Your Side of Successful Communication

It’s back to school time and a reminder that we should all stop working so hard and start working smarter. Stop sawing and sharpen the saw.

When it comes to challenges in the workplace, communication is an area that seems to impact just about everyone. More specifically: communication breakdowns.

A great book on the subject is I Hear You: Repair Communication Breakdowns, Negotiate Successfully, and Build Consensus . . . in Three Simple Steps by Donny Ebenstein.

In the book Ebenstein discusses the behavioral change needed in you in order to move from being stuck to unstuck; the importance of shifting your perspective to really understand the other side; looking from the outside to be more objective of your perspective; and how to use role-play to practice these skills so they become second nature.

As you probably noticed, it is all focused on what you can do to fix these communication breakdowns, even though our tendency to blame others for this breakdown.

Unlike choosing our friends, however, we rarely select those we work with. And even if it is others who are responsible for the breakdown, we need to find a way to communicate effectively with them.

Using the steps outlined in this book, you can learn how making small behavioral changes in how you interact can dramatically shift the conversation.

For example, an important aspect for improving communication is to give legitimacy to the other person’s point of view. This can be difficult, but it is essential for bridging the gap, truly understanding the other’s perspective, and to avoid appearing condescending towards them.

Giving legitimacy to another’s perspective means fully listening and demonstrating that you really heard what they said by paraphrasing back. There is no substitute for this and it really enables the other to trust that they have been heard.

Another important point is to put your self in the other person’s shoes. Not just from on the surface, but by fully understanding how you would feel if you saw things from their perspective.

These ideas aren’t revolutionary, of course, but actually implementing them into the way we interact is rare. You may find the whole practice awkward and people may bristle when they first witness your new behavior, but in the end it will help restore trust and reduce misunderstandings.

The speed of business is increasing faster and faster, and this means it’s vital that we take time to stop, reflect on what we’re doing, acknowledge our mistakes, and change course if needed and/or redirect our time and resources. It is also paramount that we continue learning.

Resolving communication breakdowns may be one of the most common and yet fixable problems in every workplace. Waiting for others around you to change is foolish. You need to actively do your part to overcome the impasse.

This means stepping up to the challenge by investing your time and energy into demonstrating your compassion and openness to truly hear and empathize with the other’s perspective. It means being courageous enough not to take things personally and try to stay focused on the bigger picture.

Those who want to stay competitive in business should always be on the lookout for ways to improve their skills and value to the organization. If you find communication breakdowns are impacting your effectiveness, read Ebenstein’s book and implement this strategy to mend communication breakdowns.

Appreciation for a Job Well Done

Employee engagement is by far the single most important HR challenge for organizations because it impacts recruitment, retention, absenteeism and productivity.

In fact, according to a 2011 Gallup poll, the annual cost of lost productivity on the U.S. economy due to actively disengaged employees is $370 billion!

And finding a way to improve employee engagement can be as simple as showing appreciation for a job well done.

According to a 2013 survey of 803 human resource employees by the Society of Human Resource Management and Globoforce, direct supervisors have a great deal of power over employee engagement. Here are the responses from this question:

“In your professional opinion, which of the following items have the most impact on employee engagement at your organization?”

  • Appreciation by direct supervisor                                                  71%
  • Opportunity to advance                                                                  41%
  • Salary and bonus                                                                            36%
  • Ability to be effective in one’s job                                                   35%
  • Company’s care for employees’ well-being                                    30%
  • Confidence in executive leadership                                                29%
  • Relationship with peers                                                                   22%
  • Belief in company’s mission                                                            18%
  • Appreciation by peers                                                                      11%
  • Job title                                                                                               4%
  • Other                                                                                                  2%


The same survey found that only 26% of employees are satisfied with the level of recognition they receive for doing a good job at work.

One of the reasons for this is that all too often it is only during an annual performance review that we acknowledge the contributions of our employees. This is short sighted.

Annual performance reviews are too infrequent to be useful for giving valuable feedback—both positive and negative. Giving specific praise and actionable criticism is often far removed from the examples it may point to. In addition, these reviews are often limited to the perspective of an immediate supervisor rather than involve feedback from peers and other employees.

Most employees and their supervisors dislike the entire annual review process so much that they are usually late and are completed only after continual hounding by human resource departments.

As a result, these reviews serve primarily as an opportunity to negotiate promotions and raises rather than a constructive learning and trust-building opportunity.

More that half (51%) of the HR people surveyed say their organization’s existing performance review process needs to be completely overhauled.

Obviously, there is a need to change the way we are seeking to engage our employees. With that in mind, here are three suggestions for raising employee engagement through showing greater appreciation: 

  • Give specific genuine praise every time it’s warranted. Don’t let an opportunity go by without thanking your employee for the extra effort or extraordinary results they achieve. It’s not just about the money.
  • Celebrate individual contributions. Don’t think that by singling out individuals you are slighting others. Every time someone on your team does something special, be sure to acknowledge it publicly in your meetings.
  • Change performance reviews so they are a continual process rather than once a year event. Use every one-on-one interaction to deliver direct and specific feedback on performance so there are no surprises. Acknowledge recent accomplishments and set new

While I’m not suggesting you’ll be able to turn an actively disengaged employee into a fully engaged employee using these suggestions, I do believe you will raise overall engagement so that your people will feel their contributions are appreciated.

Greater appreciation will stir motivation and that will lead to greater engagement. Showing appreciation may be the most cost-effective means of increasing employee engagement.

Higher Engagement by Meeting Employee Needs

Employee engagement is a vital component of successful organizations. Nothing helps spur innovation and raise productivity like a highly engaged group of people who are passionately involved in what they are doing.

“Because they [employees] care more, they are more productive, give better service, and even stay in their jobs longer,” writes Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement 2.0. “All of that leads to happier customers, who buy more and refer more often, which drives sales and profits higher, finally resulting in an increase in stock price.”

Kruse sites 28 research studies showing a correlation between employee engagement and sales, service, quality, safety, retention and total shareholder return.

Employee engagement is about a person’s emotional commitment to the organization and its goals. Raising this emotional commitment cannot be done through some generic training course or corporate mandate.

Instead, the organization must appeal to the employees’ needs and meet these needs with specific leadership skill development.

Every employee has basic human needs that must be met in order for them to feel passionate about the work they do. When this need is met with specific leadership skills, the organization will benefit from more engaged employees.

The Passion Pyramid identifies five human needs that help ignite passion and the accompanying leadership skills required to create conditions to satisfy each need. It also describes the outcome or payoff to the organization for satisfying each need.

These human needs are:

  1. Be respected
  2. Learn and grow
  3. Be an “insider”
  4. Do meaningful work
  5. Be on a winning team

As I described in an earlier post, what employees say they want can vary a great deal from what managers think employees want. Many of these same human needs for increasing employee engagement were among the top ten things employees say they want. Specifically: 

  1. Full appreciation for work done (Be respected)
  2. Feeling “part” of things (Be an “insider”)
  3. Interesting work (Do meaningful work)
  4. Promotion/growth opportunities (Learn and grow)

Tying these human needs with specific leadership skill development can then help ignite the passion necessary to raise engagement. With intentional and orderly intervention, these leadership skills can meet the employees’ needs.

The leadership skills are also in a specific order as no team can be effective without building upon a foundation of trust. Coaching, counseling and mentoring can help with each individual’s specific growth opportunities and blind spots. And no organization can expect employees to be engaged without inclusiveness.

Aligning teams with the organization’s purpose, values and vision ties intrinsic motivation with extrinsic rewards. Finally, building a high performance team requires the foundation of all the preceding skills as well as a shared purpose and bond to succeed together.

These leadership skills help meet employees’ needs, which can help ignite the passion necessary to raise employee engagement in your organization. Isn’t it worth the investment to bring out the best in your employees so they can bring out the best in your organization?

Resilience: A Recipe for Success

We all face adversity in life and, like the proverbial hand we’re dealt, the most important thing is what we do next.

Effectively bouncing back (or forward) from a failure, tragedy or loss determines our resilience, and that resilience may contribute directly to our ability to succeed.

In David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, author Malcolm Gladwell investigated why so many people at the top of their profession were found to have deprivation and struggle earlier in their lives. Could it be that the very adversity they faced was in fact the catalyst to help them reach such heights?

Among other things, Gladwell found that those who struggle early in life may have an advantage at taking on challenges others shy away from.

And in a new book titled Supersuvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success, authors David B. Feldman and Lee Daniel Kravetz illustrate how people who have suffered great trauma and tragedy are able to accomplish extraordinary feats.

These “supersurvivors” are people who dramatically transformed their lives after surviving a trauma by “accomplishing amazing things or transforming the world for the better.”

The authors learned through interviews with these supersurvivors that certain delusions can be healthy, forgiveness can be good for the body, and reflecting on death can ultimately help lead to a better life.

The authors provide five key characteristics of these supersurvivors:

1. Have a sense of “grounded hope”
Better than positive thinking, supersurvivors adopt a way of thinking called “grounded hope,” which the authors describe as “an approach to life involving building one’s choices on a firm understanding of reality.” This provides for a foundation for supersurvivors to bravely ask “now what?” rather than wait for something to happen.

2. Are delusional, but in a good way
Great ideas are often considered delusional at first and yet those who are determined enough to persevere through ridicule or skepticism are the one’s we hold in such high esteem for bringing great ideas to fruition. Supersurvivors often need to push back on those well-meaning people around them in order to thrive. Without some delusional thinking, these supersurvivors may find recovery intimidating or even impossible.

3. Are willing to be helped by others
Trauma can create feelings of isolation and may make survivors reject the very people who most want to help. Remaining open to the support of friends and family can result in positive emotions, which can ultimately make you stronger. “The people in our lives really matter,” Feldman and Kravetz write. “Many studies have shown that aspects of social support appear to provide a buffer to the emotional effects of trauma and other negative circumstances, helping to protect some people from mental health symptoms that haunt others.”

4. Know the power of forgiveness
Though many traumas are man-made, moving beyond feelings of hatred, anger and resentment can help people move on with their lives and rebuild inner strength. It is this ability to forgive that enables us to fully accept what has happened and move forward. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “Without forgiveness there is no hope.” Supersurvivors don’t hold grudges, and they forgive themselves and others.

5. Find strength in something larger than themselves
For several supersurvivors featured in Feldman and Kravetz’s book, faith was a determining factor in helping to overcome trauma. Some feel God literally called out to them, while others find a set of beliefs help ease suffering. Whatever their belief system, these people are able to tap into the power of a connection with something larger than themselves. “For some, religious beliefs and practices are comforting, buffer the damaging effects of trauma, and galvanize personal growth,” Feldman and Kravetz write. “Faith seemed to help people cope and to strive for better days, even when a logic dictated the opposite.”

Resilience is an extremely important leadership quality as it determines how one responds after a crisis. This resilience can indicate whether a leader truly has what it takes to lead an organization through challenging times.

Is there some setback, trauma, failure or loss that has held you back? Or did it propel you forward instead? Don’t underestimate the power and transcendence of resilience.

Is Your Personality Impacting Your Career?

How much is your personality contributing to or detracting from success in your career?

One’s personality can directly impact their career because it can attract or repel other people. This matters in all relationships and it definitely impacts interpersonal relations in the workplace.

Have you been told of specific behaviors in annual reviews, 360 assessments or one-on-one conversations that are directly keeping you from being considered for a promotion or a raise? Are you unable to secure professional references that can attest to your personality as anything other than an asset to your suitability for a job?

If the answer to either of these is affirmative, you may want to consider gaining insight into the specifics of your personality and seeking advice on how to go about changing them.

The Big Five personality model divides personality into five broad categories: openness (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious), conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless), agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached), neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident), and extroversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Within each of these are specific traits or behaviors.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being oriented to either side in each of these categories, but some are more important than others in certain occupations. For example, a sales representative who is detached and reserved is unlikely to do as well as one who is friendly and outgoing.

It should also come as no surprise that studies have found that people who are more conscientious do better both in school and at work. Those who score high on agreeableness and low on neuroticism also tend to have more satisfying and stable relationships.

And extroversion was related positively to salary level, promotions, and career satisfaction while neuroticism was related negatively to career satisfaction, according to The Five-Factor Model of Personality and Career Success by Scott E. Seibert and Maria L. Kraimer.

According to Brent W. Roberts, PhD in what he calls the Maturity Principle, we all naturally become more conscientious and less neurotic as we age from 20 to 65. Most of us also tend to become more agreeable, more responsible and more emotionally stable as we age.

It turns out personality is about 50% innate and 50% learned, according to Christopher Soto, a research psychologist. This means you have a great deal of control over changing it should you decide to do so.

An emotional intelligence assessment can help zero in on your overall self-awareness. Specifically, it can measure your ability for self-reflection, self-regulation and empathy while in stressful workplace situations. This greater awareness can then help you figure out what you may want to do about it.

Changing any behavior should be done in small steps and takes discipline and dedication. Enlisting others or even a leadership coach can be helpful in order to give you the support you need to be successful.

Though the tendency is to focus on education, training and experience in order to move forward in our careers, it is often our behavior, communication style, and overall personality that may be worthy of consideration.

Better understanding how your personality contributes to or diminishes your relationships at work, can help you decide whether or not this is something you want to change. Though it’s difficult, we are all capable of changing our behavior. And it could make all the difference in your success at work and elsewhere.

How ENTJs Can Become Better Leaders

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is often used to improve overall performance in organizations. This tool can help workers gain self-awareness, improve emotional intelligence, and better understand how they—as well as those around them—operate in the workplace.

No one of the 16 types identified in the MBTI are better than any other, although there are studies that suggest some types are better suited for certain jobs than others.

A good many of my executive coaching clients tend to be in the ENTJ (extrovert, intuitive, thinking, judger) quadrant, which is quite common among leaders.

ENTJs make good leaders because of their innate ability to direct groups of people, according to Isabel Briggs Myers and Peter B. Myers, authors of Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type. They tend to be self-driven, motivating, energetic, assertive, confident and competitive. ENTJs are unusually influential and organized, yet they may judge others by their own tough standards.

Famous ENTJs include Aristotle, Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Margaret Thatcher, Jack Welch and Bill Gates. ENTJs are also the most rare of the 16 types representing just 2% to 5% of males and 1% to 3% of females in the United States.

A study called “Personality Type in Leadership” by the Center of Creative Leadership found that, although the extrovert/introvert and intuitive/sensation preference were equally represented, thinking and judging were more predominate in leaders. This does not necessarily mean that feeling and perceiving are not valuable traits in leaders, however, the structure and values of most organizations today tend to favor logical and decisive behaviors.

ENTJs are primarily concerned with making things happen and may not fully appreciate that other people may take a little longer to understand or may not be as forthcoming or direct, and assume that silence means agreement.

The ENTJ doesn’t generally understand emotions, preferring to deal with issues as problems or concepts. Therefore, trying to appeal to the ENTJs emotional side may not be the best way to resolve issues.

There are important differences between thinkers and feelers, and ENTJs would do well to keep these in mind in order to improve relationships with those who are identified as feelers instead of thinkers. These include:

  • Feelers tend to be sympathetic, while thinkers focus on logic.
  • Feelers are more interested in people than things.
  • Feelers are more people-oriented, responding more easily to people’s values.
  • Feelers recognize and acknowledge their own as well as others’ emotions and know that this is strength, not a weakness.


ENTJs are more likely to analyze and apply logic with interpersonal issues, which can annoy and puzzle the feeling types. No matter what the problem, ENTJs need to factor in the human element in decision-making. They would do well to consider consulting other types for their opinions before making a decision. And they should take note of their own needs and feelings.

All of this, of course, will slow down the ENTJ’s decisiveness, but in the long term will serve them well.

Though judgers may view perceivers as aimless drifters, they need to understand that perceivers simply want more information before making decisions. In addition:

  • What the judger does aloud, the perceiver does within.
  • Perceivers can make decisions, but their inclination is to focus on gathering information in order to keep their options open.
  • Perceivers see structure as more limiting than enabling.
  • Perceivers are more tolerant of other people’s differences and will adapt to fit into whatever the situation requires.


ENTJs must develop their perceptive ability and suspend the judgment function just long enough to give perception a chance. They must continue to use judging on themselves, but not on other people. If ENTJs let thinking-judgment dominate every aspect of their lives, their feeling will be too suppressed to be of any use.

If an unexpected explosion of temper shows up, there’s a good possibility that the ENTJ needs to allow space for feeling now and again. This will provide a constructive outlet before reaching the boiling point.

Though the ENTJ preference is quite common in leaders, these people need to recognize the importance of the feeling and perceiving functions both in themselves as well as others in the workplace. A preference should be only that and finding a balance within oneself will help ENTJs grow into even stronger leaders. Appreciating the preference others have for feelings and perceiving will also help them find value in those who possess these gifts.

Workplace Engagement Through Continual Learning

Maximizing your investment in today’s economy should be a no-brainer. However, when it comes to the selection of higher education, there seems to be way too much emphasis on which university to attend rather than the quality of the professors and a passion for a particular field of study.

Having a prestigious university name to list on your resume may get you the job interview, but finding inspirational mentors and holding a passion for a particular subject matter that engages you to continue learning throughout life may be much more important to thriving in your career and life.

The college years are undoubtedly the most optimal time to learn, however, they should serve merely as a launching pad for a lifetime of continual learning. To best compete in the 21st century job market, it is vital that you can demonstrate active learning as an integral part of living.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal described a Gallup survey of 30,000 college graduates of all ages and all 50 states, which found that elite universities don’t necessarily produce better workers or overall happiness. Instead, it was the inspiring professors—wherever they may have taught—who made the biggest difference.

“Individual traits matter more than where you went,” says Stacy Dale, an economist at Mathematica, a New Jersey research firm. “It’s a lot more important what you learn later in life than where you got your undergraduate degree.”

The WSJ poll didn’t measure graduates’ earnings or earning potential. Instead Gallup’s research was based upon their 30 years of data that demonstrates the people who are most happy and engaged at work are also the most productive.

Gallup found that success for the people who are most engaged and happy was determined by “meaningful connections with professors or mentors” and the significant investments these people made in long-term academic projects and extracurricular activities.

Among other findings, the poll found that only 39% of graduates said they felt engaged at work and just 11% stated they were “thriving” in aspects of life such as financial stability, strong social network and a sense of purpose.

The strongest correlation for well being emerged with graduates described as thriving in that they were three times as likely to have described feelings of being emotionally supported by a professor or mentor while in school. Those people who described “experiential and deep learning” while in school, were twice as likely to be engaged in their work.

We should all recognize the importance of continued learning in our field of study, and that following passionate leaders and mentors who can inspire us will keep us engaged in the work and perhaps increase our overall happiness.

Keeping our brains active in the work we do enables us to continually exercise our creativity and ingenuity in solving problems and innovating. This also keeps us more fully engaged and it is what companies need most in their workers.

Employers should recognize that hiring based on the prestigious name recognition of universities should not out-weigh the overall candidate’s suitability for a job based on his or her abilities to engage in the work and continual learning on the job.

Getting a potential candidate to speak about a professor or mentor who inspired them may reveal more about their productivity potential than anything else.

I have learned that as my children approach their high school completion, the college campus tours we take will now require a better analysis of individual professors in particular subject areas and perhaps trying to sit in on their classes. And the elite universities will have to do more to convince us that we should spend our money with them based on their reputation alone.


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