Specializing in social marketing and business communications training

Do Business Leaders Communicate with Respect?

Train on the tracks in Metuchen 2013It’s not a joke but many senior executives in business are kidding themselves.

They mistakenly believe that they are communicating to colleagues and employees with respect and kindness. But with some brief introspection and coaching, leaders can quickly discover a level of self-deception and betrayal that deeply impacts the performance and behaviors of multitudes of people.

This is the foundational work of The Arbinger Institute, a global management training and consulting company.

One of Arbinger’s best-selling books, Leadership and Self-Deception, explains that there are two kinds of people.

Communicators who are “in the box” have a distorted view of themselves and others. They are isolated and treat others as objects; entities that lack feelings and emotions. Leaders who are inside the box are disrespectful in subtle ways as they operate with an absence of empathy and compassion.

Executives who are “outside the box” are thoughtful and considerate of other people. They are attentive and treat people—including strangers—with kindness.

If two people in a conversation are both in the box, there’s little room for progress, negotiation, and positive outcomes.

A simple way to know

Consider this example from Leadership and Self-Deception:

You are sitting on a crowded commuter train and the seat next to you is empty. Do you put your bag on it and hide behind your newspaper hoping no one will squeeze in? We’ve all been on both sides of this situation—the one who is seated and in the box, and the stressed passenger desperately searching for a place to sit. If the seated passenger was out of the box, he would make eye contact and smile at someone, silently sending a welcome signal to take the open seat.

Those in the box are betraying themselves, according to Arbinger.

Self-betrayal is about a time when you had a sense of something you should do for others, but didn’t.

Read between the lines

When communicating at work, you may realize now that the few words you exchange when greeting your administrative assistant are rushed?

Were you inside the box as your admin responded to your “How are you doing today?” obligatory question as you breezed past the desk? Did you forget that your admin is a human being with feelings?

You may not have recognized your actions as being insensitive but your assistant likely did.

A recent blog post on the Arbinger website explains that garnering respect or disrespect comes not from outward behavior but from deep within the spirit and heart of the leader.

“What is that spirit? In Arbinger terms, we describe it as a leader’s ‘way of being.’ It is how I choose to see others around me. I see them either as people who count like me or as objects to manipulate or ignore. This spirit, or way of being, is a choice with consequences. If I choose to see others as people instead of objects, and hence manifest a spirit of respect toward those I lead, I inspire or invite responsiveness and respect from them. If I choose to see others as objects, and manifest a spirit of disrespect, I excite strong resistance to my leadership, despite the appearance of compliance…This awareness provokes an ‘others-mindedness’ that benefits the whole.

In a responsive way of being, we are open, yielding and present in the moment, whether we are working with people or trying to solve problems. We let the influence of others guide how we see and treat them. We have the freedom and courage to be self-critical and thus adaptive. We become leaders…who are poised for success…”

Self-awareness about being in or out of the box is the first step towards improving your communication and leadership.

4 Ways Colleges Can Better Prepare Grads for Business Communication

The yellow brick road. Kind of.Educators, business leaders, and government representatives recently converged on San Jose, California for a conference on cultivating talent and the emerging workforce.

Much of the time was spent on social media, communication, and learning outcomes. Everyone seems to agree there is a gap between what colleges are teaching and what employers need from recent graduates.   

One of the universities leading the charge for academic innovation is Southern New Hampshire University. I interviewed Paul LeBlanc, the president at SNHU, who also presented at the conference.

Beginning the conversation: Historically, students didn’t worry too much about the job market. Today, they don’t have that luxury. We want students to really have a plan and to be purposeful as these conversations should begin at freshman orientation.

Social media presents a multi-faceted and amazing opportunity for networking. We have been linking student portals and going with more web-based portfolios for our students. More and more of our disciplines are adopting E-portfolios that students bring with them to interviews. Included are conventional résumés and electronic materials. Employers, to varying degrees, will look at them, but even the sense they could look at the materials if they wanted to, is powerful. 

Improving online and interpersonal communication: Students must have the ability to walk into a room or an interview, use eye contact and offer a firm handshake. Millennials also have to understand that conversation is a two-way back and forth, and two word responses don’t suffice.This new generation lives so much of life in the virtual space, they are less adept at the kinds of interpersonal skills that employers and mature adults look for. Some of this is developmental, immaturity, or lack of self-confidence. In reality, much of that communication continues to outpace our societal ability to make sense of it.

Social media channels are incredibly powerful, and one area we’re addressing is how students convey empathy and understanding online. There’s still that clumsy etiquette.  Schools can hire outside trainers but we are supposed to be doing this. It’s our responsibility.

Expanding roles of colleges: Colleges are moving into the world of non-disciplinary skills; the things that employers value a lot. Employers had taken responsibility for these things 20 years ago, but today, organizations want the colleges to do this. We are looking at how students develop leadership skills, how they develop the ability to work with people who are different than they are, how they can work in cross-functional teams, and how they think in terms of systems. These lessons don’t live in courses, they are bigger than that and we have to figure out how to make it happen.

Making the changes:  First, SNHU is taking an integrated approach to our career services, alumni outreach, and classroom instructors. We’ve hired new people in career services and are moving the department far beyond résumé services and mock interviews. Second, instead of simply asking alumni to donate money, we are partnering with them to provide internships and mentoring for students who need insight into the real business world. Finally, SNHU is pulling faculty into this holistic approach. We’re getting them more involved with internships and job pipelines, with teaching outcomes that are measureable.

It’s nice to see academia stepping up to face the changes that are needed in business and communication. Let’s hope others follow suit.

Simple 3-Word Phrases You Need for Success

barrelsThe way we communicate with ourselves reflects how we interact with others.

What are you secretly, quietly, and unknowingly telling yourself that is standing in the way of your business success?

If negative self-talk is a daily ritual, consider the following 11 phrases. These simple messages that I’ve been using for years can empower you while replacing the poison you’ve come to believe.

  1. Stay with it. Feel like giving up? Frustrated? Refuse to quit. Persistence often trumps brains.
  2. Get in there. Sometimes you can’t or shouldn’t wait for an invitation. You want something? Go get it.
  3. It’s all good. “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should…Strive to be happy.”-Desiderata
  4. Yes I can. Avoid looking at why something can’t be done. Turn it around with positive energy and focus on why it can be done.
  5. I’ll do it. Don’t try. Commit to a positive outcome and get to work. Make it happen.
  6. One more time. Don’t give up. There’s always hope.
  7. Bring it on. You are so much better than you think you are.
  8. Step back now. Hasty decisions and impulsive responses create problems that no one needs. As tempting as it may be to react or get fired up, take a step back and pause. A few quick seconds makes a big difference in our communication and relationships.
  9. In the moment. Be fully present and engaged. “Where ever my feet are, my head is.” Relentless internal chatter pulls us into the past or propels us into the future. There’s no turning back to change the past and creating drama about something that likely won’t happen in the future deprives us what is right in front of us. Be in the moment.
  10. Too much stuff. We complicate things and situations. We over analyze. We go down rabbit holes. Simplicity is a beautiful thing.
  11. Not a word. Know when to speak up and know when to shut up. Not every statement requires a response. There is power in silence.

Which of these can you get started with right now?

I invite you to share your own easy breezy nuggets that keep you on the path to success, learning, and enlightenment.

The Top Reason You Shouldn’t Try to Improve Customer Service

choc covered strawberries closeupI recently had some eye-opening customer service experiences that I must share. Each revolves around a dangerous three-letter word.

I’m guessing you have been through similar situations when communicating with front counter people working in retail establishments. It seems everyone wants to ‘try’ and help.

Room service: When room service failed to pick up my breakfast order from the doorknob tag the night before, I called to place my order. Keep in mind it is 6:30 AM and I’m bleary-eyed having not had my daily cup of coffee. “I’ll try to bring the tray up as soon as I can,” mumbles the woman on the other end of the phone in a most monotonous voice. My take: Don’t try. Fully commit to fixing the problem by telling me the breakfast will be delivered in 20 minutes. Then deliver it in 15. I promise I’ll be impressed.

Cashier: “I’ll try to contact my manager to see if he can authorize a refund.”  My take: I am certain you know how to contact your manager. Don’t try. Make the call. Write the e-mail. Send the text. Impress me with your response time.

Front Desk Attendant at hotel: “I’ll call now and try to get you a taxi to the airport.” My take: Just last night, you happily offered to call a cab for me so I could easily get to the airport. Now you’re only willing to try? Look around. We’re in New York City. There are cabs all over the place. Your cavalier attempt to find a taxi borders on lame. Real New Yorkers can call or hail a cab with barely any effort. Sure, I can drop my bags and flag down a cab, but I was counting on this person to follow through on his promise. Now that would be impressive.

A bit harsh? Maybe. In my own defense, my only response in each encounter was to smile.  And bite my tongue.

For many years I have likened the word ‘try’ to being mediocre.

Professionals who go beyond ‘try’ and deliver fabulous customer service (bring the food, call the cab) are the ones who excel and make positive lasting impressions on customers and prospects.  They also get noticed by managers and executives who sign their paychecks.

These are the professionals who have purposefully removed the word ‘try’ from their vernacular.

This three-letter word is giving us permission to merely be average in a world that demands outstanding.

The Secret to Improving Business Communication and Productivity

VannawhiteBusiness leaders who want to improve collaboration in group projects may be overthinking things. Big time.  

A new study from the University of Wisconsin finds that people who share the same initials are more adaptive and productive when working together in small groups. 

Dr. Evan Polman co-authored the research, which is referred to as the name-letter-effect.

“People have a tendency to prefer things that remind them of themselves…Research shows that people’s choices are reliably influenced by the similarity between the letters of the choice and the chooser’s own name. For example, people are disproportionately likely to work at companies, buy stocks, donate to charities, hold stronger attitudes to brands, and prefer consumer products with names that begin with the letters of their own initials compared to other letters.”

A Simplified Way of Building Rapport 

Here’s an easy example: If you strike up a conversation with a stranger and soon discover you have the same birthday, data proves you are more likely to do a favor for that person or help them in some way. This simple birthday commonality has broken down a wall and has helped to build instant rapport.

Dr. Polman’s research focuses on whether shared initials among group members’ names tilt groups to perform better.

“Unlike surface- and deep-level characteristics, initials typically provide little if any information about others, and logically should play little if any role in group outcomes,” according to the study. “Nonetheless, we propose that sharing initials with other group members gives rise to a ‘value-in-similarity’ effect.”

Negotiations and Client Relations

How does the name-letter-effect play into business negotiations?

Researchers interested in psychological processes underlying negotiation have addressed the potential role of priming and other nonconscious, automatic processes but no prior research has studied how the letters in one’s name might incidentally influence interpersonally relevant decision making, such as the names of one’s negotiation partner or client. Future work should study these relationships and even consider the broad implication that sharing initials with others may improve negotiation outcomes vis-à-vis more integrative agreements and better client relations.”

Can we put away the personality profiles and assessments that leaders depend on to enhance interpersonal relationships and business processes?

Is it really as simple as having John, Judy, and Jamie together in one group, and David, Brittany, and Sam in another group to see what happens?

This is one exercise you may just want to try at home.

(Editor’s Note: The Name-Letter-Effect in Groups: Sharing Initials with Group Members Increases the Quality of Group Work, has been published on PLOSONE.org. PLOS ONE (eISSN-1932-6203) is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication. PLOS ONE welcomes reports on primary research from any scientific discipline.”)

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Workplace communication: 8 ways to monitor employee feedback

Dollar bills at secret pizza VegasThere’s lots of chatter this week about Customer Service Week, a time to recognize employees who offer outstanding customer service and professionalism in their jobs.

Employers, however, must pay attention to the message of best-selling business author Shep Hyken, who encourages us to be mindful of our “internal customers”, a.k.a. our employees.

Countless studies have proven that employee satisfaction directly impacts revenue.

HR leaders and the C-suite can follow the model used in Voice of the Customer market research, which gathers consumer feedback through mobile surveys, texts, and online chats. With analytics and structured data, businesses can evaluate voluminous amounts of information on consumer  buying patterns, interests, and demographics.

There’s no excuse to ignore the ‘hits and misses’ of today’s shopping experience.

The same is true of the employee experience.

Enter Voice of the Employee

Voice of the Employee, or VoE, allows businesses easy access to the opinions of candidates who are hired.

For example, using VoE market research, employers can:

  1. Gather feedback from a candidate who found a job posting and applied online. Data gleaned: Ease of online application process, navigating the website.
  2. Monitor impressions through the screening process. Data gleaned: Promptness of scheduled phone or in-person interviews, professional correspondence and process explained.
  3. Invite feedback about the onboarding process. Data gleaned: Friendly welcome and introductions the first few days, good use of time for learning protocol.
  4. Check the probationary period. Data gleaned: Assimilation and cultural fit.
  5. Assess learning opportunities. Data gleaned: Educational programs aligned with employee aspirations and goals.
  6.  Inquire about company news. Data gleaned: Sense of community and belonging, understanding of how their daily jobs contribute to overall company success.
  7. Ask about exit interview. Data gleaned: Appropriate questions and candor about department, company, culture, reason for leaving.
  8. Keep in touch after separating. Data gleaned: An honest reflection of experience and the company.

Brand ambassadors can be current or former employees who share positive experiences about your organization without being asked to do so. They are also the people who refer top talent your way.

Voice of the Employee brings business a level of communication and employee engagement that cannot be created through a suggestion box or annual performance review.

Staffers know when employers are going through the motions and when they are truly listening. It’s easy to recognize when feedback is applied in a positive way that improves business processes and people.

The 360-Degree View

With VoE, business leaders get a 360-degree view of the employee, providing a way to develop actionable steps for improvement. The effects of Voice of the Employee are felt by vendors, customers, and stakeholders, too.

Voice of the Employee builds brand ambassadors, increases morale and loyalty, boosts productivity, and brings quality candidate referrals. It’s the complete opposite of a disengaged person showing up to collect a paycheck.


5 communication quotes from ‘the mother of media psychology,’ Dr. Joyce Brothers

PBDJOBR EC017She has been dubbed “the mother of media psychology.”   

Dr. Joyce Brothers, a licensed psychologist who passed away on Monday, has been described by CNN as having “a reassuring and calming demeanor” that boosted her self-titled local talk show to syndication in the 1960s.

Dr. Brothers’ affable personality and willingness to talk about taboo subjects such as marriage, relationships, and families made her a household name for decades. Remember, this was a time when married couples on TV were sleeping in separate beds. The word ‘pregnant’ wasn’t uttered on television, either. 

According to NBC News, “Her television show would soon make her a pop culture fixture. She made nearly 100 appearances on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. Her frequent public appearances propelled her to become one of the most admired women in America, appearing on Gallup’s list of most admired American women.”

Here are five insights on communication and media from Dr. Joyce Brothers:

  1. “There is such a thing as bad publicity.”
  2. Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.”
  3. “If Shakespeare had to go on an author tour to promote Romeo and Juliet, he never would have written Macbeth.”
  4. “Anger repressed can poison a relationship as surely as the cruelest words.”
  5. “I invented media psychology. I was the first. The founding mother.” (1989)

Years ago, not everyone jumped on the media psychologist bandwagon.

“Dispensing advice on public airwaves didn’t please all of her colleagues,” reports CNN. “Some members of the American Psychological Association asked early in her media career that her membership be revoked because they didn’t think dispensing advice outside a one-on-one setting was appropriate.” However, the APA’s website says that media psychology became part of the organization’s structure in 1986.

Admittedly, I’m a bit troubled thinking that this wonderful talent paved the way for today’s sensationalist personalities like Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew Pinsky. 

But as we recall Dr. Brothers’ intelligence and accomplishments, we also note that she was fun. In the 1950s, Dr. Brothers was a TV game show contestant, winning more than $134,000 in prize money.  She made several cameo appearances in movies, including a parody in The Naked Gun. On the small screen, she was featured on Happy Days, The Simpsons, and Entourage.

Rest in peace, Dr. Joyce Brothers. You were a gifted media pioneer with talents that stretched across print, radio, television, and movies.


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The 10 best things to do to supercharge your career

BBQ pit at Salt Lick






These are rhetorical questions: Are you looking for some excitement? Are you caught up in a bland routine at work?

If things are a bit mundane, consider these 10 points:  

  1. Go away. I’m not talking about a vacation, simply take a day off and bring your journal to a place that’s at least six miles away from your home or office. A change of scenery does wonders. Plan a get-away once a quarter, especially when you’re stressed.
  2. Keep your promises. The most important promises are the ones we make to ourselves. If you have vowed to take a class, get a certification, or revise your résumé, get going! Feeling stuck is a real drag.
  3. Read often. Learn from the great ones like Gandhi, Harry Truman, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, and Steve Jobs. Read their biographies and autobiographies. If you’re pressed for time—and who isn’t? —read magazine articles about successful people you’d like to emulate. Consider these people your mentors.  
  4. Train yourself to think fast. When the power at the Super Bowl was zapped, the biggest buzz was not about the game and electricity as it was about dunking Oreo cookies in the dark. Nabisco makes Oreos, and it was Nabisco, Walgreens, and Tide that immediately jumped onto Twitter with snappy marketing nuggets. Not only did employees think fast, they took immediate action and created quite a buzz. This leads me to No. 5…
  5. Avoid procrastination. When something needs to be done, get right to it. Putting it off will only cause stress and anxiety. Actor Denzel Washington says that he and his wife have raised their four children with this rule: “Do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do.”
  6. Be accountable for yourself. Do not blame other people. Take full responsibility for your actions and words.
  7. Always do your best. This is one of the points that author Don Miguel Ruiz shared in his book, The Four Agreements.  Every day we are faced with a plethora of choices. Many decisions we make aren’t in our own best interest. I’ll call my client tomorrow. I’ll just throw together this report. The key is that your best will vary. If you have a cold on Tuesday, your best will not be the same on Friday when you’re feeling better. Don’t compare; just do your best in each and every moment.  
  8. Focus on tech. Commit to learning two or three new tech tools each month. Consider what’s hot in your field and what your competitors are utilizing. You may decide after toying around with a new program or platform that it’s not for you. And that is OK.   
  9. Quit criticizing, judging, and complaining. These three habits destroy people and relationships. They drain our energy and interfere with our potential and achievements. Be aware of how you behave.  
  10. Expect good things to happen. When we anticipate good things, they usually happen. If you expect happiness, love and success, they will begin showing up in your life. If you focus on the negative, these will show up as well. It’s like ordering food in a restaurant. You generally get what you ask for.  If you don’t like what you’re getting in life, send it back. Be clear about what you want.

Which of these can you begin right away? Share your successes below!

8 classic quotes from New York Mayor Ed Koch

kochThe beloved former Mayor of New York City, Ed Koch passed away early today.

He may be gone, but he leaves behind a trove of sound bites and quotes for us to enjoy. 

Koch was a three-term mayor in New York (1978-1989), a time defined by near financial ruin, government corruption, and AIDS. He was an author and activist. He even appeared on The People’s Court.

A man who often asked people, “How’m I doin’?,”  Koch has been described as acid-tongued, feisty, and pretentious. He was an iconic New Yorker. 

I remember Ed Koch’s press conferences and interviews being laced with ‘ah’s’ and ‘ums’. These are the cardinal sins of Toastmasters and professional speakers.

But for Ed Koch, his vocal habits weren’t sinful. They defined him as being real. Mayor Koch spoke his mind. There was nothing tricky about him. Koch’s press conferences showed him without a jacket, sporting a wrinkled shirt, and rolled-up sleeves. Watch out.

Maybe you followed him on Twitter @Mayoredkoch

Here are some classics to shed light on how Mayor Koch communicated and lived:  

1. “I know many writers who first dictate passages, then polish what they have dictated. I speak, then I polish. Occasionally I do windows.”

 2. “You punch me, I punch back. I do not believe it’s good for one’s self-respect to be a punching bag.”

3. “Tone can be as important as text.”

4. His advice to young people: “Enjoy what you’re doing or don’t do it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult or won’t challenge you, but if you are involved in something that’s causing you to say, ‘Why am I doing this?’ then you’re in the wrong business.”

5. The Mayor, who had never married, was asked by reporters about his sexuality. His response: “My answer to questions on this subject is simply, ‘F— off.’ There have to be some private matters left.”

6. Koch’s spokesman George Arzt remembered Hizzoner’s sense of humor. “I got into the car and said I couldn’t believe how a kid who grew up in Williamsburg was now sitting next to the mayor. Then the mayor said: “Oh shut, up. Everybody comes from somewhere.”

7. In one of his last interviews, Koch told Vanity Fair Magazine: “At age 88, I wake up every morning and say to myself, ‘Well, I’m still in New York. Thank you, God.’”  

8. In 1983, Mayor Koch bought a burial plot at the Trinity Church Cemetery. It was the only cemetery in Manhattan that still had space. Koch, who was Jewish, told the Associated Press: “I don’t want to leave Manhattan, even when I’m gone. This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.” Soon after he purchased the burial plot, Mayor Koch had an engraved marker placed at the site. It has the last words of slain journalist Daniel Pearl: “”My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

 Rest in peace, Mayor Koch. 

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What does social media mean to you?

fence graffitiCommunication, conversation, and connection.

These are just a few of the words used by 10 Twitter stars who I asked to define social media.  Don’t mind the abbreviations; the goal was to offer a definition in 140 characters or less. 

Feel free to comment below and share your own 140 character snippet.

1. SM allows me to participate in discussions about entrepreneurship that I hope will one day change the world. I also get to give back. @BrianMoran

2. Social=meaning friendly gathering. Media=form of communication. Reminding us to gather friendly when we communicate with others. @JessicaNorthey

3. SM has totally shifted the way that small & large businesses connect with audience. It is about the hand shake, conversation, relationship online. @MamaBritt

4. Social Media = Global Diversity – The ability to have a local, national or global & inclusive conversation. Do you have what it takes? @FleeJack

5. Social media is a great way to share insight & connect with people globally. It’s the perfect give & get communications medium. @Rieva

6. Welcome to the ‘Age of Influence,’ where anyone can build an audience, build relationships, effect change… and make a difference. @TedRubin

7. Social media is a great way to connect and inspire your target audience. It is also a great place to build real relationships with those you want. @RayHigdon

8. It’s an opportunity to ‘meet’ people you would have never met otherwise, to share what you know and learn some too! @LeadToday

9. SM is an unprecedented opportunity 2 elevate/expand ur influence. Each tweet/share is a chance 2B more informed, amazed & appreciative. @AngelaMaiers

10. SM gives me the ability to make wonderful connections with people that would be all but impossible in an analog world. @MackCollier

Be sure to follow these folks on Twitter and other social channels. They are smart, savvy, and succinct!