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Communication skills exercises for business and life

Without effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, whatever awesomeness you have inside you is invisible to the world. You might as well not have it. Other people will nearly always be attracted to people with better social skills.

With effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, you can showcase your inner awesomeness to your heart’s content. You can attract other people, whether for business, personal, or whatever reason you want. People want to do business with you and invite you to join them because they want people around who communicate well.

Anybody can improve their communication skills, including you

People today sometimes think I was naturally born socially adept. I’m flattered, but I remember years of sitting in the library on Friday nights, not invited to the parties I could hear across the street. Or, if at parties, bars, or social events, wondering how everybody already knew each other since, because I didn’t know how to meet someone new, I figured nobody else did. I could only meet people if I had classes with them, worked with them, or someone introduced me.

I put a lot of work into improving my social skills. One of this page’s core premises is that changing your behavior influences your life. If you don’t know how to change your behavior, you can’t. Personally, I needed low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on what to do to start changing my behavior. With practice, meaning after making many mistakes, I improved my skills.

This series gives low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on communication skills

This series gives instructions useful for someone like I was. I don’t claim to have the best communications skills in the world, but they’re a lot better now than before and I didn’t do anything you can’t.

Click on the Table of Contents to the left to browse through the entries in this series.

I also present this series as a two-hour to full-day workshop you can book me for.

Improving your communication skills improves your life. Do it.

Communication skills exercises, part VIII: breaking the ice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

For many people, meeting someone at all is a major challenge. Today’s exercise gives you an all-purpose introduction you can use in all circumstances. It’s simple, requires no preparation, won’t come off like a line, and starts conversations.

I’m not saying it solves everything. You still have to keep the conversation going, which the previous exercises are for. But, assuming you’re reasonably well-groomed and your body language doesn’t shock people, no one will think ill of you for introducing yourself this way.

The principles

People like knowing that you care about them, that you aren’t just approaching for your own purposes, and that you are reasonably socially aware. Approaching with a standard line that has nothing to do with them. Even “Hi, my name is Josh,” however acceptable and innocuous, says nothing meaningful about yourself and nothing about them.

This introduction shows you thought about them for at least a moment before approaching. It also puts them in the foreground without putting them on the spot. Who doesn’t like other people appreciating them?

I call the introduction

I saw you X and had to say Y.

The introduction requires you to observe and think to use it. You fill in X and Y and adjust the rest accordingly. Generally try to use something behavior-related for X, rather than appearance. Some examples,

  • At a trade show booth: “I saw you working at company X, and had to say, I’ve heard about them in the news lately.”
  • At a cocktail party: “I saw you speaking to the host and had to ask how you know him/her too”
  • After a class: “I heard you ask the professor that question and had to ask how you thought to ask it. It got me thinking.”
  • To someone you’re attracted to at a bar: “I saw you smiling so much I had to say I like when people come out to enjoy themselves. Not everybody does.”
  • To someone high up in your corporation: “I read that policy memo you sent out and had to say it resonated with some observations I had.”

I made these up just sitting here, imagining hypothetical scenarios. I’m not saying they’ll knock the ball out of the park, but they get the job done: after you say them you are in conversation and the other person thinks you’re at least reasonably competent. You can start using the other exercises to keep the conversation going. In person you have more to work with because you can see their behavior and remark on details.

Done well, the person feels you approached them because something about them — preferably their behavior — led you to believe they are worth approaching. You know why? Because it did! The more you are able to communicate what led you to want to talk to them, the more it works — because the more genuine you are.

Here’s an example for when you’re bored at an event

  • I saw you standing here thinking. I was too. Might as well talk about the event. What were you thinking about?” (be ready to share what you were thinking about if they don’t answer)

The exercise

Since most people, the first time the do this, talk about the person’s shirt, hair, or something else about the other person’s appearance, the exercise is to find things related to their behavior — something they did or chose, not how they are. You can make appearance things behavior related by connecting them to the choice behind them.

  • I saw you chose to wear orange. I almost never do. I had to say I’m impressed with pulling it off. Are you good with fashion?
  • I saw you dressed as sharp as anyone here. I had to say I wish I had thought ahead too.

The exercise is this: as you go about your day, practice coming up with what you would say to any person. At first, you don’t have to approach them, just get in the habit of coming up with things people would appreciate hearing without being obsequious.

I did the exercise just now. I walked to my window and imagined my “I saw you X and had to say Y” introductions to three people:

  • I saw you walking with a friendly bounce to your step on a rainy day. I had to say it brightened my day. Can I ask what put you in a good mood?
  • I saw you have one of the biggest umbrellas I’ve seen. I had to ask where you got it. Most people have such small ones.
  • I saw you taking a picture of that fire house. I had to ask what about it got you to take out your camera.

Walking on a Manhattan street, you could do this exercise dozens of times in a few minutes, but you don’t have to be. You can do it watching television or a movie. On a subway you could practice a hundred times between two stops. At a cocktail party you could imagine what you would say to each person and be ready to talk to anyone.

Follow up

The follow-up is obvious: approach a few people with the introductions you imagine. Start off easy. For example, you can practice it with people you already know. Or you can do it with people you were already comfortable approaching.

You right here right now

Look around you. Imagine how you might introduce yourself to each of them with “I saw you X and had to say Y.” If no one is around you, look out the window or browse the web for a video of people and imagine what you’d say to each.

On a side note, before writing this post, I thought “I saw you X and had to say Y” was common parlance since I didn’t make it up, though I don’t remember where I first heard it. I was surprised that searching the web for “I saw you X and had to say Y” with the quotes returned zero links. Without the links turned up nothing relevant.

Communication skills exercises for business and life

Without effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, whatever awesomeness you have inside you is invisible to the world. You might as well not have it. Other people will nearly always be attracted to people with better social skills.

With effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, you can showcase your inner awesomeness to your heart’s content. You can attract other people, whether for business, personal, or whatever reason you want. People want to do business with you and invite you to join them because they want people around who communicate well.

Anybody can improve their communication skills, including you

People today sometimes think I was naturally born socially adept. I’m flattered, but I remember years of sitting in the library on Friday nights, not invited to the parties I could hear across the street. Or, if at parties, bars, or social events, wondering how everybody already knew each other since, because I didn’t know how to meet someone new, I figured nobody else did. I could only meet people if I had classes with them, worked with them, or someone introduced me.

I put a lot of work into improving my social skills. One of this page’s core premises is that changing your behavior influences your life. If you don’t know how to change your behavior, you can’t. Personally, I needed low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on what to do to start changing my behavior. With practice, meaning after making many mistakes, I improved my skills.

This series gives low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on communication skills

This series gives instructions useful for someone like I was. I don’t claim to have the best communications skills in the world, but they’re a lot better now than before and I didn’t do anything you can’t.

Click on the Table of Contents to the left to browse through the entries in this series.

I also present this series as a two-hour to full-day workshop you can book me for.

Improving your communication skills improves your life. Do it.

Communication skills exercises, part VIII: breaking the ice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

For many people, meeting someone at all is a major challenge. Today’s exercise gives you an all-purpose introduction you can use in all circumstances. It’s simple, requires no preparation, won’t come off like a line, and starts conversations.

I’m not saying it solves everything. You still have to keep the conversation going, which the previous exercises are for. But, assuming you’re reasonably well-groomed and your body language doesn’t shock people, no one will think ill of you for introducing yourself this way.

The principles

People like knowing that you care about them, that you aren’t just approaching for your own purposes, and that you are reasonably socially aware. Approaching with a standard line that has nothing to do with them. Even “Hi, my name is Josh,” however acceptable and innocuous, says nothing meaningful about yourself and nothing about them.

This introduction shows you thought about them for at least a moment before approaching. It also puts them in the foreground without putting them on the spot. Who doesn’t like other people appreciating them?

I call the introduction

I saw you X and had to say Y.

The introduction requires you to observe and think to use it. You fill in X and Y and adjust the rest accordingly. Generally try to use something behavior-related for X, rather than appearance. Some examples,

  • At a trade show booth: “I saw you working at company X, and had to say, I’ve heard about them in the news lately.”
  • At a cocktail party: “I saw you speaking to the host and had to ask how you know him/her too”
  • After a class: “I heard you ask the professor that question and had to ask how you thought to ask it. It got me thinking.”
  • To someone you’re attracted to at a bar: “I saw you smiling so much I had to say I like when people come out to enjoy themselves. Not everybody does.”
  • To someone high up in your corporation: “I read that policy memo you sent out and had to say it resonated with some observations I had.”

I made these up just sitting here, imagining hypothetical scenarios. I’m not saying they’ll knock the ball out of the park, but they get the job done: after you say them you are in conversation and the other person thinks you’re at least reasonably competent. You can start using the other exercises to keep the conversation going. In person you have more to work with because you can see their behavior and remark on details.

Done well, the person feels you approached them because something about them — preferably their behavior — led you to believe they are worth approaching. You know why? Because it did! The more you are able to communicate what led you to want to talk to them, the more it works — because the more genuine you are.

Here’s an example for when you’re bored at an event

  • I saw you standing here thinking. I was too. Might as well talk about the event. What were you thinking about?” (be ready to share what you were thinking about if they don’t answer)

The exercise

Since most people, the first time the do this, talk about the person’s shirt, hair, or something else about the other person’s appearance, the exercise is to find things related to their behavior — something they did or chose, not how they are. You can make appearance things behavior related by connecting them to the choice behind them.

  • I saw you chose to wear orange. I almost never do. I had to say I’m impressed with pulling it off. Are you good with fashion?
  • I saw you dressed as sharp as anyone here. I had to say I wish I had thought ahead too.

The exercise is this: as you go about your day, practice coming up with what you would say to any person. At first, you don’t have to approach them, just get in the habit of coming up with things people would appreciate hearing without being obsequious.

I did the exercise just now. I walked to my window and imagined my “I saw you X and had to say Y” introductions to three people:

  • I saw you walking with a friendly bounce to your step on a rainy day. I had to say it brightened my day. Can I ask what put you in a good mood?
  • I saw you have one of the biggest umbrellas I’ve seen. I had to ask where you got it. Most people have such small ones.
  • I saw you taking a picture of that fire house. I had to ask what about it got you to take out your camera.

Walking on a Manhattan street, you could do this exercise dozens of times in a few minutes, but you don’t have to be. You can do it watching television or a movie. On a subway you could practice a hundred times between two stops. At a cocktail party you could imagine what you would say to each person and be ready to talk to anyone.

Follow up

The follow-up is obvious: approach a few people with the introductions you imagine. Start off easy. For example, you can practice it with people you already know. Or you can do it with people you were already comfortable approaching.

You right here right now

Look around you. Imagine how you might introduce yourself to each of them with “I saw you X and had to say Y.” If no one is around you, look out the window or browse the web for a video of people and imagine what you’d say to each.

On a side note, before writing this post, I thought “I saw you X and had to say Y” was common parlance since I didn’t make it up, though I don’t remember where I first heard it. I was surprised that searching the web for “I saw you X and had to say Y” with the quotes returned zero links. Without the links turned up nothing relevant.

Communication skills exercises for business and life

Without effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, whatever awesomeness you have inside you is invisible to the world. You might as well not have it. Other people will nearly always be attracted to people with better social skills.

With effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, you can showcase your inner awesomeness to your heart’s content. You can attract other people, whether for business, personal, or whatever reason you want. People want to do business with you and invite you to join them because they want people around who communicate well.

Anybody can improve their communication skills, including you

People today sometimes think I was naturally born socially adept. I’m flattered, but I remember years of sitting in the library on Friday nights, not invited to the parties I could hear across the street. Or, if at parties, bars, or social events, wondering how everybody already knew each other since, because I didn’t know how to meet someone new, I figured nobody else did. I could only meet people if I had classes with them, worked with them, or someone introduced me.

I put a lot of work into improving my social skills. One of this page’s core premises is that changing your behavior influences your life. If you don’t know how to change your behavior, you can’t. Personally, I needed low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on what to do to start changing my behavior. With practice, meaning after making many mistakes, I improved my skills.

This series gives low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on communication skills

This series gives instructions useful for someone like I was. I don’t claim to have the best communications skills in the world, but they’re a lot better now than before and I didn’t do anything you can’t.

Click on the Table of Contents to the left to browse through the entries in this series.

I also present this series as a two-hour to full-day workshop you can book me for.

Improving your communication skills improves your life. Do it.

Communication skills exercises, part I

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I wasn’t born with great communication skills. I don’t think I had great problems with communication, but I was behind the curve in many areas. As I learned to appreciate and value emotions and relationships, I worked on improving my social skills. People now sometimes compliment me on what I have today, so I believe anyone can develop great social skills.

One seminar I give, sometimes in a series, is on communication and social skills for business, social, and any other interactions. It’s one of my favorites because most of it is the audience doing the exercises. My presentation part is brief. I can do the whole thing in an hour if the audience only wants to see the exercises so they can do them later, or a series of five hour-plus sessions if the audience wants to do the exercises and get feedback, tips, and so forth.

Most importantly, people love the exercises. The energy in the room always becomes friendly, communicative, fun, and interactive, no matter how it was beforehand. Moreover, sometimes people get into deep meaningful discussions or develop enduring relationships, even if they were strangers.

In other words, the exercises are powerful, effective, easy, and fun.

My next several posts will be the exercises with some explanation. They work great in a room with at least a few people, up to any number since we form groups of two to five. Anyone can do them with or without me. If you are by yourself you can do them in regular interactions with other people.

I can’t post demonstrations of the exercises in action, though I’ll do my best to describe how to do each. You can always contact me to bring me in to your workplace or wherever if you want the full presentation.

Anyway, I call the seminar “Five Skills For Any And All Social And Business Interactions.”

Why these five skills? Because

  • They are useful for all levels – from rank beginners to experts.
  • You can practice each any time you want however much you want.
  • They are general enough to apply to all social interactions – business, personal, family, etc.
  • No memorization required.
  • They allow you to come through, no matter who you are.
  • You can build on them to create relationships.

The exercises are (EDIT: I’ve since added more to the original five. Click here to view all the exercises in the series.)

  1. Overview (this page)
  2. How to use body language to change the mood of the conversation
  3. How to prevent lulls in conversation or to get out of them
  4. How to make your stories more interesting
  5. How to create a meaningful connection with someone the first time you meet
  6. How to make someone feel like an expert and get advice to improve your life
  7. How to combine the above exercises to create larger conversations
  8. How to breaking the ice and introduce yourself without sounding like everyone else
  9. How to avoid boring people with boring questions
  10. How to say something interesting any time you want (with examples from experts)
  11. Quick and dirty escapes from conversation lulls
  12. Avoiding habitually contradicting people

Communication skills exercises, part VIII: breaking the ice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

For many people, meeting someone at all is a major challenge. Today’s exercise gives you an all-purpose introduction you can use in all circumstances. It’s simple, requires no preparation, won’t come off like a line, and starts conversations.

I’m not saying it solves everything. You still have to keep the conversation going, which the previous exercises are for. But, assuming you’re reasonably well-groomed and your body language doesn’t shock people, no one will think ill of you for introducing yourself this way.

The principles

People like knowing that you care about them, that you aren’t just approaching for your own purposes, and that you are reasonably socially aware. Approaching with a standard line that has nothing to do with them. Even “Hi, my name is Josh,” however acceptable and innocuous, says nothing meaningful about yourself and nothing about them.

This introduction shows you thought about them for at least a moment before approaching. It also puts them in the foreground without putting them on the spot. Who doesn’t like other people appreciating them?

I call the introduction

I saw you X and had to say Y.

The introduction requires you to observe and think to use it. You fill in X and Y and adjust the rest accordingly. Generally try to use something behavior-related for X, rather than appearance. Some examples,

  • At a trade show booth: “I saw you working at company X, and had to say, I’ve heard about them in the news lately.”
  • At a cocktail party: “I saw you speaking to the host and had to ask how you know him/her too”
  • After a class: “I heard you ask the professor that question and had to ask how you thought to ask it. It got me thinking.”
  • To someone you’re attracted to at a bar: “I saw you smiling so much I had to say I like when people come out to enjoy themselves. Not everybody does.”
  • To someone high up in your corporation: “I read that policy memo you sent out and had to say it resonated with some observations I had.”

I made these up just sitting here, imagining hypothetical scenarios. I’m not saying they’ll knock the ball out of the park, but they get the job done: after you say them you are in conversation and the other person thinks you’re at least reasonably competent. You can start using the other exercises to keep the conversation going. In person you have more to work with because you can see their behavior and remark on details.

Done well, the person feels you approached them because something about them — preferably their behavior — led you to believe they are worth approaching. You know why? Because it did! The more you are able to communicate what led you to want to talk to them, the more it works — because the more genuine you are.

Here’s an example for when you’re bored at an event

  • I saw you standing here thinking. I was too. Might as well talk about the event. What were you thinking about?” (be ready to share what you were thinking about if they don’t answer)

The exercise

Since most people, the first time the do this, talk about the person’s shirt, hair, or something else about the other person’s appearance, the exercise is to find things related to their behavior — something they did or chose, not how they are. You can make appearance things behavior related by connecting them to the choice behind them.

  • I saw you chose to wear orange. I almost never do. I had to say I’m impressed with pulling it off. Are you good with fashion?
  • I saw you dressed as sharp as anyone here. I had to say I wish I had thought ahead too.

The exercise is this: as you go about your day, practice coming up with what you would say to any person. At first, you don’t have to approach them, just get in the habit of coming up with things people would appreciate hearing without being obsequious.

I did the exercise just now. I walked to my window and imagined my “I saw you X and had to say Y” introductions to three people:

  • I saw you walking with a friendly bounce to your step on a rainy day. I had to say it brightened my day. Can I ask what put you in a good mood?
  • I saw you have one of the biggest umbrellas I’ve seen. I had to ask where you got it. Most people have such small ones.
  • I saw you taking a picture of that fire house. I had to ask what about it got you to take out your camera.

Walking on a Manhattan street, you could do this exercise dozens of times in a few minutes, but you don’t have to be. You can do it watching television or a movie. On a subway you could practice a hundred times between two stops. At a cocktail party you could imagine what you would say to each person and be ready to talk to anyone.

Follow up

The follow-up is obvious: approach a few people with the introductions you imagine. Start off easy. For example, you can practice it with people you already know. Or you can do it with people you were already comfortable approaching.

You right here right now

Look around you. Imagine how you might introduce yourself to each of them with “I saw you X and had to say Y.” If no one is around you, look out the window or browse the web for a video of people and imagine what you’d say to each.

On a side note, before writing this post, I thought “I saw you X and had to say Y” was common parlance since I didn’t make it up, though I don’t remember where I first heard it. I was surprised that searching the web for “I saw you X and had to say Y” with the quotes returned zero links. Without the links turned up nothing relevant.

Communication skills exercises for business and life

Without effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, whatever awesomeness you have inside you is invisible to the world. You might as well not have it. Other people will nearly always be attracted to people with better social skills.

With effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, you can showcase your inner awesomeness to your heart’s content. You can attract other people, whether for business, personal, or whatever reason you want. People want to do business with you and invite you to join them because they want people around who communicate well.

Anybody can improve their communication skills, including you

People today sometimes think I was naturally born socially adept. I’m flattered, but I remember years of sitting in the library on Friday nights, not invited to the parties I could hear across the street. Or, if at parties, bars, or social events, wondering how everybody already knew each other since, because I didn’t know how to meet someone new, I figured nobody else did. I could only meet people if I had classes with them, worked with them, or someone introduced me.

I put a lot of work into improving my social skills. One of this page’s core premises is that changing your behavior influences your life. If you don’t know how to change your behavior, you can’t. Personally, I needed low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on what to do to start changing my behavior. With practice, meaning after making many mistakes, I improved my skills.

This series gives low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on communication skills

This series gives instructions useful for someone like I was. I don’t claim to have the best communications skills in the world, but they’re a lot better now than before and I didn’t do anything you can’t.

Click on the Table of Contents to the left to browse through the entries in this series.

I also present this series as a two-hour to full-day workshop you can book me for.

Improving your communication skills improves your life. Do it.

Communication skills exercises, part II: Body language

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I love starting seminars with this exercise. It’s simple and interactive. It gets people’s blood flowing and meeting their neighbors. It works best in a group, but you can apply it on your own.

The principles

The principle is that your body language — your position, motion, posture, etc — influences your emotions and those of people around you. Likewise theirs influence yours. Since your emotions motivate you, changing your body language change what you and people in your environment do. Awareness of body language increases your ability to influence yourself and others.

While most people can’t change their emotions directly, anyone can change their body language directly. Therefore this exercise enables you to influence your emotions (and those of people around you) indirectly. If you feel low, this can help.

The exercise

The group performs each step before knowing the next steps.

  1. Stand and create sullen body language: shoulders, chest, spine, chin, voice…
  2. Introduce yourself to your neighbor.
  3. Next, create outgoing, gregarious body language.
  4. Introduce yourself to your neighbor again.

When I announce step one I ask how the emotion affects each element of body language:

Josh: “Should your shoulders be forward or relaxed and back?”
Group: “Forward”
Josh: “Should your spine be tall or slouched?”
Group: “Slouched”
Josh: “Should your chin be up or down?”
Group: “Down”
Josh: “Should your chest be out or in”
Group: “In”
Josh: “Should your voice be quiet or project?”
Group: “Quiet”

At this point there is a room full of people standing sullen. I have everyone introduce themselves to their neighbors and everyone sheepishly introduces themselves. Since they don’t know step 3, they are confused at this point, but the confusion turns to that much greater enthusiasm as the point of step 3 dawns on them.

Step 3 is like step 1, but everyone replies they should stand tall, relaxed, chin up, voice projecting, and so on.

Josh: “Should your shoulders be forward or relaxed and back?”
Group: “Relaxed”
Josh: “Should your spine be tall or slouched?”
Group: “Tall”
Josh: “Should your chin be up or down?”
Group: “Up!”
Josh: “Should your chest be out or in”
Group: “Out!”
Josh: “Should your voice be quiet or project?”
Group: “Project!!”
Josh: “Now introduce yourself to your neighors”

I’m not exaggerating with the exclamation points. With everyone standing tall, relaxed, chin up, and voices booming everyone laughs, jokes, and gets to know their neighbors.

They visibly want to meet, share who they are, and listen to who the others are. Step 2 usually ends on its own. Step 4 I have to stop them or they’d keep talking forever.

Follow up

I follow up in two ways. The first is to have them reflect on the difference. I ask questions and promote discussion on

  • How did you feel about yourself, your neighbor, presenting yourself, meeting him or her?
  • Did you genuinely feel different?
  • Did you sense he or she did?

In my full seminar I return to these questions after we’ve discussed self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and how much you can increase yours as an example of how easily they can bring about emotions they want. The change is short-term, but significant, predictable, and palpable. They can sense they influenced others and that others influenced them.

The second way is to reinforce that they can use this exercise in their lives by asking and having them discuss

  • How hard is step 3 before meeting anyone? (or to create any mood you want?)

You, right here, right now

Even if you aren’t in a group or being led, you can perform and benefit from this exercise. Pick an emotion and incorporate it as fully in your body language as you can. Be aware of as much as you can — posture, pace of motion, scale of motion, speed, facial expression, breathing pacing, vocal tonality, pacing, and volume, and so on.

Now interact with someone with that body language.

Next do the same thing with a different emotion and interact with the same person or someone else.

Pay attention to how much you influence the other’s emotions.

Also, next time you want to feel a certain emotion — enthusiasm in a job interview, friendliness in a networking event, calmness during a conflict, etc — take a moment to incorporate that emotion. Actively create the social world you want.

Communication skills exercises, part VIII: breaking the ice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

For many people, meeting someone at all is a major challenge. Today’s exercise gives you an all-purpose introduction you can use in all circumstances. It’s simple, requires no preparation, won’t come off like a line, and starts conversations.

I’m not saying it solves everything. You still have to keep the conversation going, which the previous exercises are for. But, assuming you’re reasonably well-groomed and your body language doesn’t shock people, no one will think ill of you for introducing yourself this way.

The principles

People like knowing that you care about them, that you aren’t just approaching for your own purposes, and that you are reasonably socially aware. Approaching with a standard line that has nothing to do with them. Even “Hi, my name is Josh,” however acceptable and innocuous, says nothing meaningful about yourself and nothing about them.

This introduction shows you thought about them for at least a moment before approaching. It also puts them in the foreground without putting them on the spot. Who doesn’t like other people appreciating them?

I call the introduction

I saw you X and had to say Y.

The introduction requires you to observe and think to use it. You fill in X and Y and adjust the rest accordingly. Generally try to use something behavior-related for X, rather than appearance. Some examples,

  • At a trade show booth: “I saw you working at company X, and had to say, I’ve heard about them in the news lately.”
  • At a cocktail party: “I saw you speaking to the host and had to ask how you know him/her too”
  • After a class: “I heard you ask the professor that question and had to ask how you thought to ask it. It got me thinking.”
  • To someone you’re attracted to at a bar: “I saw you smiling so much I had to say I like when people come out to enjoy themselves. Not everybody does.”
  • To someone high up in your corporation: “I read that policy memo you sent out and had to say it resonated with some observations I had.”

I made these up just sitting here, imagining hypothetical scenarios. I’m not saying they’ll knock the ball out of the park, but they get the job done: after you say them you are in conversation and the other person thinks you’re at least reasonably competent. You can start using the other exercises to keep the conversation going. In person you have more to work with because you can see their behavior and remark on details.

Done well, the person feels you approached them because something about them — preferably their behavior — led you to believe they are worth approaching. You know why? Because it did! The more you are able to communicate what led you to want to talk to them, the more it works — because the more genuine you are.

Here’s an example for when you’re bored at an event

  • I saw you standing here thinking. I was too. Might as well talk about the event. What were you thinking about?” (be ready to share what you were thinking about if they don’t answer)

The exercise

Since most people, the first time the do this, talk about the person’s shirt, hair, or something else about the other person’s appearance, the exercise is to find things related to their behavior — something they did or chose, not how they are. You can make appearance things behavior related by connecting them to the choice behind them.

  • I saw you chose to wear orange. I almost never do. I had to say I’m impressed with pulling it off. Are you good with fashion?
  • I saw you dressed as sharp as anyone here. I had to say I wish I had thought ahead too.

The exercise is this: as you go about your day, practice coming up with what you would say to any person. At first, you don’t have to approach them, just get in the habit of coming up with things people would appreciate hearing without being obsequious.

I did the exercise just now. I walked to my window and imagined my “I saw you X and had to say Y” introductions to three people:

  • I saw you walking with a friendly bounce to your step on a rainy day. I had to say it brightened my day. Can I ask what put you in a good mood?
  • I saw you have one of the biggest umbrellas I’ve seen. I had to ask where you got it. Most people have such small ones.
  • I saw you taking a picture of that fire house. I had to ask what about it got you to take out your camera.

Walking on a Manhattan street, you could do this exercise dozens of times in a few minutes, but you don’t have to be. You can do it watching television or a movie. On a subway you could practice a hundred times between two stops. At a cocktail party you could imagine what you would say to each person and be ready to talk to anyone.

Follow up

The follow-up is obvious: approach a few people with the introductions you imagine. Start off easy. For example, you can practice it with people you already know. Or you can do it with people you were already comfortable approaching.

You right here right now

Look around you. Imagine how you might introduce yourself to each of them with “I saw you X and had to say Y.” If no one is around you, look out the window or browse the web for a video of people and imagine what you’d say to each.

On a side note, before writing this post, I thought “I saw you X and had to say Y” was common parlance since I didn’t make it up, though I don’t remember where I first heard it. I was surprised that searching the web for “I saw you X and had to say Y” with the quotes returned zero links. Without the links turned up nothing relevant.

Communication skills exercises for business and life

Without effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, whatever awesomeness you have inside you is invisible to the world. You might as well not have it. Other people will nearly always be attracted to people with better social skills.

With effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, you can showcase your inner awesomeness to your heart’s content. You can attract other people, whether for business, personal, or whatever reason you want. People want to do business with you and invite you to join them because they want people around who communicate well.

Anybody can improve their communication skills, including you

People today sometimes think I was naturally born socially adept. I’m flattered, but I remember years of sitting in the library on Friday nights, not invited to the parties I could hear across the street. Or, if at parties, bars, or social events, wondering how everybody already knew each other since, because I didn’t know how to meet someone new, I figured nobody else did. I could only meet people if I had classes with them, worked with them, or someone introduced me.

I put a lot of work into improving my social skills. One of this page’s core premises is that changing your behavior influences your life. If you don’t know how to change your behavior, you can’t. Personally, I needed low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on what to do to start changing my behavior. With practice, meaning after making many mistakes, I improved my skills.

This series gives low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on communication skills

This series gives instructions useful for someone like I was. I don’t claim to have the best communications skills in the world, but they’re a lot better now than before and I didn’t do anything you can’t.

Click on the Table of Contents to the left to browse through the entries in this series.

I also present this series as a two-hour to full-day workshop you can book me for.

Improving your communication skills improves your life. Do it.

Communication skills exercises, part III: Conversation hopping

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you ever start a conversation you want to talk to, then run out of things to say? This exercise will help. I adapted it from my friend Sebastian.

When you do the exercise with someone who doesn’t know you are doing it, they rarely sense you’re doing anything other than conversing as usual. The exercise doesn’t mimic a whole genuine conversation, just part of one, but you can use it in any conversation to continue a meandering conversation or jump start one in a lull.

When you observe others doing the exercise, the conversation can sound contrived, but when you’re in it the person you’re talking to doesn’t, so it works.

The principles

People like to be heard and they like to talk, even to someone they don’t know, when they don’t have to work to maintain the conversation. This exercise forces you to listen to the other person and gives you an easy way to respond.

When you can perform the exercise second nature, you don’t work at it or rely on it as the central part of a conversation. You just use it periodically to get to the central parts.

The exercise

The exercise works best between two people. The core of the exercise is

  1. One person says a declarative sentence or two.
  2. The other chooses a word or phrase and makes a sentence or two from it.
  3. Repeat.

When doing the exercise with someone also doing the exercise with you, you can go on as long as you like, like a volley in tennis. When doing it with someone not in on it, you do it until you reach a topic you mutually enjoy.

Guidelines for how to choose your sentences after the other person speaks:

  1. Provide a transition between their sentences and yours.
  2. If the other person gets stuck, you lose.
  3. Avoid questions, talking too long, or staying on the same topic for too long.

The transition need not be complex. In fact, they shouldn’t detract from the main content of what you say. The sample conversation below gives examples.

By “you lose” I don’t mean you’re competing. The goal of the exercise is to keep a conversation going, so you always want to provide the other person with things to say. You “win” when the other person finds you charismatic and enjoyable to talk to.

Avoiding questions forces you to add value to the conversation in the exercise. Of course, in most conversations asking questions is great. This is just an exercise to force you to develop skills to maintain conversations — not to dissuade you from asking questions. You’d be surprised how often simple questions stall conversations with people you don’t know well.

Avoiding talking too long keeps you from boring the other person.

A typical c-hopping conversation goes as follows

Person A: “I just got back from a trip to Shanghai. I loved it there.”

Person B: “China? Sounds amazing. I visited Bangkok a few months ago and wish I could have made it there.”

A: “Bangkok is beautiful, I hear. I think they have the best cuisine in the world. I hope you got to enjoy the food.”

B: “Holy cow! The food was amazing. I can’t eat at Thai restaurants in New York anymore. They just aren’t as good.”

A: “New York restaurants can be pretty good. I bet you could find something comparably good here. It might not be authentic, but it might be as delicious.”

B: “Authentic is important to me. My family grew up sampling food from everywhere and we always liked different tastes.”

B: “Family reminds me that my mother’s birthday is coming up. I need ideas for what to get her.”

A: “For your mom? I just read a great book she might like…”

Notice how each response follows the pattern — a few words referring to the other person’s statements as transition, using of the other person’s words, and adding something new. No person talks so long as to bore the other.

This conversation may not be the most interesting in the world, but if you were one of the people and the other wasn’t aware you were doing it, they probably would find the conversation at least better than average, particularly because each response of yours showed you were paying attention.

Note that if any statements had been questions, they could have ended the conversation. For example, if B’s first statement had been “China? Wow, what was it like?”, if A didn’t feel like answering the question — “What was it like” is an obvious question A may have gotten a dozen times that day and may be bored of answering it — the conversation may have stalled.

You’ll be surprised how often you get stuck or unintentionally ask a stalling question.

Likewise, you’ll be surprised at how easily you can pick up the underlying skills to pay attention, show interest in what the other person has to say, and motivate them to stay in the conversation and contribute.

Finally, you’ll be surprised how easily you can maintain conversations that used to stall.

Follow up

Some topics engage nearly everyone — travel, recent books or movies, current events, guys or girls, food, hobbies, etc. Sometimes you want to talk about something in particular or sense the other person does.

As your skills improve, you can start steering the conversation toward such topics. For example, if you met someone at a cocktail party who works at a company and you want to know if it is hiring, only a few hops can take you from initial greeting to your topic. If each hop acknowledges the other person and shows interest in what they are saying, they won’t feel you steered them there.

You, right here, right now

You could enlist someone to practice with. It’s not hang gliding, but it does develop skills. If you have no one to practice with on purpose, you can do the exercise with anyone you want. Once the conversation hits a topic you both like, you can leave the exercise and enjoy the conversation.

Communication skills exercises, part VIII: breaking the ice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

For many people, meeting someone at all is a major challenge. Today’s exercise gives you an all-purpose introduction you can use in all circumstances. It’s simple, requires no preparation, won’t come off like a line, and starts conversations.

I’m not saying it solves everything. You still have to keep the conversation going, which the previous exercises are for. But, assuming you’re reasonably well-groomed and your body language doesn’t shock people, no one will think ill of you for introducing yourself this way.

The principles

People like knowing that you care about them, that you aren’t just approaching for your own purposes, and that you are reasonably socially aware. Approaching with a standard line that has nothing to do with them. Even “Hi, my name is Josh,” however acceptable and innocuous, says nothing meaningful about yourself and nothing about them.

This introduction shows you thought about them for at least a moment before approaching. It also puts them in the foreground without putting them on the spot. Who doesn’t like other people appreciating them?

I call the introduction

I saw you X and had to say Y.

The introduction requires you to observe and think to use it. You fill in X and Y and adjust the rest accordingly. Generally try to use something behavior-related for X, rather than appearance. Some examples,

  • At a trade show booth: “I saw you working at company X, and had to say, I’ve heard about them in the news lately.”
  • At a cocktail party: “I saw you speaking to the host and had to ask how you know him/her too”
  • After a class: “I heard you ask the professor that question and had to ask how you thought to ask it. It got me thinking.”
  • To someone you’re attracted to at a bar: “I saw you smiling so much I had to say I like when people come out to enjoy themselves. Not everybody does.”
  • To someone high up in your corporation: “I read that policy memo you sent out and had to say it resonated with some observations I had.”

I made these up just sitting here, imagining hypothetical scenarios. I’m not saying they’ll knock the ball out of the park, but they get the job done: after you say them you are in conversation and the other person thinks you’re at least reasonably competent. You can start using the other exercises to keep the conversation going. In person you have more to work with because you can see their behavior and remark on details.

Done well, the person feels you approached them because something about them — preferably their behavior — led you to believe they are worth approaching. You know why? Because it did! The more you are able to communicate what led you to want to talk to them, the more it works — because the more genuine you are.

Here’s an example for when you’re bored at an event

  • I saw you standing here thinking. I was too. Might as well talk about the event. What were you thinking about?” (be ready to share what you were thinking about if they don’t answer)

The exercise

Since most people, the first time the do this, talk about the person’s shirt, hair, or something else about the other person’s appearance, the exercise is to find things related to their behavior — something they did or chose, not how they are. You can make appearance things behavior related by connecting them to the choice behind them.

  • I saw you chose to wear orange. I almost never do. I had to say I’m impressed with pulling it off. Are you good with fashion?
  • I saw you dressed as sharp as anyone here. I had to say I wish I had thought ahead too.

The exercise is this: as you go about your day, practice coming up with what you would say to any person. At first, you don’t have to approach them, just get in the habit of coming up with things people would appreciate hearing without being obsequious.

I did the exercise just now. I walked to my window and imagined my “I saw you X and had to say Y” introductions to three people:

  • I saw you walking with a friendly bounce to your step on a rainy day. I had to say it brightened my day. Can I ask what put you in a good mood?
  • I saw you have one of the biggest umbrellas I’ve seen. I had to ask where you got it. Most people have such small ones.
  • I saw you taking a picture of that fire house. I had to ask what about it got you to take out your camera.

Walking on a Manhattan street, you could do this exercise dozens of times in a few minutes, but you don’t have to be. You can do it watching television or a movie. On a subway you could practice a hundred times between two stops. At a cocktail party you could imagine what you would say to each person and be ready to talk to anyone.

Follow up

The follow-up is obvious: approach a few people with the introductions you imagine. Start off easy. For example, you can practice it with people you already know. Or you can do it with people you were already comfortable approaching.

You right here right now

Look around you. Imagine how you might introduce yourself to each of them with “I saw you X and had to say Y.” If no one is around you, look out the window or browse the web for a video of people and imagine what you’d say to each.

On a side note, before writing this post, I thought “I saw you X and had to say Y” was common parlance since I didn’t make it up, though I don’t remember where I first heard it. I was surprised that searching the web for “I saw you X and had to say Y” with the quotes returned zero links. Without the links turned up nothing relevant.

Communication skills exercises for business and life

Without effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, whatever awesomeness you have inside you is invisible to the world. You might as well not have it. Other people will nearly always be attracted to people with better social skills.

With effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, you can showcase your inner awesomeness to your heart’s content. You can attract other people, whether for business, personal, or whatever reason you want. People want to do business with you and invite you to join them because they want people around who communicate well.

Anybody can improve their communication skills, including you

People today sometimes think I was naturally born socially adept. I’m flattered, but I remember years of sitting in the library on Friday nights, not invited to the parties I could hear across the street. Or, if at parties, bars, or social events, wondering how everybody already knew each other since, because I didn’t know how to meet someone new, I figured nobody else did. I could only meet people if I had classes with them, worked with them, or someone introduced me.

I put a lot of work into improving my social skills. One of this page’s core premises is that changing your behavior influences your life. If you don’t know how to change your behavior, you can’t. Personally, I needed low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on what to do to start changing my behavior. With practice, meaning after making many mistakes, I improved my skills.

This series gives low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on communication skills

This series gives instructions useful for someone like I was. I don’t claim to have the best communications skills in the world, but they’re a lot better now than before and I didn’t do anything you can’t.

Click on the Table of Contents to the left to browse through the entries in this series.

I also present this series as a two-hour to full-day workshop you can book me for.

Improving your communication skills improves your life. Do it.

Communication skills exercises, part IV: Storytelling

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Storytelling is a fundamental element of human communication. Tell someone what you did the other day and they may end up bored. Tell them a story well and they’ll hang on your every word.

What makes the difference?

This exercise teaches the structure of a story — how to generate interest to hook the listener, then how to generate tension to hold them. Storytelling is an art. I’m not a master storyteller, but I’ve improved by learning structure. This exercise compiles exercises from several books on storytelling and practice with friends.

The principles

Most people consider the core of a story the plot, which they consider a chronological account of what happened. The principles of storytelling suggest otherwise.

The core of storytelling are four elements, with the first one by far the most important. From the books I’ve read and my experience, when I think of telling a story, I think of CCSG:

C – Characters
C – Conflict
S – Struggle
G – Goal

The characters of a story draw people in more than anything. You almost never go wrong starting by describing the main characters of the story.

Usually the main character is the protagonist — the person driving the action — often yourself. Usually the protagonist encounters and antagonist — someone or something that forces the protagonist to overcome a challenge. Often the antagonist is the more interesting character even if the antagonist is the one acting more.

Do you think because you’re describing a story about yourself to a friend who knows you you can skimp describing yourself? Don’t. Tell the relevant parts — the details about yourself that are relevant to the story.

Whoever the characters are, make sure to include details — elements unique to that person: their background, physical characteristics, dreams, etc. Details make a story vivid to the listener.

Describing the characters often reveals the conflict. It’s often a dream or goal of the protagonist thwarted by the antagonist. The protagonist wants to climb the mountain and the mountain or nature makes it difficult. The protagonist lost their cell phone in the taxi the night before and the challenges of finding the phone make it challenging.

When you have believable, detailed characters with a conflict, people want to hear how the protagonist resolves the conflict — that is, the struggle and the goal. If you have vivid characters and a believable conflict, even a poor job recounting the struggle and of attaining the goal will keep people hooked.

The exercise

Tell the story of how you got something you have that required extra thought to buy — an article of clothing, an accessory, a cell phone or mp3 player, etc — using the CCSG structure. No matter how you’ve told the story before, start by describing the characters. You will generally be the protagonist. The antagonist could be an empty bank account, an unhelpful store employee, etc. Make clear the conflict between your interest for what you wanted and the antagonist’s interest.

Option: if you can’t think of a possession whose attainment involved conflict, retell any story you’ve told recently with the CCSG structure.

Follow up

Besides the structure and detail, a few other key elements make stories compelling. One of the best qualities a story can have is humor. Two of the best places to get humor are in characters’ speech and in their reactions.

For example, when a character says something, saying it in that character’s style of voice often makes people laugh. Even if you can’t do a Scottish accent, if the character is Scottish, do your best. The character may be female, male, young, old, foreign, regional, a turtle, an animal, smart, dumb, … whatever. Say it in their voice.

Then when someone reacts, give attention to the reaction. Is it a “Kapow!”, a “What you talking ’bout, Willis?”, a blank stare, or what? Make it real and vivid.

You, right here, right now

I made this exercise work for me by meeting with friends, taking turns telling stories and criticizing each other. You don’t need others. You can call someone up now and tell a story.

Don’t worry if you can’t think of the perfect story to tell. You’ll be surprised how even boring stories can take on new life with new structure.

EDIT: follow-up posts: more ways to improve your storytelling skills and my first experience storytelling in public in front of hundreds of people.

Communication skills exercises, part VIII: breaking the ice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

For many people, meeting someone at all is a major challenge. Today’s exercise gives you an all-purpose introduction you can use in all circumstances. It’s simple, requires no preparation, won’t come off like a line, and starts conversations.

I’m not saying it solves everything. You still have to keep the conversation going, which the previous exercises are for. But, assuming you’re reasonably well-groomed and your body language doesn’t shock people, no one will think ill of you for introducing yourself this way.

The principles

People like knowing that you care about them, that you aren’t just approaching for your own purposes, and that you are reasonably socially aware. Approaching with a standard line that has nothing to do with them. Even “Hi, my name is Josh,” however acceptable and innocuous, says nothing meaningful about yourself and nothing about them.

This introduction shows you thought about them for at least a moment before approaching. It also puts them in the foreground without putting them on the spot. Who doesn’t like other people appreciating them?

I call the introduction

I saw you X and had to say Y.

The introduction requires you to observe and think to use it. You fill in X and Y and adjust the rest accordingly. Generally try to use something behavior-related for X, rather than appearance. Some examples,

  • At a trade show booth: “I saw you working at company X, and had to say, I’ve heard about them in the news lately.”
  • At a cocktail party: “I saw you speaking to the host and had to ask how you know him/her too”
  • After a class: “I heard you ask the professor that question and had to ask how you thought to ask it. It got me thinking.”
  • To someone you’re attracted to at a bar: “I saw you smiling so much I had to say I like when people come out to enjoy themselves. Not everybody does.”
  • To someone high up in your corporation: “I read that policy memo you sent out and had to say it resonated with some observations I had.”

I made these up just sitting here, imagining hypothetical scenarios. I’m not saying they’ll knock the ball out of the park, but they get the job done: after you say them you are in conversation and the other person thinks you’re at least reasonably competent. You can start using the other exercises to keep the conversation going. In person you have more to work with because you can see their behavior and remark on details.

Done well, the person feels you approached them because something about them — preferably their behavior — led you to believe they are worth approaching. You know why? Because it did! The more you are able to communicate what led you to want to talk to them, the more it works — because the more genuine you are.

Here’s an example for when you’re bored at an event

  • I saw you standing here thinking. I was too. Might as well talk about the event. What were you thinking about?” (be ready to share what you were thinking about if they don’t answer)

The exercise

Since most people, the first time the do this, talk about the person’s shirt, hair, or something else about the other person’s appearance, the exercise is to find things related to their behavior — something they did or chose, not how they are. You can make appearance things behavior related by connecting them to the choice behind them.

  • I saw you chose to wear orange. I almost never do. I had to say I’m impressed with pulling it off. Are you good with fashion?
  • I saw you dressed as sharp as anyone here. I had to say I wish I had thought ahead too.

The exercise is this: as you go about your day, practice coming up with what you would say to any person. At first, you don’t have to approach them, just get in the habit of coming up with things people would appreciate hearing without being obsequious.

I did the exercise just now. I walked to my window and imagined my “I saw you X and had to say Y” introductions to three people:

  • I saw you walking with a friendly bounce to your step on a rainy day. I had to say it brightened my day. Can I ask what put you in a good mood?
  • I saw you have one of the biggest umbrellas I’ve seen. I had to ask where you got it. Most people have such small ones.
  • I saw you taking a picture of that fire house. I had to ask what about it got you to take out your camera.

Walking on a Manhattan street, you could do this exercise dozens of times in a few minutes, but you don’t have to be. You can do it watching television or a movie. On a subway you could practice a hundred times between two stops. At a cocktail party you could imagine what you would say to each person and be ready to talk to anyone.

Follow up

The follow-up is obvious: approach a few people with the introductions you imagine. Start off easy. For example, you can practice it with people you already know. Or you can do it with people you were already comfortable approaching.

You right here right now

Look around you. Imagine how you might introduce yourself to each of them with “I saw you X and had to say Y.” If no one is around you, look out the window or browse the web for a video of people and imagine what you’d say to each.

On a side note, before writing this post, I thought “I saw you X and had to say Y” was common parlance since I didn’t make it up, though I don’t remember where I first heard it. I was surprised that searching the web for “I saw you X and had to say Y” with the quotes returned zero links. Without the links turned up nothing relevant.

Communication skills exercises for business and life

Without effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, whatever awesomeness you have inside you is invisible to the world. You might as well not have it. Other people will nearly always be attracted to people with better social skills.

With effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, you can showcase your inner awesomeness to your heart’s content. You can attract other people, whether for business, personal, or whatever reason you want. People want to do business with you and invite you to join them because they want people around who communicate well.

Anybody can improve their communication skills, including you

People today sometimes think I was naturally born socially adept. I’m flattered, but I remember years of sitting in the library on Friday nights, not invited to the parties I could hear across the street. Or, if at parties, bars, or social events, wondering how everybody already knew each other since, because I didn’t know how to meet someone new, I figured nobody else did. I could only meet people if I had classes with them, worked with them, or someone introduced me.

I put a lot of work into improving my social skills. One of this page’s core premises is that changing your behavior influences your life. If you don’t know how to change your behavior, you can’t. Personally, I needed low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on what to do to start changing my behavior. With practice, meaning after making many mistakes, I improved my skills.

This series gives low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on communication skills

This series gives instructions useful for someone like I was. I don’t claim to have the best communications skills in the world, but they’re a lot better now than before and I didn’t do anything you can’t.

Click on the Table of Contents to the left to browse through the entries in this series.

I also present this series as a two-hour to full-day workshop you can book me for.

Improving your communication skills improves your life. Do it.

Communication skills exercises, part V: Meaningful connection

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

UPDATE: See my February 2016 webinar video on the Meaningful Connection exercise. It goes into more depth.

Have you noticed how some people, when they meet someone, draw the other person in, creating a great, meaningful conversation right off the bat? Do you wish you could? How much more valuable is a connection when the other person wants to follow up with you and appreciates you talking to them? How much more likely will you be to get a job offer, date, or whatever follow up?

This exercise gives you a structure that engages the other person to make a meaningful connection. It’s powerful, yet deceptively simple. It works in all situations — business, personal, family, etc. No more petty networking where all you have is a business card and the hope that the other person remembers you.

By the way, since I have this exercise performed on me often in front of an audience, I can attest how well it works, even when I know what the other person is doing.

The principles

Everyone likes talking about what’s important to them. Also, everyone likes being listened to, not just for the facts, but for the meaning — the emotional value of what they say.

The structure of this exercise gets you to get them to comfortably reveal something important to them without probing. Its content forces you to pay attention to the other person’s meaning and emotion and demonstrate that you did so.

The effect is that you demonstrate you care about what they are saying about something important to them. People like talking to people like that.

When you contrast this exercise, which begins by asking them about their passions, with the usual, pathetically boring “So what do you do?”, you’ll see this exercise is about passions, emotions, motivations, and things people care about. In cases where someone’s work is their passion, you’re no worse off. For most people talking about work is boring, humorless, and cliche-ridden.

I describe the principles more in the Follow up section below.

The exercise

Here is the “script.” You can put things in your own words to sound natural. You can also deviate from the script, particularly to add parts based on what the other person says.

  1. Ask what they like to do besides work and family. I usually ask them for a passion of theirs.
  2. They will reply with something still fairly usual: travel, books, food, etc.
  3. Say “Cool… you know, some people travel for [give one reason]. Some people travel for [give another reason]. Why do you travel?”
  4. Their response will include two or three words that are unusual or stressed.
  5. Respond to clarify what they said using those two or three words in your response.

All you have to do is steps 1, 3, and 5. Often in step 4 or after step 5, the other person will talk at length, in depth, and with passion. It’s up to you what interest you want to pursue with.

Here’s how a typical conversation went with me.

Other person: “So Josh, what’s a passion of yours… besides work and family.”

Josh: “Oh man, last year I bought a rowing machine. I love it. I row on it a lot now. I didn’t realize how much I’d like rowing.”

OP: “That’s cool. You know, I had some friends who rowed crew in college. Some of them did it for exercise. Some of them did it because they loved competition. Why do you do it?”

J: “Actually, even though I like those reasons, they aren’t why I do it. For one thing, once you get on it can be almost meditative. It’s repetitive but not boring. My friend who rowed crew told me about keeping the cadence even, so I’m always keeping track of my rowing pace, so I’m focused. The other thing is that it’s super-convenient. It exercises nearly everything and I don’t have to leave my apartment. I can just walk two steps over and I get a great workout.”

OP: “Cool. I hadn’t thought about it being meditative, but I can see that. It must be relaxing. And that it’s not just convenient but super-convenient must be a big plus.”

J: “Totally. Sometimes when I’m about to get in the shower I think, ‘I have time to work out’ and I can work in a great workout. In fact, there was a time … ” [then I launched into a story about how convenient it is].

It’s uncanny how the exercise gets people talking. Not every time, but often. When I do the exercise with large groups I leave a slide up with the script. People do the exercise literally reading from the script. The people they are doing it with, knowing the person they are talking to is reading the script still get into meaningful conversations with them about their passions. Sometimes I have to work hard to get the groups back out of their conversations.

Follow up

Before steps 3 and 5, since you are showing interest in something important in their life, you can go into more detail of what they said than just the script says. After you get the hang of it, running through the script can be a fifteen minute conversation leading to more.

You can also do the script more than once in a conversation.

It’s informative to note how the script works. I call it a “script” at first instead of a script because of its variability. It requires you to pay attention to the other person and respond with information relevant to them and you. For example, in step 3, you don’t just reply, you have to connect something in their life to things in yours, then comment meaningfully on them. You have to think about people’s motivations — theirs and others.

Also, in step 4, you have to listen intently, not just to their words, but to the non-verbal emotional content of what they say. The stress people put on words or extraordinary word choice reveals their emotions and motivations. People don’t often notice or comment on those things, so when someone does, you notice it and appreciate their caring. You show it by using those words back.

You, right here, right now

If you don’t have someone with you, you can call someone up and run the script with them. You don’t have to ask or tell them what you’re doing.

Mostly it’s great when you’re first meeting someone. Now when you’re at a networking event or cocktail party, when you meet someone you want to get to know better, instead of many meaningless interactions exchanging cards, you can go into depth meeting someone meaningfully.

Communication skills exercises, part VIII: breaking the ice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

For many people, meeting someone at all is a major challenge. Today’s exercise gives you an all-purpose introduction you can use in all circumstances. It’s simple, requires no preparation, won’t come off like a line, and starts conversations.

I’m not saying it solves everything. You still have to keep the conversation going, which the previous exercises are for. But, assuming you’re reasonably well-groomed and your body language doesn’t shock people, no one will think ill of you for introducing yourself this way.

The principles

People like knowing that you care about them, that you aren’t just approaching for your own purposes, and that you are reasonably socially aware. Approaching with a standard line that has nothing to do with them. Even “Hi, my name is Josh,” however acceptable and innocuous, says nothing meaningful about yourself and nothing about them.

This introduction shows you thought about them for at least a moment before approaching. It also puts them in the foreground without putting them on the spot. Who doesn’t like other people appreciating them?

I call the introduction

I saw you X and had to say Y.

The introduction requires you to observe and think to use it. You fill in X and Y and adjust the rest accordingly. Generally try to use something behavior-related for X, rather than appearance. Some examples,

  • At a trade show booth: “I saw you working at company X, and had to say, I’ve heard about them in the news lately.”
  • At a cocktail party: “I saw you speaking to the host and had to ask how you know him/her too”
  • After a class: “I heard you ask the professor that question and had to ask how you thought to ask it. It got me thinking.”
  • To someone you’re attracted to at a bar: “I saw you smiling so much I had to say I like when people come out to enjoy themselves. Not everybody does.”
  • To someone high up in your corporation: “I read that policy memo you sent out and had to say it resonated with some observations I had.”

I made these up just sitting here, imagining hypothetical scenarios. I’m not saying they’ll knock the ball out of the park, but they get the job done: after you say them you are in conversation and the other person thinks you’re at least reasonably competent. You can start using the other exercises to keep the conversation going. In person you have more to work with because you can see their behavior and remark on details.

Done well, the person feels you approached them because something about them — preferably their behavior — led you to believe they are worth approaching. You know why? Because it did! The more you are able to communicate what led you to want to talk to them, the more it works — because the more genuine you are.

Here’s an example for when you’re bored at an event

  • I saw you standing here thinking. I was too. Might as well talk about the event. What were you thinking about?” (be ready to share what you were thinking about if they don’t answer)

The exercise

Since most people, the first time the do this, talk about the person’s shirt, hair, or something else about the other person’s appearance, the exercise is to find things related to their behavior — something they did or chose, not how they are. You can make appearance things behavior related by connecting them to the choice behind them.

  • I saw you chose to wear orange. I almost never do. I had to say I’m impressed with pulling it off. Are you good with fashion?
  • I saw you dressed as sharp as anyone here. I had to say I wish I had thought ahead too.

The exercise is this: as you go about your day, practice coming up with what you would say to any person. At first, you don’t have to approach them, just get in the habit of coming up with things people would appreciate hearing without being obsequious.

I did the exercise just now. I walked to my window and imagined my “I saw you X and had to say Y” introductions to three people:

  • I saw you walking with a friendly bounce to your step on a rainy day. I had to say it brightened my day. Can I ask what put you in a good mood?
  • I saw you have one of the biggest umbrellas I’ve seen. I had to ask where you got it. Most people have such small ones.
  • I saw you taking a picture of that fire house. I had to ask what about it got you to take out your camera.

Walking on a Manhattan street, you could do this exercise dozens of times in a few minutes, but you don’t have to be. You can do it watching television or a movie. On a subway you could practice a hundred times between two stops. At a cocktail party you could imagine what you would say to each person and be ready to talk to anyone.

Follow up

The follow-up is obvious: approach a few people with the introductions you imagine. Start off easy. For example, you can practice it with people you already know. Or you can do it with people you were already comfortable approaching.

You right here right now

Look around you. Imagine how you might introduce yourself to each of them with “I saw you X and had to say Y.” If no one is around you, look out the window or browse the web for a video of people and imagine what you’d say to each.

On a side note, before writing this post, I thought “I saw you X and had to say Y” was common parlance since I didn’t make it up, though I don’t remember where I first heard it. I was surprised that searching the web for “I saw you X and had to say Y” with the quotes returned zero links. Without the links turned up nothing relevant.

Communication skills exercises for business and life

Without effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, whatever awesomeness you have inside you is invisible to the world. You might as well not have it. Other people will nearly always be attracted to people with better social skills.

With effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, you can showcase your inner awesomeness to your heart’s content. You can attract other people, whether for business, personal, or whatever reason you want. People want to do business with you and invite you to join them because they want people around who communicate well.

Anybody can improve their communication skills, including you

People today sometimes think I was naturally born socially adept. I’m flattered, but I remember years of sitting in the library on Friday nights, not invited to the parties I could hear across the street. Or, if at parties, bars, or social events, wondering how everybody already knew each other since, because I didn’t know how to meet someone new, I figured nobody else did. I could only meet people if I had classes with them, worked with them, or someone introduced me.

I put a lot of work into improving my social skills. One of this page’s core premises is that changing your behavior influences your life. If you don’t know how to change your behavior, you can’t. Personally, I needed low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on what to do to start changing my behavior. With practice, meaning after making many mistakes, I improved my skills.

This series gives low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on communication skills

This series gives instructions useful for someone like I was. I don’t claim to have the best communications skills in the world, but they’re a lot better now than before and I didn’t do anything you can’t.

Click on the Table of Contents to the left to browse through the entries in this series.

I also present this series as a two-hour to full-day workshop you can book me for.

Improving your communication skills improves your life. Do it.

Communication skills exercises, part VI: feedforward

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you wish you could get the best advice for you, tailored perfectly to you, at the time you wanted it? This exercise gives you that, in a conversational way that helps build relationships too.

The technique, called feedforward, comes from Marshall Goldsmith — master author, executive coach, and happy, friendly guy. My advice is when his advice applies, use it. His two most recent books, Mojo and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, were best sellers. He was ranked the 14th most important thinker in business.

His personal web page offers tons of free resources. One, feedforward, stands out as useful for anyone and everyone at virtually any time.

His page on feedforward gives all the instructions on how to do it and reasons it works you need. The video below adds more.

Principles

I’ll note two reasons (out of his eleven) that stand out particularly for me.

Feedback from others is important for improving yourself. For all it helps, feedback has two main shortcomings. It is only about the past, which you can’t change, and people don’t like to give or receive feedback that could be hurtful. If I ask you for feedback on my presentation and you say three positive things, I don’t know if you had nothing negative to say or you just avoided saying things you thought I might not want to hear.

Feedforward is structured to give you the help you need to improve yourself without hitting the pitfalls feedback does — all the benefit and none of the problems. And you can implement it in a few minutes.

The exercise

Marshall’s page has the full script for feedforward. My abbreviated script is

  1. Identify something behavior related you want to improve – e.g., public speaking.
  2. Identify a person who can help and why they would be helpful – e.g., the person has observed you and others speaking in public.
  3. Say to him or her: “I’d like to improve my public speaking. You’ve seen me present and others who are great. Can you give me two or three things that could help?”
  4. Write them down. Clarify if necessary. Do not evaluate.
  5. “Thank you”
  6. Optional: ask for accountability.

Steps 1 and 2 are preparatory and you do them on your own. You can pick anything about yourself you want to improve — being on time, sleeping better, reading faster, losing weight, quitting smoking, saving more money, whatever.

Your area of improvement will determine whom to ask. The other person could be someone close to you, whom you trust, a random stranger, a family member, an old teacher, a colleague, your manager, your child, or anyone. You’re only asking a few minutes of their time to give advice, which people enjoy.

Note that the exercise is precise. Unlike the storytelling or meaning connection exercises, where embellishing and following tangents contributes, feedforward doesn’t benefit from deviating from the script.

In particular, steps 4 and 5 avoid judgment. People rarely like being evaluated, especially on a favor they are doing for you. If you say “That’s a great idea” or “Oh, I don’t like that idea,” they’ll recoil from giving you any more ideas. Even if you evaluate one positively, you still implicitly evaluate others negatively.

In step 3 you avoid judgment from them as well. If you phrase your question to be about the past, people will evaluate your past, which is not as helpful as suggestions to improve your future. One great thing about this exercise is that you end up getting the value of the feedback without the discomfort. When I ask people for feedforward about public speaking and three people tell me I should use humor more, I can figure out they don’t think I’m funny, even though they would not likely have told me had I asked.

Asking clarification helps, as does taking notes. Giving them attention and appreciation motivates them to help people in the future, possibly yourself.

Follow up

Step 6 can be the most important and enduring step. Accountability is how things get done. If someone gives you advice you want to follow, you will increase your likelihood of doing it as well as the quality of your work by asking if you can follow up with them.

For example, if you asked for advice on public speaking and they suggest speaking every chance you get from making a toast at dinner to someone’s eulogy, you might say “Thank you, I would like to follow that advice. I figure I’ll have a couple chances to speak per week. Would it be okay with you if I check in once a week for a few weeks to make sure I’m following your advice? A phone call or email once a week is all I’m asking, though I’d welcome more advice on how I’m doing it.”

Notice I’m not suggesting saying it’s a good or bad idea, which would be evaluative and risk discouraging them.

You will know or can figure out with the other person how to follow up — how frequent, how to interact, for how long, etc.

Finally, this exercise works great in the middle of conflict. Nothing disarms someone mid-argument like saying “I hear what you’re saying. I’d like to improve on that. Can you give me a couple ways I could improve?” Without accusing or admitting right, wrong, good, bad, or evil, you move the argument from evaluating the past to improving the future. You’re listening to them and asking for advice. You are creating a foundation for future change.

You, right here, right now

I recommend starting by watching Marshall’s video and reading his feedforward page for more background. Then start thinking of something you want to improve (step 1) and do your first feedforward.

Communication skills exercises, part VIII: breaking the ice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

For many people, meeting someone at all is a major challenge. Today’s exercise gives you an all-purpose introduction you can use in all circumstances. It’s simple, requires no preparation, won’t come off like a line, and starts conversations.

I’m not saying it solves everything. You still have to keep the conversation going, which the previous exercises are for. But, assuming you’re reasonably well-groomed and your body language doesn’t shock people, no one will think ill of you for introducing yourself this way.

The principles

People like knowing that you care about them, that you aren’t just approaching for your own purposes, and that you are reasonably socially aware. Approaching with a standard line that has nothing to do with them. Even “Hi, my name is Josh,” however acceptable and innocuous, says nothing meaningful about yourself and nothing about them.

This introduction shows you thought about them for at least a moment before approaching. It also puts them in the foreground without putting them on the spot. Who doesn’t like other people appreciating them?

I call the introduction

I saw you X and had to say Y.

The introduction requires you to observe and think to use it. You fill in X and Y and adjust the rest accordingly. Generally try to use something behavior-related for X, rather than appearance. Some examples,

  • At a trade show booth: “I saw you working at company X, and had to say, I’ve heard about them in the news lately.”
  • At a cocktail party: “I saw you speaking to the host and had to ask how you know him/her too”
  • After a class: “I heard you ask the professor that question and had to ask how you thought to ask it. It got me thinking.”
  • To someone you’re attracted to at a bar: “I saw you smiling so much I had to say I like when people come out to enjoy themselves. Not everybody does.”
  • To someone high up in your corporation: “I read that policy memo you sent out and had to say it resonated with some observations I had.”

I made these up just sitting here, imagining hypothetical scenarios. I’m not saying they’ll knock the ball out of the park, but they get the job done: after you say them you are in conversation and the other person thinks you’re at least reasonably competent. You can start using the other exercises to keep the conversation going. In person you have more to work with because you can see their behavior and remark on details.

Done well, the person feels you approached them because something about them — preferably their behavior — led you to believe they are worth approaching. You know why? Because it did! The more you are able to communicate what led you to want to talk to them, the more it works — because the more genuine you are.

Here’s an example for when you’re bored at an event

  • I saw you standing here thinking. I was too. Might as well talk about the event. What were you thinking about?” (be ready to share what you were thinking about if they don’t answer)

The exercise

Since most people, the first time the do this, talk about the person’s shirt, hair, or something else about the other person’s appearance, the exercise is to find things related to their behavior — something they did or chose, not how they are. You can make appearance things behavior related by connecting them to the choice behind them.

  • I saw you chose to wear orange. I almost never do. I had to say I’m impressed with pulling it off. Are you good with fashion?
  • I saw you dressed as sharp as anyone here. I had to say I wish I had thought ahead too.

The exercise is this: as you go about your day, practice coming up with what you would say to any person. At first, you don’t have to approach them, just get in the habit of coming up with things people would appreciate hearing without being obsequious.

I did the exercise just now. I walked to my window and imagined my “I saw you X and had to say Y” introductions to three people:

  • I saw you walking with a friendly bounce to your step on a rainy day. I had to say it brightened my day. Can I ask what put you in a good mood?
  • I saw you have one of the biggest umbrellas I’ve seen. I had to ask where you got it. Most people have such small ones.
  • I saw you taking a picture of that fire house. I had to ask what about it got you to take out your camera.

Walking on a Manhattan street, you could do this exercise dozens of times in a few minutes, but you don’t have to be. You can do it watching television or a movie. On a subway you could practice a hundred times between two stops. At a cocktail party you could imagine what you would say to each person and be ready to talk to anyone.

Follow up

The follow-up is obvious: approach a few people with the introductions you imagine. Start off easy. For example, you can practice it with people you already know. Or you can do it with people you were already comfortable approaching.

You right here right now

Look around you. Imagine how you might introduce yourself to each of them with “I saw you X and had to say Y.” If no one is around you, look out the window or browse the web for a video of people and imagine what you’d say to each.

On a side note, before writing this post, I thought “I saw you X and had to say Y” was common parlance since I didn’t make it up, though I don’t remember where I first heard it. I was surprised that searching the web for “I saw you X and had to say Y” with the quotes returned zero links. Without the links turned up nothing relevant.

Communication skills exercises for business and life

Without effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, whatever awesomeness you have inside you is invisible to the world. You might as well not have it. Other people will nearly always be attracted to people with better social skills.

With effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, you can showcase your inner awesomeness to your heart’s content. You can attract other people, whether for business, personal, or whatever reason you want. People want to do business with you and invite you to join them because they want people around who communicate well.

Anybody can improve their communication skills, including you

People today sometimes think I was naturally born socially adept. I’m flattered, but I remember years of sitting in the library on Friday nights, not invited to the parties I could hear across the street. Or, if at parties, bars, or social events, wondering how everybody already knew each other since, because I didn’t know how to meet someone new, I figured nobody else did. I could only meet people if I had classes with them, worked with them, or someone introduced me.

I put a lot of work into improving my social skills. One of this page’s core premises is that changing your behavior influences your life. If you don’t know how to change your behavior, you can’t. Personally, I needed low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on what to do to start changing my behavior. With practice, meaning after making many mistakes, I improved my skills.

This series gives low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on communication skills

This series gives instructions useful for someone like I was. I don’t claim to have the best communications skills in the world, but they’re a lot better now than before and I didn’t do anything you can’t.

Click on the Table of Contents to the left to browse through the entries in this series.

I also present this series as a two-hour to full-day workshop you can book me for.

Improving your communication skills improves your life. Do it.

Communication skills exercises, part VI: feedforward

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you wish you could get the best advice for you, tailored perfectly to you, at the time you wanted it? This exercise gives you that, in a conversational way that helps build relationships too.

The technique, called feedforward, comes from Marshall Goldsmith — master author, executive coach, and happy, friendly guy. My advice is when his advice applies, use it. His two most recent books, Mojo and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, were best sellers. He was ranked the 14th most important thinker in business.

His personal web page offers tons of free resources. One, feedforward, stands out as useful for anyone and everyone at virtually any time.

His page on feedforward gives all the instructions on how to do it and reasons it works you need. The video below adds more.

Principles

I’ll note two reasons (out of his eleven) that stand out particularly for me.

Feedback from others is important for improving yourself. For all it helps, feedback has two main shortcomings. It is only about the past, which you can’t change, and people don’t like to give or receive feedback that could be hurtful. If I ask you for feedback on my presentation and you say three positive things, I don’t know if you had nothing negative to say or you just avoided saying things you thought I might not want to hear.

Feedforward is structured to give you the help you need to improve yourself without hitting the pitfalls feedback does — all the benefit and none of the problems. And you can implement it in a few minutes.

The exercise

Marshall’s page has the full script for feedforward. My abbreviated script is

  1. Identify something behavior related you want to improve – e.g., public speaking.
  2. Identify a person who can help and why they would be helpful – e.g., the person has observed you and others speaking in public.
  3. Say to him or her: “I’d like to improve my public speaking. You’ve seen me present and others who are great. Can you give me two or three things that could help?”
  4. Write them down. Clarify if necessary. Do not evaluate.
  5. “Thank you”
  6. Optional: ask for accountability.

Steps 1 and 2 are preparatory and you do them on your own. You can pick anything about yourself you want to improve — being on time, sleeping better, reading faster, losing weight, quitting smoking, saving more money, whatever.

Your area of improvement will determine whom to ask. The other person could be someone close to you, whom you trust, a random stranger, a family member, an old teacher, a colleague, your manager, your child, or anyone. You’re only asking a few minutes of their time to give advice, which people enjoy.

Note that the exercise is precise. Unlike the storytelling or meaning connection exercises, where embellishing and following tangents contributes, feedforward doesn’t benefit from deviating from the script.

In particular, steps 4 and 5 avoid judgment. People rarely like being evaluated, especially on a favor they are doing for you. If you say “That’s a great idea” or “Oh, I don’t like that idea,” they’ll recoil from giving you any more ideas. Even if you evaluate one positively, you still implicitly evaluate others negatively.

In step 3 you avoid judgment from them as well. If you phrase your question to be about the past, people will evaluate your past, which is not as helpful as suggestions to improve your future. One great thing about this exercise is that you end up getting the value of the feedback without the discomfort. When I ask people for feedforward about public speaking and three people tell me I should use humor more, I can figure out they don’t think I’m funny, even though they would not likely have told me had I asked.

Asking clarification helps, as does taking notes. Giving them attention and appreciation motivates them to help people in the future, possibly yourself.

Follow up

Step 6 can be the most important and enduring step. Accountability is how things get done. If someone gives you advice you want to follow, you will increase your likelihood of doing it as well as the quality of your work by asking if you can follow up with them.

For example, if you asked for advice on public speaking and they suggest speaking every chance you get from making a toast at dinner to someone’s eulogy, you might say “Thank you, I would like to follow that advice. I figure I’ll have a couple chances to speak per week. Would it be okay with you if I check in once a week for a few weeks to make sure I’m following your advice? A phone call or email once a week is all I’m asking, though I’d welcome more advice on how I’m doing it.”

Notice I’m not suggesting saying it’s a good or bad idea, which would be evaluative and risk discouraging them.

You will know or can figure out with the other person how to follow up — how frequent, how to interact, for how long, etc.

Finally, this exercise works great in the middle of conflict. Nothing disarms someone mid-argument like saying “I hear what you’re saying. I’d like to improve on that. Can you give me a couple ways I could improve?” Without accusing or admitting right, wrong, good, bad, or evil, you move the argument from evaluating the past to improving the future. You’re listening to them and asking for advice. You are creating a foundation for future change.

You, right here, right now

I recommend starting by watching Marshall’s video and reading his feedforward page for more background. Then start thinking of something you want to improve (step 1) and do your first feedforward.

Communication skills exercises, part VII: building blocks and tips

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

The previous exercises work fine on their own. You can further use them as building blocks to create whole conversations that are intriguing, interactive, mutually satisfying. Here are some tips to use them together.

Keep topics open by not closing all before starting new one

Going from topic to topic by ending each one before starting the next results in lulls from which is can be difficult to restart the conversation. If you’re having a great conversation with someone at a company you’d like to hire you, you’d rather they were talking or intrigued with something you’re saying than for them to walk away to avoid the awkwardness.

To keep conversations going, start new topics before ending current ones.

This pattern mimics conversations with friends and people you know well. Familiar conversations commonly go off on tangents where you lose track of where you are. Conversations with new people run out of steam when they stick too much to one topic. This practice helps avoid running out of steam.

Points of high tension are great times to start topics

I don’t mean tension between you and your conversational counterpart. I mean tension in the content of your conversation.

For example, in storytelling, after you’ve introduced the characters and conflict, your listeners will be hooked. You can start a new topic then without losing them. You can come back to the story, finish it, and restart the second topic.

Also, in the meaningful connections exercise, after they told you their passion or their response to what they particularly like about their passion (steps 2 or 4), you can start a new topic without losing them since they’ll appreciate when you return to their passion. You can then return to the exercise, finish it, and return to the new topic.

You can follow any ice-breaker or lull with C-hopping or telling a story

If you always keep in mind a few words from the last thing they said (remember, these exercises motivate listening), you can always restart a paused conversation with something they said.

If you always have a story or two handy, you can restart from a lull by telling it. Starting by describing characters gets people interested in the story better than most other beginnings.

Remember stories and topics that get reactions you like and C-hop toward them

You’ll have topics you can get to and from without seeming like you’re steering the conversation.

Nonverbal communication at key moments (story beginnings or moments of tension) adds emphasis

Nonverbal communication includes body language, posture, facial expression, pacing, volume, pausing, gesturing, and so on.

Listen and observe to make sure your partner is with you

A conversation isn’t a monologue. Treating the other person as the more important person in the conversation often results in greater interest on their part.

Practice

That you will improve with practice goes without saying. Practice the exercises, in particular since they improve specific skills. With practice you’ll get the underlying principles, which will enable you to deviate from the scripts and still achieve what the exercises are designed for. Eventually each exercise will seem second-nature – for example, you’ll feel something missing when you tell a story without detailing the characters and conflict

Communication skills exercises, part VIII: breaking the ice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

For many people, meeting someone at all is a major challenge. Today’s exercise gives you an all-purpose introduction you can use in all circumstances. It’s simple, requires no preparation, won’t come off like a line, and starts conversations.

I’m not saying it solves everything. You still have to keep the conversation going, which the previous exercises are for. But, assuming you’re reasonably well-groomed and your body language doesn’t shock people, no one will think ill of you for introducing yourself this way.

The principles

People like knowing that you care about them, that you aren’t just approaching for your own purposes, and that you are reasonably socially aware. Approaching with a standard line that has nothing to do with them. Even “Hi, my name is Josh,” however acceptable and innocuous, says nothing meaningful about yourself and nothing about them.

This introduction shows you thought about them for at least a moment before approaching. It also puts them in the foreground without putting them on the spot. Who doesn’t like other people appreciating them?

I call the introduction

I saw you X and had to say Y.

The introduction requires you to observe and think to use it. You fill in X and Y and adjust the rest accordingly. Generally try to use something behavior-related for X, rather than appearance. Some examples,

  • At a trade show booth: “I saw you working at company X, and had to say, I’ve heard about them in the news lately.”
  • At a cocktail party: “I saw you speaking to the host and had to ask how you know him/her too”
  • After a class: “I heard you ask the professor that question and had to ask how you thought to ask it. It got me thinking.”
  • To someone you’re attracted to at a bar: “I saw you smiling so much I had to say I like when people come out to enjoy themselves. Not everybody does.”
  • To someone high up in your corporation: “I read that policy memo you sent out and had to say it resonated with some observations I had.”

I made these up just sitting here, imagining hypothetical scenarios. I’m not saying they’ll knock the ball out of the park, but they get the job done: after you say them you are in conversation and the other person thinks you’re at least reasonably competent. You can start using the other exercises to keep the conversation going. In person you have more to work with because you can see their behavior and remark on details.

Done well, the person feels you approached them because something about them — preferably their behavior — led you to believe they are worth approaching. You know why? Because it did! The more you are able to communicate what led you to want to talk to them, the more it works — because the more genuine you are.

Here’s an example for when you’re bored at an event

  • I saw you standing here thinking. I was too. Might as well talk about the event. What were you thinking about?” (be ready to share what you were thinking about if they don’t answer)

The exercise

Since most people, the first time the do this, talk about the person’s shirt, hair, or something else about the other person’s appearance, the exercise is to find things related to their behavior — something they did or chose, not how they are. You can make appearance things behavior related by connecting them to the choice behind them.

  • I saw you chose to wear orange. I almost never do. I had to say I’m impressed with pulling it off. Are you good with fashion?
  • I saw you dressed as sharp as anyone here. I had to say I wish I had thought ahead too.

The exercise is this: as you go about your day, practice coming up with what you would say to any person. At first, you don’t have to approach them, just get in the habit of coming up with things people would appreciate hearing without being obsequious.

I did the exercise just now. I walked to my window and imagined my “I saw you X and had to say Y” introductions to three people:

  • I saw you walking with a friendly bounce to your step on a rainy day. I had to say it brightened my day. Can I ask what put you in a good mood?
  • I saw you have one of the biggest umbrellas I’ve seen. I had to ask where you got it. Most people have such small ones.
  • I saw you taking a picture of that fire house. I had to ask what about it got you to take out your camera.

Walking on a Manhattan street, you could do this exercise dozens of times in a few minutes, but you don’t have to be. You can do it watching television or a movie. On a subway you could practice a hundred times between two stops. At a cocktail party you could imagine what you would say to each person and be ready to talk to anyone.

Follow up

The follow-up is obvious: approach a few people with the introductions you imagine. Start off easy. For example, you can practice it with people you already know. Or you can do it with people you were already comfortable approaching.

You right here right now

Look around you. Imagine how you might introduce yourself to each of them with “I saw you X and had to say Y.” If no one is around you, look out the window or browse the web for a video of people and imagine what you’d say to each.

On a side note, before writing this post, I thought “I saw you X and had to say Y” was common parlance since I didn’t make it up, though I don’t remember where I first heard it. I was surprised that searching the web for “I saw you X and had to say Y” with the quotes returned zero links. Without the links turned up nothing relevant.

Communication skills exercises for business and life

Without effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, whatever awesomeness you have inside you is invisible to the world. You might as well not have it. Other people will nearly always be attracted to people with better social skills.

With effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, you can showcase your inner awesomeness to your heart’s content. You can attract other people, whether for business, personal, or whatever reason you want. People want to do business with you and invite you to join them because they want people around who communicate well.

Anybody can improve their communication skills, including you

People today sometimes think I was naturally born socially adept. I’m flattered, but I remember years of sitting in the library on Friday nights, not invited to the parties I could hear across the street. Or, if at parties, bars, or social events, wondering how everybody already knew each other since, because I didn’t know how to meet someone new, I figured nobody else did. I could only meet people if I had classes with them, worked with them, or someone introduced me.

I put a lot of work into improving my social skills. One of this page’s core premises is that changing your behavior influences your life. If you don’t know how to change your behavior, you can’t. Personally, I needed low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on what to do to start changing my behavior. With practice, meaning after making many mistakes, I improved my skills.

This series gives low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on communication skills

This series gives instructions useful for someone like I was. I don’t claim to have the best communications skills in the world, but they’re a lot better now than before and I didn’t do anything you can’t.

Click on the Table of Contents to the left to browse through the entries in this series.

I also present this series as a two-hour to full-day workshop you can book me for.

Improving your communication skills improves your life. Do it.

Communications skills exercise 12: Avoiding starting responses with "No," "But," or "However"

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I’ve written a bunch of times on the exercise I made up to avoid using judgmental words, particularly good, bad, right, wrong, and evil, but also balanced, better, worse, improve, acceptable, and a bunch of others.

I’m not sure if I wrote where I got the idea from. I got the idea from another exercise as simple and surprisingly effective that I learned from Marshall Goldsmith. Reading it will seem trivial. Doing it is nothing like you expect.

The exercise

The exercise is this:

Do not begin responses to people with the words “No,” “But,” or “However.”

Sound simple enough? Try it for a week. Marshall charges his client money each time he hears them say break the rule. Not a lot for his clients — maybe twenty dollars each time — but they add up.

I guarantee you of four things

  1. You’ll slip up
  2. You’ll be surprised at how much you say them, generally unconsciously
  3. How hard changing this habit is
  4. How much saying these three words affect how you listen and respond

When I have clients do it, they usually break the rule within the first few minutes, usually without realizing it.

Things you realize from this exercise

The exercise is experiential, as is what you learn from it. If you just read and think about it, you won’t get the value of it. You won’t even realize the value of it because you almost certainly underestimate how often you start responses with no, but, or however. You also almost certainly don’t realize the effort it takes to change and how deep the intent to change goes within you.

People usually say the first word they say doesn’t matter, the content that follows does. They don’t realize that the person they’re talking to doesn’t hear what you want to say. The person hears what you do say. If someone says something to you and you start your response with “but,” you just contradicted what they said.

Ever wonder why regular conversations that feel calm end up confrontational? These words contribute. People hear them and the feel confrontation.

When you don’t begin your responses to people by contradicting them, you have to listen to what they say more. When you respond to someone with no, but, or however, notice how soon you create your response. I bet it forms well before they finish what they were saying. When you don’t contradict them, you have to listen to them all the way through.

Do you prefer people to listen to you when you talk to them? Do you think people like you more or less when you don’t listen to them?

“No, I agree”

As you get used to this exercise and habitualize not contradicting people when you start talking to them, you’ll see how often others do it and cringe, like when you learn a new rule of grammar everyone breaks.

The king of all bizarre statements you’ll notice is “No, I agree.” It’s surprising how often you hear people say it, nonsensical as it is.

Communications skills exercises, part 10: Your Authentic Voice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I’ve found tremendous success with a conversation technique I developed recently. When you get it, it’s almost too simple to do, but it takes a practice to get it. And it can be scary at first. But with practice it builds and shows confidence and self-awareness.

Background

It follows up and builds on the most effective self-awareness exercise I know that I wrote about before. I found another write-up of a variation called “How to listen to and change your self talk” for comparison.

Referring to the variation, the important part of the exercise is to identify and write your self talk.

Self Talk is the way your mind speaks to you in all situations, from daily routines to difficult life events. It is the voice that can either encourage you or chastise you. The good news is by listening to your inner dialog and shifting it to become more in line with what you really want, you can transform your life.

  1. Observe the Self Talk you do on a daily basis. For an entire day, make note of the way you Self Talk in any given situation; pay attention to both positive Self Talk and negative Self Talk. The key to this step is to simply stand back and listen to the tone of your Self Talk, without making any adjustments just yet.
  2. Decide what type of Self Talk you want to hear. If you want to be more positive, look at the various situations throughout your day and see how you can change your prospective of them into something that will be positive.

So separate from communication skills, I recommend doing this exercise to increase your self-awareness and ability to manage how you perceive things, which affects how you give meaning to things.

With experience you sense and can change your self talk easily, a tremendously valuable skill. Most people aren’t even aware they have self talk at all even though they “hear” it all the time every day.

I recommend practicing the exercise I referred to above until you hone your skills at identifying and expressing your self talk.

The exercise

Once you’re good at identifying your self talk, the exercise is simply to voice it in conversation.

That’s it. You just voice your self talk.

I tend to do it when there’s a lull. I look at something and talk about it and see where my thoughts take us. It takes (and shows) confidence.

At first it’s weird and hard because self-talk can be hard to identify, once you start talking you change it, and you worry you might say something stupid or judgmental. With experience you get over these things.

It works amazing. It gets three main reactions

  • People get drawn into your world.
  • People remark how you seem able to talk about anything. They look up to you.
  • People open up to you. They sense your confidence and relaxation and allow themselves to relax their communication.

I realized a master of this technique is Robin Williams in his early days. He could talk rapidly for hours about whatever crossed his mind. He studied for years at Juilliard to create that freedom (as Martha Graham’s quotes on expression and freedom suggest). He engages the listener not just with what he says but that he dares to say it. He makes you think to yourself, “That’s exactly what I think. I just never thought to say it.” People say that to me when I do this technique. For some reason you love hearing that others think just like you. Maybe you empathize with them.

Jerry Seinfeld seems to use the technique to generate material. He voices simple observations about regular things. He refines it for comedy, but you don’t need to be as funny as him to get people interested in what you say.

I also realized that people who voice what’s on their minds tend to have high status. People with low status don’t think their thoughts are worth other people’s time. People with high status take for granted what they say has value. People love to see celebrities on late night talk shows talk about normal things normally, exclaiming “Oh my god, Brad Pitt doesn’t like holes in his socks either! He’s just like us!”

With practice I don’t just say random stupid stuff. But the point isn’t what you say. It’s how you say it and that you have the courage and confidence to let go and just say it.

I should probably give some examples, but maybe you get it. If people want examples I’ll post some.

Or if you have questions.

EDIT: I added examples of Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters.

Communications skills exercises, part IX: statements instead of questions

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

The principles

People like people who improve their lives and make conversations interesting. When you first meet someone you tell each other about yourselves in how and about what you talk. Sometimes when you take an interest in someone’s life or activities, you improve their lives. If people compliment you on your conversation skills, you probably do improve their lives by asking questions. Or if they are prompting you to ask questions, like talking about their kids or some other passion.

In my experience, when people first meet, the opposite happens more often. If you ask people what they do for a living, if they have brothers or sisters, where they’re from, or questions everybody asks all the time, you are probably boring them by having them repeat things they’ve said countless times before.

If you’ve ever felt like someone you didn’t know was giving you the third degree without contributing themselves, you know what I’m talking about.

In short, when you ask boring questions, you are asking them to provide the value in the conversation.

When I say this, people protest that by asking questions they’re taking an interest in other person, focusing on them. That’s why I said if people compliment you on your conversation skills you’re probably adding value. If they don’t, you probably aren’t.

If you hit a lull in a conversation first meeting someone and think to yourself something like “I know, I’ll ask them about …”, you should recognize how you are asking them to provide value. If you had something interesting to say, you would, but you don’t, so you hope something interesting about their life will come up.

I’m not saying asking questions is necessarily boring. But it often is.

You can do better. With a slight change of phrasing, you can make your conversations more interesting.

You can turn any question into a statement. Doing so makes the conversation more interesting. It often motivates the other person to share things they wouldn’t have otherwise.

The exercise

The exercise is to turn questions into statements. When you are in a conversation and find yourself about to ask one of the questions below, form a statement instead. If you’re thinking about their work, say something related to their work.

  • “So what do you do?” becomes “I bet I can tell what field you work in” or “You look like someone who loves what they do” or something similar.
  • “Do you have brothers or sisters?’ becomes “I bet you’re a middle child. I can tell” or “You seem like someone from a large family.” It doesn’t matter if you can tell if they’re from a large family. The point is you gave them the opportunity to talk about something without asking it.
  • “Where are you from?” becomes “You look like someone from the midwest/west coast/etc” or “I bet I can tell where you’re from.”
  • “What’s your sign?” becomes “You’re a taurus, I can tell.”

You can come up with many other examples. Practicing now will make it easier in conversation later.

Follow up

Over the next few times meeting people, try to rephrase all your questions into statements. See how it goes. When meeting people, note how you feel when they ask you questions and answering them, particularly ones you’ve been asked many times before.

Also, note the times you have wonderful conversations with someone new how many questions they asked you.

You, right here, right now

Practice right now. Imagine what questions you normally ask people. Which ones can you reframe into statements?

Communications skills exercise 12: Avoiding starting responses with "No," "But," or "However"

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I’ve written a bunch of times on the exercise I made up to avoid using judgmental words, particularly good, bad, right, wrong, and evil, but also balanced, better, worse, improve, acceptable, and a bunch of others.

I’m not sure if I wrote where I got the idea from. I got the idea from another exercise as simple and surprisingly effective that I learned from Marshall Goldsmith. Reading it will seem trivial. Doing it is nothing like you expect.

The exercise

The exercise is this:

Do not begin responses to people with the words “No,” “But,” or “However.”

Sound simple enough? Try it for a week. Marshall charges his client money each time he hears them say break the rule. Not a lot for his clients — maybe twenty dollars each time — but they add up.

I guarantee you of four things

  1. You’ll slip up
  2. You’ll be surprised at how much you say them, generally unconsciously
  3. How hard changing this habit is
  4. How much saying these three words affect how you listen and respond

When I have clients do it, they usually break the rule within the first few minutes, usually without realizing it.

Things you realize from this exercise

The exercise is experiential, as is what you learn from it. If you just read and think about it, you won’t get the value of it. You won’t even realize the value of it because you almost certainly underestimate how often you start responses with no, but, or however. You also almost certainly don’t realize the effort it takes to change and how deep the intent to change goes within you.

People usually say the first word they say doesn’t matter, the content that follows does. They don’t realize that the person they’re talking to doesn’t hear what you want to say. The person hears what you do say. If someone says something to you and you start your response with “but,” you just contradicted what they said.

Ever wonder why regular conversations that feel calm end up confrontational? These words contribute. People hear them and the feel confrontation.

When you don’t begin your responses to people by contradicting them, you have to listen to what they say more. When you respond to someone with no, but, or however, notice how soon you create your response. I bet it forms well before they finish what they were saying. When you don’t contradict them, you have to listen to them all the way through.

Do you prefer people to listen to you when you talk to them? Do you think people like you more or less when you don’t listen to them?

“No, I agree”

As you get used to this exercise and habitualize not contradicting people when you start talking to them, you’ll see how often others do it and cringe, like when you learn a new rule of grammar everyone breaks.

The king of all bizarre statements you’ll notice is “No, I agree.” It’s surprising how often you hear people say it, nonsensical as it is.

Communications skills exercises, part 10: Your Authentic Voice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I’ve found tremendous success with a conversation technique I developed recently. When you get it, it’s almost too simple to do, but it takes a practice to get it. And it can be scary at first. But with practice it builds and shows confidence and self-awareness.

Background

It follows up and builds on the most effective self-awareness exercise I know that I wrote about before. I found another write-up of a variation called “How to listen to and change your self talk” for comparison.

Referring to the variation, the important part of the exercise is to identify and write your self talk.

Self Talk is the way your mind speaks to you in all situations, from daily routines to difficult life events. It is the voice that can either encourage you or chastise you. The good news is by listening to your inner dialog and shifting it to become more in line with what you really want, you can transform your life.

  1. Observe the Self Talk you do on a daily basis. For an entire day, make note of the way you Self Talk in any given situation; pay attention to both positive Self Talk and negative Self Talk. The key to this step is to simply stand back and listen to the tone of your Self Talk, without making any adjustments just yet.
  2. Decide what type of Self Talk you want to hear. If you want to be more positive, look at the various situations throughout your day and see how you can change your prospective of them into something that will be positive.

So separate from communication skills, I recommend doing this exercise to increase your self-awareness and ability to manage how you perceive things, which affects how you give meaning to things.

With experience you sense and can change your self talk easily, a tremendously valuable skill. Most people aren’t even aware they have self talk at all even though they “hear” it all the time every day.

I recommend practicing the exercise I referred to above until you hone your skills at identifying and expressing your self talk.

The exercise

Once you’re good at identifying your self talk, the exercise is simply to voice it in conversation.

That’s it. You just voice your self talk.

I tend to do it when there’s a lull. I look at something and talk about it and see where my thoughts take us. It takes (and shows) confidence.

At first it’s weird and hard because self-talk can be hard to identify, once you start talking you change it, and you worry you might say something stupid or judgmental. With experience you get over these things.

It works amazing. It gets three main reactions

  • People get drawn into your world.
  • People remark how you seem able to talk about anything. They look up to you.
  • People open up to you. They sense your confidence and relaxation and allow themselves to relax their communication.

I realized a master of this technique is Robin Williams in his early days. He could talk rapidly for hours about whatever crossed his mind. He studied for years at Juilliard to create that freedom (as Martha Graham’s quotes on expression and freedom suggest). He engages the listener not just with what he says but that he dares to say it. He makes you think to yourself, “That’s exactly what I think. I just never thought to say it.” People say that to me when I do this technique. For some reason you love hearing that others think just like you. Maybe you empathize with them.

Jerry Seinfeld seems to use the technique to generate material. He voices simple observations about regular things. He refines it for comedy, but you don’t need to be as funny as him to get people interested in what you say.

I also realized that people who voice what’s on their minds tend to have high status. People with low status don’t think their thoughts are worth other people’s time. People with high status take for granted what they say has value. People love to see celebrities on late night talk shows talk about normal things normally, exclaiming “Oh my god, Brad Pitt doesn’t like holes in his socks either! He’s just like us!”

With practice I don’t just say random stupid stuff. But the point isn’t what you say. It’s how you say it and that you have the courage and confidence to let go and just say it.

I should probably give some examples, but maybe you get it. If people want examples I’ll post some.

Or if you have questions.

EDIT: I added examples of Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters.

Communications skills exercise 12: Avoiding starting responses with "No," "But," or "However"

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I’ve written a bunch of times on the exercise I made up to avoid using judgmental words, particularly good, bad, right, wrong, and evil, but also balanced, better, worse, improve, acceptable, and a bunch of others.

I’m not sure if I wrote where I got the idea from. I got the idea from another exercise as simple and surprisingly effective that I learned from Marshall Goldsmith. Reading it will seem trivial. Doing it is nothing like you expect.

The exercise

The exercise is this:

Do not begin responses to people with the words “No,” “But,” or “However.”

Sound simple enough? Try it for a week. Marshall charges his client money each time he hears them say break the rule. Not a lot for his clients — maybe twenty dollars each time — but they add up.

I guarantee you of four things

  1. You’ll slip up
  2. You’ll be surprised at how much you say them, generally unconsciously
  3. How hard changing this habit is
  4. How much saying these three words affect how you listen and respond

When I have clients do it, they usually break the rule within the first few minutes, usually without realizing it.

Things you realize from this exercise

The exercise is experiential, as is what you learn from it. If you just read and think about it, you won’t get the value of it. You won’t even realize the value of it because you almost certainly underestimate how often you start responses with no, but, or however. You also almost certainly don’t realize the effort it takes to change and how deep the intent to change goes within you.

People usually say the first word they say doesn’t matter, the content that follows does. They don’t realize that the person they’re talking to doesn’t hear what you want to say. The person hears what you do say. If someone says something to you and you start your response with “but,” you just contradicted what they said.

Ever wonder why regular conversations that feel calm end up confrontational? These words contribute. People hear them and the feel confrontation.

When you don’t begin your responses to people by contradicting them, you have to listen to what they say more. When you respond to someone with no, but, or however, notice how soon you create your response. I bet it forms well before they finish what they were saying. When you don’t contradict them, you have to listen to them all the way through.

Do you prefer people to listen to you when you talk to them? Do you think people like you more or less when you don’t listen to them?

“No, I agree”

As you get used to this exercise and habitualize not contradicting people when you start talking to them, you’ll see how often others do it and cringe, like when you learn a new rule of grammar everyone breaks.

The king of all bizarre statements you’ll notice is “No, I agree.” It’s surprising how often you hear people say it, nonsensical as it is.

Communications skills exercises, part 10: Your Authentic Voice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I’ve found tremendous success with a conversation technique I developed recently. When you get it, it’s almost too simple to do, but it takes a practice to get it. And it can be scary at first. But with practice it builds and shows confidence and self-awareness.

Background

It follows up and builds on the most effective self-awareness exercise I know that I wrote about before. I found another write-up of a variation called “How to listen to and change your self talk” for comparison.

Referring to the variation, the important part of the exercise is to identify and write your self talk.

Self Talk is the way your mind speaks to you in all situations, from daily routines to difficult life events. It is the voice that can either encourage you or chastise you. The good news is by listening to your inner dialog and shifting it to become more in line with what you really want, you can transform your life.

  1. Observe the Self Talk you do on a daily basis. For an entire day, make note of the way you Self Talk in any given situation; pay attention to both positive Self Talk and negative Self Talk. The key to this step is to simply stand back and listen to the tone of your Self Talk, without making any adjustments just yet.
  2. Decide what type of Self Talk you want to hear. If you want to be more positive, look at the various situations throughout your day and see how you can change your prospective of them into something that will be positive.

So separate from communication skills, I recommend doing this exercise to increase your self-awareness and ability to manage how you perceive things, which affects how you give meaning to things.

With experience you sense and can change your self talk easily, a tremendously valuable skill. Most people aren’t even aware they have self talk at all even though they “hear” it all the time every day.

I recommend practicing the exercise I referred to above until you hone your skills at identifying and expressing your self talk.

The exercise

Once you’re good at identifying your self talk, the exercise is simply to voice it in conversation.

That’s it. You just voice your self talk.

I tend to do it when there’s a lull. I look at something and talk about it and see where my thoughts take us. It takes (and shows) confidence.

At first it’s weird and hard because self-talk can be hard to identify, once you start talking you change it, and you worry you might say something stupid or judgmental. With experience you get over these things.

It works amazing. It gets three main reactions

  • People get drawn into your world.
  • People remark how you seem able to talk about anything. They look up to you.
  • People open up to you. They sense your confidence and relaxation and allow themselves to relax their communication.

I realized a master of this technique is Robin Williams in his early days. He could talk rapidly for hours about whatever crossed his mind. He studied for years at Juilliard to create that freedom (as Martha Graham’s quotes on expression and freedom suggest). He engages the listener not just with what he says but that he dares to say it. He makes you think to yourself, “That’s exactly what I think. I just never thought to say it.” People say that to me when I do this technique. For some reason you love hearing that others think just like you. Maybe you empathize with them.

Jerry Seinfeld seems to use the technique to generate material. He voices simple observations about regular things. He refines it for comedy, but you don’t need to be as funny as him to get people interested in what you say.

I also realized that people who voice what’s on their minds tend to have high status. People with low status don’t think their thoughts are worth other people’s time. People with high status take for granted what they say has value. People love to see celebrities on late night talk shows talk about normal things normally, exclaiming “Oh my god, Brad Pitt doesn’t like holes in his socks either! He’s just like us!”

With practice I don’t just say random stupid stuff. But the point isn’t what you say. It’s how you say it and that you have the courage and confidence to let go and just say it.

I should probably give some examples, but maybe you get it. If people want examples I’ll post some.

Or if you have questions.

EDIT: I added examples of Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters.

Communications skills exercises, part 10a: examples of voicing your self-talk

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Here are examples of two masters of voicing their self-talk, Robin Williams and (I believe) his mentor Jonathan Winters.

They make great role models for what level of freedom in communication people are capable of. Before watching, keep in mind you don’t have to reach that level to achieve more freedom in communicating to others and yourself. According to Wikipedia, Robin Williams was shy until he began drama in high school and developed his skills through practice.

You don’t need the impressions, the speed, the audience, etc. You only need to communicate openly to achieve the bulk of what they convey — freedom, creativity, and uninhibitedness.

Moreover, you don’t have to try to be funny. In fact, trying to be funny generally backfires. Letting yourself be yourself will get many more laughs and appreciation.

But I recommend doing it for yourself.

On Inside the Actors Studio

[Sorry for the links to videos YouTube won’t play. I’m keeping them here in case the copyright issues get resolved and we can watch them again]

At the Golden Globes. Notice how he never loses track of his environment, thanking whom he wants to thank, especially his note to his friend and Juilliard classmate, Christopher Reeve. He doesn’t just joke around.

On Johnny Carson

Jonathan Winters, a generation earlier, which suggests to me he had his precedent a generation before him.

I’ve never seriously studied acting, but I understand actors search for truth in their craft, art, and roles. I believe the performances above show truth. I think they can only display such brilliance by being themselves, not by putting on a role. I think that’s why we love them.

If they can do it, you can too.

EDIT: See another great example of this exercise here.

Communications skills exercise 12: Avoiding starting responses with "No," "But," or "However"

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I’ve written a bunch of times on the exercise I made up to avoid using judgmental words, particularly good, bad, right, wrong, and evil, but also balanced, better, worse, improve, acceptable, and a bunch of others.

I’m not sure if I wrote where I got the idea from. I got the idea from another exercise as simple and surprisingly effective that I learned from Marshall Goldsmith. Reading it will seem trivial. Doing it is nothing like you expect.

The exercise

The exercise is this:

Do not begin responses to people with the words “No,” “But,” or “However.”

Sound simple enough? Try it for a week. Marshall charges his client money each time he hears them say break the rule. Not a lot for his clients — maybe twenty dollars each time — but they add up.

I guarantee you of four things

  1. You’ll slip up
  2. You’ll be surprised at how much you say them, generally unconsciously
  3. How hard changing this habit is
  4. How much saying these three words affect how you listen and respond

When I have clients do it, they usually break the rule within the first few minutes, usually without realizing it.

Things you realize from this exercise

The exercise is experiential, as is what you learn from it. If you just read and think about it, you won’t get the value of it. You won’t even realize the value of it because you almost certainly underestimate how often you start responses with no, but, or however. You also almost certainly don’t realize the effort it takes to change and how deep the intent to change goes within you.

People usually say the first word they say doesn’t matter, the content that follows does. They don’t realize that the person they’re talking to doesn’t hear what you want to say. The person hears what you do say. If someone says something to you and you start your response with “but,” you just contradicted what they said.

Ever wonder why regular conversations that feel calm end up confrontational? These words contribute. People hear them and the feel confrontation.

When you don’t begin your responses to people by contradicting them, you have to listen to what they say more. When you respond to someone with no, but, or however, notice how soon you create your response. I bet it forms well before they finish what they were saying. When you don’t contradict them, you have to listen to them all the way through.

Do you prefer people to listen to you when you talk to them? Do you think people like you more or less when you don’t listen to them?

“No, I agree”

As you get used to this exercise and habitualize not contradicting people when you start talking to them, you’ll see how often others do it and cringe, like when you learn a new rule of grammar everyone breaks.

The king of all bizarre statements you’ll notice is “No, I agree.” It’s surprising how often you hear people say it, nonsensical as it is.

Communications skills exercises, part 10: Your Authentic Voice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I’ve found tremendous success with a conversation technique I developed recently. When you get it, it’s almost too simple to do, but it takes a practice to get it. And it can be scary at first. But with practice it builds and shows confidence and self-awareness.

Background

It follows up and builds on the most effective self-awareness exercise I know that I wrote about before. I found another write-up of a variation called “How to listen to and change your self talk” for comparison.

Referring to the variation, the important part of the exercise is to identify and write your self talk.

Self Talk is the way your mind speaks to you in all situations, from daily routines to difficult life events. It is the voice that can either encourage you or chastise you. The good news is by listening to your inner dialog and shifting it to become more in line with what you really want, you can transform your life.

  1. Observe the Self Talk you do on a daily basis. For an entire day, make note of the way you Self Talk in any given situation; pay attention to both positive Self Talk and negative Self Talk. The key to this step is to simply stand back and listen to the tone of your Self Talk, without making any adjustments just yet.
  2. Decide what type of Self Talk you want to hear. If you want to be more positive, look at the various situations throughout your day and see how you can change your prospective of them into something that will be positive.

So separate from communication skills, I recommend doing this exercise to increase your self-awareness and ability to manage how you perceive things, which affects how you give meaning to things.

With experience you sense and can change your self talk easily, a tremendously valuable skill. Most people aren’t even aware they have self talk at all even though they “hear” it all the time every day.

I recommend practicing the exercise I referred to above until you hone your skills at identifying and expressing your self talk.

The exercise

Once you’re good at identifying your self talk, the exercise is simply to voice it in conversation.

That’s it. You just voice your self talk.

I tend to do it when there’s a lull. I look at something and talk about it and see where my thoughts take us. It takes (and shows) confidence.

At first it’s weird and hard because self-talk can be hard to identify, once you start talking you change it, and you worry you might say something stupid or judgmental. With experience you get over these things.

It works amazing. It gets three main reactions

  • People get drawn into your world.
  • People remark how you seem able to talk about anything. They look up to you.
  • People open up to you. They sense your confidence and relaxation and allow themselves to relax their communication.

I realized a master of this technique is Robin Williams in his early days. He could talk rapidly for hours about whatever crossed his mind. He studied for years at Juilliard to create that freedom (as Martha Graham’s quotes on expression and freedom suggest). He engages the listener not just with what he says but that he dares to say it. He makes you think to yourself, “That’s exactly what I think. I just never thought to say it.” People say that to me when I do this technique. For some reason you love hearing that others think just like you. Maybe you empathize with them.

Jerry Seinfeld seems to use the technique to generate material. He voices simple observations about regular things. He refines it for comedy, but you don’t need to be as funny as him to get people interested in what you say.

I also realized that people who voice what’s on their minds tend to have high status. People with low status don’t think their thoughts are worth other people’s time. People with high status take for granted what they say has value. People love to see celebrities on late night talk shows talk about normal things normally, exclaiming “Oh my god, Brad Pitt doesn’t like holes in his socks either! He’s just like us!”

With practice I don’t just say random stupid stuff. But the point isn’t what you say. It’s how you say it and that you have the courage and confidence to let go and just say it.

I should probably give some examples, but maybe you get it. If people want examples I’ll post some.

Or if you have questions.

EDIT: I added examples of Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters.

Communications skills exercises, part 10b: another example of voicing your self-talk

Following up on this post on voicing your self-talk, a follow-up to what I consider the most effective exercise in improving your self-awareness, here is another example of someone speaking extemporaneously for a long time. He’s not exactly voicing his self-talk, but he is, at least somewhat.

I presume he knew his topic well before this recording, but knowing a topic well doesn’t make speaking for over five minutes on it easy. He has to be able to let the words come out of his mouth with minimal filtering.

I find being able to speak extemporaneously displays high status.

It’s also funny and shows talent. I expect he worked hard to be able to speak like that. Could you do it, in front of an audience, even on a topic of your choice?

Communication skills exercises, part VIII: breaking the ice

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

For many people, meeting someone at all is a major challenge. Today’s exercise gives you an all-purpose introduction you can use in all circumstances. It’s simple, requires no preparation, won’t come off like a line, and starts conversations.

I’m not saying it solves everything. You still have to keep the conversation going, which the previous exercises are for. But, assuming you’re reasonably well-groomed and your body language doesn’t shock people, no one will think ill of you for introducing yourself this way.

The principles

People like knowing that you care about them, that you aren’t just approaching for your own purposes, and that you are reasonably socially aware. Approaching with a standard line that has nothing to do with them. Even “Hi, my name is Josh,” however acceptable and innocuous, says nothing meaningful about yourself and nothing about them.

This introduction shows you thought about them for at least a moment before approaching. It also puts them in the foreground without putting them on the spot. Who doesn’t like other people appreciating them?

I call the introduction

I saw you X and had to say Y.

The introduction requires you to observe and think to use it. You fill in X and Y and adjust the rest accordingly. Generally try to use something behavior-related for X, rather than appearance. Some examples,

  • At a trade show booth: “I saw you working at company X, and had to say, I’ve heard about them in the news lately.”
  • At a cocktail party: “I saw you speaking to the host and had to ask how you know him/her too”
  • After a class: “I heard you ask the professor that question and had to ask how you thought to ask it. It got me thinking.”
  • To someone you’re attracted to at a bar: “I saw you smiling so much I had to say I like when people come out to enjoy themselves. Not everybody does.”
  • To someone high up in your corporation: “I read that policy memo you sent out and had to say it resonated with some observations I had.”

I made these up just sitting here, imagining hypothetical scenarios. I’m not saying they’ll knock the ball out of the park, but they get the job done: after you say them you are in conversation and the other person thinks you’re at least reasonably competent. You can start using the other exercises to keep the conversation going. In person you have more to work with because you can see their behavior and remark on details.

Done well, the person feels you approached them because something about them — preferably their behavior — led you to believe they are worth approaching. You know why? Because it did! The more you are able to communicate what led you to want to talk to them, the more it works — because the more genuine you are.

Here’s an example for when you’re bored at an event

  • I saw you standing here thinking. I was too. Might as well talk about the event. What were you thinking about?” (be ready to share what you were thinking about if they don’t answer)

The exercise

Since most people, the first time the do this, talk about the person’s shirt, hair, or something else about the other person’s appearance, the exercise is to find things related to their behavior — something they did or chose, not how they are. You can make appearance things behavior related by connecting them to the choice behind them.

  • I saw you chose to wear orange. I almost never do. I had to say I’m impressed with pulling it off. Are you good with fashion?
  • I saw you dressed as sharp as anyone here. I had to say I wish I had thought ahead too.

The exercise is this: as you go about your day, practice coming up with what you would say to any person. At first, you don’t have to approach them, just get in the habit of coming up with things people would appreciate hearing without being obsequious.

I did the exercise just now. I walked to my window and imagined my “I saw you X and had to say Y” introductions to three people:

  • I saw you walking with a friendly bounce to your step on a rainy day. I had to say it brightened my day. Can I ask what put you in a good mood?
  • I saw you have one of the biggest umbrellas I’ve seen. I had to ask where you got it. Most people have such small ones.
  • I saw you taking a picture of that fire house. I had to ask what about it got you to take out your camera.

Walking on a Manhattan street, you could do this exercise dozens of times in a few minutes, but you don’t have to be. You can do it watching television or a movie. On a subway you could practice a hundred times between two stops. At a cocktail party you could imagine what you would say to each person and be ready to talk to anyone.

Follow up

The follow-up is obvious: approach a few people with the introductions you imagine. Start off easy. For example, you can practice it with people you already know. Or you can do it with people you were already comfortable approaching.

You right here right now

Look around you. Imagine how you might introduce yourself to each of them with “I saw you X and had to say Y.” If no one is around you, look out the window or browse the web for a video of people and imagine what you’d say to each.

On a side note, before writing this post, I thought “I saw you X and had to say Y” was common parlance since I didn’t make it up, though I don’t remember where I first heard it. I was surprised that searching the web for “I saw you X and had to say Y” with the quotes returned zero links. Without the links turned up nothing relevant.

Communication skills exercises for business and life

Without effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, whatever awesomeness you have inside you is invisible to the world. You might as well not have it. Other people will nearly always be attracted to people with better social skills.

With effective communication skills and comfort practicing them, you can showcase your inner awesomeness to your heart’s content. You can attract other people, whether for business, personal, or whatever reason you want. People want to do business with you and invite you to join them because they want people around who communicate well.

Anybody can improve their communication skills, including you

People today sometimes think I was naturally born socially adept. I’m flattered, but I remember years of sitting in the library on Friday nights, not invited to the parties I could hear across the street. Or, if at parties, bars, or social events, wondering how everybody already knew each other since, because I didn’t know how to meet someone new, I figured nobody else did. I could only meet people if I had classes with them, worked with them, or someone introduced me.

I put a lot of work into improving my social skills. One of this page’s core premises is that changing your behavior influences your life. If you don’t know how to change your behavior, you can’t. Personally, I needed low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on what to do to start changing my behavior. With practice, meaning after making many mistakes, I improved my skills.

This series gives low-level, clear, easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow instructions on communication skills

This series gives instructions useful for someone like I was. I don’t claim to have the best communications skills in the world, but they’re a lot better now than before and I didn’t do anything you can’t.

Click on the Table of Contents to the left to browse through the entries in this series.

I also present this series as a two-hour to full-day workshop you can book me for.

Improving your communication skills improves your life. Do it.

Communication skills exercises, part 11: Quick and dirty escapes from conversation lulls

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Don’t you hate getting stuck in a conversation lull? Neither person knows what to say. The conversation loses momentum. If you just met the person, you start to wonder if the relationship will never get off the ground — a serious problem if you’re working on a sale, trying to get hired, trying to attract someone.

Compounding the problem, not knowing what to say tends to happen more when you consider the other person more important than you. People often feel that way in the situations I just listed.

Lulls are inevitable, so you might as well find ways to get out.

Today’s exercise gives four quick and dirty ways to get out of a lull. They won’t energize or completely revitalize a relationship, but they’ll give you a chance to restart meaningful dialogue. Sometimes that’s all you need.

The four ways are sentence fragments that introduce concepts that convey emotions and that you care about. They are short enough to remember easily and long enough that in the time you say them you can figure out how to finish them, usually just by looking around you.

(Note I’m not saying pausing in conversations is bad. I’m offering an alternative for when you don’t want that lull.)

Four sentence beginnings that work

Today I’ll present four beginnings of sentences that work. They are more for casual conversation than work, but with practice you’ll see how to edit them to use at work.

The sentence fragments are

You know what I love? I love…

You know what I hate? I hate…

You know what’s awesome?…

You know what sucks?…

If they seem too easy, that’s their value. You won’t forget them, especially if you do the exercise just below.

They work because they introduce emotions and emotions attract attention.

An exercise to practice and illustrate

To see how they work and get them working for you, start each fragment without knowing what you’ll say after and in the time you take to say them, create endings with something on your mind or in your field of view.

The first times you do it you may not come up with endings. That’s why you do the exercise now, by yourself. So you overcome the initial challenge. Then when you face a lull with a client or on a date, it comes naturally. (Or you can wait for your next lull, think “what was that exercise Josh suggested?”, regret not having taken two minutes to do it now, and come back and do it after suffering through that lull).

Examples

For example, I’ll do one of each, typing instead of talking. Take my word for it that I’m not preparing what to say after I start typing each.

You know what I love? I love that blogging has become so easy to do these days. Years ago it took a lot of work to start one. Now not only is it easy, but the software is actually fun to use. I like playing around with features and optimizing my web page.

Did I just start the next War and Peace? No, but I at least got sharing something I care about. If I were talking to someone, it would beat a lull and they could take an interest in it. More likely than if I just said “I write on my web page every day.”

You know what I hate? I hate that when we have abnormally warm days like today, I can’t enjoy them anymore. What used to feel like a lucky day now I worry if global warming might mean we’ll have warmer and warmer days all the time. I remember New York’s first super-mild winter. I felt like people didn’t really enjoy it because they were nervous.

I felt like I started getting into political talk so I wrote more slowly than the first example, but I think it went okay. People can talk about global warming comfortably. And again, I’ve shared emotion on something I care about. That may not be the best thing you can possibly do, but it beats helplessly sitting in a lull.

You know what’s awesome? It’s awesome to live in New York. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it many more times. I know people who don’t really love where they live and I wish they did. To me this place feels like home, like I don’t have to try to enjoy life or figure the place out. I just can.

Here I got into a topic I talk and write about a lot. These exercises do that. They often put you in familiar territory, which can work well, especially after you find a few topics that people enjoy talking to you about. That’s an advantage of them.

You know what sucks? These days trying to go to a concert costs tons more than it used to. I wish they would just say someone has a monopoly and they’re using it to charge more. Now they add on things like “convenience costs” for something that actually saves them money — like electronic tickets. It makes me not go to events like that. I like what Louis C. K. did by selling his own tickets.

If you’re in a professional environment and don’t want to say “sucks” you can substitute “… is terrible.”

Anyway, you probably get the idea by now. Try the exercise a few times to prepare yourself for your next lull.

Communications skills exercise 12: Avoiding starting responses with "No," "But," or "However"

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I’ve written a bunch of times on the exercise I made up to avoid using judgmental words, particularly good, bad, right, wrong, and evil, but also balanced, better, worse, improve, acceptable, and a bunch of others.

I’m not sure if I wrote where I got the idea from. I got the idea from another exercise as simple and surprisingly effective that I learned from Marshall Goldsmith. Reading it will seem trivial. Doing it is nothing like you expect.

The exercise

The exercise is this:

Do not begin responses to people with the words “No,” “But,” or “However.”

Sound simple enough? Try it for a week. Marshall charges his client money each time he hears them say break the rule. Not a lot for his clients — maybe twenty dollars each time — but they add up.

I guarantee you of four things

  1. You’ll slip up
  2. You’ll be surprised at how much you say them, generally unconsciously
  3. How hard changing this habit is
  4. How much saying these three words affect how you listen and respond

When I have clients do it, they usually break the rule within the first few minutes, usually without realizing it.

Things you realize from this exercise

The exercise is experiential, as is what you learn from it. If you just read and think about it, you won’t get the value of it. You won’t even realize the value of it because you almost certainly underestimate how often you start responses with no, but, or however. You also almost certainly don’t realize the effort it takes to change and how deep the intent to change goes within you.

People usually say the first word they say doesn’t matter, the content that follows does. They don’t realize that the person they’re talking to doesn’t hear what you want to say. The person hears what you do say. If someone says something to you and you start your response with “but,” you just contradicted what they said.

Ever wonder why regular conversations that feel calm end up confrontational? These words contribute. People hear them and the feel confrontation.

When you don’t begin your responses to people by contradicting them, you have to listen to what they say more. When you respond to someone with no, but, or however, notice how soon you create your response. I bet it forms well before they finish what they were saying. When you don’t contradict them, you have to listen to them all the way through.

Do you prefer people to listen to you when you talk to them? Do you think people like you more or less when you don’t listen to them?

“No, I agree”

As you get used to this exercise and habitualize not contradicting people when you start talking to them, you’ll see how often others do it and cringe, like when you learn a new rule of grammar everyone breaks.

The king of all bizarre statements you’ll notice is “No, I agree.” It’s surprising how often you hear people say it, nonsensical as it is.

Context, Action, Result (CAR): answering interview questions and describing experience effectively

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Has an interviewer ever begun a question with “Can you tell me a time when …” or asked you about your experience?

Such questions arise in job interviews, with people considering promoting you, when seeking funding, even dating, to mention a few places. I’ll take a lot of the guesswork out of how to answer.

Your answer has two major components—content and structure. You have to draw on your experience for the content, but I’ll tell you a structure that works. I didn’t make it up, but I use it. Spread it around. Most importantly, practice it. The more you do, the more you’ll realize its value in many areas beyond interviews where it helps you to demonstrate your experience.

The structure is this:

  • Context
  • Action
  • Result

You can remember it as CAR. When someone asks you about experience or skills, you’ll rarely go wrong using this structure. I recommend one to three sentences of each, which should answer the question in a minute or two and prompt them to ask you for more detail, giving you the chance to lead the conversation and show yourself off because they asked you to.

I’ll illustrate by asking myself a few questions and answering as quick as I can without thinking too much, just using this structure. You’ll have to take my word for it that I’m writing quickly with minimal thinking and editing. The point is not that I’m writing great stories, but that the structure makes it easy to think on your feet and answer quickly and motivate the other person to take interest.

Example 1

“Josh, could you tell us about a time you showed leadership?”

“Sure. Just after business school a friend told me about a company he was starting with some friends. None of them had started a company before but he knew I had and they had a few challenges they didn’t know how to solve. [Context] I met with them a few times and saw they had potential to grow, but hadn’t figured out how to create the internal structures. I met with each, especially my friend and the CEO to understand the situation better. I talked and worked with each to help create an operational plan and set of relationships. [Action] We were able to close a few quick, profitable deals that we might not have been able to deliver on otherwise. After they were set up but last I checked they were still operational. I also happened to stay friends with one of them. [Result]”

Example 2

“Josh, have you ever managed a crisis?”

“Yes. I’ve been through a few very difficult times. The first company I co-founded succeeded at first but in the first few years almost didn’t make it. The proximal reason was that we nearly ran out of money, but there were bigger reasons behind it. [Context] I confess that at the time, for whatever value my physics PhD had, I didn’t understand all the business problems facing us. When I later realized I knew I would keep starting businesses, I decided to get an MBA so my future companies would never be held back by a lack of business skills on my part. [Action] Business school ended up one of the best decisions of my life. Besides starting several successful projects since, I restored my relationships with the people who endured that crisis time since and continue to contribute to my company. [Result]”

Example 3

“Josh, what is one of your proudest achievements?”

“Good question, I have a few [stalling to help me think]. I’d have to say finishing my most recent marathon, which had my personal best time. That year I didn’t get into the New York City marathon, but wanted to run so signed up for Philadelphia’s. I hadn’t run one in years, but that spring came late and I really wanted to run more. I could tell you about the training and what went into it, but I’ll just say that I trained a lot. [Context] When I started running the weather was in the 30s and windy, among the most challenging conditions to do something like run 26.2 miles I’ve been in. About halfway through the race it began to rain. It was my hometown so I knew the course so I felt comfortable running, plus it was less crowded than New York. [Action] I ended up getting my personal best time despite being older and even inspired my mom to run her first marathon two years later. [Result]”

Review

I’m not sure how great the answers read, but given that they’re unrehearsed, they feel to me like they aren’t so bad. They could be longer, but I think they give the person asking the opportunity to ask more if they want. Or I could check if they want to hear more and continue if they want.

Again, I recommend practicing the technique. The more you do the easier it will come to you and the more circumstances you’ll find it applies to.

How to make someone feel understood: the Confirmation/Clarification Cycle

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Making someone feel understood is a powerful leadership tool that makes the difference between motivating with external incentives, which merely guide, and internal emotions, which motivate from within. With practice you’ll be able to evoke passions and inspire. They’ll often feel gratitude toward you for the inspiration, even as they contribute more than usual.

You’ll be surprised at how enthusiastically and fully people contribute when they feel understood about emotions that matter to them but find difficult to share.

I’ve written about the value of somebody feeling understood as distinct from just understanding them. Today I’ll cover some specific low-level behaviors to make someone feel understood and ensure you understand them. Covering these in my “How to Lead People So They Want You to Lead Them Again” seminar is one of its high points for most people. Everything clicks for people on both sides of the interaction and they realize how critical, powerful, and simple this quick technique is.

First, remember the distinction and why it matters. You understanding them happens in your head. Someone feeling understood happens in their head. It matters because their motivation comes from inside their heads, not yours, so all the understanding in the world from others doesn’t matter to them until it results in them feeling understood.

It’s hard to fool understanding someone else so making them feel understood generally starts with understanding them, but you can’t stop there. For one thing, you can never understand another person perfectly. You probably don’t understand yourself perfectly. If you don’t confirm and clarify your understanding with them, you won’t know what misunderstandings you have. Confirming and clarifying both improves your understanding and helps them feel understood.

What you do

The following can take under five minutes. it will establish a feeling of understanding you can build on for the rest of your relationship with the person. If you do no more than the following, the other person will feel like you connected with them. If you use it as a foundation, you can build tremendous connections with someone. The more you do it with different people the more you’ll get a feel for how and why it works and the more you’ll build your relationships on understanding. You’ll feel the effects across all your relationships

1. Preparation

  1. Put their interests before yours, at least for this interaction
  2. Start them talking about something meaningful
  3. Give them non-judgmental space to respond
  4. If necessary, persist firmly but respectfully. Take for granted they have passions because they do. They might just need to verify your sincerity

1.1. Put their interests before yours

This step seems trivial but everything later depends on it. People sense when you’re acting in your interests versus theirs. If they sense you’re just helping yourself, they’ll feel used. If they sense you are interested in their interests first, they’ll feel motivated to share things they don’t normally get to but want to share because they’re so important.

1.2. Start them talking about something meaningful

The other day’s post “How to set your angel free” I suggested some starting questions to get them sharing something worth understanding.

  • What are your passions?
  • What do you like to do?
  • What are you good at?
  • When you are doing what you’re best at, how does it make you feel?

You can ask more mundane questions, but you’ll get less meaningful answers. I recommend using words like passion. I had trouble starting, but it came with practice. Now it feels normal, nobody sees a problem with it, and I connect with people on more important and meaningful things than I used to.

1.3. Give them non-judgmental space to respond

Just listen without interrupting, interpreting, or adding. Many people feel like contributing shows you are listening more. Usually not. If the person wanted you to talk they’d stop talking.

1.4. Persist if necessary

I’ve asked people their passions hundreds of times. Many times people have told me they didn’t have passions. At first I let it go. As my sensitivity and experience grew I realized everyone has passions. I think people say they don’t to protect themselves since passions can make you vulnerable. Or because they feel bad for not having acted on their passions. I politely ask again what they like to do, what they’re good at, what they wish they had more time for, what they make plans for or something like that. If they insist enough, I point out humorously that they aren’t just lying in bed waiting to die. They got out of bed in the morning so they expected to do something to improve their lives. I’ve never had someone get past that stage without sharing something meaningful to them.

2. Confirmation/Clarification cycle

So far we’ve opened them up. The next step is to make them feel understood. It’s easier than you might expect. It happens through a cycle of humbly telling them your understanding, asking them to clarify if necessary, allowing them to correct you, and iterating until you see the emotion click in them of feeling understood and in you of seeing them open up. People feel put off by this cycle, apprehensive that getting corrected showed a problem. On the contrary, it’s a necessary part of getting to understand someone. You’ll learn to look forward to going through this process.

  1. State your understanding of what they shared, generally using their words.
  2. They will correct you about something, even if you repeat what they shared word for word. That’s part of the process. Listen without correcting them.
  3. Return to step 1 with your new understanding until they communicate that you get it.

Their communicating that you get it is usually an emotionally rewarding experience on both sides. They will visibly change their body language, brighten up, speak more enthusiastically, and start sharing information you can tell they’ve been protecting for a while. You’ll sense them feeling relieved, unburdened, and enthusiastic at someone finally caring about what they do.

You will also feel emotional reward. Sometimes you’ll feel a slight Machiavellian thrill, almost a guilty pleasure, at their following your lead so well, realizing that you’ve gained the ability to influence them, part of the reason your preparation began with putting their interests before yours. Since you’ll also feel a sense of trust on their part, you’ll feel motivated to respect and honor that trust.

In other words, you’ll get closer to the person for their having shared their vulnerability with you. As I wrote, if you stop the process here, you’ll have created and shared a moment of understanding and support that both of you will appreciate. If you continue, you can take things far. I’ll leave where you can go for later posts, but I’ll note a few major directions to continue what you started.

  • Share back
  • Ask for elaboration

Try the exercise. Let me know how it goes.

"Passionless" people?

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

A couple of my Communications Skills Exercises begin with asking people what their passion is, including “Meaningful connection” and “How to make someone feel understood: confirm and let them correct you“, both tremendously effective yet simple and easy exercises.

Many people ask “What if the person doesn’t have any passions?” Some people I start these exercises with say they have no passions.

Today I’ll show how to get past such challenges. As usual, it involves belief and behavior.

Belief: Everyone has passions, they care about something

First, start by believing everyone has passions. They care about something. They might hide that they care and what they care about, maybe even from themselves, but they care.

Do I know for a fact that everyone has passions? Can I prove it? No, but I’ve never found it false, at least not for these exercises. I think I know why people hide or don’t know that they care about things. People have been hurt, embarrassed, ashamed, used, and so forth for things they care about. Some people shared things they cared about as kids and were made fun of them. Other times people who found out what they cared about used them for their passions for their own benefit. Most of us learned to keep our powerful emotions inside to protect ourselves from feeling hurt, embarrassed, ashamed, used, and so forth. This perspective gives you compassion, which usually helps people feel comfortable with you, which helps them open up, which helps them realize their passions.

Behavior: What to say when they say they have no passions

When someone says they have no passion, first I’ll politely persist with a slightly softer question.”

“What’s a passion of yours? … besides family and your work or movies and music?”

“Passions? I don’t have any passions.”

“Oh, I’ve heard people say that before. But they always care about something. What’s something you care about more than other things or more than most other people do?”

People usually respond with something here—their dogs or cats, some hobby they work on, etc. Then you can continue the above exercises from there.

Sometimes people resist even this lesser question. Like they’ll say they don’t care about anything. Saying something like that is just resistance that even they know they’re making up. Then I get down to the basics. I don’t lose my compassion, remembering they probably learned from painful experience not to share. I don’t know what that experience was, but it’s probably keeping them from opening up.

“No I don’t even care about anything.”

“Well, you got out of bed this morning. You aren’t just lying in bed waiting to die. Something motivated you.”

Words along these have always gotten people to share about something. I might try to make things more explicit by reminding them about something they had to do today or some day recently that they had to put effort into, noting they didn’t have to if they didn’t care. They start to realize they care about some things more than others. I might add something like

“You at least care about some things more than others. Even if something isn’t a passion, at least what are some things you care about more than others.”

While I may sound like I’m going to get low-level things they don’t care much about, in practice what they give me ends up more than enough to work with for the rest of the exercise. That is, what they share ends up something they care about enough to create great conversation in “Meaningful connection” and “How to make someone feel understood: confirm and let them correct you“.

My most extreme case

While doing the exercises, the above dialog always got them sharing, in one seminar someone I was describing the exercises to kept insisting, “What if they still don’t share anything. What if they keep insisting they have a completely passionless life?” I wonder if they were the parent of a teenager trying to affect being cool or disaffected or something like that.

I said, “Then that’s a passion! … If they’re trying that hard not to show any emotion, then they’re putting a lot of effort into something. You can work with that.”

As I wrote above, I’ve never gotten to that point in conversation, but I stand by that point. People all have emotions and some emotions motivate them more than others. Those are their passions, or at least will lead to great conversation about their passions.

You, if you think you’re passionless.

If you think you have no passions, you at least have things you like. The more you acknowledge and work with them, the more passion you’ll create in your life. I wrote about this perspective in my post “You don’t find passion, you create it.”

How to make a phone call with someone you don't know but want to help you

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I just got off the phone with a client who was preparing for a call with someone important to help her. She was nervous because of his status and not sure how to make the call work. She typically would talk too much about herself, which didn’t get the results she wanted of the other person wanting to help her.

I told her, based on “Fundamentals and technique: what you do when you don’t know what to do,” that in such situation I fall back on technique I know will work. I see no value in winging it or falling prey to my anxieties. I want to do what works. I don’t see value of the call in the originality of structure. I see it in the relationship we form.

I recounted the phone call structure I’ve developed for such situations. She found it useful enough that she plans to use that structure. Since most of us need to ask people we don’t know to help us, I figure it will be useful to others.

I’m not saying it’s the best or only structure, that it’s right for you next call, or that it will always work. But it’s worked for me many times. I can’t think of a time it’s failed me.

It may look like a lot of steps, but you can finish a call with this structure in ten minutes. You can also stretch it to an hour if you want.

The Structure

Step 1: Thank them for their time. Example: “Hi, how are you. Before getting started, I wanted to thank you for taking time for this call. I know your time is important.” Respecting their time helps the conversation. Not respecting it risks making them feel taken for granted, which will discourage them from helping you.

(Optional, if appropriate Step 1a: Refer kindly to the person who put you two together)

Step 2: Check how long you have. Example: “I hope now is still a good time. About how much time do you have, by the way… Five minutes? Thirty? An hour?” Running out of time helps no one. If they associate you with being late to their next appointment, they won’t take your calls later. You have to lead a five-minute call differently than a sixty-minute call.

Step 3: Lead the call to quick introductions. Example: “Why don’t we start with quick introductions? Do you prefer to go first or should I?” Who goes first doesn’t matter, but starting the process does. Introductions create intimacy.

Step 4: Do introductions. On my turn I start by asking them how much depth they want. Example: “Do you prefer the thirty-second version, the two-minute version, or the five-minute version?” I want to give them what they want without wasting time. Then I can feel comfortable not talking too long or leaving out important things.

Step 5: During their description, start the Meaningful Connection exercise. They’ll usually show they care about something they describe related to the call. Start the exercise there. Example: “When you talked about [something they cared about relevant to the call] it sounded like you cared about it more than most. Is that your main interest here?” If so, you finished step 2 of Meaningful Connection.

Step 6: Finish Meaningful Connection.

Step 7: Do the Make People Feel Understood exercise. Meaningful Connection usually ends with them talking about their passion. If so, you can start the confirmation cycle there. Keep confirming until they share a Universal Emotion motivating them.

Step 8: Connect their passion to the task of how they can help you. If you’ve done this step before, it’s an easy step. It’s hard to give an example without the specifics of the conversation. If you do this step, the other person will feel understood and motivated to help you.

Step 9: Establish how to follow up. I recommend asking them to hold you accountable without any effort from them, usually by having you report back how you did. That way you can email, call, or visit them again.

Step 10: After you finish following up, report back and, if you want them in your life more, ask for more help or advice. Astute readers will see this step establishes a mentorship relationship, as in “How to get a mentor in two easy steps that work.”

Notes

This structure allows for variation. My examples are shorter than I usually say, for example. The point isn’t to follow it perfectly, but to fall back on it when you aren’t sure what to say next.

This call needs very little preparation after you’ve developed all the skills and makes the other person feel understood about something meaningful to them. It holds you back from talking about yourself unnecessarily or guessing at what’s meaningful to them.

Good luck!