Five communications lessons that stop fear in its tracks

Personal Brand - Five Communication Lessons

If your efforts at communication come from a place of fear and reaction, you’ll struggle to get ahead.

Many years ago I worked with a young client who really wanted to move up in the organization, but was having a hard time being seen as a professional, or “management material.” She received feedback from her boss regularly that he liked her work but her colleagues didn’t take her seriously, and while she had great results with her projects, she seemed to have to work twice as hard to get anything done. She wasn’t an assertive, outgoing or dominating person and was sometimes labeled as “weak.”

Her biggest frustration was her inability to communicate her intentions effectively. She found this reality to be especially true at work. There were times when she felt invisible. She would have a better time talking one-on-one with people but not in groups where the culture was that you had to be “aggressive” to make your point, especially on phone calls (and I had been on conference calls with her where everyone was yelling at the same time). That wasn’t her style, but that was fine. She learned that she could own her communication style as long as it was effective and worked within the boundaries she set for herself. Owning her communication style helped her develop her professional image and work more effectively on her projects, it gave her a sense of purpose and, most importantly, it empowered her to create situations where she could make decisions that were right for her.

Here are five reminders of communication lessons intended to enhance your professional image and relationships:

To communicate effectively, tell them what you want, not what you don’t want

It’s a simple concept but very difficult to put into action. If you have spent most of your time saying no and telling people what you don’t want to do, it can be difficult to look at your environment and imagine what you do want. By changing your perspective, however, you start to create solutions for yourself, where only problems existed before.

The next time you hear yourself tell someone what you don’t want, take a minute and ask yourself what you do want instead and then communicate that. By manifesting a new reality for yourself, you will start to see people respond more positively to you. Make a note of what happens when you do this for a week and then a month.

Small communication corrections are better than one big blowout

This can be hard for those of us who have difficulty thinking fast in challenging situations. If you missed the opportunity for immediate correction, a simple fix is to circle back with the person who is challenging you and remind him or her that the behavior bothers you. Warnings are an effective way to set boundaries and let someone know that there is a limit to the amount of bad behavior you will tolerate.

For example, you attend meetings and are constantly interrupted by the same person each time. That person comes off as dismissive and rude to you directly in front of other people. Stopping the behavior dead in its tracks is an effective way to regain control, and telling that person immediately is the best way to stop the behavior and set boundaries, politely but assertively.

If you miss the opportunity during the meeting, however, all is not lost. Scheduling a meeting right away with the offending team member and your boss to remind both of them that you are a valuable member of the team goes a long way in reestablishing your authority, even if you are the newest and youngest person on the team. It also gives you an opening to address any grievance or miscommunication that may have happened between you. Many times we are not aware that our behaviors rub others the wrong way.

Respond, don’t react … which is easier said than done

Over the past 20 years in business, I have been in meetings where the following behavior occurred: throwing office equipment to make a point; throwing a shoe after pounding on the table to get attention; tossing a chair and making threating statements; actually announcing “I will kill you” to someone making a counterpoint; and my favorite, announcing “I hate everyone” during a board meeting.

It is never advantageous to behave in the manner listed above. In today’s business world, this type of reaction will get you fired, transferred (if you’re lucky) or demoted.

A brief understanding of how our brains work is required here. The pre-frontal cortex is the area of the brain that allows us to respond to difficult situations with forethought. The limbic part of the brain is considered the home of the primitive emotional reaction. It’s also a great explanation of the basics of emotional intelligence. You are either the person who loses control at meetings to get your way (limbic), or you are the person who speaks in a calm, purposeful manner to assert yourself (pre-frontal cortex). With practice, you can be the latter. And if your limbic reactions are the result of repressed anger, a little bit of therapy may be in order.

Positive reinforcement goes a long way in healthy communication

This behavior sets you up for success every time. Constantly telling someone what they did wrong or only correcting them when they screw up creates a negative and hostile working environment. You may think you are giving valuable feedback, but the person on the receiving end of constant criticism becomes deflated and eventually disengages from what was once a meaningful and fulfilling job.

Everyone wants to be successful at work. Pointing out when someone did something right creates a sense of pride. It also helps employees develop their strengths. According to Gallup’s recent study, State of the American Manager, people work harder, engage more and show more creativity when they feel valued and part of a positive work environment.

If negative feedback is necessary, framing it between two positives (like a sandwich) takes the sting out of the message without derailing the team member. For example, “Betty, your work on project A was terrific. Project B fell apart near the end. Let’s discuss some strategies to get you back on track. I see great potential here.”

Get outside your head

If you’re not sure what’s going on, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s not always what it seems to be and it’s NEVER about you, even if it feels that way.

I worked with a client once who had a bad habit of shutting down when conversations became difficult. Talking on the phone or in meetings was fine until he thought his ideas were being challenged. Suddenly, he would resort to only using email, then only text message or voicemail, avoiding meetings and creating a vortex of miscommunications, misunderstandings and missed opportunities. He would get so far inside his head with thoughts of mistrust, challenges and offenses that it created havoc for his team, and he did this all to himself.

By working with him to address his trust issues, we were able to find a workable solution. By giving him a checklist of questions to ask himself whenever he felt he was being challenged, we were able to create a tool that kept him grounded and at the moment until the feelings of mistrust passed.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • “Is this about me?”
  • “Is the person appearing to challenge me a trusted colleague with a history of supporting me in the past?”
  • “What is the worst that could happen if I get on the phone or schedule a meeting to express my concerns?”

Communication issues arise out of fear that:

  • The other person doesn’t like us.
  • We will be embarrassed in front of other people.
  • Our teammates don’t respect us.
  • Someone we admire might think we are stupid.

These are all valid fears, but until you talk to that person to find out what’s really going on, you will just be living in fear and that’s a terrible place to be.



For further reading, check out the following article:

State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, Gallup


Christina Holloway is an executive coach and business coach. She helps executives and entrepreneurs grow their companies faster, create results-driven teams, and increase profitability. She has been featured in ForbesThe Huffington PostAddicted2Success and Fast Company. If you’re interested in working with Christina, take a look at her strategy sessions and contact her to get started.

Christina Holloway