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How to Stop Saying 'Um,' 'Like,' and Other Filler Words 

How to Stop Saying 'Um,' 'Like,' and Other Filler Words

Working with a group of emerging leaders recently, we got into a discussion about filler words like, well, “like.” One young man was surprised when I had his table partner count the number of times he said “like” in his three-minute presentation (27!). He’s not alone.
 
We've all been there. Sometimes, in a meeting someone asks you an unexpected question that you don’t immediately know how to answer. As your mind searches for something to say, your mouth begins to speak.
 
If you were to listen to a recording of your response, it would likely include a few “ums” and “uhs” as you pieced together a response.
 
Or maybe you’ve been on the receiving end, listening to someone give a presentation that is littered with “ums” and “uhs.”
 
These are known as filler words. These are the occasional hiccups in language we find in everyday conversation. They happen because, linguists tell us, people speak 120 to 150 words per minute — or two to 2 1/2 words per second — in normal speech.
 
With that speed, it’s normal to have glitches in our sentences. Studies find that 6 to 10 percent of spontaneous speech has some kind of garble, including filler words.
 
Filler words in every culture
In fact, this is a common phenomenon around the world. Researchers find all languages have their own versions of “um” and “uh.” If you’d like to add a foreign flair to your next stammer, consider Spanish "eh" and "pues," French "eu" and "em," or even Japanese "etto" and "ano," to name a few. ;-)
 
Whether you have occasionally dipped your toe in the filler-word pool, or are completely submerged, and don’t even realize you’re wet, it’s in your interest to prevent these phrases from permeating your language.
 
Negative effects of filler words
That’s because the overuse of “ums” and “uhs” and "like" and other filler words may have negative effects on your communication, including:

  • Giving the perception that you are uncertain and lacking in confidence, thus reducing your credibility.

  • Distracting people from your message. They often end up counting the filler words or being so annoyed they tune you out.

  • Making you seem to have a limited vocabulary, like you don’t have the words to express what you want to say.


So, how do you learn to control these filler phrases?
 
1) Develop your awareness
It starts with developing awareness. Many people don’t realize that they rely on these filler words.
 
Others know they’ve adopted filler words but don’t realize how often they are saying them. You know these people. They use “like” and “right” and think they are using them sparingly, but in fact are literally (another of those words) using them like.every.like.other.like.word.
 
To bring this to people’s consciousness, some speech coaches will drop pennies in a metal can, hit a spoon on a glass, or use a clicker like those used in dog training. These noises are meant to bring awareness to the person while they are speaking.
 
In very severe cases, I may briefly employ this method. But in general, I find this negative reinforcement doesn’t correct the problem and undermines confidence for the speaker.
 
For more long-term success, I prefer a method I’ve used for years that is also employed in Toastmasters Clubs. Rather than constantly interrupting the speaker, someone simply counts and reports the number of filler words used.
 
A video or audio recording should accompany this so the person can hear when and how often filler words surfaced. It can come as a shock.
 
Working with the president of a large, Fortune 500 company, I once sat in the audience as he spoke for 20 minutes, without slides, to employees. I counted 46 times that he asked, “right?” He did not recall one of them!
 
Once you’re aware of the problem, here are some solutions:
 
2) Slow down
Learn to become comfortable with a moment of silence. We often use filler words as a crutch to avoid silence. When you’re under pressure a pause can feel like an eternity, but it’s not. A pause after a point gets the attention of your audience and allows them to take in what you said. It also lets them catch up with you and take a breath to get ready for your next idea.
 
3) Think before you speak

Some researchers theorize that we blurt out answers to questions because when we were kids, that’s what we did. We had to answer a question from an adult teacher or parent immediately, so we gave fast, unfiltered responses. As adults, we have to be more diplomatic and sometimes feel like we have to be perfect, so filler words appear.
 
To counter this, I coach my clients to do these three things, in this order: Pause. Think. Speak.
 
It may sound like I’m being funny or simplistic, but too many of us don’t do these. Most might skip a pause and start speaking while they are thinking, hoping that their minds catch up with their mouths. Then filler words appear.

4) Practice with intention
Try this with someone you trust. Put your phone on record and have the person ask you any questions they want. Pause as long as you need to, think of your answer, then speak.
 
At first, you may pause 30 or 40 seconds, but with practice, your mind will adopt this discipline and over time you’ll only pause for a few seconds before you come out with a well-constructed sentence. Listen to the recordings to continue to improve.
 
Think about great public speakers who effectively use the pause. It will seem awkward to pause in the beginning. But using this method after a while will train your mind to follow this pattern and the pauses will grow shorter, the thinking will grow clearer (and faster), and your speaking will be stronger and more confident.
 
5) Talk about an object
Another exercise I’ve used with success with my clients is to find an object wherever you are and talk about it for 30 seconds. Again, record yourself with your phone.
 
Try this: Spot a random object, like your computer mouse, and talk about it for 30 seconds. You can say whatever you want – but no filler words. If you have to pause, that’s okay, but keep talking about that thing. Keep doing that with other objects, too. You can do it in the office, at home, or anywhere. Listen to the recording and find where you’ve used the fillers. Keep practicing and you’ll notice your language will begin to flow more smoothly.
 
Now, think about yourself:
Are you prone to use filler words?
 
Or does someone you know use them and annoy you to no end? It takes courage to tell someone they suffer from filler-word syndrome.
 
There’s hope. We can all overcome our filler words with awareness and intentional practice. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.
 

I love hearing your stories. Send me a note on my contact page so we can, like, talk directly. ;-)

10 Tips to Handle Difficult Questions During Your Presentation

Working with CEOs and other leaders preparing for their presentations, I find that one of their greatest concerns is how to handle questions that might arise during or at the conclusion of their presentations.

This was confirmed for me when I was interviewed recently by Inc. Magazine for an article on how to effectively answer questions.

You can read the article here: 7 Surefire Tips to Ace You Next Q & A.

To supplement this I wanted to give you a deeper perspective including 10 quick tips on answering difficult questions.

Why do you think we are all so unnerved by the prospect of answering questions?

I believe there are many reasons for this fear, including:

Fear of the unknown: Virtually any question might be asked and we will be on the spot in a high-pressure situation.

Lack of preparation: Most people don’t actually prepare, or know how to prepare effectively for questions.

No real confidence in our positions, our answers or our ability to respond.

Over-imagining the difficulty of questions and assuming our questioners will be antagonistic.

Fear of failure: What if I can’t answer the question? Will I be embarrassed, ridiculed, rejected? Fired?

It may seem as if I’m being extreme with these reasons, but believe me, I am not. From my intimate work with leaders, all of these may underlie our feelings of exposure. You may have felt some yourself; I know I have.

Early in my career, I became a media spokesperson and found myself doing live interviews on local and national television or talking to crowds of reporters about controversial subjects. I would also speak at public meetings with sometimes-hostile crowds.

Those experiences taught me what I teach others today in media training and speech coaching: To handle questions effectively, you must be prepared, listen carefully, be present inthe moment, and answer with confidence.

Here are some tips to help you when questions put you on the spot:

1) Do not attack the questioner
During an earnings call on May 3, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was asked a question on capital expenditures from a financial analyst. It is a relevant topic for a company that has yet to make a profit. Nonetheless, Musk responded, "Excuse me. Next. Boring, bonehead questions are not cool. Next?"

Though he apologized in a later call, Musk showed the damage that can be done when we attack the questioner to avoid answering legitimate questions. Do your best to avoid picking on your questioners.

2) Prepare and rehearse
As I have written before, the best way to deal with any communication situation is to prepare as much as possible in advance. You can't anticipate every question that will come at you, but you can prepare for most of them. You can also be ready in a generic way for almost every type of question that will come your way.

3) Develop go-to messages
You should have an overriding theme –– the one thing you want people to remember about your presentation. I also recommend having three key points that will serve as your go-to messages.

For instance, if you’re doing a status update on a project, your theme might be, “Our product introduction is on target.” You support that theme with three main messages, such as “we are on budget, on schedule and initial sales are on plan.” 

4) Pivot to your messages 
Whenever you’re asked a question, you should pivot back to your key messages that support your theme. It might feel odd repeating these messages, but it’s necessary, given peoples’ limited attention spans today. It will feel like repetition to you, but you’re really reinforcing your main theme.
 
Just don’t use exactly the same words as you say these messages: change it up by saying things a different way. Use different data, examples or stories to make your points. People won’t think of you as repeating yourself, they’ll think of you as someone who is clear on what you’re trying to communicate.
 
5) Make a written list
I was trained in journalism in college and will share this formula reporters use to write news stories: In the first paragraph journalists are supposed to include the who, what, where, when, why and how, so that people get all the information they need up front. You can use the same approach to develop your list of questions.

Take your topic and write every related question you can think of that might come up. For instance, if you are presenting to management about your product introduction, then consider questions like:

What is the most important potential obstacle to success?

When will we see results from this new product?

Who is responsible for any delay in this product?
 
6) Add the toughest question 
When you’re done writing your list of questions, there’s one more you need to add. I tell people to add the question that you don’t want to be asked.budget

All of us have a question that is the absolute toughest in our minds. It’s important to write that question down and also write down your best answer to get it out of your head and onto paper.
 
If you don’t write it down, it will be swimming in your subconscious during your presentation. You may just be thinking, “don’t ask that question, please don’t ask that question.” When the question is asked, your mind might go blank.
 
But if you’ve written down your answer—the best possible answer—you’ll feel more confident and ready to answer the toughest question.
 
7) Don’t get defensive
It’s important not to let people hit your emotional triggers when you’re answering questions. If that happens during a session and you get defensive, you lose. Maintain your confidence by maintaining your composure.
 
8) Don’t dwell on a negative questioner
When someone in a crowd, such as in a meeting, essentially heckles you by posing negative questions, it’s important not to let them steal the show. In other words, it’s okay to answer a question or two from that person, each time going to your key messages, but then move on. Turn your gaze and your head to someone else, another questioner, as soon as possible.
 
9) Don’t end your presentation on a negative question
Be sure to end your presentation on a positive note. You may have several negative questions in a row, but when you get to a positive question and you feel like things are wrapping up, it’s time to end your talk.
 
I recommend having two “closes” or final remarks for your talk. What I mean is, that first you summarize then open it up for questions and answers.

When the questions are over, hopefully ending on a positive question, again summarize with your theme and some of your key messages or call to action (your second “close”) so that people walk away with what you want them to remember.

10) Don’t Wait
The worst thing that people do is wait until the question is asked and then try to think of the answer -- under pressure -- and then smoothly give the answer.

That’s a really difficult feat to accomplish. It’s no wonder that we feel anxiety when we’re not ready to answer. Questions only become “tough” if you aren’t prepared for them, or if you’ve inflated them out of proportion in your mind.

In other words, even “tough” questions can be handled with confidence and grace, if you have the right mindset and are prepared to address the questions.

There is both an art and science to answering live questions. Be patient with yourself. Like any other skill, answering questions takes focus, deliberate practice and repetition.

I really enjoy hearing your stories. If you want to share your thoughts with me, please visit my contact page to send me a message, and don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter, Sunday Coffee.

4 Leadership Lessons from Self-made Billionaire CEO Sara Blakely

Don't be intimidated by what you don't know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.

–– Sara Blakely, CEO, Spanx


When we think of the most senior business leaders, we often conjure mental pictures of stodgy chief executives spewing numbers and corporate speak.
 
It’s unfortunate because leaders like these do not connect with their most important stakeholders -- employees, investors, partners, and others. By hiding behind the veneer of business babble, they deny people what they want the most from their leaders: authenticity.
 
This is why one of my primary missions in working with CEOs and other senior leaders on their presentations is to help them find and share their truth – their authentic selves.
 
Admittedly, there are many paths to success in business, but the best journeys are authentic.
 
It’s not an easy path. It takes determination and courage to push past the fear of being so real, but those few who are willing to do so become truly great leaders.

Spanx CEO Sara Blakely
A great example of this is Sara Blakely, who grew up wanting to be a lawyer like her father but was unable to obtain a high score on the LSAT. After trying her hand at stand-up comedy, she sold fax machines door-to-door before starting her company, Spanx.

(If you are not familiar with Spanx, the company says it sells “the largest selection of slimming intimates, body shapers, hosiery, apparel, and the latest innovations in shapewear for men and women.”)

Blakely is America’s youngest self-made female billionaire, according to a 2014 Forbes profile, which estimated her privately held company earned "over $250 million in annual revenues and net profit margins estimated at 20 percent.”
 
The origin story of Spanx is that Blakely was going to a party and didn’t want panty lines to show through her white pants, so she cut the feet off pantyhose and later patented the idea. While she possessed little knowledge about fashion or retail, in 2000 Blakely, at age twenty-seven, began her shapewear and legging company, investing her life savings of $5,000.
 
In 2013, Blakely became the first female billionaire to join The Giving Pledge, the campaign founded by Melinda and Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, which has the mega-wealthy pledge to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
 
Today, this mother of four young children continues to be an advocate for women through her Sara Blakely Foundation, which supports women in education and entrepreneurship.

Blakely’s path and approach offer unique leadership lessons:
 
1) Embrace failure
One of Blakely’s biggest lessons is to embrace failure, a lesson she learned as a child. In an interview with Entrepreneur, she talked about how her father helped shift her mindset:
 
My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn't have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying. Don't be afraid to fail.
 
Most of us don’t enjoy failing, even go to great lengths to avoid it. But the real failure lies in not trying. Instead of seeing failure as an outcome, try to view failure as evidence that you tried. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
 
One of the ways Blakely leads her employees is through sharing her mistakes and encouraging her employees to do the same. Employees share their mishaps and blunders during these “oops meetings,” which routinely end up turning into humor-filled anecdotes.
 
While speaking at the Stanford School of Business, she noted: “If you can create a culture where [your employees] are not terrified to fail or make a mistake, then they’re going to be highly productive and more innovative.”
 
Blakely is especially curious about how the fear of embarrassment can hold power over us. If we intentionally acknowledge our mistakes and find humor in them, the fear loses power.
 
2) Don’t take yourself too seriously
New employees at Spanx are required to do standup comedy as part of a training boot camp. It encourages them to feel less intimidated and to let go while embracing fun as part of the Spanx experience. “I don’t subscribe to the fact that you have to act serious to be taken seriously,” Blakely said.
 
In honor of that playfulness, when Blakely first started Spanx, the packaging said, “Don’t worry. We’ve got your butt covered.” She has continued to keep her company – and its products – lighthearted and fun.
 
Blakely advocates using humor to capture a potential client’s interest. She has noted that even the name of her company makes people laugh.
 
Her previous experience as a saleswoman came in handy when she was growing Spanx. “When I cold-called to sell fax machines door-to-door,” she said, “I learned very quickly that if I could make somebody laugh or smile I’d get another thirty seconds before they’d slam the door in my face.”
 
While you may not be cold-calling in your day-to-day life, using humor can break the ice in most conversations. It helps to put people at ease and bring down their defenses.
 
Humor can also be a powerful leadership strategy, according to new research from Harvard and Wharton. People attribute confidence to those who are brave enough to tell a joke.
 
3) Be relentless
Sara spent two years trying to convince manufacturers to take a chance on her before a mill owner in North Carolina agreed to help her. He had been convinced by his daughters to take on this invention, which they told him would be a “goldmine.”
 
“I must have heard the word ‘no’ a thousand times,” she said. “If you believe in your idea 100 percent, don’t let anyone stop you! Not being afraid to fail is a key part of the success of Spanx.”
 
Blakely didn’t let the word “no” deter her from pursuing her vision. She continued to push forward until she heard “yes.”
 
4) Break the rules
While speaking to Stanford students, she recalled how she used a rogue tactic to get noticed at Neiman Marcus. Her products were in the back of the store, where few customers frequented. She bought envelope dividers and put Spanx around the registers, promoting greater visibility.
 
After management realized they hadn’t approved this tactic, the head of Neiman’s allowed her to keep doing it because it was so successful. From turning the undergarment industry on its head to trailblazing new paths for women, Blakely has remained innovative and forward thinking.
 
How about you?
 
What’s your view of “failure”?
 
Do you encourage risk taking with your team?
 
How could you take yourself less seriously?
 
Do you have an “oops” moment that you might share with others?

I so enjoy hearing your stories. If you want to share your thoughts with me, please visit my contact page and don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter, Sunday Coffee.

5 Ways to Avoid Work Burnout

Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have –– you.

Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People


As summer comes to an end here in the U.S., many of us will enter the fall reinvigorated and ready to strongly finish the year.
 
But if you’re like many of my clients, your summer wasn’t as peaceful as it could’ve been and the rest of the year poses continuing challenges for your emotional and physical well-being.

You may be feeling burned out, and you’re not alone. Research shows that significant numbers of workers suffer from severe stress related to their jobs, with almost 80 percent reporting that they “regularly experience physical or psychological symptoms caused by stress.”
 
Even as the job market in the U.S. continues to thrive, giving workers options to move to better jobs, workplace stress is continuing to take its toll.
 
Stress has increased, as workdays have become 24/7 with global responsibilities and unlimited communication access through email, calls, and texts. The harmful effects of constant work in overdrive are visible everywhere, at every level of organizations.
 
Elon Musk burnout
The recent burnout of genius innovator Elon Musk serves as a tale of warning. In case you’re not aware of him, Musk is the CEO simultaneously of two major companies – electric carmaker Tesla and rocket company Space X. His vision is to colonize Mars to give the human race options to survive if Earth becomes uninhabitable.

I love Musk and view him as a modern-day Thomas Edison. Musk’s vision and energy have seemed boundless since he started Tesla in 2003.
 
But his recent public behavior has proven he is all too human. Working self-professed 120-hour weeks to achieve auto production goals he set for the public company Tesla, Musk began acting erratically, particularly on Twitter: he accused a diver, who helped save Thai boys from a cave, of being a pedophile; personally attacked short sellers of Tesla’s stock; and, most harmful, Tweeted while driving to the airport that he had secured funding to take Tesla private.
 
Musk’s statement drove up the company’s stock, but apparently was news to Tesla’s board. His claims triggered a federal investigation as a possible violation of securities law as well as private lawsuits.
 
This led to the seemingly indestructible Musk’s tearful interview with the New York Times last week, in which he shared the physical and emotional effects of business stress on his life.
 
Musk’s travails should serve as a warning to leaders and other high achievers who often position themselves as superheroes able to thrive under massive stress with only a few hours of sleep.
 
The truth is that we are all human and sooner or later, unabated stress may result in mental errors, emotional breakdownsand depression, or severe health problems, among others.
 
The phrase, “Sharpen the Saw” in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People refers to a carpenter who uses a saw continuously so that the saw becomes dull and doesn’t cut properly. As the saw must be sharpened regularly to be effective, so must we take care of ourselves to be “sharp.”
 
Here are five tips for keeping yourself sharp and avoiding job burnout:
 
1) Take a personal audit: It all starts with awareness. You really can’t deal with a problem until you acknowledge it and understand its depths. How are you doing? Are you stressed out all of the time? Are you unable to relax or focus? Sometimes we have blind spots and need to ask others whether they see the warning signs of stress and potential burnout.
 
2) Balance your diet and exercise: I’m not going to go into detail because there’s no lack of information available on these practices; rather, there’s a lack of mindset and execution. The evidence is clear that whole foods are necessary to fuel for our body’s health and well-being; it’s also clear that exercise provides energy, stress relief, and mental and emotional clarity.
 
3) Set priorities: Too many organizations set long lists of “priorities” that must be accomplished – but when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Steve Jobs had been fired from Apple and when he made his return in 1997 to revive the failing company, he found that the company was producing a huge, confusing range of products, including twelve versions of the Macintosh computer.
 
Jobs reduced the entire product line by 70 percent, including a focus on just four versions of the Mac. This kind of focus has resulted in Apple becoming the most valuable company in the world.
 
Of course, this applies to us as individuals as well. Have you ever gone home after a long day of meetings and emails and realized you made no headway on what was important? I know I have. Every day, we face a choice of limited time and energy to accomplish our goals. Dedicated focus on real priorities is the key to real results.
 
4) Rest, relaxation, and sleep: The benefits of sleep have been well documented. The problem is that many of us don’t take the necessary steps to protect and promote effective sleep. Also, it’s critical to take breaks regularly and learn to relax. Many people find meditation and journaling in the morning to be helpful in starting their days.
 
5) Take a technology break: We are all distracted and, for many of us, compulsively addicted to our phones and other screens. This constant pinging in our subconscious, this yearning for drops of dopamine in our brains, doesn’t allow our stress levels to subside. We need to learn to control our smartphone addiction.
 
How about you?
 
How do you monitor and control your work stress?
 
Have you asked people you trust if they see signs of burnout in you?
 
Too many of us respond to work’s demands, like Pavlov’s dogs, without thinking. We need to step back, reflect and act in ways that will preserve our physical and emotional health while improving our results.
 
Give it a try. It might be the most important step you take this year.
 
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Just visit my contact page to share with me.

If you like this article, please share it with someone who might benefit from this advice. 

How to Speak from Your Heart

Speak your heart. If they don't understand, the message was never meant for them anyway. 

— Yasmin Mogahed


Whenever I speak, I make sure to practice what I preach: I tell stories to connect with people. I speak from my heart.

Speaking to a workshop of five hundred people in Las Vegas recently, I shared a story of a powerful experience I had twenty-five years ago when I was leading media relations for an insurance company in California.
 
Part of my role was to go to the scene of disasters and work with the media, which over the years took me to hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, and other tragedies.
 
Hell on Earth
My first major disaster was a scorched-earth fire that destroyed more than four hundred homes in the beautiful seaside town of Santa Barbara. It’s usually heaven on earth, but this day it looked like hell on earth – as if a meteor had struck the side of the mountain.
 
To learn the business, I accompanied a claims representative to the destroyed home of one of our customers. He was an elderly widower who had lost everything – all of his family photos and other possessions – in the devastating fire.
 
During my presentation, I choked up and had to pause while telling this story. I still feel his loss, all these years later. Because of the lights in my eyes, I couldn’t see all of the people in the audience, but I saw glistening eyes in the first few rows. A woman in the front row was dabbing tears.
 
I realized we had connected. My heart had spoken to theirs.
 
Winning hearts and minds
We often use terms related to body organs to describe how we communicate with other human beings. We are of like minds, we trust our guts, and our hearts go out to people.

Of all of those, I believe our hearts are the most powerful in making a connection with another human being.
 
That’s why, for leaders, we talk about winning peoples’ hearts and minds, not their minds and hearts.
 
With this in mind, I’ll offer a few tips for speaking from your heart to make a deeper connection with people:

Share yourself. We have to be open and risk vulnerability to receive the same from others. Be authentic. People want to know who you are. What experiences shaped you? What brought you here? What motivates you? In sales, we talk about developing feelings of trust as “know, like, and trust.” “Know” starts with sharing yourself.

Be personal. Talk like a normal human being. So often during talks, leaders will shift into “presentation mode,” being formal and stiff. Learn to control your jargon and relate to people in a way that shows you are real and open. In a world where so much is contrived, people appreciate sincerity and authenticity.

Show your passion. What do you love in your life or your work? Sharing that and displaying your enthusiasm will go a long way toward showing people your humanity. We can sense when people are excited about something, and we get excited, too.

In high school in Southern California, I had a history teacher who was an aviation enthusiast with a focus on WWII. He had small model planes hanging throughout the room. Though it was the last thing my friends and I would typically care about, by the end of the semester we were going to aviation shows.
 
Our teacher’s passion and stories won us over. I still love planes today. (He followed his passion and left teaching years ago. He hunts for historical planes that were lost and has made significant discoveries.)

Listen to people. When we are present in the moment, when we listen fully to others, our words will flow more naturally. For some reason, maybe because our subconscious takes over, it’s much easier to speak freely and fully when we’ve listened to what people want and need in the moment. I’ve found this to be true across the board – from large audiences to one-on-one conversations.

Tell your story. Perhaps the easiest and most effective way to speak from your heart is to tell your story.  This is why great leaders tell stories. As humans, we are hardwired for telling and hearing stories. They convey who we are, they teach us lessons, and they build trust. Stories connect us as people.

Sharing your story will build trust with the people who are most important to you and your success, and building trusted relationships is the key to success.
 
It’s not easy to risk vulnerability, to speak from your heart. It’s uncomfortable, but that’s kind of the point. Anything that takes you out of your comfort zone takes courage.
 
Or, as they say, it takes heart. So speak from your heart.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Just visit my contact page to share with me.

Building Feelings of Trust as a Leader

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
 
                                                               – Maya Angelou
 

In a training workshop with leaders in Chicago recently, I said something I hadn’t said before.
 
As I showed a slide with Maya Angelou’s thoughts, I told them that if they remember nothing else from our day together, this would be enough to transform their communication in business and life: People will never forget how you made them feel, and trust is a feeling.
 
If a leader can’t build trusted relationships, nothing else matters. And people make feeling-based decisions on whether they trust you.
 
This is particularly true of emotionally charged situations because they deeply encode themselves in our minds. Scientists monitoring real-time brain activity with MRIs have confirmed that we are tribal animals making emotionally based decisions.
 
Protecting our status 
At work and at home and everywhere in between, we have encounters with others. By the end of the day we remember few details but we recall how their communication made us feel.
 
Think about it from your own perspective:
 
What do you remember from all of the communication you had last week?
 
What do you recall from the CEO’s presentation at the all-employee meeting; from that call with your boss; from that personal conversation with your love interest?

Chances are you don’t remember the specifics, but you do retain the emotion – perhaps stress, pleasure, anger, joy, or regret.

That’s a huge part of why we remember few details but we always remember how others made us feel. Throughout the development of human history, we had to know where we stood in the group and with our leaders to protect our status as a member of the tribe. Look around your organization and you’ll know that’s still true.
 
 


Build or break trust
As leaders – and we are all leaders of influence in one way or another – our communication can have a powerful impact. People not only listen to our words, but to our tone and our attitude.

Together, these three elements give us the power to lift people up, to inspire them, or to wound them. All of these factors determine whether we build or break trust in our relationships.
 
If I ask you to reflect for a bit, I’m sure you can come up with something positive that was said to you by a parent, a teacher, or a friend that is still with you today.
 
On the other hand, if you’re like the people I coach, you can easily recall, and fixate on, a comment that was cruel or hateful. (One of the leaders in a workshop last year shared with me a decade-old comment a high school boy made about one of her facial features.)
 
We say we let it go, but the truth is we retain these forever. Right now, you can feel the result of that cutting remark from high school, elementary school, maybe even kindergarten.
 
You remember how they made you feel.
 
What we say, especially the negative, can last a lifetime.  It’s why we have to use this power with great care.  Instead, we don’t plan our communication and often blurt out what comes to mind in the moment. We may regret it later, when it’s too late.
 
How about you?
With your communication style – your words, your tone, and your attitude – how do you make people feel? Are you building trust?

Do they feel respected, or belittled?
 
Empowered, or micro-managed?
 
Engaged, or turned off?
 
As leaders, we should be more mindful. This doesn’t mean we can’t be firm or assertive, but we should be aware of the impact of our communication beyond our intended message.
 
Because they really won’t remember what we said, or what we did, but how we made them feel. And trust, after all, is a feeling.
 
Try to be observant this week and if you can’t figure out how you make them feel, there’s an easy way to find out: Ask and then listen carefully.