Pay Attention to Your Communication Style

It is easy to forget that people actually pay close attention to what you are saying, even in the most casual conversations.  Even more than your words, your style will be observed – how the message is delivered can have an enormous impact.
The best communicators alter their style to suit the needs of their listeners.

8 Key Points:
1.  Ensure your body language is open and positive.  
Arms crossed or the rolling of the eyes, however subtle, can override a thousand words.
2. Be careful who is around when you vent your frustration.
Your team members or clients may ascribe far more meaning than you intended when you are simply letting off steam.
3. Speak in positive terms.
This is even possible when the subject matter is sensitive or inflammatory.
Focus on issues, not personalities to convey the message.
Avoid harsh, judgmental, critical language, particularly when speaking about peoples’ behaviors, attitudes and personalities.
4.  Use “I” language.  When you are delivering a strong and/or negative message ensure you are using “I” language.
Example: “I have some strong concerns about the quality of work.”
5.  Create a positive bridge.  The bridge allows the other person to be receptive to anything else that might follow .
Example: “I appreciate your efforts to date…” 
6. Pay attention to your rate of speech.
If you think quickly and patience is not your virtue, you may be talking too quickly for your listeners.
Try to slow down rather than sounding like your on fast forward.
7. Listen to your tone.
It should convey a message of respect for both yourself and your listener.
Most situations require it should be neither too gentle nor too harsh.
8.  Consider the communication needs of the other person.
For example, if they are a concrete person, focus on the detail and build up to the big picture in a logical, sequential manner.
If the listener is a conceptual thinker you can start with the overall picture and use analogies and more abstract expression.
Communicate with confidence, 
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Use “I Need/Want/Expect” Phrasing When Possible.

 Thomas Gordon of the Parent Effectiveness Training Program first suggested these three steps:
(1) Say clearly how you feel, what you want, what you need or what you expect.
(2) Describe the observable problem or behavior.
(3) Explain the consequences or results of the behavior.
Here is an example:
(1) I feel rushed when in a one-week period I’m given four or five proposals to which I’m supposed to plan graphics.
(2) When I have to ‘beef-up’ that many documents, I find myself just grabbing graphics and not really giving the concepts much thought.
(3) Then the proposals go out to our clients half-baked.  They’re not up to the standards we’ve set.
With this three-part statement, the focus is on the action and consequences rather than on who’s doing what.
Communicate with Confidence,
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Growth and Communication

My wise and former professor at UChicago, Peter Koestenbaum Ph.D. shared this with us regarding  growth and communication. It’s relevant to all professionals.

A team of twelve engineers in charge of about a thousand technicians could not get along; they were prima donnas. After struggling for almost a year, they reached the following insights:

As engineers, we viewed our lack of teamwork and cooperation as a problem, and engineers are taught that problems have solutions. In the world of construction, they do have solutions: here is the formula, and the structure either stands or falls. But we now understand that thinking of people as if they were objects is fundamentally wrong. We knew that in theory, but we did not understand it in practice. It leads to distortion and ends in failure.

Instead of attempting to go from problem to solution and then failing, we changed our language. Now we say we have pain, not a problem, and then we talk about the pain. The problem was not the disagreement but how we handled it, how we spoke to each other, and the emotions we allowed to rise within us as a result of improper communication. Now we say “I feel, I understand,” rather than “You are” and “You believe.” We communicate, we speak, we listen; we try to see the other person’s point of view. We establish relations. We accept that we feel good or bad about each other. We learn, and the result is that our perception of the problem shifts: the energy has left the problem; the pain has diminished. We cannot explain it, but we like it.

We call that growth. Rather than going from problem to solution, we go from pain through dialogue to growth. We grow as persons, as managers, as executives, as human beings. We treat each other better. We are more willing to make compromises. It is not how we behave that matters; it is the character and the maturity of our souls and the heart behind those actions that come through and are convincing. The bottom line is that productivity has increased significantly, not to speak of the healthier atmosphere around the workplace.

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What do I know for sure?

While coaching a client, I was asked, “what do you know for sure?”   A great question, and I have to admit, I couldn’t come up with an answer right in that moment.  Like most people, there are times I believe I hardly know a thing.  Then there are many times when what I know for sure is crystal clear.

Here are my top 12 ‘what I know for sure’:  

  1. Anywhere the struggle is great, the level of creativity and innovation is high.
    Have you found simple solutions from using both?
  2. I define my own life by writing my own story.
    What new chapter and adventures are you welcoming? 
  3. Transformation happens on the inside first.
    How do you choose to react to the changes?
  4. Sometimes I need to glance back to move forward.
    Do you spend too much time looking in the rear view mirror? 
  5. Whatever someone did to me in the past has no power over the present.
    Are you choosing to give someone power?
  6.  We each get one life and one body.  That’s all we get.
    Can you balance your mental, emotional, spiritual and physical capacity?
  7. Worrying is wasted time and energy.
    How can you use the time and energy to do something about whatever worries you?
  8. Believe. Dreams express what my soul is telling me.
    Do you believe anything is possible?
  9. Prayers work.  If the only prayer I ever say is Thank You, that will be enough.
    Are you connecting to a higher power?  
  10. The best leaders demonstrate stability, trustworthy, compassionate and provide hope to be our best.
    Can you practice courage?  
  11. Every day brings a chance to start over and begin again.
    Are you open to the new day? 
  12. Three phrases work most often, “I’m sorry. I love you.  Thank you.”
    What phrases are you using?  
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“How is Change Different from Transition?”

I’m often asked the question, “how is change different from transition?”

The difference between change and transition is like the difference between  external and internal.   Change is the external world around you.  Think of transition as the internal process through which you come to terms with the change.

Transition is about letting go of the way things used to be and reorient yourself to the way things are currently.   Understandably, this is a time to get inside yourself and reflect.

Change is about the door closing and transition is about your decision to search for a new door.  There is an old saying about one door closing and another door opening – here’s the quote:
“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell (1847 – 1922), scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator.

During transition, it is a time to open new doors for discovery. Transition requires your will to win, your desire to succeed and an urge to reach your full potential.  It is the discovery that leads you to the keys that will unlock the door to your own personal excellence.

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Ahha Thinking!

Have you ever asked yourself –
Why do good ideas come to me when they do?
Why do “Aha!” moments sometimes come easily and sometimes not at all?
What can I do to enhance my out-of-the-box solution-finding abilities and take steps to cultivate innovative thinking?

What kind of people have Ahha Thinking?
In my opinion, where your ahha thinking comes from varies on your different personas and the roles you play.  In using your various personas, you problem-solve and you can come up with new ideas.

Ahha thinking is basically all about balance!
intensity and relaxation; seriousness and playfulness; solitude and teamwork.

We live in a culture of high intensity and short on relaxation, playfulness and teamwork.  Well, that has been my observation.  I know companies are trying to restore relaxation, playfulness and teamwork with flextime, luncheons and holiday parties to generate more productive energy.  For ahha thinking we need more than those activities.

What can you do?

intensity and relaxation
Find something that restores you, mediation, yoga, walks in the park or a power nap.
The power napping sounds pretty good and is something Edison, Einstein, Da Vinci, Churchill, Washington, JFK and other extraordinary achievers all relied on.

seriousness and playfulness
Remember the proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
It’s meaning is that without time off from work, a person becomes bored and boring.  Are you finding time to play and be playful?  To play is to use your imagination.  Playing with fantasy gives birth to creative work.

I believe we have seriousness under control…it’s the laughter we all need to work on.  Laugh more…Humor is essential to ahha thinking and creativity.  Having fun makes you more efficient, productive and innovative.  It helps boost the immune system and promotes the feeling of well-being.   It allows you to maintain a broad perspective in the face of intense pressures and transform stress into energy for high performance.
Take time to play and be play-filled.

solitude and teamwork
Are you optimizing your balance between working with others and investing in solitude?  Carefully select people who support, complement and expand your thinking.  Find your inner circle of collaborators but also engage on a regular basis to find time for yourself.

When people are asked where the question “where are you located when you get your best ideas?” Do you know what the common responses are?
In the shower.  While resting in bed.  Driving in my car.  During a long walk.
It is rare that anyone says they get their best idea at work.

Ahha!  Solitude and relaxation!

Ideas always seem to come to me when I least expect them. For that reason, I carry around a notebook that I use to jot down ideas about all sorts of things.  It helps me avoid the frustration of coming up with an idea only to forget it shortly after.

Basically getting ahha thinking is about finding balance.

It’s also about letting our various personas help us uncover the ahha moments.  In the book,  Ten Faces of Innovation.   To generate aha thinking, people who adopt the learning roles are humble enough to question their own worldview, and in doing so they remain open to new insights every day.

What learning persona is extremely good at reframing a problem in a new way?
That would be the Anthropologist.  Get an Anthropologist’s attitude is to venture into the field to observe how people interact with products, services, and experiences in order to come up with new innovations.

Anthropologists share such distinguishing characteristics as the wisdom to observe with a truly open mind; empathy; intuition; the ability to “see” things that have gone unnoticed; …and they have a way of seeking inspiration in unusual places.

What kind of aha thinking does an anthropologist have?
They embrace human behavior.  They manage to get people to talk about themselves, they enjoy being with and amongst people, asks probing questions and projects in a non-threatening image.

From an anthropologist perspective, in order to “forecast” or look at tomorrow you’ll: Have to look at the teenagers of today because they help drive all the trends.

Another learning persona to capture ahha thinking is to be an Experimenter.
The experimenter celebrates the process, the testing and retesting of potential scenarios to make ideas tangible.  To share the fun of aha thinking, the Experimenter invites others to collaborate, while making sure that the entire process is saving time and money.  Experimenters think like risks takers.  They’re passion is for hard work and a they have a very curious mind. They demonstrate an openness to serendipity.
They make ideas tangible by executing the What if…

To become more of an experimenter you’ll:
Make ongoing experimentation part of your approach.  Need a symbolic way of flushing away mistakes.  Can you see life as one big experiment?  Enjoy the discovery!

Can you be someone who like to Cross-Pollinate? The Cross-Pollinator draws associations and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts to break new ground.  Cross-Pollinator brings in big ideas from the outside world to enliven their organization. Their attitude can often be identified by their open mindedness, diligent note-taking, tendency to think in metaphors, and ability to reap inspiration from constraints.  Cross-pollinators examine other industries, cultures and they translate their finding to fit their own needs. They are the ones who mixes and matches ideas… people and technology to create new ideas that can drive growth.  Their aha thinking is done by creating something new or better through unexpected juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts.  Enjoy a breadth of knowledge in different fields with a depth of expertise in one area.

The ingredients for being a cross-pollinator: Seek out diverse projects.  Seeking diverse work to be exposed to other interests and industries.

Organizer personas are played by individuals who are savvy about the often counter-intuitive process of how organizations move ideas forward.  The organizers are personas each understand that even the best ideas must continuously compete for time, attention, and resources!  How true is this in your own experience?

Those who adopt these organizing roles don’t dismiss the process of budget and resource allocation as “politics” or “red tape.” They recognize it as a complex game of chess, and they play to win!

An organizer role would be a Hurdler.   A hurdler is a tireless problem-solver who gets energy out of tackling something that’s never been done before. When confronted with a challenge, the Hurdler gracefully sidesteps the obstacle while maintaining a quiet, positive determination.  Their thinking and attitude is not that it’s a long race; it is many short races one after another.  This optimism and perseverance can help with aha thinking… big ideas upend the status quo as well as turn setbacks into an organization’s greatest successes—despite doomsday forecasting by shortsighted experts.

The hurdler overcomes obstacles…instantly looks for ways to overcome the limits and challenges to any situation.  The hurdler does more with less and try something that’s never been done before.  They are savvy risk-takers and Street-smart.  Setbacks are viewed as opportunities.  They tend to ignore the so-called experts.

They balance seriousness and playfulness.

What type of persona truly values the team over the individual? That would be a Collaborator!  The collaborator gets things done.  The Collaborator coaxes people out of their work silos to form multidisciplinary teams.  In doing so, the person in this role dissolves traditional boundaries within organizations and creates opportunities for team members to assume new roles for aha thinking.  More of a coach than a boss, the Collaborator’s attitude is to instill their team with the confidence and skills needed to complete the shared journey.

The Collaborator likes to bring people together.  They stir up the pot as they bring people together to get things done and make multilateral task forces work.

They value the team over the individual and the project accomplishment beyond individual achievement.  Unity and they are a great defense against internal skeptics. Their attitude is the race is won in the baton pass.

Some tips on collaboration: Coach more, direct less.  Encourage the sharing of ideas and initiatives.  A collaborator has to balance their solitude with teamwork.

The last Organizer type persona is called the Director.  The Director has an acute understanding of the bigger picture, with a firm grasp on the pulse of their organization. The Director’s sets the stage, targeting opportunities, bringing out the best in their players, and getting things done.  The director motivates those around them to take center stage and embrace the unexpected for aha thinking.

The director brings people together to help develop ideas from all of them.

The director will: Map out the production and crafts the scenes.  Bring out the best among people and build chemistry.  Gets it done.  Gives center stage to others.
Loves finding new projects. Conducts regular brainstorming,
The secrets to brainstorming:
Sharp your focus: a clear statement of the problem in an open-ended question. Mind the rules: go for quantity, encourage crazy ideas, be visual, defer judgment and, allow only one conversation at a time.
Number your ideas.

Stretch first: start with a warmup.  Get physical.  Start with some ‘zip’

Enjoy life.  This is not a dress rehearsal.  It’s the real thing.

The last group of innovation personas we’ll discuss is the Building Personas

The four building personas are roles that apply insights from the learning roles (Anthropologist, Experimenter, Cross-Pollinator) and channel the empowerment from the organizing roles (Hurdler, the Collaborator, and the Director) to make innovation happen. When people adopt the building personas, they stamp their mark on the organization. People in these roles are highly visible, so you’ll often find them right at the heart of the action.

In innovation you’ll find an Experience Architect. The Experience Architect focuses on creating remarkable individual experiences.  This person facilitates positive encounters within the organization through products, services, digital interactions, spaces, or events.  The Experience Architect maps out how to turn something ordinary into something distinctive—even delightful—every chance they get.

The experience architect gets aha thinking by totally understanding the customer’s needs.

A good experience architect will : Sets the stage for positive encounters.  Design for customers and for employees.  Engages senses incorporating tactile sensations, uses sound and looks for opportunities to add smell or taste.

Their motto: the first step in becoming extraordinary is simply to stop being ordinary.

The Set Designer looks at every day as a chance to liven up their workspace.  They promote energetic, inspired cultures by creating work environments that celebrate the individual and stimulate creativity.  To keep up with shifting needs and foster continuous aha thinking, the Set Designer makes adjustments to a physical space to balance solitude and collaborative teamwork opportunities. In doing so, this person makes space itself one of an organization’s most versatile and powerful tools.

The Set Designer creates the right environment for everyone to have ahha thinking.  Dedicated to explore a different frontier called ‘inner space’. Sees that the office design contributes to the overall performance and supports the culture itself.

The Storyteller’s role is to capture imaginations with compelling narratives of the initiative.  They communicate in whatever medium best fits their skills and message: video, narrative, animation, even comic strips. By rooting their stories in authenticity, the Storyteller can spark emotion and action, transmit values and objectives, foster collaboration, create heroes, and lead people and organizations into the future.

They build a story about their company and how they fostered a culture for aha thinking.

How do stories help? Stories can persuade in a way that facts, report and even trends seldom do.  Stories make an emotional connection possible and make heroes out of real people.  Using stories can communicate the values and objectives.

As a storyteller, they don’t ask for instant insights, don’t jump to conclusions, don’t ask yes- no questions.

What do you do for ahha thinking?
To truly restore ahha thinking and gain a life balance, let your soul catch up with your body.

Create balance with:
intensity and relaxation;
and playfulness;
and teamwork.

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Discover the Journey – Marathon Run

Life is a journey with a beginning and an ending.  For me, the marathon was an adventure with discovery to add to the dash between my years.  As you know, life is filled with milestones, with detours, and along the way we learned what is most important is not the speed, but the resilience, determination and quality of growth that it brings.

In June of 2004 I decided to learn to ‘run’ only because I wanted the experience of participating in the October Chicago Marathon.

The experience was not only for me. It included my husband and our 9-year-old son to witness Mom doing something extraordinary, and to understand that anything is possible. I can basically say that running the Marathon was the victory lap for the training and the encouragement that my husband and son provided to me. It was a journey of discovery.

I knew I’d make the finish line and even it I didn’t, I questioned how can there ever be “losers” in a marathon.

What surprised me the most is the number of people who were obsessed with asking me the question, “what was your time?”

My authentic and heart-felt response, “it was the time of my life.”
Really, what difference does a number on the clock make?

This may sound crazy, but I did not want my Marathon to end. I took my time. I stopping for several minutes to nurture my knees with ice and, most importantly to talk with the other runners and volunteers. My personal best was a few weeks earlier with the 20-mile practice run. In my mind, the Marathon was the victory lap and I wanted to soak in all in.

During the Marathon, I felt the heart-beat rhythm of Chicago.
It was a rapid-pulsating-positive energy flowing from the spectators.
A blast of pure oxygen to hear men, women and children cheering for me with heartfelt words, “You go girl”, “You can do it” and “You’re almost there!”

The experience was transforming to discover the encouragement (some might say love) from the faces of strangers greeting me along the route.

To them, I was running their race. I was there ‘hero’.

There was a defining moment when I looked up to the second story window of a retirement home to find an old woman sitting in a wheel chair. Our eyes deeply locked, and in that very moment we knew each other’s heart beyond words. She gave me a firm nod and smiled an unforgettable smile that I still carry with me today. I was running for her, and for many others who could never take the risk either because of their own physical or mental limitations.

I do not consider myself part of a running community and I have not ‘run’ since the marathon. I am a power walker because it feels better on my knees.

I am attracted to people who like to stretch their mind, body and spiritual capacities. The mind has a way of manifesting itself on the physical side and having the experience of the marathon made me understand the power of keeping a true balance to avoid injury.

I discovered maintaining a balance is difficult to truly achieve. For me it is about balancing intensity with relaxation. Balancing myseriousness with playfulness. Balancing solitude with teamwork.

Anything is possible with the right support and frame of mind.  It is about discovering what’s best for the unique journey.

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