|JJ's (May '06) Tips in this issue:
1. Do You Have Healthy or Toxic Communications?
2. Favorite Quotes
3. Tele-Coaching & Tele-Mentoring
Use the following tips as training tools.
Present this situation to your group and
brainstorm solutions together, or submit
your own situation question to be
answered in an upcoming newsletter.
A reader wrote: As a manager, I need some tips on how to communicate better
to create positive results and coach toxic coworkers to be more positive.
Sometimes my communications with upper management and to my reports are
healthy, but other times the conversations are toxic. How can I consistently
stay healthy and positive in my communications?
Here are some of the reasons communication becomes toxic: stress, illness,
low self esteem, lack of knowledge or training, bitterness, jealousy,
pessimistic self-talk, etc.
I've always been health conscious and after my bout with breast cancer last
September, I started reading some of Kaiser Hospital member e-newsletter on
staying healthy and less stressful personally and professionally.
The following techniques from the March 2005 Kaiser newsletter can help you
be a better communicator. With practice, you can learn to say what you feel,
think, and want clearly and comfortably at work or home. You'll be able to
express your likes and dislikes more effectively, accept compliments more
graciously, deal with criticism, and say no, all without putting extra
stress on your body. And because you are communicating more directly, other
people are likely to be more responsive to your needs, even those toxic
coworkers who need your positive influence through coaching and mentoring.
(Adapted with permission from the Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Handbook (also
published under the title Mind & Body Health Handbook), David Sobel, MD, and
Robert Ornstein, PhD, 1996
Reviewed by: David Sobel, MD
Last updated: June 2004)
Watch your body language
Research shows that more than half of what we communicate is not conveyed by
our words but by our body language. When we smile, frown, sigh, touch, drum
our fingers, or blush, we send powerful messages. Even when we are saying
nothing, our bodies are still communicating.
For good communication, your body language and tone of voice should match
what you are saying. If you are making an assertive statement, for example,
look straight at the other person and keep your expression friendly. Watch
out for sneers or lip biting. Relax your arms and legs. Breathe. Stand tall
and confident, and lean forward to show your interest. Arching away suggests
you'd rather be somewhere else. Slouching communicates uncertainty.
When you detect a mismatch between body and words in others, point it out in
a friendly way. You might say, "I appreciate your saying you want to go
dancing, but you look tired and your voice is flat. Would you rather go
Notice conversational styles
Maria complains that her husband, Hector, doesn't pay attention to her when
she talks. But, in fact, Hector can usually recount every word Maria says.
Hector listens quietly whereas Maria gives a lot of feedback: nodding,
changing facial expressions, and saying "uh huh."
Kim pauses longer than Michael between sentences. Michael thinks Kim is
finished talking and interrupts. Kim feels hurt that Michael is always
interrupting her, and she accuses him of being arrogant and rude.
Studies show that styles of conversing play a major role in
misunderstandings. For example, women ask more personal questions because
they believe "it shows I care." Men think, "If there's something she wants
me to know, she'll tell me."
Men are more likely to interrupt. This is something they learned as boys. A
high value was placed on status and dominance among males.
(The exception to this is when women get together with close friends and
they all want to talk at once. Watch the first ten minutes of the View
television show and you'll see this demonstrated as they discuss Hot Topics
of the morning. They interrupt constantly and have a great time doing it.)
In general, women learned to use conversation in order to form and maintain
friendships. Men more often give opinions and make declarations of fact than
women. Men tend to discuss problems just to seek solutions, whereas women
want to share their feelings and experiences.
Other factors that influence conversational style include where people are
born and how they're raised, the size of their family, their occupation, and
their cultural background. Just recognizing that others express themselves
differently can reduce a lot of misunderstanding, frustration, and
How do you communicate?
There are basically three ways we communicate with other people:
aggressively, passively, or assertively. Effective communication is usually
assertive communication. When you communicate assertively, you stand up for
your rights in a friendly way, without being aggressive.
Many of us carry unhelpful assumptions about ourselves, our rights to
express ourselves, and to be respected. These assumptions make it more
likely that we'll respond in either an aggressive or a passive manner rather
than in an assertive one.
Aggressive responses. The assumption underlying aggressive responses is "I'm
superior and right, and you're inferior and wrong." Aggressive responses
often set off retaliation and defensiveness, and increase tension. This kind
of response is also less likely to resolve problems.
Passive responses. Underlying passive responses is the belief that "I'm weak
and inferior, and you're powerful and right." Passive responses usually lead
to a lot of bottled-up anger, resentment, and hurt feelings. Like aggressive
responses, they are less likely to resolve problems.
Assertive responses. Assertive responses are based on the attitude that
although you and the other person may have your differences, you are equally
entitled to express yourselves. You are communicating assertively when you
can stand up for your rights without violating the rights of others. You can
express your personal needs and opinions, you can disagree openly, and you
can say no. Assertive responses usually result in improved self-esteem, less
tension, and, often, the resolution of problems. It is not selfish to
assertively express your beliefs, communicate your feelings, and stand up
for your values.
Learn to be more assertive
You can learn to express yourself more effectively. To communicate
State your observations. Explain your thoughts or perception of the
situation in as objective and nonjudgmental way as you can.
State your thoughts. This is your opportunity to express your opinions, your
beliefs, your interpretations, and/or your interpretation of the other
State your feelings. Use "I" statements. For example, say "I get really
upset when I'm late. It's important for me to be on time," instead of
"You're always making me late." Focus on your own emotional reaction to the
situation rather than blaming the other person for making you feel this way.
State only the impact of the situation or someone else's behavior on you.
State your wants. Make clear, specific requests of the other person.
Learning to communicate differently can be challenging at first. Practice
Watch "always" and "never"
When you describe your observations, stick to the facts. Try to avoid words
like "always" and "never." These words rarely are true and they often make
people react defensively.
So instead of saying, "You never clean up the dishes after dinner," you
might say, "After dinner the dishes collect in the sink (observation). I'm
angry about this because I feel like you are not doing your share (feeling).
I'd like us to alternate doing the dishes (wants). How does that sound to
Or instead of saying, "You're always selfish and inconsiderate," try
something like, "I'm angry because you didn't tell me you'd be home late."
Make your requests specific
When you state your wants, make them specific. Help the other person know
exactly what you are requesting. If you want your son to mow the lawn, tell
him "I would like you to mow the lawn some time this afternoon. Will you
agree to that?" Communicating a specific request is more likely to
accomplish the goal than complaining: "Look at the lawn. It hasn't been
mowed in weeks. Why don't you ever mow it?"
How to say "no"
Learning how to decline a request is an essential life skill. Many of us
have a hard time saying no, even when we're overwhelmed with things to do.
We may say yes from an exaggerated desire to please, but in the end we often
feel resentful, frustrated, disappointed, and angry with our self. Remember,
you have a legitimate right to decline any request, even if it's a
reasonable request. Here are some tips on how to say no:
Take some time before you answer. Say you have to think it over or check
with your family or boss.
Think of how you want to respond, and rehearse your answer.
Separate the person who is asking from the task you are being asked to do;
say no to the request without rejecting the requester. Acknowledge the
importance of the request to the other person. You can say, "Thanks for calling. I appreciate your asking me, but I can't take on any more tasks."
Offer no further explanation. Give no details of your busy schedule.
If the person is persistent, use the "broken record" strategy. Say, "I
understand you need special help, but I just can't take on any more tasks,"
or "I'd help out if I could, but I can't take on any more tasks."
Make a counter offer along these lines: "I won't be able to drive tonight.
Perhaps you can ask Anna for a ride. I can drive next week."
And how do you respond when someone says no to your request? Remember, it's
not necessarily a rejection of you as a person; it's merely an honest
decline of that specific request.
Check out your assumptions
Communication is sometimes blocked by incorrect assumptions or fantasies
about what the other person means. For example, Sarah has just quit her job
at an art gallery. She wants to tell Julia about it but she is afraid Julia
will disapprove of her action, so she says nothing. The truth of the matter
is, Julia may or may not disapprove. Sarah will never know what Julia really
thinks, since she has made an assumption about Julia's response.
Sarah could share the reasons she quit her job with Julia. She could also
tell Julia exactly how she feels: that she fears Julia's moral judgment or
disapproval. Checking out our assumptions and fantasies through direct
communication is the best antidote to misunderstanding. People can't read
your mind, and you can't reliably read theirs.
If you can't check out someone else's intentions or thoughts directly, at
least give them the benefit of the doubt. Assume that their intentions are
good unless you have strong evidence to the contrary.
Nip conflict in the bud
Minor communication problems can escalate into major conflicts. An employee
might think, for example, that his perfectionist boss is out to get him;
partners might accuse each other of nagging or being too defensive.
To minimize conflict before it gets worse:
Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. "I" statements are direct,
assertive expressions of your views and feelings, whereas "you" sentences
are accusative and confrontational. For example: "I try very hard to do the
best work I can," not, "You always criticize me." Or "I appreciate it when
you turn down the television while I talk," not, "You never pay attention."
Notice that "I feel that you are not treating me fairly" is actually a
disguised "you" statement. A true "I" statement really would be, "I feel
angry and hurt."
Shift the perspective from what is being talked about to what is going on
between you. For example: "We're both getting upset and drifting away from
the topic we agreed to discuss."
Buy time. For example: "I think I understand your concerns. I would like a
little time to think about it and gather more information before I respond."
Make sure you understand each other's concerns, positions, or feelings by
summarizing what you heard. For example: "Before I say what I think, let me
repeat what I think you said..."
Reverse roles. Try arguing each other's position as thoroughly and
thoughtfully as you can. Try to win the debate for the other side. You'll
find this is a great way to understand all sides of an issue, and the
validity of different points of view. This tactic will also help you develop
empathy and tolerance for diversity.
Look for a workable compromise. In a conflict it is usually not possible to
satisfy everyone. Look for something you all can agree to try for awhile.
Here are three possibilities:
Do it your way this time, the other person's next time.
Agree to part of what you want and part of what the other person wants.
Compromise. Decide what you'll do, and what the other person will do in
Change how you talk to yourself
The way we talk with others is often determined by the way we talk to
ourselves. Let's say your boss asks you if the report you just handed in was
the final version. You think to yourself, "Oh, no. He thinks it's lousy. I
probably need to revise it for the 10th time. I can't write very well." But
in fact your boss is quite pleased and is wondering about what assignment to
give you next.
Be aware of the difference between what you say to yourself and what is
actually said by others. Learn to hear what you tell yourself, and change
your pessimistic self-talk. (Read more on how to be a positive thinker.) If,
for example, you hear in your head, "I'm a lousy actor," challenge your own
inner assumptions. Ask yourself, "If I write a script and rehearse my lines,
why would I make a fool of myself? And even if I messed up, so what?
Everybody makes mistakes. I'll do better next time."
You can dramatically shift the mood of a conversation just by letting
someone know you appreciate his or her effort or achievement. Compliments
and thank-yous are all vital nutrients. Watch for the hundreds of
opportunities to practice praising.
You may be surprised at the power of praise. You can also dramatically shift
the mood of hostile, distant people with just a few kind words.
Offer general praise like, "I am really happy to see you." But your praise
will be more effective if you link it to a specific quality of activity such
as, "I really liked the way you stood up for yourself in that meeting." The
next time you see someone doing something well, say so. Watch their
reaction. They may seem a bit embarrassed, but inside they're feeling good.
Tell coworkers that you appreciate the good job they're doing on a project,
for example, or compliment your mother on how nice she looks. Or tell your
doctor how much you appreciate the way he or she listens to you or explains
You can also ask for praise for yourself. When someone offers you a
compliment, just say "thank you," or return the compliment by saying how
good it made you feel. When you give criticism, balance it with praise. Say,
"I really appreciate your writing," for example, "but I wondered if you
could tighten it up a bit." Criticize the performance, but praise the
How to cope with criticism
We assume that receiving criticism must automatically be uncomfortable. But
the impact of criticism on us depends more on how we describe the criticism
to ourselves and interpret it rather than on what our critic actually says.
Think about a specific time when you were criticized. Did you get angry?
Depressed? Did the comments trigger a barrage of negative self-talk and
self-criticism? Did you turn to medications, alcohol, smoking, or food to
soothe your hurt feelings?
There is a whole range of healthier ways to respond. Here are some questions
to ask yourself when you're criticized:
Does the criticism seem reasonable?
Is it fact or opinion?
Does the critic have the authority, credentials, or knowledge to add
validity and value to his or her view?
Are there others who might confirm this view? Dispute it?
Does it concern an unimportant area, or is it one in which you don't expect
to be skilled or competent?
Were there unusual or special circumstances?
How would others have behaved in a similar situation?
In some circumstances, it is perfectly reasonable to say, "I can see why you
might think that, but I see it differently." Or buy time, think it over, and
collect more information. Or decide to accept the criticism without feeling
bad, and take action to modify your behavior.
Say you're sorry
We have all said or done things that have, intentionally or unintentionally,
hurt others. Many relationships are hurt sometimes for years because people
have not learned the powerful social skill of apologizing. Often all it
takes is a simple, sincere apology to restore a relationship.
Rather than a sign of weak character, an apology shows great strength. To be
effective, an apology must:
Admit the specific mistake, and accept responsibility for it. You must name
the offense; no glossing over with just, "I'm sorry for what I did." Be
specific. You might say, for example, "I'm very sorry that I spoke behind
An effective apology points out that what you did does not represent how you
see yourself or how you want to be. Explain the particular circumstances
that led you to do what you did. Don't offer excuses or sidestep
Express your sadness, guilt, and shame. A genuine, heart-felt apology
involves some suffering. Sadness shows that the relationship matters to you.
Guilt conveys that you are truly upset about hurting another person. And
shame communicates your disappointment with yourself over the incident.
Acknowledge the impact of wrongdoing. You might say, "I know that I hurt you
and that my behavior cost you a lot. For that I am very sorry."
Offer to make amends. Ask what you can do to make the situation better, or
volunteer specific suggestions.
Making an apology is not fun, but it is an act of courage, generosity, and
healing. It brings the possibility of a renewed and stronger relationship,
and it can also bring peace within yourself.
JJ's FAVORITE QUOTES:
"The secret of success is constancy of purpose."
- Benjamin Disraeli
"The worst thing in your life may contain seeds of the best. When you can
see crisis as an opportunity, your life becomes not easier, but more
- Joe Kogel
"Playing it safe is the most dangerous thing we can do. We
have to get bolder."
- Apple CEO, Steve Jobs
Tele-COACHING & Tele-MENTORING
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EVALUATION OF YOUR ENVIRONMENT:
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receive suggestions on improving it? (It's like the doctor's check up, you
often don't know you need it, until after you've had it.)
JJ Lauderbaugh, CMC
408 445-1590 or 800 500-9656
1716 Husted Ave.
San Jose, CA 95124
JJ works with companies that want to give exceptional customer service to
increase sales, and with Directors and Call Center/Help Desk Managers who
want to improve human performance.
She's an international speaker, trainer, facilitator and certified
management consultant (CMC) on customer service management, specializing in
performance improvement, call centers, up/cross selling and outbound
For training resources, free articles, tips and streaming video, go to our
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