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Welcome to the first 2005 issue of our free E-Zine, People Skills for Skilled People! We hope this year has gotten off to a great and prosperous start for you. 

Just a quick tip. Please add cei@talk2cei.com to your address book in Outlook (Express) to allow PSSP past any filters. 

And now:

Before You Speak! 

(or, in other words, speak only if you can improve upon the silence)

Vol.2, No. 1

If you attend any CEI training events on public speaking, you’re bound to hear us quote the famous Roman orator Quintillian’s proclamation that the definition of a good communicator is a good person speaking well. We also have a plaque displayed prominently in our office lobby that says “Because Nice Matters.” You can’t study communication for very long before you see the strong ethical and human dimensions of this subject. As we recognize the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, we’re reminded that history is littered with speakers and politicians who possessed powerful communicative ability but who lacked or perverted morality with disastrous consequences. While most of us day-by-day don’t experience communication moments involving deep moral choices, we do strongly impact those around us with the small choices we make in our spoken and body language. 

As with a number of PSSP issues, this one has grown out of lively discussions at CEI on how some people succeed in communication while others spend a lot of time “shooting themselves in the foot” and alienating those around them. 

A concept that has emerged from our discussions that we’d like to share is a kind of “dipstick.” We asked, “What if there were a simple formula to evaluate the impact ahead of time of something you were about to say to someone, especially in a tense or sensitive situation?” Well, we actually came up with five “dipsticks,” which you can easily remember by the acronym THINK. 

T = Is it the truth?

This is a tough question because on many levels we’re all only seeing our perspective on a situation, like the shopworn parable of the blind men feeling different parts of an elephant. In fact, we just discovered a quotation recently that supports this. It goes, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Yet we also recognize generally agreed-upon moral and ethical truths at work in most human situations. This “dipstick” simply challenges us to check for the truth in what we’ll say to the best of our ability. 

In their desire to be truthful, some people will resort to what they call “direct” communication with others. We have learned over the years that this “direct” style is often code for bluntness and tactlessness. You may have truth on your side, but it won’t do the other person any good if it’s rejected because of how it was delivered (see K = Kind below). 

H = Is it helpful?

Most people, in our experience, want to be helpful. And in that spirit, they are liberal with advice. The trouble is, a great deal of well-meaning advice emerges out of what people think the truth is but don’t in fact really know. They can forget that theirs is only part of the picture. We see this phenomenon played out tragically in many people who come to us for speech coaching. Many say they look unpoised, inarticulate, and awkward (which they usually don’t), adjectives that have grown out of relatives’ or friends’ well-meaning attempts to improve them with “good advice.” Good intentions alone, however, won’t go far if they’re not grounded in accurate perceptions, and, as we’ve witnessed, can do a lot of damage.

I = Is it insightful?

It’s often been said that people don’t really change for the better until they discover their own need for change in themselves. Many of our private clients come to amazing realizations about how they come across to others in communication, particularly through their nonverbal communication. I remember after a particularly successful communication encounter, a client calling Jan and in glee shouting, “Man, this stuff you teach really WORKS!” When something works that well, you have the kind of insight about it that keeps you doing it.

N = Is it necessary?

This is tricky for a lot of American managers. We tend to be a conflict-averse culture, a fact that has led to disastrous incidents of workplace violence, many of which were identifiable long before the eruption. There are many occasions when criticism or difficult-to-take advice needs to be given (ask any parent of a teenager!). Yet there are ways to present difficult matters without arousing resentment or defensiveness. If more people knew the power of “affirming and validating” others’ perceptions, who can tell how much good could result?

K = Is it kind?

This is where communication specialists are often criticized by the curmudgeons of the world, who call our specialty “smile technology.” Yet the research shows that people respond better to and are attracted to overtly happy, kind, and optimistic people. If you have to give “bad news” to someone but you do it in a way that shows them you truly care about them, you’ll have a lot more success in persuading them to take your advice seriously. Remember the insightful quote, “People won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Also recall the lead quotation in our first issue of PSSP, “People might forget what you said. They may even forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” If you’re kind in your communication, they’ll remember it.

Next time you’re in a tense situation, maybe with bad news to deliver, put in these dipsticks ahead of time and THINK!

Yours in great communication,

Jan and Neal Palmer

And that's our tip on People Skills for Skilled People for today!

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