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.

ignore the adviceBefore 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

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!

5 Ways to Shut Down Stage Hogs

stagehogWe all know at least one. It’s that guy who only asks how you’re doing so he can jump in and tell you how he’s doing. It’s that gal who has to let you know all about the great things her son is doing, but never asks about even ONE of your kids. I call them Stage Hogs. If you’re more polite than me, you can refer to them as “Conversation Dominators.”

I was at lunch with a friend recently who was lamenting that she seemed to be a magnet for these people. She related several examples; from being cornered in a grocery store aisle to mistakenly sitting down next to one at a sporting event. Her biggest question was how to make it stop.

There are a couple of ways to deal with Stage Hogs. The method you choose will depend on your willingness to be assertive and your goals for the situation. If the Stage Hog is a close friend, you might choose differently than if the Stage Hog was a person you didn’t like and with whom you had no interest in continuing a relationship. Here are the options:

1. Let the Stage Hog know you want some of the spotlight. If I wanted a continued relationship with the Stage Hog, I would say,

“Amy, I enjoy our friendship and our conversations. There are times though, when I feel like I’m doing most of the listening and I don’t get to share with you what’s going on in my life. I don’t mean to criticize, but I wanted you to know how I felt because I value our friendship.”

Then I’d see where the conversation went from there. I’d also be prepared to let the other person know what I wanted, such as telling her directly that I’d appreciate being asked about my kids and for her to really listen. I might also use a little humor and say, “Would it be okay if I let you know when I’d like to have my turn to talk?”

2. Turn the tables on the Stage Hog. A more passive approach, possibly bordering on passive aggression, would be to become a mini Stage Hog yourself. For example, when the Stage Hog takes a breath to tell you about the next accomplishment on her kid’s list of accomplishments, use the opportunity to jump in and say, That’s so awesome, my daughter Kelsey just. . .” and then take over the conversation. Although not as assertive or direct as option 1 above, it can sometimes get the job done. Stage Hogs don’t like to converse with other Stage Hogs because they don’t like to compete for “air time.”

3. Communicate your disinterest nonverbally. If you’re not willing to take a more assertive approach, another passive approach would be to subtly disengage in the conversation. Stop saying, “uh, huh,” break eye contact and look elsewhere, or start doing something else. If you’ve been trapped by a Stage Hog in the grocery store aisle, turn sideways from him or her and look intently at all your rice options. If you do continue to converse, longer pauses between your comments, such as “uh (pause) huh,” will cause a disconnect in the conversation and will likely make the Stage Hog uncomfortable. Although it breaks all the rules of politeness, it will likely result in the Stage Hog moving on to something or someone else.

4. Tell the Stage Hog that you don’t have time to talk. Take an opportunity when the Stage Hog pauses to take a breath and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I need to go, I’ve got to be home by 3.” Then just say good bye and walk away. If you don’t really have somewhere else to be, you can still say you need to go. Everyone has something they could be doing that’s probably more important than being hogtied by a Stage Hog. If you have trouble lying, try this. Think of something you’d rather be doing. Got something? Now that’s your reason to leave.

5. Avoid the Stage Hog altogether. When all else fails, limit your exposure to Stage Hogs. Don’t accept her lunch invitation or sit by him at your kid’s sporting event; even if it means he has to sit by himself. If you see a Stage Hog in the grocery store aisle, turn around and skip that aisle for now. Although I’m not a big advocate of avoidance, it is an option in some situations.

Finally, a special appeal to Stage Hogs:  As a professional speaker, I have no problem taking the stage. I have to fight the urge sometime to dominate the conversation. I literally have to bite my tongue. However, seeing the negative impact just one Stage Hog can have on a conversation, and experiencing the disengagement of everyone in a group when a Stage Hog takes over, I find it a lot easier to keep my mouth shut. Instead of being the one talking all the time, make a concerted effort to engage others by asking them open-ended questions and really listening to their responses. Don’t interrupt, or try to “one up” people, just acknowledge them and then ask another question. Your stage-hogging tendencies can be curbed with a little bit of effort and some basic courtesy and concern for others. You’ll also gain the benefit of better relationships as people learn how much you really care.


Do You Suffer from Chronic “Pumpkin Without Stem” Syndrome?

pumpkin patchBack east where I’m from, it’s a tradition for most families to take a run to the local farm in the fall to pick out Halloween pumpkins. As I recall, it was more than just shopping for a pumpkin. There was apple cider, fresh cider donuts, and then the main event, heading to the pumpkin field to pick out the best pumpkin you could find.

While most kids looked forward to the event, I always had mixed emotions. I wanted that perfect pumpkin, but what about the imperfect ones? The ones who weren’t round, the ones that had a bump or imperfection, and worst of all, the ones without stems– those were the saddest to me. Luckily my mom was understanding and usually allowed me to buy a “perfect” one and one of the sad, stemless ones that would otherwise have been left behind.

pumpkinFlash forward into adulthood and I’ve realized that the need to care for, befriend, and otherwise try to “fix” stemless pumpkins doesn’t just apply to fruit (yes, pumpkins are fruit- Google it), but to people as well.

Now don’t get me wrong, most of my friends are perfectly wonderful, normal, people (stated just in case any are reading), but I have chronically attracted and held on to, more than a few stemless pumpkins over the years.

You know who I’m talking about. They’re the people who no one else wants to befriend because of their obvious flaws, such as bragging, lying, or other even more socially inappropriate behavior. However, you stick by them because you believe they need you and maybe, just maybe, they’ll change. When questioned why you spend time with them, you reply, “I know  he (or she) is  ____, but. . .” and then make excuses for your pumpkin.

On one hand, associating with a few stemless pumpkins can good for us. They teach us to be accepting of others, challenge our friendship and communication skills, and they can sometimes be very giving and grateful for our friendship.

On the other hand though, they can sometimes drag us down, drain our energy, and become a never-ending project that can dominate our lives.

So what can you do if you think you have Pumpkin Without Stem Syndrome?

Learn to identify a stemless pumpkin when you see one, so you can avoid a lot of heartache before taking it home. 

I can’t really tell you how to identify the particular stemless pumpkin that you attract, because everyone attracts a different kind. My pumpkins have been people who:

– have low self-esteem, but compensate by achievement, either academic or business,

– constantly have to remind others of their accomplishments by bringing them up at every opportunity

– put others down to make themselves feel better,

– get angry, insecure, or frustrated, and then lash out, apologize, and do it again next week.

If you already have a stemless pumpkin in your life, consider limiting their access to you or ending the relationship.

For help with this, read my blog post, “Getting Rid of Dead Weight Once and For All.”

As I’ve become more aware of my own problem with stemless pumpkins, I’ve taken action to cure myself of the need to maintain toxic relationships and to accumulate people in my life who suck the life out of me, and quite frankly, cannot be fixed. Just a few weeks ago, I took a trip with my best friend to New England to view the fall foliage. At one of our stops was a pumpkin stand. Although I still felt the twinge of guilt leaving the stemless pumpkins behind, I left the stand with just one pumpkin whose stem was fully intact.

I think I may be cured.


Thanks to those who attended my  SMART Goal Setting Workshop today for voting on this post for this week!

Break Down Your Listening Barriers in Five Easy Steps

A few years ago I worked with a man named Martin. He was a condescending know-it-all and I avoided him whenever I could. As soon as I saw him walking toward me, I could feel myself getting annoyed. Any time he spoke to me, all I could think was, “Who does he think he is telling me what to do? I wish he would just shut up.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t just ignore Martin because I needed information from him to do my job. So I decided to try an experiment. When Martin approached me, I conjured up the image of my best friend and pretended that she was the one speaking to me instead of him. Immediately I lowered my psychological listening barrier and the negative thoughts in my head drifted away. From then on, I was able to set aside my feelings about Martin and truly listen to him.

Every day we face barriers to listening; from our own egos to construction noise. Although we can’t eliminate all listening barriers, we can certainly take steps to eliminate the ones we can and work around those we can’t.  However, the first step is identifying what barriers exist.

There are three basic categories of listening barriers. Psychological barriers are made up of your own thought processes and emotions. Physical barriers are those barriers related to your body, such as hearing loss, or even a speaker’s speech impediment. Environmental barriers are those external to you, such as other conversations or the aforementioned construction noise.

Although we can’t eliminate all listening barriers, good listeners take steps to eliminate the ones they can and work around those they can’t. Here are five ways you minimize the impact of listening barriers.

1. Ensure you’re ready to listen. If you’re angry, frustrated, or preoccupied, you’re unlikely to listen well. To listen, you need to be in the right frame of mind. If you’re having a bad day (or bad moment) ask the speaker to wait until you’re able to really listen. If that’s not an option, take a deep breath and mentally “let go” of what’s bothering you, telling yourself, “I need to let X go for now so I can really listen to Y.”

2. Choose the best possible listening environment. If your office is loud and you’re trying to talk to a customer on the phone, ask the customer if she minds holding so you can move to a quiet place where you can hear. If an employee stops you in the hallway to discuss a personal issue, ask him to accompany you to your office so you can talk privately. Taking control of the listening environment will ensure a better outcome for both of you.

3. Minimize distractions. One of the number one complaints employees have about their supervisors is that they SAY they’re listening, but they’re doing other things at the same time. If you say “yes” to listening, you must say “no” to everything else. No answering the phone. No checking email. No continuing to type up that report. Shut off the phone ringer, close the computer, and step away from the keyboard and really listen.

4. Don’t prejudge the message. Prejudging involves thinking ahead of the speaker and predicting what he or she will say next. One example of prejudging is interrupting and try to complete the speaker’s thoughts. Here’s what I mean:

Amy: “I was thinking maybe we should reconsider those vacation dates, I. . .”

LeRoy: “We should probably wait until August?”

Amy: “No, what I was going to say was. . .”

LeRoy: “We should fly out on Saturday instead?”

Amy: “Would you like to keep guessing or would you like me to tell you what I was going to say?”

Another type of prejudging is when the listener basically stops listening, assuming where the conversation is going, and spends the time formulating his or her response. You can tell when a listener does this because he or she blurts out the answer to your question or comment immediately after you finish speaking.

listening5. Focus on demonstrating proper listening body language. You can tell me you’re listening as much as you want, but until I can “see” that you’re listening, I won’t believe it.

Yes, I know, if you have your back turned to a speaker, you can still hear the speaker’s words. However, a large portion of what someone is communicating will come from his or her body language. If you’re facing the speaker and using good eye contact, you can “listen” to what the speaker’s body language is telling you.

For example, if you were giving instructions to an employee and asked if she understood what needed to be done,  the employee might say, “yes,” but if her face looks concerned or doubtful, what her face is telling you is more important than her words. She doesn’t want to admit she is unsure, but her face gives her away. When body language contradict the verbal message, the body language tells the truth. A good response might be, “I appreciate your willingness to take on this project, but I’m sensing some concern. Let’s go back over the steps once again.”

Finally, using good listening body language communicates to the speaker that you are truly interested in what he or she is saying. Facing the speaker, leaning slightly in, and using facial expressions the demonstrate understanding, give the speaker a “warm fuzzy,” that you’re really listening.

For more information on improving your listening skills, check out my previous blog posts on listening:

Improve Your Listening Skills in Six Easy Steps

Eight Bad Listening Habits Everyone Should Break



The High Cost of Poor Listening Skills

 tenerife islandTenerife island is the largest and most populous islands in the Canary Island chain a few hundred miles off the coast of Morocco. About five million tourists visit the island each year and partake of Tenerife’s beautiful mountains, beaches and many cultural festivals.

klm pan am crashHowever, most of these tourists don’t realize that Tenerife holds a more deadly distinction. It was there, on March 27, 1977, that a KLM Flight 4805 collided with a Pan Am Fligth 1736, killing 583 people in what remains the biggest air disaster in history. Although there was more than one factor attributed to the cause of the crash, most experts agree that several common listening barriers contributed to this disaster.

  • The KLM pilot was preoccupied and concerned about staying on the planned flight schedule.
  • Before the First Officer had finished reading back the tower’s routing clearance, the pilot suddenly took off, possibly assuming approval was forthcoming.
  • Six seconds into takeoff, the First Officer transmitted, “… we are now at takeoff,” but language barriers resulted in misunderstanding, and the aircraft control tower responded, “Okay… standby for takeoff… I will call you.”
  • Hearing the exchange, the doomed Pan Am pilot, sent a desperate transmission, “We are still taxiing down the runway!” However, his transmission was blocked by the  KLM plane, which was still transmitting to the tower.

Although this story is an extreme example of the impact of poor listening, every day we experience errors, miscommunication, and bad customer service due to poor listening skills on the part of the people involved.

Why?  The number one reason is that people incorrectly assume that because they hear, they listen. Nothing is further from the truth. Hearing is a passive, physiological process- if your ears process sound, you hear. Listening however, is an active psychological and physical process. It requires effort, skill, and most importantly, training.

Listening barriers are all around us and within us, blocking and distorting messages we need to receive. From psychological barriers, including our thoughts and emotions, such as a pilot’s worry about a schedule, to physical barriers such as noise, or a lost radio transmission due to poor technology, to physiological barriers, like a speaker’s accent, or words that get “lost in translation”, as occurred when the Dutch and US pilots communicated with the Spanish air traffic controllers. While we can’t control all listening barriers, by understanding what they are and using good listening techniques, we can eliminate many of them.

In my next blog post, I’ll share ways you can minimize or eliminate the five biggest listening barriers in your life.

Five Things You Should Never Tell Your Boss


duct-tape-over-mouthI’m all about building rapport, communicating, and creating great relationships with people at work, including your boss. However, there are some things you should just keep to yourself if you want to continue to be successful, and climb the ladder, in your career.

Yes, I realize when you read some of these items, some of you will say, “They would never use that against me, ” and you may be right. However, when you don’t get the promotion, the pay increase, or some other opportunity, you’ll never know that it could have been due to sharing one of these things. So, why take the chance?

Here are the five things you should never tell your boss.


1. Your outside income, including your spouse’s.

Telling your boss that you have outside income is just asking for trouble. In fact, a previous employer once told me, when he decided not to give me a promised pay increase, “I had to make some budget cuts and I didn’t think you needed it.” Additionally, imagine a scenario where you have outside income and you’re competing for a promotion against a coworker whose spouse is unemployed or underemployed. Your supervisor is aware of both situations. Even if it’s not conscious on your supervisor’s part, you could lose out on a promotion even though you’re equally qualified because he or she may think you don’t “need” the promotion as much as the other person.

2. Your outside commitments.

Telling your supervisor that you can’t stay late because you’re going out with the girls, or your son has a baseball game, makes you a good friend or parent. However, your supervisor may interpret things differently. It could send the message that your priorities aren’t aligned with his or hers or with the mission of the organization. It could cause others to question your commitment to your job. Therefore, it’s better to say, “I can’t today, I have another commitment.” Then, if you can offer an alternative, such as, “. . .but I can come in early tomorrow to help,” or “. . .but I can work on it through lunch tomorrow,” so much the better.

3. Your political interests.

Bringing up your political beliefs and causes you support at work gives you a 50-50 chance of ending up on the opposite side of an issue with your boss. Why risk it? Unless you work for a think tank or are working on a political campaign, leave your politics at the door when you get to work.

4. Mental health or other issues for which you’re pursuing therapy.

If you’re going through a divorce or are seeking help with depression, your supervisor might be very understanding. However, it can also lead your boss to question your ability to do your job. Therefore, unless there’s some immediate, compelling reason to share this information, it’s better to keep the specifics to yourself. If you have to leave work early to see a therapist or psychiatrist, simply tell your boss that you have a doctor’s appointment. If you need to take a day off, keep your reasons vague. Your boss doesn’t need to know the reason you need a personal day.

5. What you REALLY think of him or her, right before you quit. 

There may be times, especially during an exit interview, to share ideas for making the workplace better or what might have made you stay. However, NEVER see quitting as the opportunity for an unedited rant of “100 Things I Hate About You.” Not only is this unprofessional, but remember, just about every future company you apply to will contact your former supervisor for information about you; even if you don’t put him or her down as a reference. In fact, for some employers, the fact that you didn’t put your previous supervisor on your list of references is a red flag that will put your former supervisor on the top of their call list.