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Voice of Reason: How to mediate a difficult conversation

Voice of Reason: How to mediate a difficult conversation

Want to mediate a difficult conversation?  Here’s how.

Navigating conflict is never pleasant.  And it can be doubly hard to witness friends or colleagues in the midst of a disagreement that doesn’t directly involve you.  Especially when you find value in both sides of the argument.  This week we offer guidance on how to communicate neutrally and mediate a difficult conversation. Spoiler alert: remaining neutral doesn’t mean you won’t have to communicate your opinion.  Rather, you’ll communicate an opinion devoid of judgement.  Just the facts, ma’am, if you will.

Schedule some QT

I recommend carving out time to talk privately with those involved in the dispute individually.  It’s important to establish that your conversation is a means to an end.  In other words, discourage a confessional or ‘bitch fest’. Instead, frame the conversation as a necessary step on the road to resolution.  It’s important that the person in conflict understands you intend to use the information they share with you in your pursuit to help identify a resolution.

Active listening skills are also crucial. Pay attention. Maintain eye contact.  Do not interrupt.  Visualize what’s being said. When necessary, ask questions in order to better understand their feelings. And what they need to regain their sense of safety and respect.  At the root of almost of every conflict is the feeling that those you’re in conflict with don’t respect your needs or value what’s important to you.

Insert Yourself Into the Equation

Once you have an understanding of each person’s individual experience and what they need in order to move beyond the conflict you’ve reached a powerful juncture. Ask yourself, what is the best way to neutrally convey these feelings on behalf of those involved?  How do those involved need to hear what they have not yet been able to understand or acknowledge? We often impress upon our clients that it’s not what you say but how you say it.

Meet On Neutral Ground

Pick a spot where everyone feels safe.  Maybe it’s your local bar.  A park or coffee shop.  Perhaps the conversation has to happen at work.  Do your best to identify a physical setting that’s private and isn’t the “scene of the crime”.  Maintaining a calm and neutral setting will put those involved in a better position to communicate openly and honestly.  

It’s crucial that everyone arrives with a clear understanding of why they’ve come together.  Is it to reestablish a line of communication?  Reach a compromise?  Retain respect for one another while agreeing to disagree?  Crystallizing the objective ahead of time is a productive way to begin a difficult conversation.

Now You’re Ready to Mediate

Start by thanking everyone for coming together and acknowledge that it’s awkward.  Not shying away from the fact everyone’s uncomfortable will set a precedent for speaking honestly.  State the pre-established communal objective for coming together and ask everyone to verbalize their agreement to it.  There are many studies that have looked at how saying ‘yes’ engenders feelings of goodwill and camaraderie.

Now frame each person’s feelings on their behalf.  Be careful not to ascribe value or judgement. Yet don’t shy away from sharing your assessment of the situation.  Your neutral vantage point is valuable and can guide those involved toward understanding how others are feeling.  

Then give each person the floor one at a time. Discourage yelling which releases adrenaline and cortisol.  This tightens blood vessels and sends blood pressure soaring.  The conversation may become quite uncomfortable but that’s not necessarily bad.  

Hopefully a resolution will be reached yet if it isn’t that doesn’t mean you’ve failed.  Creating a space for people to communicate calmly and honestly is an admirable feat.  Give yourself credit for working to help others communicate effectively and truly be heard.

Money Talks: How to communicate your value in financial conversations

Money Talks: How to communicate your value in financial conversations

When it comes to conversations about money, are you positioning yourself for success (or are you avoiding the topic altogether)? 

Did you know that nearly half of all Americans say that personal finance is the most challenging topic to talk about? We avoid talking about money even more than we avoid talking about death, politics and religion. A recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 millennial women found that more than 50% never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28% feel stressed out about money every single day. Something’s gotta give.

When a recent episode of the podcast Death Sex and Money turned to personal finance, the conversation got awkward and heated. Sallie Krawcheck, the founder of Ellevest, has spent her life in conversations about money and host Anna Sale is one of the greatest interviewers out there. How can we embark on these conversations in a way that feels productive and safe when there’s so much risk involved?

We know that we’re avoiding conversations about money with our bosses, partners and clients. But are we also avoiding conversations about money with ourselves? Is there such a deep-seated fear of our financial futures that we avoid thinking about it entirely? As communication coaches, we see this avoidance when it comes to speaking in public. In fact, 74% of us are terrified of public speaking, and most of us fear it more than death (sound familiar?).

The Gender Gap 

I recently co-hosted a webinar about communicating your value with Savvy Ladies, an organization that provides invaluable personal finance education for women. It got me thinking about the connection between communication and success. According to Gloria Steinem, “Nothing changes the gender equation more significantly than women’s economic freedom”, but how can we set ourselves up for financial success if we can’t communicate our worth?

We recently commemorated #EqualPayDay but women still early 80 cents to the dollar that men make. And that’s only for white women–women of color earn significantly less. At the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059. Well, we’re not going to wait that long!

To fill the gap, we need tools to help us have these conversations with each other (and ourselves). We need tools to communicate confidently and ask for what we want! Especially because women experience unconscious bias (check out my recent article on women and executive presence in the workplace). Whether you are an entrepreneur pitching your services to a client, a freelancer valuing your time, or a professional asking for a raise, follow these steps to prepare and practice for conversations about money.

Articulate Your Goal

If there was a newspaper headline for the conversation, what would it say? Craft one for yourself and return to it as you wait for the conversation to happen. Be deliberate and picky with the words you choose. Make it personal and specific!

Before the conversation, identify unconscious behaviors like qualifiers (Kind of, Just, I think), filler (You know, Uh, Um) and apologies (I’m sorry, uptalk). Unconscious behaviors create gray areas which can cause you to come off as less confident than you are, and no one needs that!

Take Up More Space

If your default posture is hunched, you’re likely to go further in that direction in challenging conversations. Instead, practice opening your body language–uncross your arms and legs, find your center and lead from the chest.

Literally take up more space with the sound of your voice. Don’t rush, and imagine the sound of your voice hitting the walls. And wear shoes that make you feel powerful! Embracing Embodied Cognition makes you feel and appear more confident.

Connect Don’t Convince 

Talking about money is hard because it makes us vulnerable–we have something to lose and that’s never fun. It’s likely that the person you’re talking to feels vulnerable too. Instead of trying to convince them to give you that raise, focus on making a connection instead. Maintain eye contact–even if they divert their eyes, remain present with them.

Eye contact also releases a chemical called phenylethylamine which simulates being in love. The person you are speaking to will automatically feel a personal connection to you. When talking about money, that’s a win-win.

Could you repeat that? 3 steps to improve communicating with an accent.

Could you repeat that? 3 steps to improve communicating with an accent.

Are you a non-native English speaker navigating an English speaking workplace? Does your accent pose a communication challenge from time to time?

Are you asked to repeat yourself?  Or asked to repeat words containing a particular vowel sound that consistently trips you up?  Being unable to communicate effectively and efficiently can be a nerve-wracking experience.  

What’s more, the American Speech Language Association acknowledges that having difficulty communicating with those around you can lead to avoiding social interaction.  And frustration from having to repeat yourself all the time.  These feelings over time can negatively affect personal and professional relationships as well as job performance.  The tips below are geared to help you avoid shying away from words you’d really like to use (or perhaps must use) when communicating at work that are difficult for you to pronounce.

#1: Identify Potential Trouble-spots In Advance

Speaking in front of an audience, especially when you’re aiming to impress, can be a stressful experience. And this is true for English and non-English speakers alike.  Add in the extra challenge of navigating a workplace presentation in a language that’s not your own and that stress rises to a whole different level.  If you will be speaking from prepared notes the first thing you should do is prepare your talking points using words that best describe what you’re trying to convey.  Don’t compromise the content of your presentation by purposely avoiding words that you don’t like pronouncing – yet.  Once you’ve finalized your content print it out.  Recite your presentation out loud a few times and when you reach a word that you have difficulty with highlight it.  Then, create a separate list containing only the highlighted words you’ve identified that give you trouble.  Print this out too.  Now you’re ready to tackle what’s tripping you up and regain your control.

#2: Break It Down

Now you have your list of words that give you trouble.  Say each word out loud no less than 10 times.  I know this sounds excessive but it’s important.  It will help make the feeling of the word in your mouth more familiar.  It will also increase your ear’s familiarity with the sound of your voice pronouncing it.  Increasing comfort in both of these regards is important .  The last thing you want to be focused on in the middle of your presentation is a word you don’t like pronouncing coming up two sentences away.  You want to be connecting with your audience and communicating with confidence!  

Repeating the word this many times outloud will also provide you the chance to play with speed. Practice saying the word slowly, then fast.  Then purposely over-pronounce and exaggerate each of the vowel and consonant sounds.  If you gain understanding of why it’s difficult for you to pronounce the word you regain some power and control-power you may feel you lack after previous verbal exchanges using this word that were frustrating.

#3:  Get out that smartphone.

Nowadays every smartphone contains a voice memo app. Record yourself reciting the full sentence in which the word appears.  Do the words that occur directly before and/or after the troublesome word influence your pronunciation of it?  Note this if so, and make any necessary adjustments.  Once you’ve done this for each sentence where a highlighted word exists, record yourself giving your entire presentation.  When you listen back to the recording pay close attention.  Are there any moments where you hear hesitation?  Or where you recall losing your sense of control?  Continue practicing until you no longer experience discomfort or lack of assuredness when you reach these moments in your presentation.

Finally, enlist someone you trust – a friend or a colleague – and practice your presentation in front of them.  It’s important that you bridge the gap between practicing alone with your voice recorder to sharing your thoughts with a live audience.  You may notice that the progress you made alludes you at first.  Nerves have a way of doing that.  Be patient and kind with yourself.  Just take a deep breath and try again.  If you are willing to invest the time you will find that over time words that seemed impossible for you to pronounce will have worked their way into your everyday vocabulary and you’ll be using them without a second thought.

Women: Improve Confidence + Executive Presence in the Workplace By Embracing Your Strengths

Women: Improve Confidence + Executive Presence in the Workplace By Embracing Your Strengths

Women in the workplace: Want to be heard? Know (and use) your strengths!

This #WomensHistoryMonth, we helped women all over the country speak with confidence and conviction. From the Women & Allies group at AIG in Los Angeles to the Makers of AOL Boston to a Savvy Ladies webinar talking about money, we are a proud women-owned business helping women be heard. We work with men too, but working with women has a special place in our hearts.

But our hearts break when we see what women are up against. A study by Harvard, Wharton, and MIT found that men’s voices are perceived as more persuasive, fact-based, and logical than our voices, even when reading identical pitches. A recent report by LeanIn and McKinsey found that ladies who negotiate for a promotion or raise are 30% more likely than men to receive feedback that they are “bossy,” “too aggressive,” or “intimidating.” Women still earn less than men (79 cents to the dollar). And that’s just for white women; women of color earn substantially less. Yale psychologist Victoria Brescoll asked employees to evaluate executive performances and found that female executives who spoke frequently were given 14% lower ratings of competence.

We can give you all the tools in the world to face these situations with strength and ease, but we cannot change how we are perceived. What we can do is zero in on our strengths, what we naturally do better than men.

Data suggests that women-led companies perform better financially. When leaders are called to influence a wide range of groups, we as women are better at that kind of leadership than men. We need to understand why this is and use our strengths to our advantage, instead of trying to be more like men.

Women Listen

Research shows that men only use half their brain to listen while women engage both lobes. “Listening is key to effective working relationships among employees and between management and staff”, according to Chron. Listening makes you a better leader. Take advantage of the fact that, as women, we are naturally better listeners than men, without any added effort. Tune in and listen to yourself when making financial decisions. Hear unconscious behaviors and be sure you’re speaking intentionally and deliberately. Actively listen to those around you and you’ll be ahead of the curve when solving problems and promoting new ideas.

Women Empathize

Studies confirm a greater empathic response in females than in males of the same age. Empathy in business is vital to maintaining success. Unfortunately, studies show that college students today are 40% less empathic than they were 30 years ago. While many men may try to improve their empathic tendencies, empathy comes naturally for most women. Use empathy to build each other up and foresee problems before they arise. Amplify women around you, especially if they’ve been looked over or treated unfairly.

Women Collaborate 

We are better collaborators than men. Luckily for us, the modern workplace depends on teamwork. In Give and Take, Adam M. Grant talks about the rise of the service sector as a reason for this change. Get in a “giving” mode and think of what you can do for those around you. Invest in this strength and surround yourself with people who are team players. Listening and empathy will help you be better collaborators too, and better leaders all together. It all goes hand-in-hand after all!

What are your strengths?

 

There’s no ‘I’ in Team….But Should There Be?

There’s no ‘I’ in Team….But Should There Be?

Does a rising tide really lift all boats?  Ask Bacardi Limited’s C-Suite Team.

Last October S.H.E.Summit took place here in New York City.  It attracted over 200 entrepreneurs dedicated to empowering leaders in pursuit of gender equality in the workplace.  S.H.E. Summit founder Claudia Chan, uses the term “macro-movement” to describe the amalgamation of social movements working as a team to ensure women and men are treated fairly.  Chan’s vision is one where leaders in the workplace use their voices to rise up in the face of gender inequality.  And in doing so lift each other up in the process. 

Claim Your Seat at the Table

The most memorable moment at S.H.E. Summit happened during the panel, “Breaking Barriers in Male Dominated Fields.”  It featured Zara Mirza, Head of Creative Excellence for Bacardi Global Brands and her boss, Michael Dolan, CEO of Bacardi Limited.  Mirza described how a fleeting moment signified one of the most important turning points in her career.  At Mirza’s first meeting with the senior leadership she walked into a large board room.  The room featured a ‘u’ shaped table.  She went directly to the far end to take her seat.  

As the new person (woman) on staff she unconsciously elected to set herself off to the side. She figured she should wait until it felt ‘appropriate’ to insert her voice into the conversation.  She didn’t want to seem pushy or presumptuous to her new colleagues.  However, no sooner had she taken her seat when Dolan’s assistant came over and whispered in her ear she was to sit next to him at the top of the ‘u’. To paraphrase Mirza’s retelling of this moment, “Michael opened the door for me but I f**king walked through it and I’ve never looked back.”

The Power of Choice

Dolan is creating a space in which Mirza feels her voice is wanted, desired.  In turn she’s empowered to realize her full potential and he sets a precedent other male leaders in the company as to how they should treat their female colleagues.  Dolan shared with those of us in the audience that day that the choice to create an environment where everyone’s voice is equally valued helps him too.  It helps him maintain a competitively healthy workplace.  It secures Bacardi’s role as an active player in the movement to achieve gender equality in the workplace.  And most importantly, makes him feel thankful that he is able to use his power as a CEO – and as a white man -to help even the playing field.

Having difficulty advocating for yourself?  Start by advocating for others.

Even though you may not be the global CEO of an international brand,  I still think there is immense value to be derived from this story.  Have you ever found it’s easier to extol the virtues of a friend or colleague rather than sharing your own accomplishments?  I certainly have.  Many of our clients feel this way too.  Sometimes it stems from a fear of being boastful.  Or feeling unsure about how to talk about your strengths (hint: Bespoken can help with that!). Or a previous negative experience you had speaking about yourself in public.  

Yet no matter where you are in life, or where you work, look around. I wager you can find at least one place you can use your voice to create space for someone who may be lacking the room in which to find theirs.  Maybe it will be during your next staff meeting.  Or at dinner with friends.  Or at your next family gathering.  Regardless, you will be pleasantly surprised the power to be derived from choosing to be part of the macro-movement and in your own way, in your own time, help all of us trying to move the needle towards a world where all voices have equal weight.

Leadership + Communication: 3 steps to becoming a better leader

Leadership + Communication: 3 steps to becoming a better leader

Is it possible to be a good leader without being a good communicator? Here, we explore the connection between leadership and communication. 

At Bespoken, we are passionate about helping leaders improve professional communication skills. Over the past month, we’ve worked with leaders at AIGLinkedIn and AOL, and in the fields of tech, healthcare and finance. We frequently help leaders at Columbia Business School find their voice and own it. Across the board, it’s impossible to separate good leadership from effective communication skills. Yet, leaders often lack solid communication skills. For others, it can be the one trait preventing them from rising to a leadership role.

Research backs up the connection between leadership and communication. Businesses lose $37 billion per year because of employee misunderstanding. According to another study, the cumulative cost of communication barriers is $26,041 per employee. On the flip side, companies with leaders who are highly effective communicators report 47% higher total returns. And Best Buy found that for every percentage point it boosted employee engagement, individual stores reported a $100,000 annual increase in operating income.

In 2015, we contributed an article to Inc.com about leadership and presentation skills. Of course, how you present yourself as a leader is vital, but we believe that the ability to communicate effectively leads to true organizational growth and change.

Want to be a better leader? Communicate more effectively. Improving communication and presentation skills means changing lifelong behaviors. These changes don’t come overnight, but you will see an instant boost in communication skills by implementing these three tools:

Be Receptive 

Do you know that we spend 70-80% of our waking hours communicating?  We spend 45% of that time listening and yet, the average listener only remembers 25% of what is said. Bad listening leads to mistakes and employee dissatisfaction. Practice active listening: Pay attention, look at the person, ask questions and visualize what they are saying. Not only will you be able to act on the information more efficiently, but when someone feels heard they become more emotionally invested and are more likely to do good work.

Be Present

When someone needs your attention, give it to them. Even if your mind is racing with to-do’s, make yourself physically available by uncrossing your arms, standing (or sitting) up straight, and making eye contact. Bringing your whole self to a conversation will help you more clearly address the issue at hand and prevent other problems from arising.

Be Precise 

Being deliberate and clear in your communication is key. Before a huddle or difficult conversation, really think about what you want to say. Articulate your goal for the conversation in one sentence, then jot down notes and practice it once or twice to be sure the words you choose accurately reflect your goals for the conversation. Remove any grey areas by recording yourself to make sure your words cannot be misinterpreted or taken the wrong way. Adding a minute or two on the front end can save hours of backpedaling on the back end.

Want to change your communication style? Embrace growing pains.

Want to change your communication style? Embrace growing pains.

Working on changing your communication style? Patience + awareness = success.

Last weekend I ran a workshop with my friend Lisa Pertoso, founder of Follow the Fear.  The focus was ways to amplify your voice in the workplace.  We dug into techniques designed to help you advocate for yourself as well as others who may be lacking a voice.  While debriefing an exercise on how to speak from a commanding and rooted place, a participant shared she felt fake speaking that way.  She said the sound of her own voice was forced and unnatural.  I then asked the rest if she seemed forced or unnatural in any way when she had spoken to the group.  Not one single person said ‘yes’.  Everyone expressed quite to the contrary. She seemed confident, in control, and powerful.  All the ways we want to seem when we’re advocating for ourselves.

Find Truth in the Size

This moment from last week’s workshop highlights an important sensation that happens when changing your communication style.  And it’s not only our clients who experience it.  I’ve gone through it as well. A favorite assignment of mine from my days as a drama student is when everyone was assigned a monologue from a role they’d never be cast in.  For example, my teacher gave a strapping guy with a football player-like build one of Juliet’s speeches to Romeo. As a 20 year-old woman, I performed a soliloquy of King Lear’s.  The speech is in the middle of the play as Lear begins his descent into complete madness. Tackling the scene was thrilling and terrifying at the same time (much like public speaking, I think!) because it demanded an immense amount of energy.  It wasn’t until after the assignment was over I realized why my teacher had specifically assigned that piece to me.

Firstly, my teacher was trying to encourage me to make bigger, bolder choices as a performer.  Secondly, and more importantly, he was trying to get me comfortable with a different sensation as the sensation of being ‘big’ was not my usual way on stage.  For those of you looking to change your communication style, awareness of this difference and embracing it is key to your success.  Modifying your performance when public speaking hinges on embracing that it will feel and sound different.  And that this difference isn’t bad, it’s just…different.  As in not the way you’re used to it feeling.

Change takes practice…and time.

We say over and over that communication is a muscle.  And just like a muscle that is not used to working in a certain way, it takes time.  Time to build your confidence in and embrace a new communication style.

To work through unfamiliar sensations as you practice here are few things to try.  Videotape yourself.  Ask a friend to lend an outside eye.  Work with a coach. You could even keep a journal where you track over time how you’re feeling.  Regardless of what you do though be sure to extend yourself a little patience and remember— change takes time.

Embodied Cognition: How to fake it till you make it

Embodied Cognition: How to fake it till you make it

Embodied Cognition is the idea that what you do on the outside affects how you feel on the inside. Popularized by Amy Cuddy, the idea that your body and environment can influence your mind can be life-changing.

At Bespoken, we call this way of working “Outside In”. We know that a physical change which makes you look more confident on the outside can help you feel more powerful on the inside. Even though Cuddy’s Power Posing has come under scrutiny in the last few months, there is still a solid amount of science to back up the idea that our physical environment can instantly change the way the world sees us (and how we see the world). In fact, we’ve seen people transform in just moments by making a few small adjustments.

President Eisenhower used Embodied Cognition. He “firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory… To translate this conviction into tangible results, I adopted a policy of circulating through the whole force to the full limit imposed by physical considerations. I did my best to meet everyone from general to private with a smile, a pat on the back and a definite interest in his problems.”

The status-enhancement theory asserts that people gain influence by acting dominant and confident. Politically, we are seeing daily how a statement made with conviction is taken to be true even when it is completely false. So, how can we use Embodied Cognition to our advantage and fake it till we make it?

Eye contact

The head of TED says eye contact is the first thing speakers should do to engage an audience. When you look into someone’s eyes, their body produces a chemical called phenylethylamine which can stimulate the feeling of being in love. Another study found that eye contact utilizes the same part of your brain as complex reasoning, which is why people often have to look away during conversation when they are thinking. When used as a tool, eye contact can be a litmus test of confidence—it’s a way of jumpstarting an emotional connection.  Practice maintaining eye contact with the person who pours your cup of coffee and work up from there. Using eye contact can be an anchor when communicating and will make you appear more confident and in control.

Speaking on your spine

Pay attention to your posture in different situations. When you’re nervous, are you closed off? When you’re comfortable, are you standing up straighter? If you naturally slump to one side, intentionally find your postural center and get comfortable living there. You will appear more confident standing openly and upright. According to Cuddy, standing in this position for more than 60 seconds increases your testosterone (making you feel more confident) and decreases your cortisol (making you feel less stressed).

Mindful breathing

Telling a nervous person to take a deep breath can be a recipe for disaster. Breathing can quickly become another thing you’re not doing correctly. Anything that adds to the cacophony of thoughts can be unhelpful. The act of simply putting your attention on your breath can be soothing. The trick is to keep reminding yourself to return your attention to the breath without judgment. Practice Meditation Lite—where you simply watch the breath go in and out for ~25 breaths. Breathing intentionally for a short period of time can soothe the sympathetic nervous system (the part activated by stress) and stimulate the opposing parasympathetic reaction (the part that calms us down).  Setting up small wins is sometimes the best approach to changing lifelong behaviors and learning new things.

Code-switching: Connect with Your Audience

Code-switching: Connect with Your Audience

What Is Code-Switching?

Linguists traditionally define code-switching as, “the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation.”  A more contemporarily relevant definition factors in race and identity.  For example, the minds at NPR’s aptly named Code Switch blog offer this framing, “Many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves all the time. We’re hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction.”  

President Obama was often cited for his ability to code-switch effectively and flawlessly.  He’d put his audience at ease, making them feel he was just like them by the way he spoke to them.  Without undermining his undeniable position of authority in the exchange.  This video from 2009 shows then President-elect Obama at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a famous eatery in a historically African-American section of Washington D.C.  When the cashier asks President Obama if he needs change from his purchase, Obama replies, “nah, we straight.”  I think it’s fair to say, had President Obama been purchasing refreshment at a restaurant located in a predominantly white neighborhood he may have answered differently.

How can code-switching help me connect with an audience?

One of the most important questions to ask yourself when prepping for a public speaking opportunity is, “Who is my audience?”  A clear understanding of your audience is important for a number of reasons.  Not least of which is so you can decide how you should talk to them.  For example, the language and tone I would use when presenting to a group of high school seniors preparing for college interviews would differ markedly from a workshop with high level corporate executives about to speak to investors. With the group of high school students I may find myself peppering my talk with informal qualifiers such as, “Totally” and “Amazing”.  While in a more formal and corporate setting, my grammar would understandably be more formal and precise.  Yet the underlying similarity in both these situations is it’s still my voice. I’m still me.

Using code-switching to your benefit

I like the reasons Somali author, Roda Osman ascribes to code-switching.  She says, “I regularly use code switching for three reasons: lizard brain, fitting in and getting something.”  Lizard brain she defines as something the brain does automatically.  I think the latter two reasons are the most powerful because they involve deliberate choice.  At Bespoken we often say “your power is your choice” and I think it is doubly true when it comes to choosing the words you’ll use to connect with your audience.  The next time you find yourself preparing to speak publicly take the time to reflect on the language you want to use.  It’s another powerful communication tool to have in your back pocket.

Want to have presence? (Hint: It’s about being present)

Want to have presence? (Hint: It’s about being present)

Learn how to harness the power of presence.

Our clients ask us to help them in many different ways. They want to articulate their thoughts, think on their feet, harness nerves when speaking in public, and speak with confidence. But one of their most common requests is that they want to have presence.

People believe that presence is something you’re either born with or you’re not. They believe it can’t be taught. Some fear that if they don’t have it, there’s something wrong with them. They couldn’t be more wrong. We watch our clients improve presence right before our eyes all of the time.

It’s true that presence means something different for each person. Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy describes presence as “the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we’re making on others and instead adjust the impression we’ve been making on ourselves.” It’s not as elusive as you think. It’s a tool and a muscle—just like communicating and speaking in public. With practice, anyone can learn how to harness the power of presence.

So, what is presence? 

Presence is the alignment of awareness, intention and action. 

Communicating and speaking in public can be overwhelming for all of us. Throw in the pressure “to have presence” and it can be a recipe for disaster. Anytime something is overwhelming, break it down into smaller pieces. First, work on your awareness: Practice observing yourself and others without judgment. Second, be intentional: Set a specific intention and know what you want to get out of an interaction. And lastly, take action: Practice and rehearse for an upcoming opportunity and go out and do it!

Attention must be paid. 

Before I started my mindfulness practice, I would often miss social cues and important plot points. I realized I was living in my head, listening to my internal soundtrack instead of paying attention to the outside world. Presence is about giving your attention 100% to something outside of yourself—people like attention, so if you pay attention to them, they are more likely to like you.

The danger of multitasking.

We’re way too good at multitasking. We’re checking our phone while speaking to a colleague while editing a blog post. When communicating, multitasking can hurt us more than help us. Unfortunately, doing one thing at a time does not come naturally to us, so we have to practice it. Stick with a task until completion—from the small (looking up that restaurant) to the big (finishing that blog post). Read Tim Urban’s eye-opening series on procrastination here.

It’s about being present. 

We busy ourselves reading books on mindfulness and we beat ourselves up for not meditating. Even when we do make a point of it, we beat ourselves up for not meditating for the full ten minutes and when we do, we beat ourselves up for not being able to “clear our minds” enough. This all defeats the purpose! It took me a few years of meditating to realize that it’s not about getting rid of thoughts or feelings—instead, it’s about fixing and releasing attention without judgment (which—you guessed it—takes practice). Practice being present—being aware of physical sensations like the breath, or those uncomfortable palpitations or sweaty palms—without judgment. If you’re new to meditation, I recommend Headspace or Meditation Lite. And read D.G. Watson’s post on how meditation can help you overcome your fear of public speaking here.

Practice Presence 

It takes work and attention, but practicing these tools will help you improve your presence. Pick one or two activities a day and be truly present (brushing your teeth or washing dishes are good places to start). Pay attention to the way your breath causes your stomach to go in and out when breathing, or the feeling of your feet against the floor or in your shoes. Be genuinely present with the gentleman who pours your morning cup of coffee. When you get distracted (which you inevitably will) return to the interaction or the moment without beating yourself up. Slowly and surely, you will increase your span of presence and the muscle will strengthen.