Webinar presenter Dr. Kimberly Miller answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Making Your Words an Asset, Not a Liability: How to Improve What You Say and How You Say It. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Much of what you discussed seems primarily to address one-on-one communications. Can you talk about communications and messaging when you are talking with a larger audience that might be very hard to read and unknown?
Dr. Kimberly Miller: Yes. Part of what I would recommend would be the context or the setting of that circumstance. I’m going to put my contact information if want to reach out to me specifically with questions or specific things. I’ll offer some general things. Number one, before you, whether you are doing a speech or you’re having a big meeting, you are addressing a lot of people, the first thing I would try to figure out is to know your audience. What did they know or believe about you as a presenter or speaker? What do they know or believe about the topic that you are speaking on or the reason for the meeting? Here’s an example if you are having a large organizational meeting and there are 500 people. You’re somewhere in the executive level of this organization so you do not know all 500 people individually. What is your perception or what feedback have you received about how you’re viewed? I think that’s important. You have to know how you are viewed by these 500 people you are about to address. Number two, what are you going to talk about? What are the assumptions, beliefs or feelings about whatever you are going to talk about? Right? If you are just going to talk on one topic, no one is super upset about the topic, it is actually a positive thing that is happening in the organization. You are probably going to have an easy win and people are going to be listening and be open. If you are going to talk to 500 people about a significant change coming into the organization and say 1/3 of them are on board and 2/3 are not onboard, you would need to prepare a lot for that. You would need to be prepared to address their concerns, validate their emotions, show that you get them and that you get the struggle. Ideally, if you are talking about the change management thing, layout what are the strategies that you are going to utilize for you to be successful. Number one, know how you are viewed. Number two, know how you are whatever you are going to talk about is viewed as much as you can before you present. I would say the second thing about going into a very large situation like that where you are having to communicate, always have space for questions and be prepared for anything. Don’t go in and assume everybody is going to ask a fun easy question, be prepared ahead of time. This is asking through your chain of command ideally what do you think people are upset about? What am I likely going to be asked? Again, you can’t prepare for anything and everything all the time but I would be prepared for any difficult questions and know ahead of time how you are going to respond. Along with that, number three, have a pre-planned way that you can control your emotions. Again if you are talking about you are going to get everybody a $10,000 raise, I don’t think you have to worry about it because everybody is going to love you but many times in larger meetings, we are giving people bad news, half the people are upset and they are going to try to be angry with us or frustrated or whatever and you have to have a pre-planned emotional control and what if somebody says something disrespectful? What if somebody is provocative? You need to be able to respond calmly instead of getting in a fight about winning about that. I’m not sure of the context that person is asking but those would be my initial thoughts and feel free to reach out if I have not fully answered that in the way that you need it. I’m happy to one-on-one talk to you.
Audience Question: What can you do in a situation where you ask if someone is angry or frustrated and they say they’re not even if their behavior indicates otherwise?
Dr. Kimberly Miller: A couple of things. Number one, it will come down to relationship, right? because I think if you have a better relationship, people are more often willing to tell you the truth. If you don’t have a good relationship or you are really unsure of where you stand because maybe it is a new relationship you’re building so you are not 100% sure where you are at with that. I would still reflect the feeling and say “seems like you are frustrated or angry” and if they say they are not having those feelings in a gruff voice or sit with their arms crossed, instead of getting angry or frustrated about that I might respond and “say well I can appreciate that maybe you don’t want to share with me or express that but your non-verbals are sending me a pretty clear message that something is not right so could you help me understand what’s going on?” If they are still being quiet, you can say well if you are not angry or frustrated do you feel more hurt? Do you feel not included? Do you feel attacked? I might just throw out some things and see what people give you? Usually, most people will offer you something. Now, if they don’t, you can’t pull it out of them and you don’t want to get into a fight of trying to get them to tell you what they feel but I might say something like this: “I understand today might have been a difficult conversation for you, maybe something you weren’t expecting, it certainly not has been my intent to shut you down or hurt you or alienate you. The intention of this meeting for me is to reclarify expectations and find a way to set you up for success. I understand that you might not be receiving this meeting in that way but I really would like to encourage you to maybe come back and let’s revisit this in a week, see how you are feeling, see what else we can talk about, talk through, what we can do because my intention is to not beat you up and minimize you. It’s really to help you be set up for success. I am open to your feedback about how we can do this. I’m hoping to get your feedback about how I could have sent a better message.” Here’s the key. If someone is willing to revisit with you, somebody is willing to give you feedback and say, “Hey, I didn’t appreciate getting blindsided by this,” as an example then you need to say “you know what? You are right. Thank you for that feedback. I won’t do it again. You know what? I could’ve handled this differently. You know what? I could’ve asked you such and such first”… whatever the circumstance is. I really see so much healing happening when people can own their part on that miscommunication and show that they are willing to improve and grow and not just challenging the employee to do the same. Those are just some quick ideas that I have seen work overtime and certainly have worked for me over time.
Audience Question: How do you communicate with someone who always states that they respectfully disagree with every conversation?
Dr. Kimberly Miller: Those people are so interesting right? Like they are such the Darth Vader provocateurs. I might just ask them outside of some other heated conversation potentially. Help me understand why your response is always “I respectfully disagree”? If you see it as being provocative or if you see it as being Darth Vadery behavior, I would just tell them. I would be curious first. “Help me understand why you always say x, y, z.” Then say, “I can appreciate that. Just to let you know that is not the message you are sending. The message you are sending is you don’t respect me or the message I receive when you say that is I’m wrong.” I think part of what I want you to understand about communication is it’s not just your message that you send out but it’s also finding ways to let other people know, understand and be held accountable for how they are coming across. First I would be curious. Second I would say, “Here’s my experience of how you are communicating with me or what that message sends to me. If you mean to send that message that’s one kind of a conversation but if you don’t mean to send that message then I encourage you to change that behavior because that is the message that I am receiving.”
Audience Question: What is the best way to cultivate these good communication habits especially after communications has already broken down?
Dr. Kimberly Miller: Number one, when things are broken down, own it and apologize for your part quickly. Whether that’s family or whether that’s somebody at work. I would self-reflect. I would write how you have been in your own way or how you could’ve done something better. I would ask the other person; “I wonder if we can a conversation about this. I’d like to apologize.” I would do that first. Secondly, I wouldn’t go in with any kind of agenda on like necessarily how to fix it. I would just go in with this really humbling and curious heart and once you’ve apologized, say to whoever this person is, “I’m curious to hear from your perspective how we might be able to figure out how to move forward? What do you need from me that you are not currently receiving? How can we figure out what broke down in the past and how we can do this differently? What can our new commitments be to each other?” Say, “I’m willing to do this because I’d like to make this better. I’d like to improve it.” Of course, it takes two to tango. If the other person is not just going to cooperate, I mean maybe you can make them in your organizational structure but you can’t make them talk to you or share with you or any other of that kind of stuff. All you can do is control you. I think you show up with a humble heart, I think you can write down specifically what you’re going to do different and specifically work on that on a daily basis because a lot of people don’t think about doing communication better until they do it wrong. You can practice curiosity daily. You can practice checking the receipt of the message daily. You can practice more emotional control daily and it is just simple as taking some deep breaths. As soon as you have a strong emotion, ask yourself, “Why do I have this strong emotion?” What’s going on underneath of it? As simple as this sounds, it’s simple but many of us don’t do it. Ongoing self-care helps regulate your emotions so getting enough sleep at night, doing meditation in the morning, finding space for silence in your day. All those things help emotionally regulate you and you can practice that stuff everyday. You’ll find yourself in these communications being less emotionally reactive. The other thing just as an example of something to practice whether you like those questions I used as examples or you can Google good questions on the internet, you are really just infusing your days some really good curious questions. And sit there instead of trying to think about your response to them, practicing really just listening and doing follow up questions. When you do these small things throughout the day, then it comes time for a hard conversation, things are already easier because you’ve already intentionally practiced.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Making Your Words an Asset, Not a Liability: How to Improve What You Say and How You Say It.