Friday, October 30, 2009

Speak Easy Note #9 - Persistence Pays

Instead of writing about writing as I said I would, I have decided to drop in the link to my radio interview.

Interview about SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success

On the time counter near the end of this interview (from 11:30 to 14:37 on my computer), my answer tells about the inspiration for SPEAK EASY and about the roller coaster ride of the five years I spent writing it. 

PERSISTENCE PAYS!  It is so important to believe in your dreams and to do what it takes to bring them to fruition.

If it weren't for the reality of my continuing IRS preparation for audit saga, I would have written about the journey rather than posted the radio link.  The truth is that it is 5:00 AM on Thursday night/Friday morning.  I have been sorting 2006 expense receipts since 9:30 PM and suddenly realized that I had never written my post for this week.  Exhausted and with a fried brain, I offer you the link and my apologies.  I am without a plan for next week's post so it will be a surprise for you and for me.  I'm going to get some sleep now.

Happy listening!
The Wordsmith

Friday, October 23, 2009

Speak Easy Note #8 - You Really Shouldn't "Should"

Last week I committed to writing about a small word that is often used to express guilt or judgment. That little trouble-producing word is “should” - a word that has the potential of generating a significant negative impact on communication.

The following excerpt is from SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success available through Word Craft Press. Currently there is a delay in purchasing and receiving SPEAK EASY because sections of SPEAK EASY’s Kirkus review are being added to the book cover and interior. You can read SPEAK EASY’s October 12, 2009 review by going directly to Kirkus Reviews / Discoveries. More about that review later.

Life is full of paradox. Yes, people ask you for advice all the time. “So, what do you think I should do?” The truth is, however, they don’t actually like your telling them what to do! Additionally, they don’t like feeling judged. And most of all, as a result of telling people what they should do, you then put yourself in the undesirable position of sharing responsibility for other people’s choices. When your goal is to advise someone in a specific way or to express to others what you see as the correct choice, there is an excellent way to communicate your recommendation and/or authority without telling anyone what they should do:

“Here’s what I think you should do.”

“Here’s what I think is most important to consider.”

“Here’s what you should do to fix this.”

“Here’s what I see as the best solutions to this situation.”

There’s a subtle and important difference in both of these pairs of communication options. In each of the first statements, you’re participating in the choice, putting pressure on the other person, or stating an expectation. In both of the second statements, you’re taking responsibility for your opinion and removing yourself from the actual decision that only the other person can make. What we think is right for another person may be quite different from what the other person believes or wants.

Another type of “should” is the one we direct toward ourselves in a reprimanding way:

“I should have told you.”

“I should have done more.”

“I shouldn’t have eaten that.”

When you start your thoughts with the words, “I should” (or shouldn’t), you’re blaming yourself and assuming guilt, without taking real responsibility for your actions and choices. There’s a helpless guilt that accompanies seeing and expressing yourself this way. The excuse is given, the shame is attached and the decision to act differently going forward is buried or ignored.

It takes courage and awareness to say instead:

“I know you’re hurt that you learned about this from someone other than me. I feel bad that I didn’t tell you myself.”

“I see how much more time I could have given and I wish that I had. Going forward I want to look at my priorities and make time for what is important.”

“I’m aware that I’m over-eating and eating foods that are not good for me. It’s important to me to change my eating habits.”

By expressing yourself in this fuller way, you’re facing what’s underneath the “I should” words. Heaping guilt on yourself is non-productive and unhealthy. Using the word “should” to absolve yourself of guilt is also undesirable. When you work on addressing the use of self-directed “shoulds”, you come face to face with your own desires, your level of motivation and most importantly your ability to be self-accepting and tolerant. If you can’t be tolerant of yourself, it’s unlikely you will be tolerant of others.

As soon as you remove the word “should” from your communications and express your reactions and wishes without judgment, you will start to find better ways to speak to people, will feel differently when you’re speaking to them and, best of all, will also get better responses in return.

So remember,
“You really shouldn't “SHOULD”!”

Before signing off, here is a quote from the Kirkus review:

"In a marketplace glutted with self-help guides, how-to tomes and handbooks for dummies and idiots, Speak Easy rises above the cacophony of business and personal-growth gurus who promise the moon, to offer clear, practical and actionable personal change that can actually make a difference. Easily readable, visually presented and impeccably organized, this work will provide valuable reading for any business, family or individual.” KIRKUS DISCOVERIES, NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA

I am one happy author!  And I will be even happier when SPEAK EASY can be purchased again.  The process is going quickly.  It is quite exciting to have such a strong review!

Next Friday in Speak Easy Notes, I will write about writing...

Until then,
The Wordsmith

Friday, October 16, 2009

Speak Easy Note #7 - More Than Words

Who knew when I wrote last week about the importance of validating people and committed to write this week about "what you don't say" rather than "what you say" that I would begin this week's posting with the lyrics to a love song, MORE THAN WORDS, by Extreme's Nuno Bettancourt and Gary Cherone?:

Saying I love you
Is not the words I want to hear from you

It's not that I want you
Not to say, but if you only knew

How easy it would be to show me how you feel
More than words is all you have to do to make it real

Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me
Cos I'd already know

What would you do if my heart was torn in two

More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real

What would you say if I took those words away
Then you couldn't make things new
Just by saying I love you

Now I've tried to talk to you and make you understand

All you have to do is close your eyes
And just reach out your hands and touch me
Hold me close don't ever let me go

More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me
Cos I'd already know

In "SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success" available through Word Craft Press, I write about "More Than Words":

What is surprising is that words are actually the smallest contributor to how communication is received. So how does this seeming contradiction work?

When people are asked to say what percentage of communication they think is non-verbal, what percentage is other than the spoken words, they usually recognize that the percentage has to be at least 50%. They frequently think it may even be in the 75% range. They’re usually astounded to learn how much larger a portion it actually is.  Research repeatedly shows that the non-verbal portion of communication exceeds 90% of how communication is received.  The largest non-verbal elements of communication are facial expression and tone of voice.

As a dedicated wordsmith and communication coach, I remember first learning this percentage and feeling rather down-hearted. I said to a colleague, “What’s the point in my helping people fine-tune the words they’re using if the words represent only 7% of how communication is received?”

My colleague quickly pointed out that if there’s only a 7% window to get the right words into a communication, it’s critical to choose those words carefully. His response crystallized for me the significance of choosing the right words, while always remembering the critical importance of tone and facial expression.

This component of non-verbal communication links quite beautifully with the concept of validation that we looked at closely last week.  A person's tone or facial expression can communicate something entirely different from his or her spoken words which is why I found it so frustrating to hear that customer service supervisor repeatedly say, "I understand" when she showed me no understanding at all, when she said nothing to me that indicated she was actually listening to anything I was saying, and when the concept of validating what I had said to her was completely missing from her tone and her words.

Combining validation and acknowledgement with matching non-verbal communication is an essential ingredient for good communication.  In a workshop I facilitated at Harpo Productions in Chicago, Oprah said to me that in all of the years she has been interviewing people that the one common denominator she saw in each person she had ever interviewed was that people always want to be validated.  She said it wasn't about agreeing with them or condoning what their beliefs were or praising what they had done.  It was about letting them know that they had been truly heard.

So remember the importance of non-verbal communication; it's not what you say, it's how you say it! And always show people how well you've listened by remembering to validate what they've said to you.

Next week, we'll take a look at a small word that is often a big guilt-producer. 

Until then,
The Wordsmith


Friday, October 9, 2009

Speak Easy Note #6 - Tell Them That You Really Heard

Last week, when I committed to writing this Friday about the key ingredient that demonstrates LISTENING, I would have never imagined the framework I would choose to introduce this important topic.  This week has had its special demands. The IRS wants to examine my tax returns. My brain has been totally fried as I gather all of the records I will need to reconstruct and support all of my Schedule C deductions.

One of my related adventures has been obtaining all of my monthly credit card statements for the years 2006, 2007, and 2008. I have 25 of the 37 monthly statements I need. I called my credit card company to request the 12 missing months and was told that I would have to register online and wait 24 to 48 hours and would then be able to download the missing statements. So after waiting 48 hours for my download opportunity, I learned online that I can only request six statements at a time and that I will have to wait another 48 hours to gain access to the first six and, you guessed it, then request the remaining six and wait still another 48 hours to get those. Arrrrrrrrrgh!

As I was clicking and requesting, I saw on the screen that I had been asked to fill in a customer satisfaction survey. I clicked “No, Thank You” since I had zero desire to spend any more time online filling in boxes and typing out my frustration. No thank you indeed; I wanted to SPEAK to someone directly and COMPLAIN.

After one person told me she was not authorized to provide me with what I wanted, I asked to speak to a person who did have that authority. The supervisor who came on the phone line next told me that the system is set up that way, that there was no way for me to see more than six statements at a time and that the 48 hour waiting period is also carved in stone. After determining that no one had the authority to get my 12 statements to me right away, I slipped into acceptance mode and became ready to wait it out. Simultaneously, I was becoming more angry and frustrated. What was most upsetting to me was the repeated response this supervisor kept saying to me, “I understand.”  With each “I understand” from her, I became more and more dissatisfied.  I wanted to teach this woman how to validate what I had told her. I wanted her to say something genuine and different from what she had said over and over to every other customer with a complaint.

I wanted her to read Chapter 8 of “SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success” available for purchase at Word Craft Press.  I wanted her to show me she had been paying attention to what I had been saying to her and to what I was specifically experiencing, even if she couldn’t fix anything for me or get me my statements immediately.

I wanted her to LISTEN.

Here are some related sections excerpted from SPEAK EASY:

When you’re talking to someone, your views of the world may differ tremendously from that person’s perspectives. Even our soul mates can have opposite viewpoints from our own. In most communications, we become so eager to have our say that we can only focus on what our own point of view is and we rush ahead without any validation of the other person in the dialogue.

So many communications repeatedly turn into nonproductive duels. Remembering to start your communication with a validation of the other person will dramatically improve all of your interactions and will significantly enhance the way you feel about yourself and how others see you.

What quickly becomes clear is that sincere and authentic validation and acknowledgement require giving focused attention to what the other person is expressing. The basic key to successful validation is listening.

It’s impossible to validate someone sincerely and specifically without listening attentively to what that person is saying. You can’t simply start your response with a throw-away standard comment like “Yeah, I hear you.” or “I understand what you’re saying.” You must show how well you’ve been listening and respond in a way that specifically and genuinely shows that you’ve really heard.

Some good examples of VALIDATION statements are:

“It’s very clear how much you want to... (be specific)”

“I can see how important it is to you to...(be specific)”

“I know that your views about ...(be specific) are...(be specific)”

“I recognize your perspectives about…(be specific) are …(be specific)”

“I certainly respect that you want to...(be specific)”

And no matter how differently you see the situation, it’s critical to omit the word “but” as you make the transition from your validation to your viewpoint. “But” is a word that can negate whatever preceded it:

“I know you want to go to the beach but I want to go to the mountains.
“I know you want to go to the beach and I want to go to the mountains.”

“I know it’s important to you to meet on Tuesdays but I prefer Thursdays.”
“I know it’s important to you to meet on Tuesdays. I prefer Thursdays.”

Eliminating one small word can change the dynamic from competitive and combative to a communication that is two-way and open.

If you can experience listening as if you’re shining a spotlight on the other person and then focus on describing what’s in the spotlight, you will be able to validate people naturally. You will be concentrating on what the other person is saying and can then add strength to your own side of the situation by having first made the other person’s position as meaningful as your own. Demonstrating mutual respect, refraining from being self-centered, and strengthening your own position by acknowledging other views are critical elements of listening.

When you show the other person that you’re listening, you give that person the ability to listen to you without confrontation or defensiveness. By turning the spotlight away from yourself and on the other person, you also give your beliefs a platform to be acknowledged and appreciated reciprocally. When you mirror back to people what they’ve been saying to you, they feel heard and respected. The beauty of validation is that it reinforces the other person without requiring you to buy into a premise, grant a request or provide solutions.

One of my closest friends since childhood has eight sons. It’s amazing to have been in their home many times over the years and never have heard one disrespectful word from these boys to their mother. There’s a simple reason for this. She always talks to them on her own level.  She also always validates them, respectfully, when she asserts her authority.

She has authority and they respect her. I’ve heard her refuse to allow them to do what they want to do. I’ve heard her tell them that she can’t give them what they’re asking her for. I’ve even asked her if the behavior I’ve seen over the years is for my benefit and when I’m not in the house if there’s a totally different interaction between her sons and her. She’s confirmed that what I’ve observed is the way it’s always been in her home.

Next week, I want to write about what you don't say rather than about what you say.

Happy Columbus Day weekend!

Until next Friday,
The Wordsmith

Friday, October 2, 2009

SPEAK EASY NOTE #5 - Taking Responsibility

Monday of this week was The Day of Atonement. This is the most solemn Jewish holiday of the year, a day of fasting focused on repentance and forgiveness. At the very core of true remorse, apology and pardon is the essential concept of taking full responsibility for your actions, thoughts and communications. When I said that this week we would look at neediness in communication and how word patterns can reflect how we relinquish responsibility, there was no connection in my mind to the coincidental timing of this holiday and the subject I had chosen to write about next.  Taking responsibility for what and how we express ourselves is critical for communication success.

There are many ways we use language as a crutch to avoid taking responsibility. Let's look at ways we do this in an excerpt from SPEAK EASY – The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success, available for purchase through Word Craft Press:

Replace Needy With Whole
There’s an unrecognized phenomenon that underlies the cause for people to feel they don’t have the right to express how they’re making choices. As a result, people say they have to do a certain task or they can’t do something, rather than say they’re choosing one option over another. Often children will tell us they can’t help doing what they’re doing.  As adults, when we say, “I can’t help it.” or “I can’t do XXX.” what we’re usually experiencing is frustration, challenge or difficulty rather than actual inability. We will feel much less helpless about life’s challenges if we replace “can’t” with wording that is more in sync with reality. Rather than say “I can’t”, we can say:

“This is difficult to do.”

“I’m finding it very frustrating to do this.”

“I see XXX as a big challenge."

Another way we push ourselves around and get caught in a trap of our own making is when we say, “I have no choice.” about a situation. We may feel like there’s no way out or that our obligations are so strong they negate other options. It’s still better to say, “Based on the strong sense of responsibility I feel about this, I’m making the choice to stay involved.” When we say we have no choice, we’re denying or fighting our responsibility and our choice on some level.

What we are looking at is how:

> People let language become a crutch they use to relinquish responsibility and shift it onto some unknown force.

> Feelings of guilt and insecurity sneak into language patterns and become habitual.

> Needy syndromes can infiltrate our communication, acting as barriers to feeling whole.

To recognize all of this more clearly, let’s compare two different ways of communicating choices:

AVOID: “I can’t go with you to the concert because I have to go to a lecture with my brother-in law. Thanks for asking me.”
BETTER: “I would like to go to the concert with you. I promised my brother-in-law that I would go to a lecture with him and am going to keep my commitment. Thanks for asking me.”

AVOID: “I can’t go to dinner tonight because I have to do my laundry.”
BETTER: “I want to do my laundry tonight so I’ve decided to stay in rather than go out to dinner.”

AVOID: “As a payroll supervisor, I have to make certain that all checks have been properly reconciled.”
BETTER: “As a payroll supervisor, I’m in charge of making certain that all checks have been reconciled.”

AVOID: “I can’t drive a car in Manhattan.”
BETTER: “Since I have only driven a car in Ohio where I grew up, I’m afraid to drive a car in New York City.”

AVOID: “I have no choice about this decision. I’m stuck with this until the end.”
BETTER: “Since I’ve invested so much time in this project and care about it deeply, I’ve decided to stick it out until the end even though I have a sour taste in my mouth related to what has just occurred.”

Neediness in language is self-defeating, weak and most often inaccurate. An amusing saying grew out of the Women’s movement: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” In the world today, many people are choosing a variety of alternate lifestyles that would certainly validate this statement. The importance of the statement, from a communication standpoint, is how well it demonstrates the distinction between desire and requirement. So often we confuse the two.

Compare two different ways of expressing the same desire:

“Without a spouse, my life is incomplete.”
“I want a partner to share and enrich my life.”

The communication paths away from neediness and into wholeness are:

AVOID: “I have to …”
BETTER: “I want to …”

AVOID: “I can’t …”
BETTER: “This is difficult to do.”

AVOID: “I need …”
BETTER: “I would like …”

AVOID: “I have no choice.”
BETTER: “I have decided that …”

Next Friday, let's look at one of the most essential ingredients to reflect that we're really listening.

Until then,
The Wordsmith