The (Not So) Hidden Cost of Saying the Wrong Thing
"You teach best what you most need to learn."—Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah Have you ever been surprised to find out you weren’t as good or as smart as you thought? I’ll always remember the day I was called into Bob Goodman’s office. He was a very senior manager and I was just a young management trainee at General Electric. I could feel my stomach doing flip-flops as I apprehensively entered his office. After some small talk he told me something I have never forgotten. He said: “Lisa, you are like a big ship, like a cruise liner, coming into port. You rock all of the other small ships and you don’t even realize it. We’d like to help you with that. We want to send you to some training.”It turns out GE wanted to send me to a training course to improve my interpersonal communication skills. I was mortified!
Obviously, at that time, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
We’re taught reading and writing in school, yet rarely (if ever), are we taught to be smart about what we say and how we say it. We aren’t taught communication skills.
For example:• Do you know specific methods of introducing yourself that will form positive first impressions and lead to strong relationships (and the ways an introduction can limit your chances of ever building a relationship)?
• Do you know all the specific ways to shake hands that instill confidence and trustworthiness (and the common mistakes that many people make)?
• Do you know how to move beyond initial conversations? Beyond collecting friends or fans, to sincerely and effectively engage with people and create significant, meaningful relationships?
• Do you know what to say when someone is going through a difficult time?
• Do you know how to deliver effective feedback without us- ing the old “sandwich approach”—which, by the way, doesn’t work?
• Do you know how to respond to criticism?
• Do you know alternative ways to say “no” yet still develop and build a relationship?
• Do you know how to respond with diplomacy, tact, and grace?
• Do you know how to deliver difficult news or how to handle a difficult conversation?
• Do you know what to say when dealing with a bully, a whiner, or any other difficult person?
• Do you know what makes a master negotiator different from a novice negotiator?
• Do you know what to say to effectively persuade and influence others?
• Do you know how our brains are wired to cause attraction, likability, and trustworthiness?
Too often, the answer to all of these questions is “no.” Or worse, we have some vague notions that trick us into thinking that we know the answers. And we realize that we really don’t know what to say only when we have a problem . . . after we’ve significantly damaged a relationship.
That leads me to the rest of my story . . .
The man sitting next to me at the communication skills training seemed very unhappy—a curmudgeon. He explained that he worked for the post office and that every year there is a communication skills survey among the employees and the managers who score the lowest are forced to come to this course. “Charm school” he called it.
At the training, our first task was to take an inventory of our communication style, adding up points for different measures. After hearing his story, I couldn’t help myself. I was dying to see the
scores for this rough-edged guy from the post office, so I peeked over to see his scores.
What I noticed immediately was that our scores for each and every category were exactly the same! (I even double checked and triple checked his scores against mine. It’s a moment in my life I’ve
I was stunned.
It was then that I realized I needed to change. I promised myself that I would commit myself to practicing and improving my communication skills. I promised that I would polish my people
skills. I promised that I would learn as much as I could to become smart about communication. That was just the very beginning of my journey.
I learned a lot in the next twenty-five years.
Finding My PassionAfter finishing the initial two-year management training program at GE, I was asked to join GE’s corporate audit staff, an accelerated leadership development program. That was when I first noticedthat the root cause of many organization issues stemmed from problems in communication. (Interestingly, much later, in 2009, I read a small study1 that reported that the cost of poor communication was approximately $35,500 per worker per year.)
Fortunately, at the time, GE recognized the importance of communication and encouraged me to get a master’s degree in or- ganizational and interpersonal communication to bring that knowl- edge into the organization. (They even paid for it. Thanks, GE!)
On the personal side of things, this was also about the time that I met John. He was the kind of person who naturally attracts other people, like a magnet. His passion and enthusiasm for life was con- tagious. Unfortunately, he was terminally ill. He was dying from a horrible disease, yet he was the most alive person that I have ever met. That’s why I eventually married him.
During my years with John, I gained a different kind of education in communication. John had AIDS in the late 1980s, a time when there was significant social stigma associated with people who were HIV positive. Even medical staff were often extremely insensitive. That’s when I first became painfully aware of the communication issues within the healthcare industry. Of course, very personally, I was also learning how to deal with difficult and emo tionally charged interpersonal communication.
Who I Am NowIt’s been many years since then and I’ve dedicated my professional life to helping individuals and organizations improve productivity by building and enhancing communication skills. I’ve developed and delivered hundreds of communication workshops, keynotes, and seminars in areas such as teambuilding, public speaking, networking, conflict, and leadership, both as a corporate employee and as an independent communication strategist.
In 2008, I wanted to expand my reach to help more people than just the ones who came to hear me speak. So I created The Public Speaker’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Improving Your CommunicationSkills, a free weekly podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. The episodes have been downloaded more than eight million times in over 200 countries. In 2009, the show was nominated as a top five business podcast by the Podcast Awards and a year later it was also nominated in the education category. (Yay!) In 2012, I partnered with Hewlett-Packard to offer a free daily, bite-sized communication-building briefing called Communication Success: Tips For Busy People, that is delivered directly to printers worldwide! I’m very excited because for the first time, my work is available in several languages.
My goal with all of my programs is to provide proven, evidence-based strategies and practical techniques that have an immediate impact in your organization, in your career, and in your life. I want to help you have the competitive edge to get things done, big and small. I want you to be a master of communication. I’d like to help you be more: • Confident—so you are comfortable in your own skin and accepting of others
• Passionate—so you live life based on what’s important to you
• Sensitive—so you can easily tap into your emotions and the emotions of others
• Consistent—so you constantly demonstrate how much you value your relationships
• Persistent—so you keep communicating even with obstacles in your way
• Energetic—so you create and attract positive energy
• Diplomatic—so you always consider the perspective of others
• Visionary—so you know exactly what you want and how to share your vision with others
• Positive—so you always focus on the positive and expect good outcomes
• Successful—so you achieve your goals, financial or otherwise, while creating, developing, and growing strong relationships
I believe a true master communicator, a smart talker, is able to demonstrate all of these abilities in every interaction. And if you are able to become a true master of communication, either as an individual, as a team, or as an organization, then you’re unstoppable!
That’s why I wrote this book. What’s been missing from the shelves of your bookstore (or the files on your e-reader) is a com- munication reference resource, a guide that takes up-to-date communication research and applies it to practical, everyday situations that we all face, and gives smart, step-by-step directions on how to achieve results and success.
Think of this book as your Swiss Army knife of communication!
Smart Talk is a handy, no-nonsense, skill-building guide for both tongue-tied novices and advanced communicators who have found themselves in hot water (or who want to keep themselves out of it!).
As you read the book, make sure you also take the quizzes and chapter challenges.
Really take them.
I’d like for you to do more than just read about interesting ideas and techniques. My goal is for you to gain new skills and enhance your current communication abilities. After all, you can’t learn to swim from reading a book, you need to jump into the pool and practice. While you are reading each chapter, apply the new information to your own life.By thinking through the quiz questions and trying the challenges, you will help your brain to form new communication patterns. The chapter quizzes help you to become aware of your current communication skills and the challenges help you to put into action the new strategies and techniques you’ve learned. For those who want even more, I’ve created a free members-only VIP Web site. If you choose to register, you’ll get exclusive access to additional resources, interviews, and opportunities to interact directly with me.
VIP Bonus: To see all of the bonus VIP content, join now at www.smarttalksuccess.com/VIP. Or you can simply discover these exclusive bonuses throughout the book wherever you see this symbol:Use the case studies at the end of each chapter for inspiration. Perhaps most important, I strongly urge you to keep practicing.
Keep a copy of this book close by at home and at work and when faced with a communication challenge. Use it as your reference guide to refresh or expand your skills, to be a smart talker.
I wanted to share my story with you partly as an introduction, partly as a confession, and hopefully, partly as motivation for those who struggle mastering these crucial people skills. My tag line for my business has always been, “I’m passionate about communication. Your success is my business.”
I hope you now understand that it’s not just a tag line, it’s really what I believe in.
Copyright © 2013 by Lisa B. Marshall
Lisa B. Marshall is a communication strategist, author, and professional speaker who has been helping organizations improve productivity by honing their internal and external communication skills for over a decade. Her award-winning podcast, The Public Speaker’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Improving Your Communication Skills, has earned nearly 7 million downloads since 2009! Lisa has been featured on CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman’s Day, and many other media outlets. Her clients include Roche, Genentech, The American Heart Association, Merck, Exxon Mobile, Harvard, and Stanford, just to name a few. Lisa produces a daily business newsletter, Communication Success, for the Hewlett-Packard ePrint Center, which reaches up to 500 million enterprise printers globally in three languages. Lisa is also the author (and reader) of the audiobook The Public Speaker’s Guide to Ace Your Interview. She holds a master’s degree in interpersonal and organizational communication from the State University of New York. She lives near Philadelphia with her husband and two children.