Why Word Vomit Gets In the Way Of Your Credibility

While waiting for a flight out of Lisbon, Portugal last week we stopped for coffee at an airport café.

After placing our order my husband, Mike, was surprised to hear the shop assistant say “you won’t get coffee here”. Confused, he falteringly responded “but isn’t this a coffee shop?” Fair question, I thought!

An awkward couple of seconds followed before another shopper intervened, leaning in to tell us “the coffee machine is broken”.

While this was a run-of-the-mill language issue that’s a normal part of travelling, it’s also a great example of the subtleties in the English language. English is rich in shades of meaning. We have a huge range of words and phrases to choose from.

In the business world, the word choices we make have a major bearing on the effectiveness of our communication. Yet, many people choose language that puts up barriers to understanding rather than opting for clarity and precision.

Poor communication gets in the way of good business operations, causes friction between people and can be the determining factor in whether you get a promotion, or win a new client. In today’s economy your success as an individual - and the success of your entire organisation - is driven by reputation. While you can’t control what others think of you, you can influence it by being the best that you can be and building your skills as a credible communicator.

 

A person who communicates with credibility has strengths across three areas:

1.     Conversation

Have you noticed that some people just have the “x factor” - they seem to effortlessly jump into any conversation and immediately form a connection. They’re totally present in the situation, focusing on the others in the discussion and using phrases and examples that make sense to everyone involved.

While it could be suggested that in this tech-driven world the art of conversation is dying, I’d argue that there’s never been a more crucial time to sharpen your skills in this area. Being able to connect and engage with individuals and small groups is a critical factor for anyone wanting to succeed in their business or career.

There are many resources to help you become a better verbal communicator. I love the writings of Leil Lowndes - here’s one of her cracking blogs about speaking on the phone.

 

2.     Presentation

Most of us have suffered through an awful presentation or a dry and seemingly pointless meeting. It doesn’t need to be that way. You mightn’t be called on to perform on a stage to thousands of people, but being able to present with confidence and credibility at a meeting or in a group marks you as a stand-out.

Credible communicators are comfortable in any sized space and with any sized audience. They understand that being a good presenter means putting the audience first – choosing language that forms a connection rather than focusing on trying to sound clever.

If you struggle when speaking in front of people, make the decision to build your skills. There are many programs, books, coaches and online resources to help you – or simply start practising and making a conscious effort to improve.

 

3.     Written Communication

I was reminded only this week in a blog that many people write poorly because they ignore a very important principle; all communication - including the written form – is most effective when expressed from the audience’s point of view. This often gets forgotten in the business world, yet putting it into practice can transform your written communication, whether it’s email, formal reports, social media, or any form of the written word.

If you don’t think you’re a strong writer, there are plenty of ways to improve. Start by paying attention to your reader; who are they and what do they most need from you? Think about the best way to make a connection with them before diving into what you have to say. Every word counts; they don’t have the benefit of hearing the tone of your voice or reading your body language.

 

Getting serious about your skill level as a credible communicator will make a significant difference to your professional success. Do your own personal audit; how do you rate in the credible communication stakes? When you communicate, do people get your message every time, or is there a language barrier?  Which of the three areas do you need to work on next?

Less word vomit, more clarity and precision – let this be your new mantra. You’ll get a massive boost when it comes to work, relationships, and life in general.

3 WAYS TO AVOID YOUR BRAND BECOMING A PR CASUALTY

If you’ve got your own business, you’ll know exactly how much blood, sweat, tears and hours have been poured into your brand so far.

Now, imagine your business name plastered all over social media and beyond as you plunge helplessly into some disastrous PR situation similar to the huge public backlash brands as big as United Airlines, Pepsi and Uber have recently faced. Regardless of whether it’s your fault or within your control, you’re suddenly known for all the wrong reasons.

You might be thinking, “There’s no way that would happen to my business!” but I’ve worked with many business operators who’ve found themselves embroiled in negative issues, and I can guarantee every one of them thought exactly that just before disaster hit.

“Everything starts with having a clear picture of what your business stands for; its DNA, the one thing that really captures its essence.”

Instead, business owners need to be proactive, every day, in building the fundamentals that create “reputation capital”. Not only will that reduce the risk of a reputation crisis, it will also make a big difference to your recovery if – heaven forbid – something does go wrong.

While your reputation is everyone else’s collective perception of you, it has its origins in elements of your business that go well beyond marketing, sales and your public face. Reputation is fuelled by culture and what you stand for and how that bursts forth in everything you do.

Here’s how to do right by your brand, inside and out.

Know exactly what your company stands for

Everything starts with having a clear picture of what your business stands for; its DNA, the one thing that really captures its essence. That includes specific objectives projecting where you’re hoping to be in one year, two years’, five, and so on. This must include a strategy for proactive, consistent, positive communication that demonstrates the essence of the business. No matter what your company aims, one of them should always be to build a culture where you and your team strive every day to make sure your customers’ experience completely matches what you say you’re going to deliver and that their expectations are met and exceeded.

If you’re not the same inside as you are outside, expect to one day be found out.

Focus on face-to-face interactions, not just social media

Amid today’s dizzying whirlwind of technology, it’s easy to forget that great person-to-person communication and outstanding customer service is just as, if not more, important than a positive exchange on social media.

“Build a culture where you and your team strive to make sure your customers’ experience completely matches what you say you’re going to deliver.”

While this has always been vital for business success, it’s now a non-negotiable considering that one negative comment can go global in a heartbeat, taking to ruins the reputation-driven economy we currently operate in.

Rather than losing sleep over potentially damaging Facebook posts, it makes more sense to invest in your own communication skills and those of anyone you employ; after all, they are your most potent PR weapon. Research shows that regular team members now have a huge influence when they communicate with your customers, because having people represent your brand with a “someone like me” approach is considered to be much more credible than that of your CEO, for example. Consider this the next time you sit down for an interview with a new staff member.

Showcase the human aspect behind your brand

Once, fancy titles and credentials helped bring about credibility. Now, that idea is rapidly going out the window, especially with the popularised introduction of peer-to-peer review sites.

Just as travellers are highly influenced by review sites like TripAdvisor featuring the opinions of other travellers, and diners read restaurant reviews from people they’ve never met before they choose a place to eat on a Saturday, you and your staff are walking testimonials for your business.

Every word, every action is noticed, absorbed and a powerful impression formed that surges into your business reputation. People are less interested in what you call yourself – they’re keen to know what you, the actual person inside the business owner, thinks and feels. What are you conveying to customers through your body language and attitude? What are you saying to friends, family, casual connections about what’s happening at work? How are you treating your staff? Are you leading by example? Focusing on this could be the most important step in building your positive reputation.

TOP THREE PR LESSONS FROM 2017 (SO FAR!)

It’s been a bumper year for business reputation nosedives… and 2017 isn’t even half over. We’ve had Uber’s Chief Executive admitting he needs to “grow up” following the release of an embarrassing video. In addition, there was United Airlines’ rough-handling of a passenger, also captured on video. Closer to home – and on the public sector side – the Australian Tax Office was last week caught up in a reputation-crippling fraud scandal.

In the case of United, many of us couldn’t help but groan at the airline’s unique approach to passenger management and their subsequent botched public responses. It’s probably fair to say the ATO, hardly a “love brand” as far as public sector agencies go, didn’t attract much sympathy when details of a $165m scam hit the media. But let’s be honest; no business operator can really afford to shake their heads at the reputation woes of others without looking closely at their own actions.

Regardless of the size of your business, it’s useful to remember that your reputation begins at home. That might seem illogical because, after all, your reputation is what others think of you, and you can’t control their minds. But you can strongly influence many of the elements that help others form those views.

Here are three PR lessons that might save your business bacon…

WHAT YOU DO HAS TO MATCH WHAT YOU SAY

Your business reputation is made of three parts:

  1. What you say – from your marketing collateral, website and social media to the visual presentation of your business and how you and your team speak to customers.
  2. How people directly experience you – how they feel when they use your service or buy your product, and whether that experience matches what you say about it.
  3. What others say to others about your business – individual to individual (old-fashioned word of mouth), and to the world at large through social media and other forms of technology.

Now, there’s the thing: if there’s a mismatch between what you say and how people experience you, you have a problem. There’s a good chance that what others are saying to others about you is not going to be pretty. Your business body language is out of alignment; just as we as humans have body language that needs to match our words or we come across as dishonest or unreliable, your business needs to follow a similar pattern.

Recognising this simple fact can save you a whole lot of heartache in terms of lost customers and negative Facebook comments. While it’s great to get excited about social media and building our profile, it pays to focus on the basics first. Make your actions match your words, and you’re halfway there.

WE’RE ALL PERFORMING ON A WORLD STAGE, 24/7

Watching the video of that ugly United Airlines incident, the thing that stands out is the rows of phones standing to attention, their owners recording every second of the sorry saga. Yet somehow, United forgot that the evidence was out there for all the world to see, when they made their initial fumbled responses.

The power of the recorded image also struck when Uber’s boss, Travis Kalanick, was captured verbally blasting one of his own drivers during an argument over pay rates.

The reality is that everyone out there is now a 24-hour news channel, with the tools and channels to capture any incident in the moment and destroy a career and reputation by clicking “share”.  Don’t be lulled by the fact that these incidents involved huge businesses – any business of any size is fair game if they trip up or do the wrong thing.

Decades ago, if something went wrong in your business there was a slight chance you could fix it behind closed doors and get on with your life. Make no mistake, those days are long gone. If anything does go amiss – whether it’s accidentally over-charging a customer, having to shut down for a day because of a power outage or any other conceivable mishap – it’s critical you recognise it and act immediately. Take the initiative, and err on the side of over-communication with everyone who can impact or be impacted by your business. If you mess up, make amends straight away.

YOUR TEAM NOW CARRIES HUGE CLOUT

If you have staff, pay attention: the results of this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer show that regular employees of a business are considered to be much more credible than the CEO or business leader.

Your employees are your business’s equivalent of TripAdvisor – and everything they say to their friends and social networks about their workplace has a significant impact on your business reputation.

Are you putting enough focus on making sure your team really gets what your business stands for and knows the messages they should be conveying about it?

Many businesses are yet to grasp this one; they continue to put all their emphasis on glossy marketing and don’t realise their staff are, in fact, their best PR weapon. Understand this and you’ll have an advantage.

No business operator wants even a minor issue tainting their reputation, let alone a PR disaster like the incidents I’ve mentioned. Let’s learn from these events and take small steps every day to build reputation capital; making our actions match our words and bringing our team along on the journey.

The 5 lessons about credibility that could make or break your business

The fallout from the recent United Airlines fiasco reminded me of a 12-step process for recovering reputation and restoring credibility, released a few years ago by global PR firm Weber-Shandwick.

I won’t re-cap all 12-steps, but here are five that resonate strongly in light of recent events, along with some extra comments from me.  

Take the heat…leader first

Weber-Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross suggests a single corporate leader, usually the CEO, must serve as the official spokesperson in troubled times. The CEO can stabilise an unstable situation and set a tone that may ultimately define the crisis.

That works well when the CEO or organisation leader is savvy enough to listen to good advice, respond promptly and take responsibility for the situation. As we saw in the United Airlines case, a stumbling, inconsistent response only adds fuel to the fire.

This is a reminder that your best work in crisis response happens well before a crisis erupts. Know who your spokesperson or spokespeople will be, and make sure they’re trained and able to face the inevitable barrage that will come their way when things go wrong. Paramount is a willingness to respond early and accurately gauge the mood of the market in the response.

We also need to recognise that the business leader has fallen in the overall credibility stakes. This year's results from the Edelman Trust Barometer show regular employees are now considered to be highly credible compared with the CEO. This tells us that while we need to ensure the person at the top is well briefed and responds effectively, we must also put equal - if not more - effort into keeping everyone across the business in the loop about the crisis response. Everything they say to their family, friends and broader network will impact general perception of the situation.

Many organisations are only starting to come to terms with this "inversion of influence" and the fact that "people like you and me" now have a major impact on business reputation.

Analyse what went wrong and right

Weber-Shandwick points out that by studying the company’s mistakes, along with those of others, the organisation can avoid falling into the same trap again. While this might sound obvious, in my experience it’s rarely put into practice.

After a negative situation has passed, there's a tendency for everyone to want to get back to day to day operations as quickly as possible and put the bad stuff in the past. Often, there is a reluctance to pause and study the various elements of what went wrong so lessons can be learned for the future. 

There can be many reasons for this, and one might be that management of the business is cautious about uncovering mistakes that could fall at their own feet. A business's willingness to perform an honest post mortem after a crisis is a measure of a culture of resilience.

Right the culture

Speaking of culture, Weber-Shandwick reminds us that in many cases, the company’s culture was what really failed the organisation in the first place. Having been called in to address many an issue and crisis, I’d have to agree with that. Businesses are very good at shooting themselves in the foot.

I don’t have scientific evidence behind this, but I reckon about 90% of major issues stem from inside the organisation itself. Someone makes a mistake and it goes unrecognised or ignored, or if it is discovered it's covered up or addressed badly and is left to fester until it erupts further down the track. Getting the inside of the business right can be a task for the “too hard” basket, but organisations can pay a terrible price if they ignore it.

Even though reputation is made up of what other people think of you and your business, it’s actually an inside job. You can influence your reputation by making sure you know what the business stands for, and always communicating and acting in alignment with that.

Build a drumbeat of good news

Weber-Shandwick acknowledges that recovering reputation after an incident or crisis doesn’t usually come from one event, but rather from a series of tiny steps that slowly generate positive momentum. It’s important that every organisation has a focus on building its "reputation reservoir" - and not just because something has gone wrong.

This involves ensuring you have impeccable relationships with the key people and organisation who can impact or be impacted by your business. It’s making sure that everyone in the business is committed to what the organisation stands for, and that any small problems are addressed immediately so that issues can't fester and grow.

It also entails generating positive stories about the business through social and traditional media, but many businesses try to jump straight to this and neglect the earlier steps. We’re well past the age of spin; we can no longer get by on window dressing. Our organisations need to have real substance and authenticity, and based on that we can then generate positive news.

Minimise reputation risk

This sounds like a no-brainer and it’s amazing that even in the digital age many businesses neglect this step. Safeguarding the organisation's reputation is no longer the sole domain of the communications or PR department. Everyone in the business is your reputation ambassador, and as Weber-Shandwick says, “minimising reputation risk is now everyone’s responsibility.”

We all need to have eyes outside the business so we know what’s going on in our external environment, along with a strong awareness of what’s happening inside the business. That way, if anything starts to go amiss it can be immediately addressed.

shutterstock_281493026.jpg

While the United Airlines case has given us all plenty to comment about, every business and organisation runs the risk of becoming embroiled in a negative issue. In United’s case - being a large international brand - it could be argued that people will forgive and forget and get on with using that service because there may not be a lot of choice. As The Sydney Morning Herald reported recently, "history is not the friend of the consumer", and that “consumers have a collective short-term memory when brands have a near monopoly. They figure time heals and unfortunately it does. People forget, they’ll end up seeing a deal online and they’ll pull the lever”.

That might be true of consumers, but reputation damage can have other impacts. It will be interesting to see in future whether United is able to attract the best staff or if potential employees choose to go elsewhere. An issue of this scale also means that the market is likely to be unwilling to forgive so readily if anything else goes wrong with the airline.

Rather than debating whether a multi-national can restore its reputation and credibility, we’re better off reminding ourselves that the work needs to happen before an issue arises. There are many actions we can take to minimise our reputation risk.

The simple idea that will transform your communication

It’s been refreshing this month to speak to a group of brand new communication students, introducing them to some concepts of human and business communication.

One that clearly struck a chord was the idea that we all bring our own world view to any form of communication; we’re heavily influenced by our own background, culture, preferences, upbringing and many other factors that colour the way we perceive information and apply its meaning to our own actions.

While not everyone has studied communication theory, I reckon most of us, at some level, understand that people are inherently different and look at things differently. But I wonder how many of us truly apply this to the way we interact with others every day.

Keeping this in mind whenever you’re speaking to someone, emailing or talking on the phone, can make a big difference to how you get your message across and absorb the true meaning of what they’re saying to you.  

If we don’t do that, we risk miscommunication, confusion and frustration - and how many times have we seen that happening in a workplace or within a family!

It’s useful to remember during any communication that:

They’ll be interpreting your message through their own unique lens

Whoever you’re communicating with - a colleague, your manager, a customer, a supplier, someone in the community, a friend or family member – they’ll bring their own special set of circumstances to the interaction. Every element of your communication, verbal and non-verbal, will be triggering memories and experiences for them that will completely determine how they interpret your information.

If your communication is clear and precise, you’ll be giving them pointers that will help them comprehend your message. But if you’re vague, waffly or use overly emotive language, you’re likely to be sending them off on a tangent without even realising it.

Being aware that they’ll be interpreting your information from their own point of view can help you keep your own messages clear and to the point, expressing exactly what you need to say.

You’ll also bring your own world view

When we’re communicating, it’s pretty easy to fall into the trap in that moment of thinking the world revolves around us and that it’s all about the message we want to relay. But remember, you’re bringing your own set of cultural and other experiences to the way you convey that information.

Just being aware of this can make a huge difference to your approach. Each time you begin an interaction - whether written or verbal – and knowing you come complete with your own set of baggage, you can in that instant choose to shift your mindset and open up your vision to really see the other person and their point of view.

How many unpleasant conversations or heated emails could be defused if we just took that simple step? As I heard a wise person say recently; “communication isn’t about words, it’s about people”.

It’s about people sharing meanings, and rather than just transferring words from one person to another, great communication is understanding that the flow happens from communicator to communicator, each bringing their own experiences and negotiating a shared meaning. 

Next time you write an email or make a phone call, visualise the other person and think about their likely viewpoint. You don’t need to step wholly into their shoes - you need to bring yourself to the interaction as well - but try to appreciate that you both bring your own world view.

Do this and you’ll both get a better result from the communication, while also building your own skills for the future.

What you can learn from the rudest person in the room

I was at a function with my husband a few weeks ago and we met up with an industry contact who we hadn’t seen for a while - someone I had a reasonably close connection with on a past project.

He greeted my other half, Mike, like a long lost friend, and I leaned forward expectantly, poised to join the conversation.

Then this weird thing happened. The other guy squared his body to face Mike and directed the entire conversation at him, never making eye contact with me or acknowledging me in any way.

I opened my mouth numerous times to inject myself into the discussion but there was never an opportunity. He just kept talking, completely blocking me out.

At first I thought I was imagining it; after all, this person knew me and I couldn’t think of any reason why he wouldn’t make visual contact with me. Then my mind started to take over; “Do I have lettuce between my teeth and he just doesn’t want to look at me? Has he had a fight with his wife and I remind him of her? Is he just rude and ignorant?”

I couldn’t immediately answer those questions (except the lettuce one, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case) but whatever the reason, he didn’t give me the slightest acknowledgement. So there I stood, the shag on a rock, throughout the conversation.

I was pretty annoyed when I thought about it later. I’m not usually precious, but this was blatant ignorance, arrogance or something else. It got me thinking, though, about the importance of body language and how easy it is to unconsciously shut somebody out of an interaction.

You see, I don’t really believe this guy was being deliberately rude - he just had no idea what he was doing and how he was coming across. Pondering further, I wondered if I have ever been guilty of the same thing - perhaps when speaking to a large group or running a training session where it’s challenging to make everyone in the room feel included.

It’s easy to get comfortable and only focus on the people right in front of you or the ones who are nodding in agreement, while cutting out those who look disengaged and are fiddling on their phone. For all we know, they’re taking notes or have had some crisis at home and need to take messages. We can’t assume what’s going on with other people, but we can control our own behaviour.

This one person’s poor showing has been a wake up call to make sure I’m fully present when I talk to others. If I’m speaking to a group, I’m committed to going out of my way to include every person and making them feel part of the conversation. I don’t want to make anyone else feel the way I felt when that guy ignored me.

How about you? When you’re speaking to colleagues, presenting in a meeting or just having a conversation at home, see if you can consciously choose to behave in a way that makes that other person feel important, included and the focus of your attention. There’s a very good chance they’ll be more open to receiving what you have to say - and that’s a great basis for positive communication. 

The results are in: reputation = long-term survival

Has your organisation fully grasped the importance of contributing to its reputational health every day? If not, it’s probably time to start.

We all know that in this social media age, people have a vast array of ways to express their views about what you’re doing, good and bad. More and more research is now catching up with community behaviour, showing businesses and organisations that actively build reputation and work on resilience are most likely to succeed in this reputation-driven economy.

A new report released by Harvard Business School takes this one step further, describing reputation and resilience as key ingredients that determine whether companies will survive tumultuous markets.

Regardless of whether a business operates in a developing or developed economy, the authors say there’s one element in common; an organisation’s reputation is crucial for its long-term success. The report looked at reputation as a combination of three factors - prominence, perceived quality, and resilience.

The third, resilience, really comes into play in emerging markets. As one writer said, “when you’re negotiating in a turbulent environment you feel reassured if the entity you are transacting with is likely be around tomorrow”.

The many business leaders interviewed as part of the research shared a common message. Most found there was a direct return in investing in their reputation, including attracting talented staff and having customers appreciate what they stood for. They also reiterated that reputation takes generations to build and can be severely damaged by just one incident.

Interestingly, the report concluded that reputation has both offensive and defensive elements – making it valuable to organisations during positive and negative economic cycles. The authors remarked: “Very few strategic constructs can work in both good times and bad.”

Your reputation can make or break you, but particularly at times of turbulence and change (which is just about all the time these days). According to the research, at its very core reputation provides stability and having a favourable reputation can give your customers and clients confidence in you and your future. The authors suggest this very stability provides a springboard for organisations to make changes in an ever-changing environment.

While you can’t control your reputation - it’s made up of what other people think of you and your business - you can actively contribute to it by the words you speak and how people directly experience you. That’s never been more important in an age when anyone can make unfettered comments across global channels. It’s vital to do everything you can to ensure those comments are positive.

How to be a powerful communicator when the stakes are high

Think about the last time you had to have a tricky conversation with someone - you know, one of those occasions when you'd rather be in a dentist's chair than having to broach a sensitive subject. Has one come to mind?

The memory of this day is burned into my brain; It was the time I had to face up to a very difficult manager. Let’s not beat around the bush here; he was a workplace bully and I'd had a very difficult time with him for a boss. I often felt uncomfortable speaking to him and now here I was, having to break it to him that I was leaving the organisation.

I knew he would react badly because that was the way he operated. I had a fair idea that he’d rant, rave and yell and that there was a better than even chance he would actually try to have me removed from the building without serving out my notice. As I managed a fabulous team at the time, I felt very strongly about fulfilling my notice period and doing a proper handover to my successor.

As you can imagine, the days and hours leading up to that conversation were an anxious time. While I’ve worked in communications in one form or another for my entire career I had never approached a conversation with a full communication strategy in mind. In this case, I made an exception – and I’m very glad I did.

We all have situations when the stakes are critical, when we must have a conversation about a sensitive topic and we know the other person isn’t going to like it. Most of us avoid conversations like this, but they have to be had.

Here’s what I learned from that experience – insights I’ve taken with me and put to good use in the years since. I’m a huge fan of preparation for any communication activity, but we generally don’t think about rehearsing for a critical conversation because we can’t control what the other person will do or say. However, it is possible to prepare and practise your overall approach.

Get in the right state

Regardless of the situation, you are always in total control of how you feel and react. Preparing for an important conversation starts with making sure you’re in the calmest state possible. We all have different approaches to achieving this; do whatever works for you. It might be deep breathing, listening to music, meditating, going for a walk, taking time away from other people in the hour immediately before the meeting, reading some inspirational statements or saying affirmative statements to yourself. You definitely don’t want to be rushing into the conversation unfocused and harried. Stay in control by managing your state immediately before the talk.

At this point you won’t know what the outcome will be, but you can go in with a positive attitude; expecting something good to come from the situation. Sometimes we need to play-act a little to ourselves to create a positive mindset; imagine the difference if you walk through the door with a glower on your face, compared to being able to summon up something positive at the start of the conversation. The other person will immediately sense your mood, and it will help set the tone of the interaction.

Whether you truly believe you’ll get a positive result or you’re quaking in your boots, you can still set your mindset in a constructive frame.

Be clear on what you want

shutterstock_299481071.jpg

You need to start with the end in mind when you go into a conversation of this nature. What do you want to walk away with? What is negotiable and what's a show-stopper for you?

Starting with an unclear objective is an invitation to the other person to imprint their needs and wants over the top of yours. No doubt there’ll be some give, take and negotiation; you might not get everything want, but you need to be clear on your goal before you start.

Being clear stretches to visualising the positive outcome in your mind. Imagine yourself walking out, feeling relieved and upbeat about the result of the conversation. Even if you don’t feel it deep down, you have the power to hold these images in your mind and they will colour your words and actions. Your clarity and positive approach will be written all over your face and directly influence your body language, tone of voice and the words you choose, which in turn will contribute to the result.

If you go in already visualising a negative outcome, there’s a pretty good chance that’s how it will play out. See the possibilities and opportunities rather than the negatives.

Know who you’re talking to

There are different styles of communication, and everyone has their own habits. As part of your preparation, think about the person you’ll be speaking with; what do you know about them and how they like to receive communication?

Are they a person who likes a little formality or do they prefer to keep things casual? That might influence the setting you choose for the conversation (if you have any control over that part of the interaction). Do they like humour or is it better to keep it serious? Have you noticed they tend to think in pictures? If so, you could use visual references such as “what does this look like to you?” “The way I see it…” etc. Do they like to have diagrams or data as part of a conversation?

The more you know your audience and tailor your approach, the more receptive they’ll be to your message. Remember, effective communication is always about the audience, not the person initiating the communication.

Know your key message and stick to it

I’m the worst offender at this; so often I’ve gone into an important meeting or conversation not having thought through exactly what I need to say. Even the shortest amount of preparation will help you get a better result. Ask yourself; if I walk out of this meeting and the other person takes only one of two things away, what are those messages? Be clear about them, write them down if you need to, and make sure you actually deliver them on the day. This is where practice helps. Stand in front of a mirror and say the words out loud (yes, you’ll feel like a goose, but it will be worth it).

If the going gets tough during the conversation, you might need to resort to the broken record technique and calmly and patiently repeat your key message, slightly rephrased each time. You can’t do this if you don’t know what that message is.

Watch body language

Be proactive in the way you approach the conversation. Don’t slouch, but lean slightly towards the other person - not too much or you’ll come across as aggressive.

Make healthy eye contact; look them in the eye but don’t stare them down. Say your piece calmly, and allow them to say theirs. Demonstrate active listening by nodding in appropriate places and confirming you have heard them by repeating back key points. If you don’t agree, you can acknowledge the validity of their opinion and restate yours by saying something like “I can understand what you’re saying, I have a different view and it’s this…”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Back to that conversation that kept me awake for the weeks leading up to it. For the first time in my life, I consciously focused on mindset preparation before a meeting. As a result, I was able to go in feeling almost detached – it was like an out-of-body experience, with me observing myself and my then boss with an objective eye.

I'd identified and practised my key messages and knew exactly what outcome I wanted, and I convinced myself to feel confident about getting there. You see, I knew that he would be angry; in fact I planned on it. It was like I had a little tick box in the corner of my mind, so if he did explode in a rage I could mentally tick that off and move on without being derailed by it. I had another mental tick box for the moment I expected he would try to have me thrown out of the building.

And in fact, both of my predictions came to pass; he did erupt in anger and asked me to leave the building immediately. I mentally ticked my two boxes, then simply kept broken-recording my key messages. I was amazed at how calm I was able to stay.

While the scene certainly wasn't pretty and we didn't part great friends, by the end of the conversation I had the outcome I was seeking. I had delivered my resignation calmly and professionally in spite of his response. I had kept my dignity intact, and I was able to then sit down with my team to explain that I was leaving, and work out my notice so I could finish up in the job appropriately.

It was a stressful encounter, but to this day I’m so grateful for the experience. It taught me a great lesson about my personal power in any situation, as long as I’ve done the planning and my mindset is in the right place.

We can all do this in high stakes conversations. These steps are worth trying next time you need to have one of “those” chats. It’s far healthier than trying to communicate sensitive information by email or some other means, or avoiding the encounter all together – and you’ll learn amazing things about yourself along the way.

 

Image - courtesy of Shutterstock  www.shutterstock.com

5 Reasons Why Some People At Work Have The X-Factor

Have you ever felt a sneaky pang of envy because someone at work has been promoted ahead of you or scored a great project? Maybe they’ve been put in charge of a team and you’re left as one of the worker bees – or, if you’re in business, there might be someone doing similar work to you who seems to hit more home runs.

Even if you’re technically brilliant at what you do, if you don’t have that extra something that gets people on side, you’re likely to be watching opportunities slip through your fingers and into the grasp of that other person.

There’s no doubt, some people are born with it. They’ve had that charisma since toddlerhood and it’s with them for life. For the rest of us mere mortals, being able to engage – even captivate - other people is a learned skill. The great news is, we can all learn it.

The pay-offs can be huge. It’s no secret that people prefer to do business with those they like. Liking someone at face value is a stepping stone to deeper trust and respect, the kind of relationship you need if you’re going to win more business or get those golden opportunities.

What does it take to inject a bit of x-factor into your business life? These five behaviours come naturally to charismatic people (the rest of us need to work that little bit harder):

1.    They see the conversation from the other person’s point of view.

Many people take an "I"-centred approach to communication. Every experience is seen solely through their eyes. Most sentences to come out of their mouths have a heavy dose of “I” and “me”.

Those who lock themselves into this type of communication are rarely aware they do it, but it’s obvious to everyone listening! Nothing builds a stronger barrier than having a conversation that’s all about you; the other person just happens to be in the same physical space.

They’re likely to be feeling uncomfortable, alienated, bored or downright annoyed. This is not the way to win hearts and minds.

Charismatic, influential communicators know at their core that effective interactions are all about the others in the conversation. They frame their communication as if looking through the other person’s eyes, using language and examples that make sense to the other person. This is basic stuff, and it’s amazing that most people don’t do it.

It can be interesting to consciously listen to yourself when you converse, and look at the way you write emails. How many times do you say “I” or “me” without any reference to the other person’s perspective?

If you’re guilty as charged, set yourself an exercise to focus on the other party to the communication. You might be surprised at the different response you get.

2.    They make great eye contact.

Most of us learn to make good eye contact when speaking in public, but that lesson can get forgotten during everyday interactions.

Some people get eye contact very wrong. They either avoid it, looking decidedly shifty as they stare at the floor or gaze around the room, or they fix an unblinking death stare on their unfortunate victim. There’s nothing like that rabbit-in-the-headlight-gaze to lower the comfort level of a conversation.

I marvelled at this when I was a television reporter. During on-camera interviews I would hold the other person’s gaze while I was talking to them. Some people clearly found this excruciating and couldn’t maintain natural eye contact throughout the process.

Want to be perceived as open and honest? Be prepared to look the other person in the eye regardless of the topic of conversation; but rather than staring them down, look away occasionally too.

3.    They smile and use body language to really listen.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the research that shows how little our actual words impact the overall effectiveness of our communication. Our tone of voice and body language make up the vast majority of tools we have to get our message across. Yet, most of the time we operate from a default position where we’re not conscious of what our body is doing and whether it’s helping or hindering our message.

I’m not suggesting fake or overdone gestures, but be aware of basics such as whether you’re leaning towards or away from the other person, whether your feet are pointed towards them or off to another part of the room, and if you are smiling and nodding at appropriate times.

If you’re sitting in a meeting room across a table from someone – and there are only two of you in the room – be aware that you have a physical barrier to communication. If you can, move your chair to the end of the table nearest the other person to enable you to talk diagonally across the table end.

Remember, it’s a fine line between a respectful distance and getting too close. We’re going for warm and friendly, not suffocating and sleazy.

4.    They approach every situation having already seen a positive result.

The power of visualisation is well documented. Yes, you can visualise positive outcomes for your life on a large scale, and you can also use this technique for very down-to-earth situations including specific conversations.

Here’s how it works: imagine you need to talk to someone about a sensitive or unpleasant subject. You’re probably dreading it, and already imagining it going pear-shaped. Now, try a little brain-washing on yourself and focus on seeing the conversation in a positive light. Try to play out the whole scene in your mind, and make sure the ending is exactly the way you want it. Even if you don’t believe it, give it a go.

Going into that meeting having imagined a positive result, will influence everything about your approach. Your tone of voice, mannerisms, the words you choose, how you use your body, will all be influenced by your mindset which in turn will affect the immediate outcome of the conversation. I have seen this demonstrated many times by participants in my workshops.

You obviously cannot control what the other person says and does, but they will respond to your cues. You will have much more influence over the outcome than if you go in passively, or with a negative mindset.

I love the story about the opening of the first Disneyland, when someone purportedly remarked to Walt Disney’s wife that it was a shame that Walt hadn’t lived to see the momentous opening day. Her reply? “Oh, but he did!” Even while Disneyland was still a dream, Walt Disney saw it in its completed state. That coloured his every action and, in turn, influenced everyone around him.

We can apply this to our everyday conversations and get better results.

5.    Rather than whinging, they find solutions.

If someone gets a great opportunity there’s a pretty good chance it’s not by accident. Perhaps they’ve put their hand up or shown they’re willing to take a risk. Maybe they put forward an idea when everyone else had a blank look on their face. They suggested something at the right time, or weren’t afraid to challenge another opinion.

Nothing pollutes a business environment more quickly than an infestation of whinging. Rather than adding to the cesspool, be the one who breaks free of it and comes up with solutions. Who knows, you might even motivate your colleagues to get on board. You're certainly more likely to stand out in a positive way if you're a source of inspiration.

 

Some of these ideas are simple, others take more practice. They can all be implemented in baby steps. It’s a matter of being conscious of the way you interact with people and choosing to try something different.

Naturally, you need your technical skills and expertise; froth and bubble alone will quickly subside. However, there’s no doubt that pumping up your charisma quotient will have a positive impact on your business and career. 

How avoiding cheap words gives you better business relationships

A year ago I was invited to quote on providing services for a large government project. It was a complex brief, and a lot of elbow grease went into my submission.

Then…nothing.

Time went on and I was busy with other work. I followed up the submission once or twice and received the “we’ll get back to you” treatment. I well and truly lost interest, chalking it up to what appears to be a communication norm these days; non-responsiveness.

Guess what? A few weeks ago a letter arrived (yes, a printed one!) letting me down gently to the news that, unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in my submission. What a massive surprise!

I have to give them credit; at least they eventually got back to me – not that I was hanging out for a response 12 months on. It’s an interesting observation, though, that the more communication channels we have in our information-saturated world, the less we seem to consider it necessary to exercise some of the more courteous behaviours like responding to people.

I hear similar comments from those around me; whether it’s an invitation to an event, a job application or general business communication, people don’t reply like they used to. In an age when it’s so easy to answer by flicking back a response or posting a comment, words have never been so cheap. Their value has plummeted further than the Aussie dollar.

And with those cut-rate words comes a slump in accountability. Following through, getting back to people, taking responsibility for actions and being willing to admit to mistakes seem to be viewed by many as old-hat.

It reminds me of a story I heard from a friend with a long and somewhat colourful career in many industries. He once worked for a giant telco where a colleague spent years using a false name to sign large contracts (the name was pretty obviously fake, at that). When my friend asked him why, his response was, “I don’t want those bastards holding me accountable for anything!”

Amazingly, no-one picked him up on it and he got his wish of never being held accountable for the contracts he signed.

Do you know people, businesses, government departments like that? They mightn’t exactly have fake names or false social media profiles, but their words count for little and they don’t step up to be held accountable for what they do. Generally, those types hide behind arms-length communication rather than building the solid relationships that have never been more important in our furiously-paced digital environment.

To further your career or business, you need to build credibility. Start with airtight relationships with the people in your network - and those beyond it - who matter most.

That’s not going to come through hollow words and lack of response. It’s more likely to be born of direct contact, meaningful conversations and honesty.

Let’s take care not to get swept up in other people’s bad communication habits. It’s important to get back to people when they ask for something, close the communication loop (oh, and perhaps don’t take a year to do it!)

Our words don't need to be cheap. Used well, they’re a rich and powerful tool, helping us succeed and make a positive difference to everyone around us.

 

Image: courtesy of shutterstock.com