Today’s post is courtesy of speech and communication specialist, Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker, of The Whittaker Group. I was introduced to Marjorie by a client and have been thoroughly impressed by the progress she’s made with his communication skills throughout the course of my work with him.
Many of us spend a significant amount of work time in meetings ranging from routine staff and management meetings, to client presentations, and more. Unfortunately, these frequent opportunities for education, collaboration, and communication are often perceived as boring, unproductive, and even contentious. One of the most important things you can do to make your participation in meetings positive is to be a good listener. By offering your full and focused attention, and conveying respectful and socially appropriate behaviors, you can build and maintain healthy long-term business relationships. This is easier said than done. Many of us have both verbal and non-verbal habits that can sabotage our best efforts. However, if you identify and address some of these behaviors, you can learn how to exude confidence, competence and poise.
If you typically:
1. Interrupt others –
If you have an enthusiastic, perhaps impulsive personality, it may be difficult not to blurt out comments at inopportune times. Take a slow, deep breath, or silently count to three before you speak. If you inadvertently interrupt someone, acknowledge it by apologizing, and encouraging the speaker to go on. For example, “I am sorry for interrupting. Please finish what you were saying.” If you need to interrupt a speaker to get a meeting back on track, or give another participant time to reply, raise your hand slightly (to chest level), and acknowledge the speaker by name. “James, I’m sorry to have to cut you off, but I promised I would leave 10 minutes for Q and A.”
2. Have a trash-mouth –
If you are a person who litters their speech with expletives to get attention or express extremes of emotions, you are negatively affecting your professionalism and credibility. It is best to refrain from inappropriate or potentially offensive remarks. Work on expanding your vocabulary so you can explicitly and appropriately convey your thoughts and emotions. Instead of saying, “It was a damn good meeting,” try something like, “The meeting exceeded all of our expectations.” Learn how to choose your words carefully. Rehearse alternative ways of expressing your feelings and ideas in a more professional manner. If your colleagues include nonnative English speakers, be careful not to use unfamiliar figurative expressions, slang or colloquialisms which may be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Also avoid jargon or acronyms that might be unfamiliar to some members of the group.
3. See the glass as half-empty –
If you are the nay-sayer in the group, think of ways to re-frame what you say with a more positive spin. Instead of remarking, “That is never going to work,” or “That is a ridiculous proposal,” try something like, “This project is going to be challenging. Perhaps if we delegate the responsibilities, we can meet the deadline.”
4. Have “monkey-brain” –
If you sit in meetings and your mind jumps from one thing to another as if you were swinging from tree to tree by your tail in the jungle, you need to learn how to focus. Of course there are a myriad of external distractors, such as people walking past your office, interesting things outside the window, office chatter, and buzzing smart phones. There are also internal thoughts that may range from a growling stomach to how you feel about your co-worker on a given day. Learn how to be in the moment. Look at the person who is speaking, and really listen with your eyes, body and mind. Offer to take the minutes. This task will ensure that you are really engaged and listening mindfully.
5. Ramble, mumble, or speak too softly or rapidly –
Sometimes it is difficult to get to the point, especially if you are asked a question that you didn’t anticipate. Instead of answering immediately, take a breath, and organize your thoughts silently. Create a mini outline in your mind so you can stay on topic and avoid rambling. A convenient acronym to help you achieve this is T-I-E-S.
T= re-state or paraphrase the question or topic
I= introduce your main idea
E= cite 2-3 supporting facts or examples
Make sure you speak at a reasonable pace (not too fast or slow), and at an adequate volume (not too soft or loud). Finish the ends of your words, and don’t let your voice trail off at the ends of words. Try to minimize stereotypical and meaningless remarks such as, “Do you hear what I am saying,” and empty fillers such as “you know,” “It was like,” “uh,” etc. Pause silently, and speak when you have something worthwhile to say. Make sure you speak with varied pitch and intonation, and avoid a monotone (boring) delivery.
6. Send the wrong message without saying a word –
It is extremely important to be aware of what kinds of non-verbal messages you are sending through eye contact, gestures, and body language. For example, bouncing your leg, drumming your fingers, or rolling your eyes could convey impatience or frustration. Closing your eyes/pinching the bridge of your nose, looking away and yawning could convey boredom, and raising your eyebrows, covering your mouth with your hands could convey disbelief. Much of what we say isn’t spoken at all. Try to maintain appropriate eye contact with speakers, lean forward with your body, and nod to convey interest and attentiveness.
Of course, you cannot control what other colleagues or clients say or do in meetings, but you can control your reactions. You will find that being a good listener who is in the moment will have benefits that go beyond the Boardroom.
Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker is owner and principal consultant at The Whittaker Group in Boston and is co-founder of ESL RULES. Her companies provide assessment and consultation services to both native and nonnative English speakers in a variety of fields. She develops and delivers specialized foreign and regional accent modification programs and customized workplace communication programs for those seeking to improve the clarity and effectiveness of their speech and communication. Marjorie works with clients from all over the world, both in person and via distance learning. Her training programs have been featured on The Today Show and many local media outlets.