Building Your Interpersonal Skills: Change the Lens

Guest Post by: Miranda Holder, GUAA Coaching Partner

Improving your interpersonal skills is about changing your point of focus. I studied art alongside literature in college and spent as much time as humanly possible in the darkroom. I will never forget the blissful feeling of my brain shutting off and my hands taking over. In a photo, much of the power of the image comes from where and on what you choose to focus.

This same principle is true of our interpersonal skills. When we try to appear capable socially or interpersonally, our focus is on ourselves because that’s what concerns us. It feels counterintuitive, but letting go of your internal dialogue and turning your focus on the other person is what strengthens those skills. Your subject can feel when they have your complete attention. We are hungry to be seen, to be heard and to have someone truly give us their energy. Whether or not we are aware of it, we are also looking for a real connection. You have amazing internal muscles that you can strengthen as you practice this: the muscles that support deep listening and attentiveness to another.

Reflect
Although we studiously avoid it, a little reflection for yourself can go a long way. Take a moment and a few deep breaths. What do you feel concerned, nervous or anxious about in social situations? If you could wave a magic wand, what would change about those situations to make you feel excited or comfortable about them? What support systems can you create to help you? What assumptions are you making about other people in social situations? The answers to these questions may provide you with some insight that help you personalize your plan.

Plan + Prepare
If the thought of extemporaneous speaking makes you feel queasy, take a few minutes before you head to an event and write out a few questions to which you are genuinely interested in hearing the answer. This will help internalize them for you. You can keep them on your phone if you blank when you walk into the room! Come prepared with a few anecdotes for yourself, as well. What’s exciting you these days? What are you surprised about, or what you have learned recently that interests you? Do you have a goal that you’re working toward? This way, you’ll have something prepared for the lull in the conversation.

Listen Deeply + Let Go
Nearly all humans are not listening, not really, even when their mouths are shut. They are listening enough to be thinking about how to respond with their own thoughts, because that’s what we’ve been taught. It can feel utterly nerve-wracking to not prepare what we are going to say in advance. This lack of listening kills our ability to be present.

If you listen deeply, a question will naturally come up from inside. It will be there for you as you open your mouth to speak: coming up from your gut, your intuition or your heart as you process what you’re hearing. Deep listening often leads to more interesting questions and a better connection to your fellow human.

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Learning to Bounce by GUAA Career Coaching Partner Friderike Butler

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I sent my email subscribers a challenge at the beginning of the month, encouraging them to practice bouncing.  I didn’t mean the kind of bouncing that children do on backyard trampolines though! The art of the bounce is all about practicing resilience when your “20 seconds of Insane Bravery” do not yield the results you were hoping for.

Sometimes risk taking may bring you standing ovations and sometimes you will hear cat calls and boos. Some of your ideas will have enthusiastic fans and some will bring out the harshest critics – and the most outside of the box ideas are likely to generate both.  Setbacks, letdowns and brutal criticism are practically a given once you begin to take risks, so developing the skills to recover gracefully and learn from them is vital to your growth as a leader.

How do you learn how to bounce?

  1. Explore your fears

Practice getting used to wins and losses, seek praise and reproach, get used to getting call-backs and being ignored. One way of doing this is to reflect on a feared outcome and ask yourself the question, “and then what?”. For example, if you are afraid you may experience severe criticism for your action, think about what it would feel like if it actually happened, and if the criticism came from someone you really respected. Ask yourself what would happen next? How would you respond? Keep asking yourself the “so what?” or “and then?” questions until you get to a place of accepting whatever the outcome is or the anticipated outcome becomes so outlandish that you realize the fear is overprojected, e.g. they will hate the idea, I will lose the gig, I will not find other work, I can’t pay the bills, I will be living in a tent in the woods… This is a great journaling exercise that can help you to uncover the real and imagined fear that is holding you back from stepping out in risk.

  1. Accept the existence of non-fans

It’s important to work on letting go of wanting to be liked by all and being known as a “nice person”. Ultimately, people are responding to the tape that is playing in their own head and their response is not a reflection of your worth and often not even an indication of the value of your idea. Learn what you can from your experience, allow people to have the reactions they have, mourn an unrealized opportunity if you need to and then turn to your next opportunity to reach for what you believe in.  Practice not responding immediately to negative comments (especially on social media platforms!) to give yourself time and space to assess whether that response really warrants any energy back from you. Try and notice if there could be different ways to interpret another person’s comments or responses. Is there anything that you can take away from it that will aid your leadership journey?

  1. Seek candid feedback

For an even riskier way to practice the bounce, take this practice outside just your personal journaling time and invite some real feedback: Ask someone who is NOT a raving fan of yours for candid feedback on a recent project, action, or behavior. Listen and ask open-ended, non-leading questions: What worked for that person and what didn’t? What was the perception on the receiving end? Are there suggestions for alternative approaches? Thank your conversation partner for the feedback. Allow the message to settle. Consider what is being said to you, whether you see validity in the comments and how it may help you handle a situation differently in the future. Take valuable comments and consider how to put them into action. Put the rest aside. Walk on. Really. Walk away from the comments that were not helpful to you. Shake them off. Take a deep breath. Connect with yourself and feel that you are still whole, with immense talents to share and valuable contributions to make.

  1. Cherish support and praise

On those rare occasions when you do get standing ovations after your moment of insane courage, enjoy the moment! Accept the praise graciously and thank those who contributed to the excellent outcome. Tease out what exactly lead to the success so you will be able to draw from the experience in a similar situation in the future.

Tigger

REFLECTION & ACTION

  • What is the criticism that you are most afraid of? What fear is triggered? What do you believe the criticism or failure would uncover?
  • What are other ways you could interpret criticism? What may be going on in the other person’s world may have played into a harsh response?
  • What part of the criticism is constructive (you agree with it and you can choose to do something about it) and what part is puzzling, unhelpful, perhaps ill-spirited?

Questions about this exercise or other leadership capacity building practices? Contact me via email or even better, schedule a free Discovery Coaching Callwith me! I love talking with people!

Presentation Tips: The Solution to “Too Much Detail” by Dean Brenner (The Latimer Group)

Several of our coaching conversations at The Latimer Group lately have been focused around one particular challenge: When I am speaking to my boss, how do I stay out of the weeds? I get stuck in the deep detail, and he/she gets frustrated with me.

Sound familiar? “Too much detail” is a constant issue in the 21st century business world. In a world where everyone is drowning in detail… where attention spans are at an all-time low… where no one listens anymore… the ability to communicate the correct amount of detail is a skill of great importance.

Part of the answer, therefore, is to always consider how much detail is really necessary in that moment. How much does your audience want or need? How much can they handle? What can be left for another day or time? These are critical questions to ask.

However, there is another part to the answer. Sometimes, the solution is not less detail. Sometimes, the solution is better organized detail, that is easier to follow. Because not all detail is created equal.

Well organized detail has a few common denominators:

  1. The overall message is divided into key themes (or chapters);
  2. The speaker outlines the key themes up front;
  3. The details follow each key theme introduction;
  4. The speaker pauses along the way for some internal summary, to repeat key points, and to check for understanding;
  5. The speaker outlines key themes again at the end.

And along the way, the speaker uses specific delivery techniques like “speaking in bullet points.” So there are three things I want you to consider: #1… #2… #3… And so on. The speaker also might use a healthy dose of WIIFY (What’s In It For You) statements: “This is important to you because… The key point here is… Let me make this easy for you, here is what you need to remember…”

The message today is pretty simple. Always challenge your own thinking and question how much detail is really necessary. But just as importantly, think about how to organize your message so that your message is easier to retain.

Both solutions will help you, and your audience.

Good luck, and have a great day!

 

 

At The Latimer Group, our individual Coaching services are highly customized and designed to help you achieve your specific goals. Typical engagements focus on developing skill sets in Leadership Communications, Public Speaking, and Executive-Level Business Presentations. To learn more, e-mail us at info@TheLatimerGroup.com

Presentation Tips: Embrace the Space by Dean Brenner (The Latimer Group)

In many workshops, we see two parallel fears come up over and over.

People fear silence when they’re speaking. Silence makes them uncomfortable. Therefore, they often fill the silence with more sound — extra words and non-words (we call them “verbal pauses’).

And at the same time, people fear empty space on slides. White space makes them uncomfortable, and therefore they often fill the space with more words.

For some reason, we fear voids. And yet voids can be a powerful tool. Silence can be used to draw attention to our most important points. Silence can be used to capture attention. Silence also can create a sense of confidence and presence.

So too, with empty space. Empty space means the audience’s eye can only focus on what is there. So if you limit your slides to your most important points and facts, empty space will mean there is nothing extra to distract.

Is it possible to have TOO much silence and TOO much empty space? Of course. But in our experience, very few people are in danger of that.

For most of us, the risk is not enough silence and not enough empty space. When we fill the void, we distract our audience away from our most important points.

Don’t fill the silence and the void. Embrace them.

 

 

At The Latimer Group, our individual Coaching services are highly customized and designed to help you achieve your specific goals. Typical engagements focus on developing skill sets in Leadership Communications, Public Speaking, and Executive-Level Business Presentations. To learn more, e-mail us at info@TheLatimerGroup.com

Getting Your Delivery from “Negative” to “Positive” byDean Brenner (the Latimer Group)

We talk all the time about message development — clarity of and organization of message make it easier for people to listen to you. And if you do all the right things on your message plan, and then translate it into a good slide deck, the final piece of the puzzle is your delivery. Once you have the “what am I going to say” part done, then it is time to focus on the “how am I going to say it” part.

And here is an easy way to think about your delivery.

The first goal with improvement of your delivery skills is to make sure that there is nothing getting in the way of the message being heard. We have written many times in the past about eliminating distractions, and this remains a great goal. Once you have gotten the distractions out of your delivery (verbal pauses like “um,” speaking too fast, too softly, too monotone, excessive hand gestures, lack of eye contact, fidgeting body language, etc… it is a long list), then there is nothing that will get in the way of your message being heard. The distractions will detract from your message and make it hard to listen to you. But now your delivery is no longer a negative. Good job! Your delivery is essentially now a neutral element in the audience experience. Good start. But we are not done. There is more progress to be made.

Once we have gotten our skills to neutral, now we have to begin working on a set of skills that will make our delivery a positive element of the audience experience. We want our skills to actually enhance that audience experience. So, we begin working on skills that make it easier to consume the message… we work on changes to our volume, tone and speed; body language and facial expression that will channel the energy we want our audience to feel; vocabulary that will project the feeling we want to create; verbal techniques like “speaking in bullet points” that will make it easier to remember; and WIIFY phrases that will connect our audience to our message. Again… it is a long list.

But for today, let’s make it simple. As you are thinking about your own progress as a presenter and a speaker, think about your delivery skills in the following way: are your skills a negative to the audience experience? Let’s eliminate the stuff that will get in the way of our message being heard, and get our skills to at least a neutral impact. Then, once we have accomplished that, we can begin accumulating the skills that will make our delivery a positive on the audience experience. As we develop those skills, we will be playing in rarefied air, and performing at a high level.

Have a great day, and good luck!

Hoya Highlight: Sarabeth Boak (C’11)

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Cofounder, CEO, Stitchbridge
Pitched at Second Annual Alumni Pitch Competition at John Carroll Seattle

Career Reflections

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Don’t waste the best years of your life executing someone else’s vision.

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

Every single day I go to work in my startup is both rewarding and filled with constant anxiety. Ask me again in 5 years?

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?

I try not to live with regret. Every stage gives me something to learn.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done professionally?

Founding a startup.

Your Time on the Hilltop

Favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

Every English department class I took was awesome.

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

Exploring the tunnels with my freshman year crew.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

Georgetown taught me how to take chances and stay curious.

A Day in the Life

What is on your desk right now?

“What isn’t on my desk?” is a better question. It’s giving me anxiety just thinking about it.

What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?

One word: coffee!

Who or what is a source of inspiration in your life?

My grandmother—she’s the grittiest lady I know.

Who is your favorite author?

It’s a tie between Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway.

Words to live by?

Just do it.

The Job of a Leader is to Develop Other Leaders

We have all witnessed numerous types of leaders: “hoarders,”,”ostriches” and “farmers.”  It is farmers who ultimately get the real job of leadership accomplished.

“Hoarders” hoard people in their departments or offices. When they identify excellent employees or potential leaders, their first question is: “How can I keep this person here as long as possible?” They focus on their own immediate needs and want to keep these potential leaders in the their place. Their strategic question is “how can this help me?”  I remember how I used to see leadership this way.  I wanted to look good, and saw excellent employees as vehicles to reflect on myself  to peers and supervisors.

Hoarders can be good managers; frequently, they know how to delegate well, they know how to utilize people’s skills, and they know how to get things done. However, hoarders are usually not interested in developing the skills and aptitudes of their best employees or in shaping these people to be future leaders. They tend to view career development by their subordinates as a threat to their own success, an obstacle to their own personal agenda, or as a hurdle to the long-term smooth functioning of their domain. Hoarders are not interested in the career development of staff members. They reason that such growth means they will move on to other departments within the organization or positions at other organizations.

“Ostriches” are not smart enough to hoard their people. I remember moments in my leadership journey when I lacked self-confidence and I functioned in self-protective mode. I would keep my head in the sand.  Ostriches don’t have the depth of vision to think about the development of their staff. They articulate the mission of their office and expect all staff members to contribute to the fulfillment of that mission and the accomplishment of departmental goals and objectives. Employees exist to serve the department. If they leave, they can be replaced. If they are interested in professional development or the cultivation of particular skills, ostriches may not stand in their way. However they will never sit down with employees and delve into their professional aspirations, asking how they can assist them in reaching their goals. The development of new leaders among the staff is simply not an issue on ostriches’ radar screens.

The third group of leaders, the “farmers,” are different. These leaders grow people. People farmers maintain as a primary objective the development and success  of their team members. In order to fulfill this role, people farmers plant the right individuals by engaging in a thorough, careful hiring process. They know that the hiring of any employee is a two-way street. There must be a match not just for the employer seeking to fill the position, but for the job applicant as well.  Once these team members are hired, the people farmers nurture and cultivate them.  Instead of fearing losing their employees, they actually help them articulate their personal goals and career visions.  Then they develop methods for helping employees work towards those goals. In fact, the people farmers do everything they can to match people’s career aspirations with their job responsibilities, even if it means re-writing job descriptions, as long as such re-writing benefits the entire operation. People farmers know that their role is to put team members in positions to succeed, not to fail.

They provide all employees, new and experienced, with the necessary ingredients to do their jobs well: desired results, guidelines, resources, accountability measures and consequences. They collaborate with all employees they supervise on the development of annual goals, including the identification of skills to be gained or improved upon or the knowledge to be learned. People farmers talk the talk and walk the walk – they role model what they want to teach their employees.  They also seek help from their employees, admit their own mistakes, teaching that vulnerability and humility are strengths, and thus empowering their mentees to contribute and shine. They empower people to own their issues and to bring forward solutions.

Farmers lead confidently through seasons, patiently feeding, pruning, tying, untying, planting, waiting, and harvesting. With sufficient nurturing and cultivation, these farmers experience the true joy of leadership: “people harvests:” – the development of their team members into new leaders. They also know how to let go. They expect to let go. On the day their people are ready to  “leave the farm” and take on bigger responsibilities elsewhere, these farmers celebrate with them because they realize that these employees’ successes are their successes as well.

In all my years of leadership experience, I have few regrets.  One major one is this: I wish I would have listened to my “inner farmer” earlier and followed the calling.  Hoarding people or burying my head in the sand may have helped me at the time, but these were leadership strategies based upon a lack of self-awareness and wisdom.  For decades now, I have been focused on cultivating people, and have seen leaders sprout and grow into majestic trees in whose shade many, including I, I have found new strength and re-discovered the joy of authentic leadership.

What’s Your Story? How to Include Storytelling in Your Presentations — Guest Post, Amy Fenollosa of The Latimer Group

Have you ever been captivated by a story? So immersed that you felt like you were actually there? On a recent road trip with my middle school sons, I happened upon a story on the radio that captured us all.

The story transported us — as humans, our brains are conditioned to listen to stories. Throughout history, information has been shared orally. Stories can be engaging and interesting to listen to, but they’re also powerful ways to convey information. People remember stories.

When you’re preparing for your next meeting, consider including a story. If you have extraordinary data that you’d like to present, think of the detail behind the numbers. Can you weave a narrative for your audience rather than reciting from a spreadsheet? If you need to introduce yourself to a new group of people, instead of rattling off your resume, think of a short story that will demonstrate a little bit about who you are and what’s important to you.

Our model for storytelling provides a few steps to get you started:

  1. What’s your goal? What are you trying to accomplish? Be clear about your goal when you begin to choose a story.
  2. Think of the story themes to choose from. Scroll through the repertoire of experiences in your life and recall events that will demonstrate your message.
  3. Consider the impact: What will the audience remember? How will they feel? Will you inspire action? Determine the outcome you hope to achieve.

Once you’ve outlined your goal, chosen a theme, and determined an impact, map your story using the Story Board Method. Practice it. Do a dry run with a colleague. And when you’re ready, try incorporating your story into your next meeting, the response may surprise you.

Dean Brenner (C’91) is a recognized expert in persuasive communication, and is the founder and president of The Latimer Group, an executive coaching and training firm that that specializes in creating powerful communication skills. Dean and his colleagues offer coaching and training to a global client list of Fortune 500 companies. In addition, Dean has written two books on effective communication, and is currently working on his third. Dean lives in Connecticut with his family. To learn more about Dean and The Latimer Group, please visit TheLatimerGroup.com.