5 keys to expressing yourself with more power and impact

without-self-expressionMy daughter just turned seven.  She is a joyful and easy-going child most of the time, but she is also at the age when children like to push boundaries and see what they can get away with. While she tries to exert her independence, her communications style often regresses to that of a toddler.  She may cross her arms, stomp her feet and give me this defiant look that says, “I won’t have any of it” or “Who cares?” –  which is one of her current favorite expressions.  We are looking for new ways to express ourselves with power, but without tantrums.   This includes using “strong language” instead of dramatic poses and whining whenever she makes a request or wants someone to stop doing something.

As adults, we sometimes also communicate in ways that may give us a sense of power but that are not productive. Yelling, name-calling, creating emotional outbursts, slamming doors or moving and gesturing frantically would all be examples of such false sense of power and control. Here are five better ways to express yourself powerfully and persuasively without creating unnecessary conflicts or drama:

Video link: http://youtu.be/18PBzP0D1Cc

1. Spotlight the audience to magnify your message. When you make people feel important and worthy of your full attention, they reciprocate with more trust and cooperation.  When you help them improve their social standing, their brains perceive it as a reward.  When people hear their own name, their brains show a unique pattern of activation specific to their own name in relation to the names of others.  This activation pattern is similar to the patterns reported when individuals make judgments about themselves and their personal qualities. Focus your message on your audience members, their needs, concerns and desires, and they will be more open and willing to connect to your ideas.

2. Watch and match the energy of your audience.  Is your audience laid-back, uptight, highly energetic or sluggish? Meet them where they are. Once you match their level of energy initially, you can take them where you want them to go by gradually building up the energy in the room. Conversations have their own rhythms and flow.  They may slow down or speed up, intensify or linger. Since the energy in the room will fluctuate, you shouldn’t stay on the same level throughout the whole time.  In addition, when people like one another their body language has a natural tendency to synchronize.  It helps to build rapport.  Subtle mimicry makes a good impression because it increases what’s called “sensorimotor fluency.”  If you naturally sync with the audience, it will take less effort for their brains to process what you say.

3. Co-create your message with the audience.  Your message will have more relevance and impact if you let your audience participate in developing your story and your ideas.   Autonomy is a reward to the brain.  We want to feel a sense of control and agency over our decisions. We want to have choices, to be able to predict the outcomes, and adjust our actions accordingly.  Studies show that leaders who have more responsibilities and heavier workloads actually report less anxiety and stress than non-leaders. This is likely because leaders have a heightened sense of control. We are more likely to succeed implementing solutions that we have come up with than following someone else’s advice. To increase the autonomy and engagement of your audience, ask questions and listen actively.  Invite people to share their own stories and experiences and encourage them to identify their own steps to reach the desired outcomes.  Be a facilitator of insights, not a guru.

4. Make room for silence.  Artists use the concept of “white space” to refer to the absence, or nothingness, that makes the content stand out.  White space creates balance. Silence is the white space of a conversation. It allows insights to percolate to the surface. Pauses and silence create space for reflection. Don’t spin people’s brains into a frenzy. Turn down the inflow of information to enable new connections to form. Powerful, thought-provoking, open-ended questions encourage such silent reflection.

5. Use constraints to encourage action. Constraints and obstacles can be a good thing when you need to generate creative solutions. The brain likes to conserve energy and resources and prefers the status-quo over change because change requires more mental effort and conscious awareness.  According to studies, constraints can force us to adopt a more global, “big picture” view of things, consider a greater range of possibilities, and better integrate unrelated pieces of information.  A set of rules, templates, and requirements can boost creative thinking. Another strategy to shift the brain into action is to convey a sense of urgency by setting deadlines or to use scarcity by highlighting the limited availability of something. The brain does not want to miss out on good things that bear the stamp of approval. In a consumer preference experiment, Stephen Worchel and colleagues offered subjects chocolate chip cookies in a jar and asked them to taste the cookies and rate their quality. One jar had ten cookies in it, and the other jar had just two. Subjects preferred the cookies from the jar of only two cookies, even though they were the same cookies. Seeing the cookies disappear as a result of built-up demand make them more desirable and delicious. Thus, scarcity can be a mental shortcut for quality and a powerful motivator.

By | 2013-08-22T18:58:50+00:00 December 20th, 2012|Communication, Public Speaking|0 Comments

The Sweet & Sour Sauce of Integrative Communication

The topic of today’s Communication Lab experiment is Sweet & Sour.  You may have tasted a sweet and sour sauce, often used in Chinese cuisine to go with fish or meat.  The intriguing part about Sweet & Sour is that it combines very different and somewhat opposing flavors to create a new, balanced flavor.  We are going to take this concept of Sweet & Sour and apply it to our communication.

Video link: http://youtu.be/pWPw7jbUk9I

Have you ever felt stuck or pulled in different directions by an internal struggle because you had conflicting thoughts in your head?  Today we will learn about integrative thinking, which is similar to the concept of Sweet & Sour. You will pick up a communication technique that will help you transform conflicting ideas into creative solutions.

In his book “The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking,” Roger Martin defines integrative thinking as:

“The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.”

The expression that often indicates the presence of conflicting thoughts is “Yes… but…” . For example, you know you should do something, but you can see many obstacles on your way that keep you stuck.  Instead of a clear “No, nope, nowhere, nohow,’” you offer a tacit “YOPE’” – “yes” and “nope” in one.  This “YOPE” thinking is a protective strategy to minimize uncertainty or the risk of failure. YOPE gives no hope.  

Turn “Yes… but…” into “Yes…and…so…”

Instead, let’s  play a language game to get at the core of the issues.

Example: A client of mine may say, “I need to give this person an honest feedback, but she will get upset and won’t listen.”

This is the cautious YOPE response that doesn’t encourage action.

The trick is to change the ‘yes…but…’ response to ‘yes…and…so…’.

Example: “I need to give this person an honest feedback, and she will get upset and won’t listen, so…”

After ‘so’ is where the secret Sweet & Sour sauce comes in. The person has to come up with the next proposition, assuming the first two are true. This can either boost some creative thinking or reveal limiting beliefs and barriers.

“I need to give this person an honest feedback, and she will get upset and won’t listen, so…”

  • “I have to prepare for this conversation more deliberately”
  • “I have to control my own responses better”
  • “we have to choose the best time and place possible for this conversation”
  • “I need to acknowledge how she feels first”
  • “I have to avoid making the issue personal and give a lot of support”
  • “we should brainstorm solutions together”

When you play with the language like that, it may illuminate some fallacies and inconsistencies in your thinking and prompt more creative responses.

By | 2013-08-21T20:01:40+00:00 December 1st, 2012|Communication, Conflict Management|0 Comments

From Hot Buttons to Hot Products: Conflict Pro Gift Guide

Got a peacemaker on your gift list or want to redecorate your office or yourself?  Look no further than this Conflict Pro Gift Guide.  Enough of neuroscience already, although you may want to check out my recent webinar on the brain and conflict at the ADRhub Werner Institute. Today, my neurons sparkle with the anticipation of the holidays.  I am very grateful to all of you, my dear readers, for your support and our mutual learning and sharing!  Thank you!  Let’s have a little bit of dopamine-inducing, conflict-reducing fun and indulge in these peacemakers’ picks for the holidays.

You have a big heart, don’t you?  Otherwise, you wouldn’t be in the peacemaking business. Perhaps, your home or office needs a heart too.  Check out this Driftwood Heart.  It can serve as a good conversation piece, whole-heartedness priming device, and an object of metaphorical exploration.

Driftwood HeartSugarcoating problems won’t solve them, but it will make them sticky.  A heart-felt, direct apology can go a long way, especially, if it is delivered on a fun notecard, like these “Sorry I Was So Prickly” cards.

Sorry I was Prickly
What are you grateful for this holiday season? These simple but elegant Thank You notes will help you express your gratitude to people that make your life happier and brighter.
Thank You NotesThere are many peacemaking tools out there, but kindness stands out from the crowd.  Kill Them With Kindness…or with this art print.

Kill Them With Kindness
Holidays can be joyful, and they can also be stressful. “There’s an Elephant in the Room Cards” were created to help people move with grace through difficult moments in their relationships.

You were right
If you want to master your relationships and be a peacemaker or know someone who could benefit from conflict management skills (and who wouldn’t?), the book “Conflict Management Coaching: The CINERGY™ Model” by Cinnie Noble will equip you with research-based and battle-tested tools to navigate interpersonal disputes.

Conflict Coaching

To borrow the title of Laurie Baker’s short story – “Go in Peace, Not in Pieces.” …Although the pieces from The Barber’s Daughters jewelry can certainly help you go in peace, like this “Breathe Peace” necklace.

Breathe PeaceI can’t wait for their Prayer Rings collection to come out. Spin the messages ‘peace begins with me’ or ‘one moment at a time’ on your finger.

Prayer Rings

Eat in peace and in style.  This Earth-friendly, non-toxic and safe White Peace Plate will remind little peacemakers to play nice.
Peace Plate
Your power lies in the questions you ask.  The answer is always closer than you think. Here’s a good question…“What good shall I do this day?”
What good shall I do this day?

This is your life. Live like you mean it. Be inspiring like this Holstee Manifesto Poster.

And above all, don’t forget to smile!  Happy holidays!

By | 2012-11-20T15:54:04+00:00 November 20th, 2012|Books, Communication, Conflict Management|0 Comments

Sweet kindness

chocolates“As long as I live
My heart will express a humble kindness
As long as the wind blows
My kindness will gallop freely.
As long as my heart beats,
My spirit will always go
Searching for you
To influence you
To be kind to others.”

~ Steve Dudasch

Kindness can be as sweet as a piece of chocolate. It turns out you may want to use sweet foods to influence others to be kind. Having a sweet tooth may be bad for your diet but good for your disposition according to several studies from North Dakota State, Gettysburg College, and Saint Xavier University.  For example, people were more likely to volunteer to help somebody after eating a piece of sweet chocolate than after eating a sour candy or a bland cracker.  Participants also rated those with a sweet tooth as more agreeable and helpful than others.

Researchers hypothesize that the results may signal a link between metaphors associated with “sweetness” and our perceptions of behavior.  Gettysburg professor Dr. Brian Meier explains:

“Taste is something we experience every day. Our research examined whether metaphors that link taste preferences with pro-social experiences (e.g., “she’s a sweetheart”) can be used to shed light on actual personality traits and behavior.

“It is striking that helpful and friendly people are considered ‘sweet’ because taste would seem to have little in common with personality or behavior. Yet, recent psychological theories of embodied metaphor led us to hypothesize that seemingly innocuous metaphors can be used to derive novel insights about personality and behavior. Importantly, our taste studies controlled for positive mood so the effects we found are not due to the happy or rewarding feeling one may have after eating a sweet food.”

Perhaps, chocolate at the negotiation table, or any table for that matter, may not be a bad idea.

By | 2012-09-09T04:10:59+00:00 September 9th, 2012|Brain, Communication, Conflict Management|0 Comments

Body language: 5 expressions your brain can’t resist

Whenever we speak to someone face to face, a lot of information is communicated brain to brain even without our conscious awareness.  To keep us safe and thriving, our brains have evolved to pick up on body language and subtle cues during social interactions that could signal our standing in a group or warn us of any potential threats.  Here are five body language expressions that our brains can’t resist.  You can notice and use them to convey persuasive messages:

1.  Mimic me subtly.  Mimicry helps to establish rapport and social bonding.  If people click, they tend to reciprocate gestures, postures and expressions, increasing trust and likability.  Similarly, we unconsciously adopt accents of people we speak to. However, a complete lack of mimicry or too much of it can backfire.  Parroting others or exaggerating their gestures sends a message that social cues are off, which makes people feel uncomfortable and can quite literally give them chills. Don’t be a copycat. Our brains are also quick to notice incongruence of the words and body language.  Balance is the key when it comes to mimicry.

2.  Point that finger. You may have heard the phrase, “Never point a finger at someone because there will always be three pointing back at you.”  While pointing with your finger is considered impolite in many countries, it is very effective in directing people’s attention.  The good news is you can use images of an outstretched index finger to the same effect. They grab attention better than pointed arrows or written words even when the images are irrelevant to the task at hand.  A pointing finger is a biological cue that is hard to ignore.

3.  Look me in the eyes.  The eyes are sometimes called “the windows to the soul” because they express our feelings and reveal intentions.  It is not surprising that we tend to follow other people’s eye gaze.  A directional eye gaze establishes the shared attention field. A recent study of politicians and their voters suggests that people may tend to follow the gaze of leaders they respect and accept as an authority.  Direct eye contact helps not only to gain a person’s attention, but also to create an emotional connection and make an impression.  A direct eye gaze rapidly activates brain areas that are important for emotion and attention, such as the fusiform and amygdala.  At the same time, a prolonged eye contact may appear threatening and uncomfortable.  Some cultures consider looking directly in the eyes aggressive and disrespectful.

4.  People who yawn together, work better together. Yawning gets a bad rap because some believe if you yawn, you must be bored.  It turns out that yawning serves an important neurological function.  It improves alertness and concentration, regulates brain temperature, lowers stress, brings more oxygen into our bodies, among other things. If you ever watched Olympic speedskater Apolo Ohno before a race, you probably noticed a yawn or two.  I doubt the Olympian yawned because he was bored or didn’t get enough sleep.  In fact, when asked about it in an interview, he explained with a smile that his yawning was akin to the yawning lions do in the wild: “I want to be a lion.”  You can yawn strategically too.  Do it right now. Take a deep breath and get yourself into the yawning mood.  Just look at the images above.  If you have people around, that’s even better because yawning is contagious, and it activates a region of the brain thought to be involved in empathy. Fifty-five percent people yawn within five minutes if one person in a group yawns. Yawning can improve group cohesiveness because it helps people synchronize their behavior with others.

5.  Smile. “Peace begins with a smile,” Mother Teresa was right. If we all smiled more, the world would be a more peaceful and cheerful place.  Smiles are contagious. When we smile, people tend to smile back. Smiling signals friendliness and social acknowledgment.  People who are acknowledged by a stranger feel more connected to others immediately after the experience than people who are deliberately ignored. People who smile in their Facebook profile photos tend to have more friends and be at the center of their social network.  We even tend to judge smiling faces as brighter than frowning faces. Smiles are effective in lifting our own mood as well.  Try smiling even if you don’t feel like it.  A genuine smile engages not just the mouth, but also the eyes and the cheeks. The face muscles involved in the smile serve as a feedback mechanism to your brain that things may not be as bad as they appear at the moment. Smile and the world will smile back at you!

How much attention do you pay to body language when you communicate with others?

By | 2012-06-27T15:55:32+00:00 June 27th, 2012|Communication, Perception, Public Speaking|1 Comment