone playing music in my house growing up. It wasn’t until high school, though, that I started singing. I joined the choir in my junior year, and then when I got to college I decided to join an acapella group.
> Who are the Dear Abbeys?
The Dear Abbeys are the only all-male acapella group at Boston University. We were founded in 1992, and we perform in and around Boston throughout the school year. We hold auditions every year for new guys to replace the guys who graduate, so the group is constantly changing.
We’re named after the wife of the Dean of Students at BU, who used to work in the Student Activities Office. The founders of the group didn’t have a name in mind when they went to her office to create the group, so they asked her what her name was. She said “Abbey,” so we became the Dear Abbeys.
> What do you sing?
Next year will be my third year in the group, and my second year as President, but that makes no difference when it comes to choosing songs to perform. Every semester, we hold a “pitch session” to which everyone brings three songs that they want the group to perform. We listen to all of the songs, and after a long a complicated voting process, we end up taking between 4-6 new songs each semester. Basically, the songs we perform depend on the personal tastes of the members of the group, which change from year to year. In general, though, we usually do more contemporary, pop/rock type songs.
“I’m not trying to over-simplify things,” says London, “but communication is about making choices. We make choices with the language we use whether we’re being purposeful or not and those choices have effects.”
When asked if she could elaborate, London continued; “Perception is reality. How individuals recall and interpret a moment or a memory shapes the way s/he behaves. Language is the tool we use to shape those perceptions. If we use negative or derogatory terms to reference some one or some thing, we are inevitably going to behave in like manner. If, however, we think or talk about some one or some thing in glowing and positive terms, we’ll behave accordingly.”
Taking this outside the classroom and into the boardroom is what London has been applying recently; although, she started thinking about perception and reality as a college student. As a sophomore at Syracuse University, Debbie London was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “There was very little literature written about living with MS at that time [1980’s], especially something that wasn’t written for the medical community, “There have got to be so many people who live a successful life in spite of having MS and in spite of the dooming and limited literature that currently exists,” recalls London.
That revelation led Debbie to writing a doctoral dissertation on language shaping reality. She talked with women who live with MS and discovered that they live successfully with MS largely because of the language they use. “Rarely will you hear someone with MS say, ’oh, poor me’, but more likely you will hear her or him say, ‘Yes, I have MS, and while I’m not happy about it, lots of people have problems.’”
Now when London works with clients, she uses a similar strategy. “If you think confidently, if you use confident and assertive verbal and nonverbal communication,” London says, ”others will perceive you as competent and confident. And perception is reality.”
Dr. Debbie London is an accomplished coach and consultant who brings a combination of international experience and understanding of human interaction to her clients. This is how her biography starts out on The Speech Improvement Company’s website. A former college professor of communication studies, Dr. London has a wide array of experiences on which to draw. When she uses those experiences to make a point with students or clients, the common thread is communication.
Dikram Husseindjian is a former VP of Sales at Apple Inc, Canada.
Dikram is now senior partner at Embrase a consulting firm in Montreal, QC. “For the past eight years he was National Sales Manager at Apple Canada, leading the sales team to top performance in revenue and profitability growth. Prior to joining the information technology sector, he spent 5 years in marketing and product management in the manufacturing sector for companies that include Honeywell, Bristol-Meyers and Hunter Douglas.”
He was invited by iNovia Capital and gave a one-hour long presentation on sales strategies.
One of the mistakes Dikram says sales representatives make, is that they keep the CEO of the company they are trying to sell to, involved throughout the sales process.
While Dikram says that a sales representative should start to enter as high as possible, including CEO level, he recommends that after this initial step, the CEO be not involved with details in the middle parts of the sales process. Instead, he should be called again in the closing stages of the process.
The sales process itself is composed of six steps:
Discovery -> Qualifying -> Evaluating -> Decision -> Purchase-> Deploy
Throughout this process, three key variables will have varying degrees of importance.
Solution Fit: critical at first but decreases in importance.
Price: important at the beginning and end of the process.
Risk: rises for the potential purchaser as time passes.
In short, sales is about strategy and formalising procedures rather than a series of improvisations.
During this second day of presentations, Austin Hill, suggested a way for start-up companies to think about their pitches to investors.
HEARTS –> MINDS –> WALLETS
The key he says, is to first appeal to the “hearts” of the potential investors through a narrative that will get them excited about their service of product. Then you have to back the story with data and a concrete business plan to win theirs “minds”. If these are performed convincingly, they are the way to the money; or their “wallets”.
Incidentally, Austin doesn’t think start-up companies not to mention valuation at the end of their pitch. Instead, he suggests they say that there are different ways of valuing the company and that “we will be happy to discuss these in more details in a further meeting”.
What transpired from this second day is that start-up companies need to develop a narrative around their service or product but that they shouldn’t give away all that they have. Rather they should think about their pitch as “teasing” the VC’s into wanting more.