Is the Art of the Handwritten Letter Really Dead?

As January is a time for reflection on the past and planning for the future, I decided to go back through every blog post I’ve written since I began the Practical Communication Blog on May 31, 2011.

In reviewing where my blog began and thinking about where it’s going, I came across this particular post written in September 2012 and found it worth running again. About a week or so after it first ran, I received a “rich” feeling, thick envelope in the mail from my friend Patty. I was surprised, and remember thinking, “Is one of her children graduating already or getting married?”

I eagerly opened the envelope to see what important event prompted the posting of such beautiful stationary, only to find that it wasn’t an announcement of a family event, but a lovely, heart-felt, hand-written note. I won’t reveal her private correspondence, but to summarize, it said that she’d read my blog and wanted to send the letter to let me know how much she appreciated our friendship over the years.

I’ll never forget how I felt reading that letter and I will keep it forever. 

To understand what prompted her to send it, read on. If you weren’t a follower back then, enjoy. If you were, I hope it reminds you of the importance of such communication. 

 

Last summer, when my daughter was writing thank you notes for the high school graduation gifts she received, I was shocked to see that she was printing the notes.

When I asked why she wasn’t writing in cursive, she said she’d never really learned how. She was the victim of a time in our education system when apparently learning how to do something more than print or sign your name was determined to be unnecessary.

When I asked her what she was going to do someday if she had to write a letter to someone, she replied, “No one writes anymore. I’ll send a text or email.” I was dismayed and a little sad, but didn’t think much of it at the time.

I recently began thinking about this exchange when I was cleaning out my closet and came across a shoebox I’ve had for almost 25 years. In it, are notes, cards, and other handwritten items from when my husband and I were first married. After I got over how gushy we were, I wondered, “Will people do this anymore?” “Will they have a box of treasured cards, letters, sticky notes, and even messages on the back of receipts?”

What about that note with a little treat, placed lovingly in a child’s lunchbox that makes his or her day?

Or the handwritten note from a vendor, thanking you for your new business. Will the one-liner at the end of an invoice that reads, “Thank you for your business,” be the best we’ll get when we trust our business to someone else?

I can’t imagine printing out hard copies of emails with similar content.

The digital age has brought unimaginable speed and convenience to our communication. No more waiting days for letters to come across country or weeks for a letter from another continent. Our texts and emails arrive in seconds. And although I’m guilty of sending them myself and appreciate receiving an email note of love, friendship, appreciation, celebration, or condolance– it’s too easy.

A text that reads “10X”, thanks, for those of you over 40 and “142”, I love you, is nice, but does it compare to something you can hold in your hands?

For those of you who remember receiving something other than bills and junk mail in the mailbox, do you remember the thrill of waiting on the mail carrier to bring that cherished letter? Or the surprise while sitting at your desk and opening a handwritten note from a grateful client or vendor?

Imagine the smell of paper and ink, the feel of quality paper in your hands, the thrill of seeing the postmark and imagining the route the letter took to get to you. What about the exotic stamps you saved from far-away places?

The next time you plan to send an email, consider the impact of that electronic communication versus taking the time to actually put pen to paper and share your thoughts. When you’re just about to start typing that text, consider its the permanence and historical significance compared to a piece of paper saved in a box for 25 or 250 years?

As for my daughter, I think it’s time I remind her of “the mailbox.”

fisher price doll house

When she was 2-years-old, she received a dollhouse that had a little working mailbox attached to the right front porch rail. My husband started putting little notes in the mailbox, so that she would find them in the morning. They were just short notes written on 1 x 2 inch scaps of notebook paper,

“Have a good day today!”, or

“Good luck on your test!”

When she outgrew the dollhouse, we removed its front and mounted it on the wall so they could still use the mailbox. When even that became too childish, she replaced the mailbox with a magnetic board, where her father continued to place notes every morning until she graduated from high school.

To this day, she still has EVERY little note he ever left her- 16 years worth. I have the evidence stored in our fire safe where she insisted I put them when she went off to college.

I wonder if text messages would have meant as much?

20 Words and Phrases to Add to Your Vocabulary

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Many people underestimate the power of words to create their reality and to impact the reality of others.

Think about it. Remember the last time you said, “This is going to be the worst day ever!” Were you right? Did you create a self-fulfilling prophecy? The odds are, you were and you did.

In previous blog posts, I’ve shared five words to eliminate from your vocabulary, whimpy words that take away your personal power, and filler words to eliminate from your communication.

This week, I’d like to share 20 words and phrases to add to your vocabulary this year that will not only give you power in your everyday interactions, but will help create a positive impact on all your relationships.

1. No

2. I can

3. I will

4. I know (instead of I think, I believe, etc.)

5. Please

6. Thank you for. . .

7. You’re welcome

8. I disagree (instead of you’re wrong)

9. I’ll find out (instead of I don’t know)

10. You’re right

11.I’m sorry

12. How can I make this right?

13. I can help by _____ (provide specific things you’re willing to do and possibly to establish boundaries)

14. It’s my responsibility

15. What can I do for you?

16. Because (I need you to do this because…provide rationale to help build understanding and buy in)

17. My strengths are. . . (instead of sharing your flaws and weaknesses as many of us do)

18. Today, I accomplished. . .

19. Tomorrow, my number one goal is. . .

20. I will succeed because. . .

 

What other words or phrases would you add to this list?

7 Handshake Rules You Shouldn’t Break

This week, I’ve taught several “Business Impression” workshops. In these sessions we’ve discussed everything from dress and appearance to handshakes. I’d always thought that the clothing discussions would create the most buzz and controversy, but it turns out, there are a LOT of different opinions (and pet peeves) on the subject of handshakes. Therefore, I decided to re-run this blog post from 2012. I hope it helps everyone, but especially clarifies the concerns of those who attended my workshops this week!

Your handshake helps create a first impression to everyone to whom you offer it.

Within the mainstream U.S. business culture, the rules for handshakes are pretty straightforward and standard, but people often break them unknowingly. Additionally, before taking these rules overseas or across borders, keep in mind that handshake “rules” vary across cultures. Therefore, do your homework before interacting with those from other places in the world

To avoid appearing rude, wimpy, aggressive, or just plain gross, here are some tips for creating a positive and assertive first impression.

1. Know when to shake hands

At minimum, you should shake hands when:- Someone introduces him or herself to you- Someone introduces a third party to you- You introduce yourself to someone new- Ending a conversation or saying goodbye

2. Shake for no more than three “pumps”

A business handshake shouldn’t last more than two to three pumps or approximately three seconds. If you hold on too long, or pump too many times as if you’re trying to bring up water from a well, you can make people uncomfortable or appear anxious and unsure of yourself.

3. Shake from your elbow, not your shoulder

A handshake should be assertive, but not jarring to the other person. If you shake from your shoulder, using your entire arm, you can knock people off balance (or dislocate their arm). Shake from your elbow in a smooth, up and down motion.

4. Don’t use a “dead fish” or “wet fish” handshake

A handshake that is limp or too soft can convey weakness to the other party and puts you in a “one down” position. Additionally, if your hands tend to sweat, or you’ve just come from the gym, discreetly pat your hands on your slacks before extending your hand. Or if you can, go wash and dry your hands before approaching people.

5. Don’t use a “bone crusher” handshake

I shouldn’t walk away from your handshake unable to feel my fingers. A handshake isn’t the time to show someone else how strong you are. The bone crusher handshake, even if offered in return to a bone crusher handshake, is never appropriate and only serves to make you appear aggressive and unprofessional.

Spend a lot of time at the gym and don’t know your own strength? A good test of grip is to only use the force required to grab and turn an UNLOCKED door handle.

6. Don’t use the “little lady” handshake EVEN IF you’re a man shaking hands with a woman

The “little lady” handshake is that soft, fingertips-only handshake that can be offered by men or women. Men who offer this handshake to a female business associate send the message that they perceive her as female first, business associate second. In other words, it’s condescending, and most women I’ve talked to can’t stand this type of handshake! Women who offer this handshake to either a man or woman are likely to be perceived as weak and ineffective.

Forget what your parents taught you about a “polite” handshake; this is 2015, not 1900. Unless you’re shaking hands with someone’s great-great-grandma, or drinking mint juleps on the veranda at a debutante ball, grasp hands “web to web” using your entire hand.

7. Shake with one hand, not two

Unless you’re a politician who is perceived as standoffish, but is trying to “appear” more friendly and warm — don’t offer a two-handed handshake. Use only your right hand. If you use two hands, you may convey to the other party that you’re trying too hard, or you might make them uncomfortable by being too personal.

 

Do you have any other handshake tips you’d add to this list? Let me know!

 

Five Steps for Turning Resolutions Into Reality

Last week, readers offered some great communication-related resolutions for 2015. Many of us make resolutions as the new year begins, but how many of us can honestly say, at the end of that year, that we accomplished all we resolved to do? Based on my personal experience and research, the answer is: not many!

There are many factors that determine whether a person will be successful in achieving a resolution. If I were to try to list them all, you’d probably stop reading right here. However, there are some simple steps that are likely to greatly increase the odds that you will succeed in achieving your resolutions in 2015.

Five steps for turning your resolutions into reality.


1. Stop all the wantin’, wishin’, and dreamin’ and get specific.
Instead of saying you “want to be a better communicator,” “wish to be more successful”, or “hope for better health”,  define exactly what that means and state it as a fact. “I will increase my income by 20% by June 15, 2015,” is a much better resolution than just saying you want to make more money.

2. Be realistic. Unless you win the lottery, you’re not likely to increase your income by $1 million in the first quarter of 2015, nor are you likely to lose 100 pounds in that time frame. Set challenging goals, but not impossible ones. Do your homework, know yourself and your situation, and create your own individual plan. Additionally, be realistic with how many resolutions you make. If your resolution list is 10 deep, what are the odds you’re going to make it all happen?

3. Break your resolution into single, manageable tasks. If your goal is to start a business, what are all the steps you’ll need to take to do so? When you think you have all the steps, show your list to someone else (preferably someone experienced with that process) to see if you’re missing anything. Additionally, you should look at each step and see if can be further broken down. For example, “website development” is actually more than one task, as it involves (1) identifying what to look for in a web developer, (2) researching web developers themselves, (3) contacting web developers, (4) contacting developer references, and more.

4. Set specific dates and deadlines for your activities. It’s very easy to put something off if there’s no deadline for accomplishing it. Once you have all the steps identified to achieve your resolution, put a deadline to each one and stick to it. If your deadline is to lose weight by going to the gym three times a week, identify a start date AND the three days you’ll go each week and put them on your calendar.

5. Be accountable. I’m realistic enough to know that when you set dates for all your activities, some may have to slip. That being said, letting too many slip, or re-adjusting resolutions too much, can be a recipe for failure. For example, if you’ve decided to lose five pounds per month and in the first two months you only lose five pounds total, you have two choices, make up for the missing pounds or adjust your goal. However, before you give up and change the goal to 2.5 lbs per month, consider where that will put you at the end of the year. Also ask yourself, “Is this really the best I can do?” and do some soul searching as to whether you’re really committed to achieving your goal. Brutally scrutinize your reasons for slipping up. Are they legitimate, or are you making excuses? Finally, if you need support, find an “accountability partner” who will check in with you periodically to help monitor your progress and help keep you motivated and accountable.

 

Believe in yourself, create a realistic and specific plan, and stick to it, and I know that 2015 will be the year your resolutions become a reality!

Top 10 Communication Resolutions for 2015

Every year, many people resolve to make the coming year their “best ever” by making resolutions for better behavior.

The most common resolutions include losing weight, exercising, stopping bad habits (smoking, sugar, etc.), getting a better job, etc. As this is a communication blog, over the past few weeks I’ve been collecting reader-submitted suggestions for resolutions with a communication theme. The challenge? Submitting a communication resolution in just one sentence.

Here are our top communication resolutions for 2015.

1. To talk instead of text whenever possible. Lydia L.

2. Not to use the phrase, “I don’t care.” Lisa B.

3. To eliminate, “I’ll try,” from my vocabulary. (My own submission)

4. To stop using discounting [qualifying] statements, “You did a great job, but. . .” Stephanie W.

5. To be more open minded and ask questions, instead of shutting people down when they’re “wrong”. Carla B.

6. To eliminate  [vocalized pauses, such as] um, uh, like, etc., from my speaking. Nicole C.

7. To take the advice of one of the previous blogs to say “Thank You” more often. Roger R.

8. To put away my phone when someone is speaking to me face-to-face. Kelly T.

9. To stop talking so da[rn] much, shut my mouth and listen to people. Lisa D.

10. To give more positive feedback to my kids, spouse, and coworkers. Dan D. 

 

Need help deciding on or implementing your 2015 communication resolutions? Check out my book, “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting and Getting Things Done” or subscribe to my 30-day video program, “Communication Skills for Career Success.” Although the video program’s title is business focused, the content is equally applicable to communicating at home and in your community.

Finally, be sure to check out next week’s blog, where I’ll share tips on how to turn your resolutions into reality.

Three Tips for Responding to Unsolicited Advice

Last week, I targeted advice givers and provided tips for offering advice in a way that makes it more palatable to the receiver. However, I know that not every advice giver reads my blog and even those who do will struggle to keep their opinions to themselves. Therefore, I thought I should follow-up this week with some tips for those who find themselves on the receiving end of unsolicited advice and want to handle it effectively.

Before you decide how to respond to the unsolicited advice, ask yourself a few questions to analyze the advice:

Is the advice giver qualified to offer the advice? A person who has the experience or expertise in their advice topic is more credible, and one I’ll be more likely to accept advice from, than someone who has no knowledge or expertise on a topic and is just sharing random opinions.

What’s the advice giver’s motivation? You may not know exactly, but sometimes you can tell based on the person’s delivery, or your past experience with him or her, what the motivation is for offering the advice. If the motivation is positive, such as wanting to help you save time.

Have you heard the same advice before? If you hear some advice once, you may be able to chalk it up to one person’s opinion. However, if you’ve heard the advice from multiple sources, especially qualified ones with positive motivations, the advice just might be something it’s time for you to consider.

Is the advice valid/factual, or just opinion? No matter the source, sometimes advice is just flat-out correct, even if we don’t want to hear it. Such as last week’s example of the right and wrong way to install a car seat. Other times though, the advice is simply based on an opinion, and as such, you’re under no obligation to follow it.

Is the advice timely, or is the advisor a “Monday Morning Quarterback”? Some people have a habit of not offering their input and advice beforehand, but freely offer it after the fact. In many such cases, even if the advice is good, it’s too late to put it into action. In other instances, it’s not advice, but criticism disguised as advice, and is equally useless.

What are the consequences of taking, or not taking, the advice? There are consequences for every action and inaction. Even if you don’t agree with the advice, it’s worth looking at the consequences of ignoring it or taking it. Will you lose a friend? Lose your job? Consider these factors when determining how you’ll respond to advice.

Once you’ve asked yourself the questions above, you have some decisions to make as to how to proceed. Here are some options:

1. Thank the person for the advice and put it into action. If the advice is legitimate and will make your life better, thank the person for it and do what he or she said.

2. Acknowledge receipt of  the advice, then ignore it. I know this sounds harsh, but just because someone offers the advice, doesn’t mean you have to take it. You can say:

“Thank you. I’ll definitely consider that”, 

“I’m glad that worked for you,” 

“That certainly is an option,”

“That’s a thought,” or

“You may be right,” 

then walk away and continue doing what you’ve been doing. Each of the responses above let’s the advisor know that you’ve heard the advice, but doesn’t indicate a commitment to put the advice into action.

3. Acknowledge the advice, then let the advisor know you won’t be putting the advice into play. If you want to make it clear to the other person that you’ve received the advice, but aren’t going to take it, you can say,

“I appreciate you wanting to help. However, I’m comfortable with the way I’m doing X.” 

“That’s a good idea, but I think my plan will work just as well. Since I’ve already started, I think I’ll just continue and finish up.”

“I’m sorry you’re unhappy, but I asked for your input beforehand and you didn’t provide any. Therefore, I’m going forward with my plan.”

4. Let the person know you’re not interested in any advice, and if necessary, ask that he or she not offer it again. As a last resort, after considering the advice and it’s source, you are perfectly within your rights to not only reject advice, but ask that the person not offer any again. If you choose this option, be sure to respond calmly, firmly, kindly, and without sarcasm!

“Thank you, but I don’t need advice. I’ve already thoroughly researched what I’m doing and have a plan for moving forward.”

“Thanks. If I need help or any advice, I’ll be sure to come see you.”  

“I understand you’re trying to help, but I’m comfortable with the way I’m doing X.  I’d rather not talk about other options again.”

 

 

Finally, remember, if you ASK for advice you have a responsibility to give it especially careful consideration. If you decide not to take the advice, be sure to acknowledge the advice and explain to the advisor your rationale for taking alternative action. Doing so will help maintain your relationship and will increase the odds that the person will be willing to offer help in the future.  

 

My Advice on Sharing Unsolicited Advice? Think Twice

Okay, before I get started, I have to admit one of my many flaws: I DO NOT like being told what to do. My natural instinct when someone says, “You should. . .” or “You have to. . .” is to do the exact opposite. It’s not that I’m not open to advice or others’ opinions,  but I take offense at the way many people offer their advice and opinions.

There’s an older gentleman at my gym who is in great shape. According to him, he’s been lifting weights for 30 years and it shows. I admire his dedication and I assume, based on the results he’s achieved, that he probably knows a lot about weight lifting. Here’s the problem though. I’ve been lifting weights for a long time too. I’ve had a professional personal trainer. I’m working out based on my own experience, knowledge, and research. I have a plan for the next two hours and I want to just follow it. So when he comes up and says, “You should really do three reps instead. . .” I resent it. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that when I get to the gym and he’s not there, I breathe a sigh of relief. When he is there and I see him heading toward me to offer more unsolicited advice, I start getting aggravated before he even opens his mouth, because I know a” lecture” is coming.

The other day at the grocery store as I was checking out, a man behind me in line said loudly, “You know, you shouldn’t leave your purse wide open. Someone will steal your things.”  I had my wallet in my hand, not in my purse, and there was nothing else in my purse worth stealing, unless there was a crazed pen thief stalking the grocery store. I was polite and replied, “You’re probably right. I have my wallet in my hand so I wasn’t too worried.” However, he just couldn’t let it go. “Well, I can see everything in your purse. Your checkbook is right there in the open.” Not wanting to continue the discussion, I just said, “Thank you,” and left the store. However, what I wanted to say was, “That’s not my checkbook and why are you taking inventory of my purse? Are you a crazed pen thief?”

After this latest incident of being on the receiving end of unsolicited advice, I asked my Facebook followers their thoughts on the subject. Some felt I should just focus on advice givers’ good intentions and be grateful that there were people in the world who were looking out for me. Others were equally aggravated by strangers offering their unsolicited opinions, especially on certain topics, such as one’s parenting techniques. A few people felt that it depended on the advice. If the advice was “life and death,” such as a parent who noticed another parent had her baby’s car seat improperly installed, then the advice was warranted.

After considering everyone’s input, I’ve come up with some advice for advice givers, that will help ensure their advice is received in the spirit that it was intended:

1. Ask first before offering your advice- Asking allows the receiver to decide if he wants your advice. If he says yes, then he almost has to be more receptive to what you have to say. If the guy in the grocery store line had said, “May I give you a shopping safety tip?” I’d have likely said yes and would have been more open to his input.

2. Consider whether your advice is legitimate, factual, and necessary, or just your personal opinion- You may have strong opinions about letting a child eat candy, but that doesn’t warrant telling a stranger that she shouldn’t give candy to her child. It’s really none of your business.

In the case of the baby car seat above, when there’s only one correct way to safely install the seat, it is legitimate to offer your factual advice. Additionally, because a child’s safety is concerned, the advice is necessary.

“Hello, I hate to bother you, but I noticed that your car seat isn’t installed exactly correctly. I had mine installed that way too, but I learned the correct way at a police safety demonstration the other day. Can I show you?”

finger pointing3. Don’t begin your advice with, “You should,” or “You have to”- Any time you begin with YOU phrases such as these, there is a connotation of accusation, as if you were pointing a finger at the other person in a negative way. Instead, try, “I find it’s better to. . .” or “In my experience. . .”

4. Consider your motivation before offering advice- Are you offering your input to help the other person, or simply to be right, be superior, or to make him or her look bad? Be sure your motivation is to truly help or benefit the other person.

5. No matter how kindly you offer your advice, don’t be surprised if you get a negative reaction- Even if you phrase your advice in the most polite, non-defensive way possible, others may still not appreciate it. One Facebook follower said she was at Disney World and noticed a family who was trying to get to a certain attraction, but was headed the wrong way. As a Disney World expert, she offered up the correct directions. Her thanks for helping out? Being told by the mom to mind her own business.When it comes to giving even the best advice, you won’t always be rewarded with appreciation. However, you can be satisfied that you at least tried to help someone, and I’ll bet, when the Disney expert walked away, the family followed her directions.

Finally, because I know the advice above won’t reach all advice givers out there,  in next week’s blog I’ll share your options for assertively and respectfully responding to unsolicited advice.

10 Communication Gifts to Give This Holiday Season

The holiday season is a time when many people turn their attention to giving. Although this should be a joyful process, it is often one filled with stress, as we struggle to come up with ideas of what to give others.

This year, why not focus on the gift  of communication? It’s something that you have an abundant supply of and can have a lasting impact well beyond the holidays.

Whether at work or at home, these 10 communication gifts are free to give and will pay you back with interest.

1. The gift of a heartfelt greeting- simply saying, “Good Morning!” each day and really meaning it.

2. The gift of listening- taking the time to give people your undivided attention and empathy as they share something important to them.

3. The gift of encouragement- sharing your confidence in others and encouraging them as they are progressing toward a goal.

4. The gift of forgiveness- letting go of past wrongs and taking steps to move forward in your relationship.

5. The gift of recognition- acknowledging a job well done, even if it’s not “above and beyond,” and is simply in someone’s job description.

6. The gift of a positive attitude- not being unrealistic or naive, but looking for the positives in every situation, such as viewing a mistake as a learning opportunity rather than an opportunity lost.

7. The gift of being on time- being on time to work, to meetings, and even social gatherings, shows that you value others’ time as much or more than your own.

8. The gift of a good example- if you are a supervisor or leader, set the example of the behavior you expect from your employees, rather than using your many responsibilities and commitments as an excuse for “breaking the rules.”

9.  The gift of support- when you see someone struggling, or you’re ready to leave at the end of the day and others are still working, taking the time to ask, “Can I help?” before you walk away.

10. The gift of involvement- seeking out others’ opinions and getting them involved in decision-making, especially if the decisions will affect them.

 

10 Conversations You Should Never Start at Family Holiday Gatherings

Family holiday gatherings should be a time to reconnect, enjoy great food and drinks, and most of all, to celebrate the “reason for the season.”

However, for many families, holiday gatherings somehow don’t turn out to be the idyllic events they hope for because:

  • expectations are too high,
  • inhibitions are too low,
  • people see family gatherings as an opportunity to drop a bomb,
  • people strike at the opportunity to “get even” for slights and hurt feelings of the past  year,
  • and more.

To avoid starting a family feud this holiday season, here are 10 conversations you should never start (or allow yourself to get involved in)at a holiday gathering:

  1. Any conversation that compares siblings, cousins, or grandchildren, and puts someone in a negative light.
  2. Criticism of the cook’s menu choices or cooking technique.
  3. Negative comparisons of the cook’s menu choices or cooking technique. “Well when I make stuffing, I NEVER. . .”
  4. Major “bomb drop” announcements that you know will cause shock or controversy.
  5. Bragging about accomplishments; either yours or your children’s.
  6. Questioning a family member’s habits. “You’re eating that? I thought you were on a diet?”
  7. Revealing family secrets, even if they’re your own.
  8. Rehashing old arguments, wrongs, or hurts.
  9. Stepping in to “parent” a child that’s not yours.
  10. Disagreeing, especially if just to be contrary, with someone else’s point of view.

And a bonus tip: If what you’re about to say requires sarcasm to make your point, keep it to yourself.

For more tips on surviving the holidays, check out my past blog posts:

Five Communication Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving and Other Holiday Gatherings

The Office Holiday Party: What to Know Before You Go

Five Do’s and Don’ts for Coping with Holiday Stress

Five Steps to Improving Your Communication Skills

communication skills program cover

I just completed a 30-day video series called, “Communication Skills for Career Success.” Over the 30 days, people who watch the daily 2-3 minute videos receive tips, techniques, inspiration, and goals for building upon their set of communication skills; from listening, word choice, and nonverbal communication, to making the decision whether to confront someone in person, on the phone, or via email.

Throughout the process of creating the video program, I realized there are five key steps to improving communication skills beyond the skills themselves:

1. Identify the need for change

Most people won’t undertake the process of improving anything unless they believe there is a need to make a change. Being aware of your communication weaknesses is the first step toward making a change for the better. When you say certain words to others, do you frequently get an unexpected negative reaction? Do certain elements of your body language or facial expressions cause others to interpret your meaning differently than you intended? When you communicate, is your goal to create understanding with the other person, or is it to be right, or to punish? Becoming more aware of your communication techniques will allow you to set specific goals for improving your communication.

2. Find an excellent communication role model

Is there someone you know who always seems to say the right thing AND say with sincerity? If so, this person might be a great role model for you. Study his or her communication techniques and identify those that would benefit you. Additionally, ask why he or she chose those words or used that body language, so that you can understand the rationale behind the method. If you can’t find a good role model, find a great book on communication or watch a video on communication techniques.

3. Practice new skills every day

Once you’ve identified skills you need to improve, set a goal to practice one or two skills every day for a few weeks until they become a permanent part of your communication repertoire. Realize too that some techniques, especially those learned from a mentor, just won’t “fit” your communication style or your work environment. That’s okay! Find the ones that work best for you and have the most positive results and let the others go.

4. Stay motivated, even if things don’t always work out the way you expected

When you first start using a new skill, things won’t always work out the way you expect. That doesn’t mean the skill doesn’t work. Even if you perfect a communication skill, the one thing you have no control over is the person to whom you’re communicating. For example, if you’ve decided to learn to say “no” to unreasonable requests, and your coworker gets upset because you won’t stay late to help her, remember, you’re not in control of her actions or feelings. Let her own them and don’t take responsibility for them. If you handled the situation appropriately, then accept the results and move on.

5. Have confidence in yourself

Self confidence and good communication go hand-in-hand. If you’re not confident in your abilities, you’re unlikely to use them. Start small and create small wins for yourself. For example, if you’re trying to learn to better express your feelings, start by doing so with someone you believe is likely to accept them. Don’t start with the most difficult, contrary person in your life and expect a great result. As your communication skills grow, so does your ability to navigate the various everyday and difficult situations and people, that you encounter. Use each “win” as an opportunity to congratulate yourself on your new effective communication skills and tell yourself, “I can do this!” Use failures or less-than-perfect outcomes as learning moments. Ask yourself, “How could I have handled this better?” Then focus on doing better the next time.

 

communication skills program coverAnnouncing My New Video Program: Communication Skills for Career Success

I’m proud to announce my new video program, “Communication Skills for Career Success.” It is a 30-day program offering tips and techniques for improving workplace relationships, being more productive at work, and experiencing more career success and satisfaction. It will teach you to look at communication as you never have before: as an essential life skill that you can’t believe you ever lived without. More importantly:

  • It’s fast:Daily 2-3 minute videos a day over 30 days – each day a different lesson on improving communication skills.
  • It’s simple: Each video contains a story, lesson, and action from me that reinforces everything I talk about in my workshops, classes, in my book, and on stage.
  • It works: The program was developed in Partnership with Avanoo, the leader in behavioral change video research.

As one of my blog subscribers, you can watch the first video for free. If you like it and want more, for a limited time, I’m offering my blog subscribers more than 50 percent off the regular price of $49.95. Use this coupon code to get the entire 30-day program for only $19.95. Coupon code: PracticalCommunication

If you think the video program would benefit your company, organization, or community group, please contact me for even more savings on group licensing.

Click here to view the introductory video!