Don’t Make this Stupid Communication Mistake #12

October 2, 2009

Here’s the Situation:  A professional colleague and I were discussing an incident that occured  in the association we both belong to.  It was one of those incidents that ocur in every organization that involves volunteers.  Leadership on the board had turned over with a new year, and the outgoing leadership had neglected to provide the recognition my colleague felt she deserved. 

Here’s the Stupid Mistake:  The colleague began several of her sentences with the words, “I don’t care about the recognition, but . . . ”  Other sentences began with, “I wouldn’t say this to anybody but you . . . .”  What’s worse is that these type of statements consistently pepper the conversations I have with this individual.  As I result, I am quite sure she does care about the recognition and she does make these statements to me and to others. 

When a person is indirect about feelings such as being hurt, it results in the person seeming petty.  When a person claims she won’t say certain things to anybody but you, it  results in the person seeming like a true gossip.  These statements erode trust and make the listener cautious about interactions with the person making the statements.  We tiptoe around people who have a high need for recognition.  We withhold confidences from people we perceive as gossips.  We certainly lose respect for these folks.

Here’s the Solution:  If you are slighted by someone’s failure to recognize you in a professional context, deal with it directly, with the person who committed the error.  If you don’t feel it’s worth it to confront the person directly, then shut up about the whole thing!  If you talk about it behind someone’s back, don’t kid yourself into thinking you don’t look petty.

Gossip is never attractive, and it never builds respect and trust.  Avoid it at all costs.  If you have to say, “I wouldn’t say this to anyone but you . . . , ” reevaluate the comment.  Chances are it should remain unsaid.


Avoid this Stupid Mistake #6: Break a Law of Persuasion

November 9, 2007

Here’s the situation:  On Saturday mornings my family often demonstrates a business lesson.  Saturday is the day my husband, Rick, and I enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee in bed.  We relax in each other’s company and catch up on what has happened throughout the week.  Often, after we’ve been up for a long time, our adolescent daughter, Meagan, will stumble sleepily into our room and plop down on the bed.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  Rick, who is a morning person, greets Meagan in an energetic and enthusiastic way.  “Why good morning, cute stuff—how are you doing today?”  Rick’s goal is to include Meagan in our time together—to make a happy family moment.  The problem is that the tone of Rick’s wide-awake, cheery mood contrasts sharply with Meagan’s just-woke-up, let’s-take-it-easy-and-slow mood. Invariably, she makes an adolescent groan and leaves the room. 

The fact that Meagan had wanted to join us and then leaves demonstrates that Rick has broken a law of persuasion.

Here’s the solution:  This law of persuasion is simple:  To create a connection and influence someone, you must first “match” their level of emotion and energy.  To engage Meagan on Saturday mornings, Rick needs to “match” his emotional messages to Meagan’s sleepy state.  He simply needs to tone down his volume and his energy. 

This law of persuasion holds true in any communication situation.  You’ll be most effective if you assess and “match” the energy level and emotional stance of your listeners.  When you introduce an energy mismatch into a situation, as Rick does with Meagan, you create a dissonance that makes the other person uncomfortable.  That persom might not vote with his or her feet the way Meagan does, but the internal reaction will be the same.  You can’t influence or persuade a person unless you can make the connection that begins with the emotional match.

This tip is especially important in sales situations because a mismatch in energy can lead the other person to perceive you as untrustworthy.  Nobody buys from an untrustworthy salesperson.

Lead with Influence–Secret of an NFL Rookie Coach

October 28, 2007

Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers held their collective breath as the 2007 season started.  Their new coach, Mike Tomlin, was a surprise pick by the Rooney family, who owns the team.  Pittsburghers like to win, and Tomlin was an unknown rookie.

According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Ron Cook, the Steeler players had concerns too when Tomlin came on board last spring.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reminded the new coach to gain the players’ respect and commitment.  Chances are Roethlisberger didn’t have to remind Tomlin about the players’ fierce loyalty to retired coach Bill Cowher.  Cowher had led the team for 14 years, one of which featured a Super Bowl win.

By the time the 2007 season actually began, the players were solidly impressed with their new coach—Tomlin stepped up to his new position with confidence and authority.  He also, it seems, had a ready knack to lead with influence.The team responded to their new leader’s influence with a blast, decisively winning their first three games.  Exactly how did the rookie coach lead with influence?

One secret, according to Ron Cook, was to follow an expected action with an unexpected one. 

The expected:  Tomlin met with each player during the spring minicamp. 

The unexpected:  He followed those meetings with handwritten letters to many of his players.Tomlin sent his letters via the post office, not e-mail. 

Each letter was personalized and quoted the conversation Tomlin had had with the player.  In sending these letters, Tomlin extended an old-fashioned lead with influence gesture.  It didn’t cost a lot, and it didn’t take a lot of time, especially considering what was at stake. 

Tomlin reported, “I’ve just always been a guy who, if something moves me, I respond to it.  And I’ve always believed a written letter is more meaningful than an e-mail or phone call.”

The results of Tomlin’s leadership gesture are instructive, especially for those of us who hope to build influence and credibility with others.  Hines Ward, the 2005 Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, reported that he carries his letter from Tomlin in his Bible.  How’s that for influence?!

Linebacker Larry Foote explained his reaction, “He [Tomlin] proved to me that he listened and that he thought what I had to say was important.”  Defensive end Aaron Smith said the letters made a huge statement because the coach took time to write them.  Because the letters were personalized rather than mass produced, they meant a lot.  Smith filed his letter.

Based on comments from players and performance so far this season, those handwritten letters played at least some part in gaining influence and commitment for the rookie leader.  Handwritten letters might help you lead with influence as well.  It’s a good time to get out your pen.

Copyright 2007 by inCredible Messages, LP.  Permission to reprint granted with the following attribution:

For more articles on gaining influence and commitment, visit

Avoid This Stupid Mistake #5: Begin Your Speech with an Apology

October 15, 2007

Here’s the situation:  An accomplished physician and researcher from Puerto Rico was presenting at a conference of her peers in the United States.   The physician was uneasy about the fact that English is a second language for her.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  “First,” the doctor began, “I want to apologize for my English.” Sitting in the audience, I felt the energy drain out of the room. Audience members collectively caught their breath, preparing to sit through a problematic presentation.  I wanted to rewind the tape and skip the apology. Apologizing in a speech, especially in the introduction, automatically decreases your effectiveness.

Not only did the doctor’s apology expose a lack of confidence, it diverted attention from her expertise. The apology was entirely unnecessary—the doctor’s skills as a clinician and a researcher had earned her the right to present.

Here’s how to handle this situation:  It is appropriate to acknowledge an obvious difference that might distract audience members from your content, something like a heavy accent or the presence of a wheelchair. The doctor might have begun, “I’ve come from Puerto Rico to report significant findings from my research. These findings may impact your clinical practice in substantial ways. As we work together today, you might notice that English is not my first language. Sometimes my brain goes faster in Spanish than my tongue can translate.

The same is true if you should encounter a problem with the room, with the equipment, or with another speaker failing to arrive on time. If the audience knows about the problem, acknowledge it. Then confidently report how you are going to handle the situation and get on with it. If you appear to take the situation in stride, the audience will as well.

Acknowledge differences and problems that arise, but skip the apology. Your credibility—and often the success of your presentation—depend on it.

To learn ten techniques for a terrific opening for your speech, including examples, go to

Stupid Mistake #4: Introduce Your Speech Offensively

October 2, 2007

This entry is somewhat different from the others in the series. It describes a choice one speaker made for impact–rather than a mistake.  I submit this description respectfully and leave it for you to decide whether the choice is wise or not, and under what circumstances. 

Here’s the situation: At a large conference, Ed Tate, a Toastmasters champion speaker, shared his 8-minute award winning speech at a break-out session on how to tell a great story.  I bought the recording of the session.

Ed Tate opened his winning story with the “N” word.  Perhaps he has earned the right to do this because he has been on the receiving end of this word as taunt. This is not mine to judge. 

During the session, Tate explained that his opening attracts attention, and he doesn’t mind making people uncomfortable.  He has made a strategic choice to open his story in this way. 

Working as a design consultant for a communications course for a graduate program, I suggested Tate’s recording as a resource.  The entire resource was quickly dismissed because the client, an African American, finds the “N” word offensive, no matter who says it or what the context. 

Here’s the stupid mistake:  While it’s not for me to tell persons of color when and how they have the right to use certain words, I can’t help but notice that using a controversial word cost Ed Tate a lot of exposure and potential business. 

By choosing to open his speech in a potentially offensive way, Tate created a situation in which some people will not even listen to his message, let alone fairly judge its value.  The fact that Tate’s story won him the title of Toastmaster Champion is irrelevant to my client.  She will not listen to the story on principle.  The question is, how many people share her view?  What does this mean to Tate, his business, and/or his moral message? 

Here’s the solution:  I am not prepared to criticise Ed Tate or anyone else who makes a conscious choice about how to use words.  We have the right to use words to shock if that’s what we choose.

At the same time, I believe there are plenty of non-offensive ways to attract attention.  It’s safest to have a policy that says, “I will avoid potentially offensive words, racial comments, sexual comments, and ethnic comments at all times.”  The backlash of carelessness just doesn’t seem worth it to me.  I don’t want to be famous with a Don Imus kind of fame, and I don’t want my messages rejected without being heard.

Capture people’s attention with startling statistics, amazing facts, powerful images and verbal pictures.  Use your imagination–the possibilities are endless.

To learn ten techniques to introduce your speech, including examples, go to

Avoid This Stupid Mistake #1: Offer to Strain Your Voice

May 28, 2007

Here’s the situation:  At a workshop I attended recently, the room was set up with chairs and tables to accommodate 50 people.  Fifteen participants attended the event.  And, as you might predict, those 15 people chose seats widely scattered toward the back of the room.  As the speaker walked to the front, the first two rows were empty, leaving around 20 feet between the speaker (where she stood by her laptop) and the first row of participants.

The presenter made a joke about no one sitting in the front rows and then she said, “My voice usually projects really well.  I think we’ll be fine, but let me know if you can’t hear me.” 

Here’s the stupid mistake:  The speaker abdicated her responsibility and missed an opportunity.

It’s natural for a group of strangers to “hold back” in a new situation.  As a workshop starts, the participants are typically risk-adverse.  They choose their seats for psychological safety rather than engagement with the rest of the group.  It’s the speaker’s job to set the tone for any event, and to initiate the involvement essential for the highest level of learning, networking, and enjoyment.  A tone of engagement must be set in the opening seconds of the event, or it will be nearly impossible to recover.

Looking at this situation objectively, the speaker made an idiotic offer:  “I’ll strain my voice throughout the morning so that you don’t have to move.”

Here’s the solution:  The speaker should have, in a confident and good-humored way, insisted that the participants move toward the front.  Both the confidence and the good humor are important.  Audience members expect the speaker to take charge, and they begin to relax when it happens.  At the same time, they want to feel like adults, not children being herded by a schoolmarm. 

Note that this speaker was experienced and competent.  The morning was okay, and I learned some things.  Had she taken responsibility for true engagement, however, her competence might have swelled into excellence.  Building on the speaker’s and each other’s ideas, the group might have reached a whole new level.  Personally, whether I’m the speaker or a participant, that’s what I’m striving for.  How about you? 

For more stupid mistakes that sabotage your speech, go to