Make Speaking Up a Startup Strength

Nigel L., a student form an Ivy League entrepreneurship program, wrote:

Rebecca, I do my best to be a team player when I’m working on a project with other students. I do my share and often do more than my share of analysis. This can be a problem as I often find glitches and point them out to the group. 9/10 times my detective work pays off with a better grades for all of us. However, much of that time I get resistance to my observations from some other team members and that affects our relationship. What to do?

Nigel, you are truly COREageous! It’s too bad the others don’t appreciate your insights and what you do for their grades! But here are some things you can do to lessen the resistance:

  • Know when to speak up, and when not to. You are clearly to be relied upon to find problems. But once in a while, you might wait to be asked for your analysis until you’ve given the others time to find the glitch and be the hero for a change. Listen to others before speaking up. If someone else notes a glitch before you, thank them for their discovery.
  • Do you go into too much detail? Attention spans are short and people are impatient. Point out the problem, a couple supporting points and your suggestions. Keep your rebuttal short.
  • Perhaps a better choice of words or a bit of humor may pay off better for you? Phrases like, “I’d like your opinion on this one,” or “It may surprise you guys, but I have noticed something interesting!”

Speaking up is stepping up — a startup strength. We just try not to bruise more egos than necessary!

Finding resistance to your ideas? Step up and contact me at Rebecca @MindfulCommunication.com

A Shocking Discovery

Do not assume everyone gets your vision. The team nods, smiles and appears enthusiastic, right? At your next staff meeting, do a check. Ask each team member to write down, in their own words, how they understand your vision for the company or a strategy that you are trying to implement. You will be met with quizzical looks with some folks gazing out into space. When they do start to write they will jot down a few words, stop and think, cross out stuff and jot down a few more words. A few others will immediately start writing things down in a fluent manner, confident that they read your mind perfectly.

Once you compare their answers with your intent, you will understand why initiatives are slow to execute and why mistakes are made. There is confusion, vagueness or inaccuracies in their versions. A few employees may be close to your intent while others will describe a vision or a strategy from another planet. Notice the feeling of nausea mixed with disgust that surges through your veins. Who’s to blame and why? You are to blame because you assumed they “got it.”

To be sure they “get it” at your next meeting, utilize a mindful listening exercise. Periodically, ask your employees to tell back how they understand what you just described. Clear up the inaccuracies then and there. Over-communicate (e.g. repeat) important points. After one meeting like this, notice how your staff will become more attentive and ask more clarifying questions. Nobody wants to be on the wrong page. This action will result in more efficient and timely results from your team.

Miscommunication wastes time and money. Do you and your team need to weed out the communication problems that are sinking your startup? Contact me at Rebecca @MindfulCommunication.com                 

6 Ways to Communicate with Highly Sensitive People

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are those who “feel too much” and “too deeply (emotionally)” than the average person. They experience acute physical, mental, and emotional responses to external (social, environmental) or internal (intra-personal) stimuli. Highly Sensitive People are neurologically different from others and have many gifts, but their intense reactions to people and situations often cause confusion, conflict and greater emotional turmoil. In order to foster positive and constructive relationships with a HSP, the less sensitive person, or the person who is less extreme in their responses to various stimuli, must utilize special communication strategies.

Here are 6 of the most helpful strategies:

  1. Pause for processing. HSPs deeply process internal and external information and the stress of this can be overwhelming. This will look like they are struggling to express themselves. Give attentive silence and avoid interrupting them or feeding them the words you think they are looking for. When they are done talking, tell back how you understand what they said. Conversely, ask them to tell back what you have said to be sure they have understood you and captured your message accurately.
  2. Notice and gently suggest alternative behaviors. How you point out weaknesses and shortfalls can make or break relationships. Avoid a voice tone that is condescending, patronizing, too loud or parent-like. Say instead, “I noticed that…” or “Are you aware that…” or “Another approach might be to…” These words carry much less blame and shame.
  3. Timing. Pick the right time to give feedback. If you or they are tired, rushed or upset, it’s likely that your feedback will be less appreciated. No one needs to hear that they did 25 things wrong all at once, and this is especially disturbing for HSPs. Pick the top 1-2 to address at one sitting. Engage in a problem-solving discussion that keeps the emotion from escalating. Notice when they are getting overwhelmed and take a break. They may need more time to process a mistake and a solution than you do.
  4. Praise and encourage authentically. Be modest and honest in your praise; many HSP shudder when given a compliment, even a well-deserved one. To keep stress low for both of you, try not to get overly excited about their successes or lack of progress. If emotions aren’t kept in check, your highly sensitive friend will lose face if they disappoint you.
  5. Invite questions. Positive, inspiriting talk and a supportive attitude make you more approachable for questions. They may be hesitant to bother you when they become bogged down with a problem. Let your open door policy (with its boundaries) be known. You may be the “safe” sounding-board they’re looking for. Don’t criticize.
  1. Don’t rescue them from distress unless absolutely necessary. HSPs learn from their mistakes, but with more pain. If you rescue them too often, they may never acquire the thick skin needed to get through life. Your constant rescuing might actually hinder their growth.

Do you need more help communicating with a highly sensitive employee or co-worker? Contact me at [email protected].

A Visionary’s Soliloquy

Theresa B. from Pittsburgh, PA writes:

“My mind is a jumble of ideas, and when I have a great one I want my exec team to get to  work on it ASAP. ( I probably have ADHD or something like that.) They roll their eyes, sit back and make me feel like a child. There have been times when my ideas cost us,I’ll credit them with that. But other times the company lost out because my team wouldn’t take me seriously.  Here’s the kicker: when they come to me with an idea, it’s almost a done deal. I’m just supposed to sign off every time! So frustrating. What can I do to get them to listen to my ideas with an open mind?”

It is hard to curb your enthusiasm when you can see a promising idea so clearly in your mind. You’re struck by the potential and the long term gains. However great the idea, it’s absolutely essential that you and your partners stand back 30,000 feet and examine the proposition carefully. Your brain, Theresa, the visionary’s brain, is a mystery to those with a more linear way of thinking.  As Dr. Ned Hallowell says, “You’ve got a race car brain with bicycle brakes.”  (It’s good they are not like you, can you imagine the chaos with an exec team made up of nothing but visionaries?)

To get heard, you need to step into their world and ask yourself a series of questions before you present your idea. I suggest you have 5 or so basic questions answered before you present a new idea to your exec team. Get these 5 questions from your partners. What kind of facts do they need to consider your idea?  They may be something like: What resources do we already have to make this happen? What resources do we need?  What will it cost? Does this idea support our brand or confuse our customers? Is anyone else doing this? Chances are, your partners address these kind of questions before they ask you to sign off on their projects. That’s the difference.

You may save yourself a lot of embarrassment and frustration if you take a step back and consider these questions first. Keep them handy so when a idea strikes you’ll ensure a captive audience.

Having trouble being heard, respected or appreciated for your contribution? Perhaps it’s your presentation that needs work. Let me help. Contact me at [email protected]  

Managing Drama in Your Startup

According to a new book, No Ego by business consultant Cy Wakeman, the average worker spends 2.5 hours per day distracted by drama! We’ve all experienced varying degrees of workplace drama in other jobs – personal losses, power struggles, insubordination, office gossip and petty arguments.  Until you start a business of your own, you may not be aware of how significantly drama can hurt your bottom line. How to manage workplace drama is not typically noted in the founder’s play book. If no drama has spiked in your startup thus far, good for you, but unless you’re working with robots, it’s inevitable.

The usual sources of drama in a startup can be traced to hires without proper job descriptions, under-performing or disgruntled employees, changes in procedures, slow periods and accelerated periods where the company has to scale up quickly. Another source of drama is the life of the employee. Just as employees bring the work stress home with them, employees bring their home traumas to work. Let me address some solutions the “trauma to drama” variety.

Most CEOs want to create an open, caring work environment where people look forward to coming to work. The workplace  may be the only safe and inspiriting environment in some people’s lives.  I support mindful listening as a way to understand an employee who is experiencing personal problems outside of work. Listening wholeheartedly to an employee can help you gauge the intensity and duration of the situation so as to come up with solutions that will prevent company losses. It is the responsibility of the employee, not the employer, to ultimately solve his/her personal problems. It must be made clear that work is not a counseling center or a rehab. His or her fellow employees are not being paid to be social workers. Allowances such as a more flexible schedule, an extended lunch hour or such accommodations are appropriate. A business may have to find some temporary coverage, and if possible, the employee may need to train the temp. Your HR department may assist in finding counselors or support groups. But, I suggest that a business set in advance, reasonable limits to these assists. Meet with your staff and talk about what to do if such drama erupts.

More to come on workplace drama in future blogs.

Are you the frequent victim or the instigator of drama at your workplace? Being one or the other could cost you your job or your career. If that’s you, let’s discuss! [email protected]      

Share the Stage with Confidence

Bill H., a founder of a nutrition startup, asks, “How can I get more comfortable speaking in front of groups, investors mostly? I have my top sales guy do all the talking, but apparently it’s starting to look odd that I don’t “share the stage” with him at these presentations. If I lost him, I’d be in big trouble. What to do?”

This is a common concern for many founders wanting to project strong leadership. I define public speaking as any kind of speaking you do with the public: phone calls, 1:1 or small group conversations. Chances are you could not have gotten this far if you had trouble on the phone or in small group conversation. Keep in mind — listeners really care about the substance of what you have to offer, not how slick a presenter you are. They want to make money, period. It’s true that investors like to work with confident and energetic people, but that is secondary to their main interest.

To take action, I suggest you identify where your discomfort in public speaking breaks down and work to refine that level. This is where a communication coach comes in handy. Are you generally anxious, unprepared, unsure of your content, a poor listener, vocally weak or disfluent, etc. at the small group conversation level?  If so, getting some guidance managing those aspects would be a good starting point. Then, consider polishing up one segment of the larger group presentation that you are most comfortable with. This way you can start “sharing the stage” with your sales guy in a small way. With practice and an understanding of what your audience really cares about, you’ll be able to take over more of the presentation in time.

Need more help with public speaking or presentation skills? I’m happy to help you. Contact me at [email protected]

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