Monday, June 29, 2015

Drop the Jargon for Better Communication

When it comes to communications, clarity is critical.  If people don't understand what you are saying they are not going to accept the idea, agree to the proposal or take the desired action.  All too often people mistake brevity for clarity, believing that the shorter the sentence the less room there is for misunderstandings to arise.

However, in an effort to keep our messages brief we tend to rely more heavily on the use of Jargon to convey our thoughts.  Jargon refers to the words, phrases or even acronyms we adopt to represent key concepts. They tend to serve as a type of verbal shorthand allowing us to communicate an idea or concept quickly.  However, if our audience is not familiar with the jargon we are using then we put the clarity of our messages at risk.

The difficulty arises though, in the fact that we often are completely unaware of the jargon we use, typically believing them to be commonplace words.  Because they are so heavily integrated into our personal vocabulary we assume that others must be equally familiar.  The use of these terms, with unfamiliar audiences though, creates barriers to our communication.  The overuse of jargon can make it seem as though we are speaking a foreign language and can...

  • alienate our audience, making them feel excluded from the conversation
  • inhibit understanding of the messages we are delivering
  • make our audience feel foolish for not 'knowing' what the jargon references
Siblings and close friends will often have 'code-words' they use to reference an experience that others around them do not share and can feel excluded from.  Organizations can become so jargon-heavy that the environment feels like a 'club' that outsiders and new hires struggle to feel part of because you have to 'know' it to belong. Jargon can be useful, but when it prevents people from learning, understanding or being included it becomes problematical.  

When you are learning and adopting new concepts they become integrated into your language.  It is important to be aware that others may not have yet been exposed to those same concepts or adopted the terminology you have.  When speaking with others it is important that the language you use match the language that others understand.  An effective communicator makes an unfamiliar concept resonate with others by sharing it in familiar ways.  

Jargon Traps

Networking.  When we are networking we are looking to connect with others.  However, the overuse of jargon can be exclusionary, making others feel that they don't belong.  Try to eliminate as much jargon from your speech as possible to make yourself sound more approachable.  This is especially important for your 'elevator' pitch.  If your use of jargon prevents others from understanding who you are and what you do then you are not likely to be forging the connections you were looking to make.  

Acronyms.  Beware the TLA's, those little Three-Letter-Acronyms.  I have visited client locations that use acronyms to such an extent that outsiders are unable to understand anything they say. Acronyms may make your message appear shorter, but if they aren't understood by your entire audience then you are sacrificing clarity.

Thinking you sound Smarter.  It is not unusual, when people want to sound intelligent, to fall on using too much jargon.  Somehow, in their belief that others might not find them smart or knowledgeable enough, they rely on the overuse of buzzwords and jargon to help make them sound more intelligent.  However, if your concepts aren't understood then you simply sound confusing, not smarter.  A solid point, made simply and clearly, will win over 'obfuscating dialogue' every time.

Part of the Club.  Professional organizations, special groups, industries and even social organizations often create their own internal unique vocabulary.  This may be great for members of those groups, helping them feel part of a special club, but is exclusionary to those who are 'outside' of the group itself and will prove off-putting. In fact, you may find that it proves prohibitive to others wanting to join, serving to limit membership.

People are far too busy to wade through complicated communications in an attempt to decipher what you meant.  Focusing on who your audience is and what they need to hear will help you prepare your message in a way that best serves them, not you.  The overuse of jargon is rarely about the audience, but is almost always about the speaker.   Become a better communicator by focusing on the receipt and understanding of the message, not just the delivery of it.  

And, of course, as a confused audience member, your best defense against becoming lost in someone's jargon-based communication is to simply ask... What does that mean? What may prove interesting to discover is whether the speaker even knows!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Tip Thursday - Talk Your Way into Productivity

One aspect of being more productive rests in your ability to focus on a task.  However, sometimes it seems as though our mind is not prepared to think the way we need it to, when we need it to.  You can help to redirect your brain and 'induce' focus by using visuals (draw a diagram or picture to move past words and help t cement your thoughts) and talk out loud, walking yourself through your thoughts. Talking out loud engages a different part of your brain than does thinking in silence, which can be enough to help you focus in on the issue you're grappling with.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Silence as a Success Strategy

When I was young I had a 'Chatty Cathy' doll. She came with various disks that you slipped into her side that allowed her to converse on a variety of subjects. My favourite of course, me being me, was the disk that talked about eating Dessert before Dinner to ensure you still had room for it, a sentiment that has not left me to this day! Chatty Cathy may have been a great playmate to a youngster, but she would have been hard--pressed to make it big in a corporate environment.

Talking AT someone is far different than talking WITH them.  The former means you operate as Chatty Cathy, a very one-sided conversation.  The latter represents an exchange of information requiring equal parts speaking... and listening. Most people don't engage in truly listening though, most are simply looking for their next opening to jump in and continue talking!

Technology may be proving to be an asset in providing us with new and varied ways of communicating with our audiences, but it is playing havoc with our ability to communicate effectively face to face, a skill that most senior managers and leaders require.

Science tells us that our favourite subject to talk about is... US! We spend about 60% of our conversations talking about ourselves, though this jumps to about 80% when we are communicating online. Given that our audience has the same desire as we do, it is not difficult to determine that the ideal would be a 50/50 split, allowing both parties to have equal billing.

Successful sales reps know the power of listening, of using silence as a means of truly coming to hear and understand the needs of the customer, of creating opportunities through silence. However, most others in business have not learned this lesson, and experience pressure to speak and fill in the conversational gaps. Typically, people are led to over-talking because:

  • they are trying to impress their audience
  • they lack confidence
  • they are nervous and talking is a soothing behaviour
  • they are conversationally unskilled, never having learned how to use questions properly to draw others into the conversation

People's inability to handle silence comfortably means that the Pause has become a very powerful interview and interrogation tool, used to elicit more information. Simply pausing after someone has answered a question, paired with facial and physical cues that make you appear 'expectant' of more information, is usually all it takes to get them to continue to 'share', usually with unplanned and unscripted information. Our discomfort with silence somehow creates a void that needs to be filled, often at our own expense.

Our attention spans are dwindling resources. Research shows that attention spans today are measured in seconds, at times being as high as 59 seconds and clocking in as low as eight. Technology is to blame, as is social media and the fact that we are constantly being hit with a barrage of information that is vying for our attention. The ability to focus is becoming a rare skill.

Is it any wonder then that our ability to listen effectively is being lost?  All excellent listeners though are masters of the Pause. Notice how skilled politicians will pause before answering questions during media Q & A's, helping them to sound more self-assured, not less.  Pausing before you speak...

  • avoids the risk of interrupting someone inadvertently if they had simply stopped speaking to gather their thoughts
  • tells your audience that you are giving careful consideration and thought to what they just shared.  This lends your response weight and credibility
  • lets you actually 'hear' the content of what the other party just shared, allowing you catch the nuances of the message better. 
  • will generally give you more time to process and store the preceding information more fully, aiding in your retention of the information
  • tends to draw the attention of other's to you and the message you are about to share
Silence is a greatly underestimated source of power in a conversation, one that many overlook but that leaders learn to cultivate.  A properly placed pause is your opportunity to truly hear not only what's being said, but also what isn't.  This information can provide you with the information, insights and leverage needed to help you get ahead.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Tip Thursday - Starting Clean

Let's face it, we don't always have the best habits.  Additionally, we often find them difficult to shift even if we recognise the need.  There are a number of strategies that you can use to help you transition more easily and readily to new habits.  One that is often overlooked is the Strategy of the Clean Slate. When we face life-changing moments we may find ourselves automatically making adjustments in our habits that we previously struggled with.  For example, those that have struggled with losing weight and getting fit in the past find it far easier to stick with their new regimens after having experienced a heart attack.  The attack served almost as a reset button.  Being more strategic about these Clean Slate Moment,s as they arise, allows us to take advantage of them more fully, helping us in shifting our behaviours more deliberately.  Any moment that represents a 'change' creates a Clean Slate Opportunity:  new job, new house, new relationship (or end of one), new pet... any fresh start will do!

Monday, June 15, 2015

6 Tips for getting Others to Treat you Better

People don't always treat us well.  Sometimes they are rude and belittling, sometimes they are disrespectful, sometimes they are completely insensitive to our needs.  When this is the exception, not the rule, we may simply choose to look past the behaviour and offer some empathy, knowing they must be facing something stressful to be behaving the way they are.

But, what about those people that seem to always be rude, always be belittling us, always disrespecting our needs and wants?  You know who they are...

  • Co-workers that count on you to do all of the work
  • Friends who cancel outings with you always at the last minute, knowing you'll understand
  • Partners who talk down to you
  • Bosses who dump work on you at the last minute every Friday evening
  • Family that counts on you to do all of the prep work for the family gatherings
If you have people in your life that are not treating you the way you would like them to, it is time to accept your responsibility in them doing so.
What you allow is what will continue.   - Unknown
We have far more control over how others treat us than we tend to acknowledge.  Consider how you treat others in your life.

  • Do you have friends that you wouldn't hesitate to drop in on without notice, simply because you are in their area... and others you wouldn't even consider visiting without having given a week's notice?
  • Do you have family you can be open and honest with... and others that you don't share your thoughts and feelings with at all?
  • Do you have co-workers that you don't mind helping out... and others you begrudge their requests of you?
In each of the above cases I'm sure that you acknowledge there is a distinct difference in the way you treat others in your life, chiefly driven by your experience of them.  You may have a friend that is very laid back about the state of her house and so you know that she doesn't need any notice before you drop by, whereas another friend would become completely unglued if you dropped by and they hadn't had a chance to 'tidy' things up first.  

Your experience of 'them' led you to alter the behaviours you engage in.  Likely far more than you even consciously realize.  When visiting your more laid back friend, you are more likely to make yourself at home, putting your feet up, making the tea, letting their dog out, behaviours you wouldn't even think of engaging in when visiting your more uptight friend.  You have modified your behaviours to fit more appropriately with each of them.  

Think, then, as to how the experience that others have of 'you' has shaped the way that they behave and interact with you.  
  • Co-workers that rely on you to get the work done - because you always do it without pushing them to contribute
  • Friends who cancel out of plans at the last minute - because you always have 'no problem' with them doing so
  • Family that counts on you to prepare everything for family gatherings - because you always handle it all, telling them they needn't worry about bringing anything
People don't do things independently of outcomes.  If they are not treating you the way you'd like it is because they are getting something that they want from the exchange.  If there wasn't something in it for them then they would stop.  Think about what they are 'getting' from you.  If you want them to modify their behaviour then modify yours such that they are no longer receiving the reward they are after.  

If you are looking to get others in your life to treat you better then you need to shift how you are treating them.  Although we can not change the behaviour of others, we always have control over...
  • How we interpret the behaviours of others
  • How we respond to those behaviours
  • How we allow those behaviours to impact our lives
If you're looking to create a 'change' in how others perceive and treat you, start with the following tips to get you started.

Name Your Limits

You need to be clear about your boundaries if you want others to respect them.  What are you willing to tolerate, accept and live with?  What aren't you?  If you aren't clear on this then you are going to be giving very mixed signals about how you want to be treated.  It has to be clear to you before you can begin making it clear to others.

Give Yourself Permission

Sometimes we are fearful of the reactions of others, or we feel guilty at the thought of putting our needs first.  However, boundaries are a sign of self-respect.  If you want people to respect you, then you first need to respect yourself.  You must give yourself permission to put yourself first, to accept you are deserving and that you have rights and needs that are just as important and valued as theirs.

Check Your Personal Engine Light

This is a great gauge to use in coming to understand where boundaries are needed.  Any exchange that drains your personal batteries, that leaves you running on fumes, deserves a much closer look.  If your exchanges with someone always seem to leave you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed - then you are not being treated as you should and likely need better boundaries.  If your Check Engine Light goes on it is a signal that you need to address.

Use Your Feet

Don't feel that you have to remain in a negative situation.  Vote with your feet and simply walk away when someone is treating your poorly.  If you can't give voice to your concerns and needs in the moment you needn't remain and take it.  Walk away until you are in a better place to address your needs.

Demonstrate the Behaviour

It will be difficult to get someone to treat you with respect if you don't demonstrate respect for them or yourself. Emulate the behaviour so they can replicate it.  This is a two-way street my friend. Don't expect others to treat you better if you consistently treat them as less.

Right to 'No' Better

'No' is a complete sentence.  It doesn't need explanations, it doesn't need embellishments.  Learn how to say it.  You have the right to say No to being lied to, to say No to taking on the responsibilities of others to say No to unhealthy relationships.  Consider where your life might improve through the judicious use of a 'No' or two.

As it turns out, we have far more control over how others treat us than we may prefer to believe, typically because it means that we need to take some actions that will prove unpopular and therefore challenging for us.  The question you need to ask yourself is... 
What will it take for me to accept no less than I want from others?   
Believing you deserve better and that you have a right to better gives you the strength to begin expecting better.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tip Thursday - Networking Niceties

A small but very important tip for all of you net-workers out there... Put your name tag on your right hand lapel.  Never the left.  Our eyes start out looking at the other person's extended hand (to make sure we don't miss it while trying to shake hands) and follows the extended arm until meeting the other person's eyes.  If the name tag is on the left then you are looking them in the eyes, having missed seeing their name.  If it's on the right then they see your name while also having you introduce yourself.  This helps them to actually hear your name, making them feel more comfortable and connected - what it's all about in net-working.

Monday, June 8, 2015

6 Tips to Recharge your Batteries

When it comes to productivity, time (and the lack thereof) is rarely the issue we think that it is. We seemingly have little difficulty in finding the time for the things that we truly 'want' to do, rather than those we feel that we need or must do.  Just think about how up-to-date most people are with what's happening in their favourite television shows.

It is therefore less a question of what we have time for and more about what we have the energy for. When our energy is high we are far more likely to tackle the difficult tasks than we are when our energy is flagging.  Therefore, the better we become at managing our energy, the better able we will be able to effectively manage our growing workload and produce the desired results.

The challenge we actually face then is that few of us are truly effective in managing our energy.  We typically don't consciously know how to recharge our personal batteries and we do not go out of our way to build and schedule energy recovery and renewal systems.  Most of us are therefore attempting to get critical work accomplished when our batteries are depleted.  We can't possibly do our best work in these moments, yet we have somehow developed the belief that we need to push through these moments rather than taking a break and gifting ourselves with some recovery time.

Science tells us quite clearly that our brains and our bodies require breaks, short periods of recovery, in order to function optimally.  Without these moments to recharge our batteries we are not capable of the same clarity of thought and productivity as when we are attacking a problem when fully charged.

In a recent Gallup poll, it was determined that only 13% of employees reported feeling engaged while at work and a further study of 10,000 people found that only 11% reported having a great deal of energy throughout the day.  These are not unrelated findings.  There is a strong correlation between our energy levels and our engagement.  The more we learn to manage and control the former, the more we will find ourselves able to experience deeper and more sustained levels of the latter.

Just how can we begin managing our Energy more effectively?  Consider any of the following tips to help you to become more adept in recharging your batteries and managing your energy...


Most tend to focus on the quantity of sleep required for renewal.  Athletes tend to average 8.5 hours of sleep a night in order to ensure their performance, whereas most of us regular folk tend to be averaging roughly 6 hours.  Hardly enough time to get those batteries fully charged.  What is perhaps even more important to consider is the quality of sleep that we are engaging in, for however many hours we manage.  Few of us are enjoying restful sleep periods.  To help with this consider changing out your mattress (upgrades are needed periodically), a better pillow, fresh air, earplugs or noise cancelling devices.  Getting more and better sleep is seen by most experts to be the number one most important thing that we could and should be doing to enhance our focus, maximize our energy and optimize our performance.


Engaging with others can also help us to recharge our batteries.  Certainly avoid the energy vampires, but spending time with others can be a welcome distraction that can revitalize you.


Engaging in exercise can provide you with a positive mood boost.  Research indicates that the mood boost can last upward of 12 hours following a period of exercise which is one reason why many recommend exercising first thing in the morning.  In addition to the positive health and fitness benefits of exercise, it is also important for enhancing the overall functioning of our minds and bodies, allowing us more sustained productivity.

Unique Abilities

We get recharged when we engage in activities that utilize our unique talents and strengths. We can take advantage of this by deliberately scheduling activities we enjoy directly following those that we don't, in an effort to provide a boost to our flagging energy.


The top 10% of performers will typically work for an average of 52 minutes at a time and then take a break of about 15 minutes.  This on/off rotation is key to ensuring your sustained energy and focus over the course of a full day.  The timing of your on/off cycle may vary from this, but it is important to build in short periods of recovery throughout your day.  You typically know what activities and people cost you energy, enabling you to plan your day around these events.  You want to go into these situations as fully charged as possible and to allow time to recharge immediately following.  Even quick five minute breaks can make a world of difference in your focus and energy levels.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Tip Thursday - The Head Tilt

Beware the dreaded head-tilt in business. Although a tilted head demonstrates that you are listening, tilting your head when you are speaking makes you appear less confident in yourself or the information you are sharing.  If you are speaking the head should be straight.  Consider your business head shot very carefully, thinking about what you want to be conveying.  A tilted head shot will make you appear nice and approachable while a straight head will make you appear confident.  Interestingly, most men have their business shots taken with their heads straight, women with a tilt.  To be taken seriously, the head must be straight!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Where is Your Moral Compass Pointing?

We each have our own Moral Compass, our own set of values, rules and practices that guide our decision making.  Most decisions we make each day don't require a directional check, but there are those big decisions that come along, those decisions made in moments of risk, danger and uncertainty, that define and highlight our true character.  It is in these moments that we truly see where our Moral Compass is pointing.

In order to live together successfully, we humans have created fairly intricate systems of shared values, delineating between what is considered to be 'right' and 'wrong'.  These systems are built upon formal systems of governance (laws and legislation) but also more informal social, religious and familial beliefs that govern our behaviour.  Despite this though, we each hold within us our own personal compass that helps direct our actions and choices.  It is relatively easy for us to make the 'right' choices and decisions in the easy times, but it is more challenging for us to sometimes determine what the 'right' decisions are in more difficult and complicated situations.  It's in these moments that we rely upon our compass to guide us.
"Who are you when no one's looking?"
Generally, we tend to only consider the effectiveness of our Moral Compass when we have lost our bearings, when we find that we have made poor ethical decisions.  We therefore struggle with finding and resetting our Compass as a means of finding our way back from or out of the situation that poor decisions and choices have put us in.

 It makes far more sense though to ensure that we have clarity over our values, over what defines 'right' and 'wrong' for us, long before we find ourselves needing them.  Keeping our compass dusted off and within easy reach will make those difficult decisions clearer.  They may not always prove to be the 'easy' choice, but they should always be the clearer choice.  Research supports this, finding that those with a clear, conscious set of values and morals tend to make more honest and ethical choices, even when no one would know otherwise.

Just how can we strengthen our ethical muscles and get our compass working?  Consider any of the following...

Listen to your Inner Voice.

We all have an inner voice that highlights right from wrong for us.  It speaks up and tells us when it doesn't think something is a good idea, but we tend to downplay it.  We need to learn to listen to that voice though, to lend credence to our 'gut' reactions.  These instinctive reactions to people and situations are still hardwired into our brains from generations ago when poor decisions likely meant the difference between life and death.  However, we tend to rationalize away these feelings, overlaying the 'voice' with 'reasons' why it is wrong or why you should do other than it is saying.  The voice is there for a reason and is likely more in touch with your morals than you are in that moment.  Listen.

Don't be a Lemming.

Just because others around you are doing 'it', it does not justify your following suit.  Others engaging in behaviour you know to be wrong does not magically make it right.  Follow your compass direction, not someone else's!

Don't Rush.

When face with an ethical dilemma take the time you need to make a decision you're going to be comfortable living with.  If someone is pressuring you to make a decision NOW, flags should raise and your brakes should go on. They are likely pressuring you to do something they know to be wrong but are pushing you to decide before you too determine it would be a poor choice.

How would you feel if everyone knew?

If you are horrified by the thought of anyone knowing about a particular choice, then it likely isn't a choice that fits well with your morals and values.  If you don't want anyone to 'know' then it is extremely likely that you are crossing a moral line somewhere in that decision.

Consider your Reputation and Resume

Our reputation is built upon the actions we take, the decisions we make.  If the choices you are making are not ones you would want highlighted on your resume then you are likely doing serious damage to your reputation and employability.

All of our decisions have an impact;  upon others and upon ourselves.  Having a strong moral compass simply means that we have clarity over what is important to us.  Using this as criteria in our decision making allows us to ensure we make decisions we will feel more comfortable living with, providing us with fewer regrets down the road.