5 Keys to a Meaningful “Thank You”

Usually, when someone provides a service, favor, or courtesy, many return the courtesy with a “thanks.” Unfortunately, there are instances when thanks is not only insufficient, but can have the exact opposite intended effect. Instead of the recipient feeling appreciated, he or she may feel unappreciated, angry, and very unwilling to do anything to help us again.

“Thanks for passing the ketchup,” works.

“Hey Bob, thanks for the kidney,” seems to fall short.

 –From “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done”

I was facilitating a workshop and had just discussed the importance of showing appreciation, when we took a 10 minute break. During the break, a  senior manager approached me and said,

“I don’t see why I should thank my employees for doing what’s in their job descriptions; they’re getting paid to do the job afterall.” 

I won’t get into our discussion regarding money and motivation- I’ll save that for a future post. However, regarding appreciation, my response included the following comments:

• Everyone needs encouragement and to know that their effort is appreciated

• It doesn’t matter if it’s in their job description, good work is worthy of appreciation

• A little appreciation pays off- good work that gets noticed will likely get repeated

• It takes 30 seconds or less to make someone’s day with a meaningful “thank you”

• Appreciation given is usually reciprocated—and as we know …(repeat first bullet)



However, as the above excerpt from “Practical Communication” notes, there’s “thanks” and there’s a meaningful “thank you” and we don’t want to confuse one with the other.

“Thanks” is adequate appreciation for ketchup passed and other tasks requiring minimal effort.

However, if this is how you show all appreciation, others will feel unappreciated and possibly even angry.

Imagine how you’d feel if you worked through your lunch hour for a week to help a friend, only to have him or her just say “thanks” when you’re done? Or even better, my favorite- the “backhanded” thanks,

“Thanks. It’s about time you got this to me.”

A meaningful “thank you” is necessary for hard work, quality work, and of course, donated body parts. To show others appreciation that will make their day, follow these “5 Keys to a Meaningful Thank You.”


1. Be timely- say “thank you” right away.

2. Be specific- tell the person exactly what he or she did that you appreciate.

3. Share the impact- tell the person specifically what positive effect(s) his or her actions had on you, your family, your customers, etc.

4. Say “thank you” not “thanks,” and say it sincerely.

5. Say “thank you” in person whenever possible.

And a final tip- Be sure to provide a “thank you” in writing for those who might need it to provide their supervisors with positive material for their performance appraisals.

Remember, 30 seconds is all it takes to make someone’s day with a little appreciation. Be sure to take every opportunity every day to say “thank you” to those around you.

Have you missed opportunities already today? It’s not to late …

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30 Customer Service Mistakes that Will Cost You Business

For the past 30 days, I’ve been keeping track of customer service flaws, mistakes, errors, and omissions I’ve experienced. Since I’ve always considered myself an equal-opportunity critic, I’ve also taken note of my own mistakes as a customer service provider to my clients.

When I first started this “project,” my goal was to identify an error each day that would likely cause a customer to either stop doing business with an organization, or at least consider it.

In the end, I easily averaged three to four customer service mistakes each day. After eliminating “repeat” errors, here are my top 30 mistakes accumulated in only 30 days.

Which customer service mistakes will you admit to, and more importantly, what are you going to do to avoid them in the future so you keep your customers?

1. Not returning calls at all

2. Not returning calls when your voicemail SAYS you will (by close of business, within 24 hours, etc.)

3. Not keeping promises or commitments

4. Making promises you KNOW you can’t keep

5. Trying to justify or rationalized poor service to your customer

6. Hiring (and/or keeping) staff with bad attitudes or poor service skills

7. Blaming the customer

8. Being inaccessible to your customers

9. Responding to complaints with excuses

10. Placing “policy” before “service”

11. Waiting until after a deadline or commitment date has passed to let your customer know there’s a problem or delay

12. Not following up

13. Not treating all customers equally (cost of services, adherence to policies/procedures, etc.)

14. Failing to listen

15. Skipping basic, common courtesies such as “please,” “thank you,” etc.

16. Blaming a coworker or employee to avoid taking responsibility for a mistake

17. Poor product or service knowledge

18. Poor eye contact

19. Bringing your “baggage” with you to work (fight with spouse translates to rudeness with customers)

20. Hitting customers over the head with baggage you’ve carried over from a previous customer interaction

21. Employees socializing with each other and ignoring customers

22. Inconsistency in any aspect of business

23. Keeping callers on hold for more than 60 seconds

24. Multiple telephone transfers

25. Criticizing or reprimanding employees in front of customers

26. Calling a customer, “Hun,” “Sweetie,” or another “term of endearment”

27. Holding an in-depth conversation with “sir,” or “ma’am” and not bothering to ask (and use) the person’s name

28. Presuming to call a customer by his or her first name

29. Having a long voicemail greeting or an automated, multi-optioned phone answering system

30. Having a long, automated, multi-optioned phone answering system that either disconnects the call when the caller presses zero or starts the whole announcement over again

If you have any other customer service mistakes you’d like to add to this list- comment and let me know!


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Stop Using Technology as an Excuse for Poor Writing

bad spelling school zoneWhether we blame it on auto complete, which I’ve done, or we include an automatic disclaimer on your cell phone delivered messages, stating, “This message was sent from my phone, so ignore any errors,” we need to stop blaming our various communication devices for the poor messages we send.

A recent survey found that spellcheckers and other technology have created an “autocorrect generation” of people who are unable to spell common words. Additionally, I think we’ve become so lazy that we don’t even bother to read what we’re sending before we hit “send.”

Spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and other aspects of good writing still matter. Technology is no excuse for poor writing.

Although the economy is improving, an error on a resume or in communication with a potential employer can cost the applicant an interview. A poorly written sales pitch can cause a customer to ignore your message, distrust your product, and lose faith in you and your organization. If you can’t proofread your own message, how well do you conduct quality control on your product?

As a college instructor teaching communication, I routinely receive texts and emails from students that look something like this:

deer ms castro,

i missed classand need to knw what the assinemet was. Thank you!!! chase

Although I suppose it’s possible the sender doesn’t realize there are any errors in the message, which is a completely separate and even bigger problem, I think it’s more likely that we’ve just come to a point that we think it’s acceptable to send such a message.

However, think about what that error-riddled text or email says about the kind of person you are?

Are you unintelligent? Lazy? Careless? Sloppy? Or are you just a poor speller? No matter the interpretation, it’s not going to be a positive one.

Let’s all stop being lazy and blaming our various devices for our messy messages. Take the time to look at what you’ve written before you hit send, and you can help avoid sending a negative message about your intelligence, abilities, or attention to detail.


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7 Tips for Harnessing the Power of Praise

I was once conducting a workshop when a high-level supervisor commented, “Why should I praise my employees, they get paid to do a job. Isn’t that enough?”

NO, it’s not!

praise your children for their chores tooAnd the same goes for children doing their chores; just because they’re supposed to do them, doesn’t mean they don’t need praise for a job well done (or done at all.)

Unfortunately, many people miss the opportunity to praise  because they assume others already knows what they’re doing is the right thing.

However, doesn’t it feel great to have someone notice your hard work? It doesn’t have to be a 30-minute speech to have an impact. A simple “noticing” is often enough.

The power of praise is simple: Good work that is noticed, is repeated.

If you see people doing good work, say something and they’ll likely continue to do good work. They may even ask for more to do!

Here are some simple tips for praising others that will make people’s day.


1. Be sure your words and nonverbals are sincere.

You have to say how much you mean it and your voice and body language have to show how much you mean what you’re saying.


put your praise in writing2. Praise in person and follow up in writing if needed.

Taking the time to seek someone out and provide face-to-face praise, shows others that what they did really matters to you. It also allows you to maximize your nonverbals to help show your sincerity. If the praise is for someone’s work performance, it’s a great idea to follow up with a note or email reiterating the praise. That way, the person you’ve praised can share the information with his or her boss, or include it as evidence of their good work on their performance review.


3. Use the person’s name.

Using the person’s name while praising adds an extra level of sincerity and personalizes the praise. When you say, “Paul, I appreciate …”, Paul will note that the praise is specifically about him and not some generic comment you make to everyone, such as “Keep up the good work dude.”


4. Be specific.

Tell people exactly what they did well so they’ll know what to repeat. Don’t just say, “good job,” say, “Thank you for emptying the dishwasher so quickly and without being asked,” or, “Thank you for staying an hour late to complete the weekly report.”


5. Share the positive results of the person’s good work.

Once you’ve said exactly what was done that was so great, be sure to share why it was so great. Therefore, the praise above regarding the dishwasher would continue with, “It really saves me time so that I can focus on getting a nice dinner ready for the whole family.” The praise for the employee who stayed late would continue with, “Your willingness to stay late to get it done early really benefits the customer so she’ll have all the information she needs tomorrow to make a good decision.”


6. Don’t diminish the praise with negative comments.

Don’t praise the employee for staying late and then add, “I’m glad you’re finally willing to do what it takes to get the job done.” Don’t go on to tell the child who emptied the dishwasher, “If you’d have done it yesterday,  we wouldn’t be eating dinner on paper plates tonight.”

Adding a criticism or negative editorial comment basically ruins the praise. Let the praise stand alone. If there are some lessons learned or you’d have preferred the person had acted sooner, faster, etc., then save those comments for another conversation.


7. Praise privately, as appropriate.

As much as some people appreciate public recognition, there are others who are embarrassed by it. Additionally, praising a child in front of another child or an employee in front of his or her peers can cause jealousy. Therefore, if you praise publicly, do so cautiously and don’t direct negative comments to the other parties. For example, don’t praise one child for emptying the dishwasher and then tell the other child, “Why can’t you be more like your sister by doing your chores without being asked?”







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Stop Being Self Centered and Apologize: 10 Reasons Why You Should

Why you should apologize

A recent headline on the Smithsonian website caught my attention:

People Who Don’t Apologize Probably Feel Better Than You 


The article described a research study where people were ask to recall their “wrongs” and  were then given the opportunity to send an email to the wronged party and either apologize, or refuse to apologize.

The result?

Those who sent the email refusing to apologize felt much better than those who confessed and took the blame or responsibility.

The researchers explained that refusing to apologize made people feel empowered. The feeling of empowerment then translated into greater self worth.

Here’s my problem with this whole thing …

Apologizing is not about you! If you think it is, you’re just self centered!

which is probably why those who refused to apologize felt greater self worth and empowerment.


Deciding to provide an apology for your actions requires you to first decide whether what you did was right and appropriate, or wrong and inappropriate.

If what you did was right and appropriately handled, you shouldn’t apologize– even if the other party feels badly about what you did. If a teacher grades a student’s paper and the student only gets 10 percent of the questions correct and fails the test, the teacher shouldn’t apologize. If a supervisor appropriately calls an employee aside and tactfully corrects the employees behavior, the supervisor shouldn’t have to apologize if the employee is embarrassed by the correction.

However, if what you’ve done is wrong or inappropriately handled, you don’t deserve to feel empowered or to have your self worth boosted by not apologizing. I’ve known people who feel this way and they may feel empowered, but they have no friends, their spouses are distant, and their children avoid them. I hope their empowerment and self worth are there for them when they’re in trouble or need someone, because no one else will be.


So when your wrong or you’ve handled something inappropriately …APOLOGIZE!

Stop worrying about yourself and how you’ll feel, and do the right thing for the person you’ve wronged and your relationship, here’s why:


1. Apologizing restores what you took away from the other person when you wronged them–THEIR self worth and power.

2. The person you’ve wronged will most likely feel better physically and emotionally when you apologize.
In fact, research shows that those who receive a sincere apology exhibit lowered blood pressure and heart rater after receiving one.

3. Apologizing shows empathy, caring, and respect for the other person.

4. Apologizing allows the other party to empathize with you as the wrong-doer.

5. When you apologize, you set a positive example and others will be more willing to admit their mistakes and apologize when they’re in the wrong.

6. Your relationships will grow closer due to this deeper level of self disclosure.
It’s easy to talk about things when you’re right, but when you admit your mistakes and flaws, you demonstrate a deeper level of trust in and caring for the other person.

6. Showing your flaws and vulnerability by apologizing will make you a more likable person.
People don’t like or trust “perfect” people. When you apologize, you admit and reveal your likable imperfection.

7. Once you’ve apologized, you’ll no longer seem like a threat to the other party.
When you’ve wronged someone, they’ll constantly be on guard for the next attack. When you apologize, you bring their guard back down.

8. Apologizing provides justice to the other party.
When they remain feeling wronged, they remain angry and focused on the past. An apology can allow the other party to let go of anger and move forward.

9. Apologizing brings healing to a relationship.
When you refuse to apologize, you allow the wrong to poison your relationship. The wrong leads to “pay back”, negative (or no) communication, grudges, and resentment, which will eventually destroy the relationship.

10. Apologizing is often the first step you can take toward asking for (and receiving) forgiveness, which we all need every now and again.


Next week, we’ll tackle how to (and how not to) apologize!



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10 Tips for Staying Relevant at Work

In today’s competitive job market, it’s increasingly important to do everything you can to get and stay competitive. From job knowledge and the latest trends, to technological savvy, employers have increasingly higher expectations of their employees.

Here are some tips for getting and staying relevant that will help you prove your value to your current or future employer:

1. Learn how to use the current technology and software used in your field.

1950s secretary using typewriterThe quickest way to make yourself irrelevant at work is being unable to do your job because you don’t know how to use the new version of Windows or field-specific software your company has purchased. If your employer doesn’t provide immediate training, find it elsewhere.

You can start by contacting the software manufacturer.


2. Attend trade shows and conferences to stay ahead of the trends.

Even if your organization doesn’t always adopt all the latest technology, just knowing what’s out there can make you a hero when a problem arises and you just happen to know of a tool, software, or other available option that will solve it. 


3. Read!

Read trade journals, news articles, and anything you can get your hands on related to your career field and the industry in which you work.

Try to carve out 30-60 minutes a week to read the latest industry or career news. If nothing else, at least conduct an Internet search for news. If you’re a Google user, you can even elect to receive alerts when subjects appear online. Set alerts for key words from your industry or career field, or the names of competitors (see #4 below).


4. Get to know your clients’ needs and verify them regularly.

Just as the world is constantly changing, and you’re going continually change to stay relevant, your clients and their needs will change over time. Most clients won’t tell you that you’ve become irrelevant to them or no longer meet their needs, they’ll just “vote with their feet.” Be sure to survey your clients to ask what you can do to help them achieve their goals. A great way to make it simple is to ask what they’d like you to stop, start, and continue doing for them.


5. Know what your competitors are innovating and what they’re doing for their customers. 

Not knowing the latest products your competitors are developing or offering and the services they provide their customers is another great way to make yourself and possibly your entire organization, irrelevant.

I’m not talking about corporate espionage or anything, a quick Internet search will likely give you the answers you need.


6. Take advantage of social media.

Join online professional groups and use the latest forms of social media to stay on top of things. While you’re at it, become a contributor to these groups and business pages and you might start creating an online name for yourself as an “expert” on certain topics.


stay relevant at work and keep your career on track7. Take advantage of training opportunities.

As a trainer, I know how much money organizations pay to offer excellent training to their employees.

Don’t just wait until the end of the year to cram in whatever training you can get into so you can get your CEU’s completed before you performance evaluation. As soon as your organization (or industry professional organization) posts its annual training calendar, sign up for relevant training.

Additionally, don’t just attend the minimum number of sessions to achieve your CEU requirement. Take advantage of as many quality training opportunities as your employer will allow you to attend.


8. Become a specialist.

Take some time to write down your greatest strengths or areas of interest/expertise and become the “go to” person for those subjects. Take extra care to stay up-to-date in these areas as well. Remember, the “go to” guy or gal is generally the first hired and last to be laid off.


9. Learn the long-term objectives of your organization and be the person that can help the company or department achieve them.

Similar to the rational for becoming a specialist, knowing your company’s goals for the future gives you the opportunity to become the person to help the company achieve them. It can also give you the opportunity to make decisions about your own future in the event the company’s objectives don’t match your own.


10. Become a great communicator.

Of course person who writes a communication blog would say you need to be a great communicator. However, none of the nine tips above will matter if you can’t share what you know. Additionally, year-after-year, surveys of industry leaders and managers find that communication skills are considered critical to workplace success. Take every opportunity to improve your oral, written, and nonverbal communication skills!


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Are Wimpy Words Wiping Out Your Personal Power?

They may seem innocent enough, but if wimpy words have made their way into your vocabulary (or have always been there), they’re likely zapping your personal power at work and at home. They tell people that you’re unsure of yourself, your ideas, and your position with the person to whom you’re speaking. 

If you want to project confidence and authority and wish people would listen to your ideas and suggestions, work on eliminating these wimpy words from your vocabulary.


1. Tag questions are short questions added to a statement of opinion in an attempt to soften the opinion and to leave open the possibility of rebuttal.

“It’s about time to start the meeting, isn’t it?

“I’d like to have pizza for lunch. Is that okay with you?

To strengthen your message, take a stand.  Say, “It’s 9 am, let’s start the meeting,” or “I’m going to get pizza for lunch. You’re welcome to join me if you’d like.”


2. Hesitations are the “uhs,” “ums,” and extended pauses that make you sound uncertain.

“It’s 9 am, uh, let’s go ahead and uh, start the meeting.”

“I think it’s um, and okay idea, um, if that’s what you want to do.”


To strengthen your message, eliminate the hesitations. If this has become a habit,  here’s a tip for breaking it:

Ask a friend or coworker to stop you every time you say “uh” or “um” and then start your conversation over from the beginning. With practice, you’ll get into a new habit of slowing down and allowing your brain to stay a step ahead of your mouth, thereby eliminating, or at least reducing, your hesitations.


3. Hedges are another form of uncertainty, similar to tag questions in that they indicate an unwillingness to take responsibility or take a stand. Additionally, they are often used to avoid hurting another person’s feelings by just coming out and saying “no.”

“I might be willing to try it.”

Maybe I could consider it.”

As with tag questions and hesitations, work on eliminating hedges if you want to strengthen your message. If you’re concerned about others’ reactions, including hurt feelings, you might explain why you disagree or why you’re saying no.


4. Qualifiers are adjectives or adverbs that weaken the words they preceded.

“I just need to talk with you about a little problem.”

“She’s really, really overwhelmed.”

“I think I can handle it.”
I’m not sure but, I think you should research a few more options.”


To strengthen your message, eliminate the qualifiers and leave all the rest.

“I need to talk with you about a problem.”

“She’s overwhelmed.”

“I can handle it.”

For this last statement, if you’re unsure whether you can handle whatever “it” is, then you should say so. “I have concerns about whether I’ll have time to get this done with my current workload.”


5. Courtesy titles or polite forms are terms such as “sir” or “ma’am.” (yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am)

I get a lot of pushback here in the South when I tell people that saying “yes sir,” or “no ma’am” makes them sound weak. I understand the rationale behind using these terms- courtesy, politeness, and respect. However, if you were to see two people talking and one was repeatedly saying, “yes sir,” and “no sir,” and the other person wasn’t, you’d know immediately which person was the one with more power and which one was subordinate.

To strengthen your message, eliminate the sirs and ma’ams except when speaking with your customers or your grandma/grandpa.


Eliminating weak words from your vocabulary will not only increase others’ confidence in you and what you have to say, but you’ll likely find your confidence in yourself will grow as you begin to speak with authority.


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Do People Resist Your Requests? Here’s Why

When it comes to things they don’t want to do, people generally don’t go quietly. They passively or actively resist, question, argue, and sometimes get angry. Even if they never open their mouths, they’re likely thinking, “I don’t have to do anything! Just watch me!”

Whether speaking to a customer, an employee, or to a child, beginning with, “You’ll have to …” “You must …” or “If you don’t …” is just asking for a fight. In fact, presenting a challenge through demands will likely only get you a challenge in return.

overcoming resistance to your requestsYou’ll have to help Susan; she’s new and doesn’t know how we do things around here.”

You must fill out this form first.”

If you don’t clean your room, there’s no way you’re going watch a movie.”

The odds that the response to any of these phrases will be, “You’re right. Thank you for pointing that out. I’ll get right on it,” are pretty slim.

Even if the people you’re speaking with don’t say the following, they’re likely thinking:

I don’t care that she’s new. Why should I help her?I’m too busy!

I don’t have to fill out anything. I’ll take my business elsewhere.

I’m not cleaning anything. Watch me!

To avoid resistance, many people make the mistake of turning a statement of direction into a question. The problem is, when you ask someone a question, you’re leaving it open to them to choose to comply… or not:

Supervisor: “Can you please help Susan learn to log on to the payroll system?”

Employee: “Sorry, I don’t have time.”


Clerk: “Can you please fill out this form?”

Customer: “No thanks.”

—————————————————————overcoming resistance to requests

Mother: “Will you please clean your room?”

Child: “I’m not really in a cleaning mood today—maybe next week.”


What will you do with responses like the ones above?

When there is no alternative or option, you shouldn’t imply there is one by asking a question. If the employee must help Susan, the form must be filled out, and the room must be cleaned before the child can watch a movie, you shouldn’t ask a question, making the request optional.

To avoid outright resistance and increase the odds that people will willingly do what you ask, you should change the wording of your statements by beginning them with phrasing such as:

“If you …”

“Once you …”

“When you …”

instead of, “You’ll have to …”


“If you can take 30 minutes to help Susan learn how to log on to the payroll system, she’ll be able to work more independtly and won’t need to interrupt you as much.”   


“Once you fill out this short form, I’ll have all the information I need to fill your order immediately.”   


“When you’ve cleaned your room, you can start watching the movies. I know it’s a lot of work, but since Grandma is coming this afternoon and staying in your room, we can’t have things on the floor that she’ll trip on.”


Rephrasing the statement doesn’t change the fact that the person needs to fill out the form, help the coworker, or clean her room. Rephrasing just makes the instructions less demanding and more palatable; it takes out the challenge and makes the listener feel more in control.

That is not to say that everyone will willingly do what you ask if you simply avoid demanding phrases. People may still resist. However, any resistance you face should be less intense or less frequent. Sometimes people will continue to resist because they just like to argue or they flat out disagree with the request. More often though, people resist because they don’t understand the rationale behind the request. That’s why the examples above are not just rephrased, but also provide an explanation of why the speaker is asking the listener to take certain actions. Although not required, an explanation goes a long way toward reducing resistance and gaining compliance.


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Six Tips for Better Nonverbal Communication

When I started the Practical Communication Blog, my second post was entitled, “What You Don’t Know About Nonverbal Communication Can Hurt You.” In it, I discussed the importance of understanding the powerful role nonverbal communication plays in our interactions.

Today, I want to share five nonverbal communication tips taken from my book “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.” 


pouty1. Match the message to the nonverbals.

Nonverbals that send messages that are consistent with the words you use will reinforce those words. If you, “mean it,” you have to look and sound like you mean it.

You can’t tell someone, “If you don’t come in on time tomorrow, I’ll need to write you up,” while looking at your shoes and whispering. You need to speak firmly and without hesitation,  look the person directly in the eye, and sound as if you mean what we’re saying.


2. Take note of thoughts and feelings before speaking.

If you want to sound confident, but feel terrified, at best you’ll come across as insecure. The mindset and emotion must match the words. The same goes for when you’re angry or upset about something, but want to discuss the problem calmly without sounding angry or upset. You’re not going to pull it off, because the anger will likely “leak” through your nonverbal communication. 


3. Realize that nonverbal communication is situational.

A strong tone meant to tell someone, “I mean it!” might be read as assertive by one person, and misinterpreted by another as anger or frustration. Additionally, nonverbals can take on different connotations depending on the situation. For example, the strong tone you might use when telling children at home, “I mean it,” may be completely inappropriate at work or in a social situation. Therefore, you may need to adjust our nonverbals for different situations and people.


4. Make a point of using nonverbals to strengthen your message.

In order to match your nonverbals to your words as outlined in #1 above, you have to consciously think about what nonverbals will strengthen your message BEFORE you open your mouth. Think about what facial expressions, gestures, posture, movement, vocal quality, etc., would reinforce the following messages:

- This is the third time this week you’ve been late. This can’t happen again.

- I really appreciate the time and effort you obviously put into this report.

- I love your idea. It’s the best I’ve heard all day.

Think about how different they would sound and how you would (should) look saying them.


5. Realize that nonverbal communication varies across cultures.

Americans view eye contact as a tremendous indicator of sincerity, honesty, and confidence. As such, most require eye contact in order to take interactions seriously.

Keep in mind though, the use of eye contact, and in fact many nonverbal messages, mean different things in different cultures. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to learn the nonverbal “rules” of every culture in the world. However, when interacting with others, you should consider that they might not operate under the same nonverbal rules as you do. 

Additionally, when you’re in social or work situations where you know you’ll be interacting with people from a different culture, it’s a good idea to become at least familiar with some of their nonverbal “customs” not only so you can better read them, but to allow you to adjust your nonverbals accordingly.


6. Pay attention to what others’ nonverbals are telling you, but be cautious about over-interpreting their meaning.


Just as your nonverbals communicate to others, their nonverbals are communicating to you. When talking with someone, even on the telephone, listen carefully to what his or her nonverbals are telling you. Are they sending contradicting messages from the person’s words? Do the nonverbals reveal something about how the person is feeling or what he or she may really think?

However, don’t make the mistake of believing that by reading others’ nonverbals you become a mind reader. Nonverbal behaviors can often have more than one interpretation. If in doubt about what someone’s behavior is telling you, ask or use the Perception Checking technique I shared in a previous post.

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8 Bad Listening Habits Everyone Should Break

In a previous post, I discussed how to Improve Your Listening in Five Easy Steps. However, sometimes you have to start with breaking some bad listening habits.

Do any of these sound like you?


1. Interrupting- You’re basically telling the other person that what they were trying to say is totally unimportant to you. Resist the urge. Bite your tongue if you have to and let the other person have his or her say.


2. Stage Hogging- If you dominate conversations, interrupt to take over, or constantly change the subject to talk about you and your interests, you’re a stage hog. Stage hogging can also be more subtle, coming in the form of “The Bigger Fish Syndrome.” This occurs when someone else tells a story and you just can’t let him or her have the moment. The fish you caught is bigger. The car wreck you had was worse. Your boss is more demanding. You get the picture. How do you stop becoming a stage hog? Start by taking the advice in step 1 above.


not_listening3. Pseudolistening- You’re smiling and giving the other person all the nonverbal signals that you’re paying attention but your brain is in Bermuda.

If you make a commitment to listen, then you should listen.

If you don’t want to or can’t listen now, then be honest and say so.

I’d rather have people tell me, “Now’s not a good time, can we talk later?,” than lie to me and say they’re listening when they’re not.


4. Apathetic/Insensitive listening- When you listen to words and don’t also listen to the speaker’s nonverbals, you’re probably being an insensitive listener.

You hear, “My cat fluffy died,” and disregard the devastated look on the speaker’s face, the tears, the obvious emotion in his or her voice, and reply, “Why don’t you just get another cat?,” or “Everyone’s gotta go sometime!”


5. Defensive listening- Most people have issues to which they’re sensitive. Defensive listening occurs when someone else brings up that issue and you react in a way that is out of proportion to the person’s comment. Think about the word “room” to a teenager. A parent says, “I want to talk about your room,” and the teen immediately goes into a tirade trying to justify why the room is a mess, when in fact, the parent may have wanted to discuss repainting or redecorating. Don’t allow your sensitivity to keep you from hearing something you need or might want to hear.


6. Allowing distractions- Your mouth says, “Yes I have time to talk,” but you continue to read e-mail, answer phone calls, look at your calendar, etc. If you make a commitment to a conversation, give the other party your undivided attention. Don’t complete other tasks. If those other task are so important, tell the other person so, and ask him or her if you can talk about their issue later.


7. Using poor listening body language- Listening involves more than just your ears. If a huge percentage of communication comes from a person’s body language, you’ve got to “listen” to that with your eyes. Eye contact is a critical component of listening to others.

Additionally, the nonverbal messages you send to the speaker can tell him or her that you’re interested and engaged, or bored and self-absorbed. Here are some additional nonverbal tips for good listeners:

– Look at the speaker

– Orient your body toward the speaker

– Lean in to the speaker to show interest/involvement

– Be still. Not like a statue, but don’t fidget, rock in your chair, etc.

– “React” to what you’re hearing. Your facial expression and body movements should show the speaker you “get it.” If the speaker says, “The building is on fire,” or, “I’m really concerned about this,” there should be some reaction on your part- not a blank stare or plastered-on smile.


8. Not putting on the “right” listening ears- There are many different types of listening, from appreciative listening, which is what you do when you listen to music, to critical listening, which is the analytical/evaluative listening you should be doing when you buy a used car. You can’t do the right kind of listening if you don’t know the goal of your listening.

If in doubt, ask the speaker, “What can I do for you? Are you looking for advice, empathy, or just a sounding board?” I know it sounds crazy, but if you don’t, you’re likely to give the wrong answer. People who are looking for empathy  generally doesn’t appreciate a response that begins with, “Well, what you should have done was…” In turn, people looking for advice will walk away dissatisfied with a response such as, “Gee, I’m sorry. I guess you have an important decision to make. Good luck.”


Do you have any other bad listening habits that you’re brave enough to confess?





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