27 Chapters
Medium 9781609947439

Chapter 1: Assessing Your Voice

Fleming, Carol Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

If you ask people how they want their speech and voice to be described, they will probably say articulate, resonant, and knowledgeable, clear, persuasive, and confident. These are the characteristics of speakers you admire, and you want to be in that club because you know how very much it matters. As one of my clients said, “Every time you open your mouth, you put your business in the street” (i.e., you put your reputation on the line).

I will tell you a secret: People are not good judges of their own speaking characteristics. They may be aware that there’s something about the way they talk that is a problem for them and they make guesses about the specifics. Here’s what many clients say when they first come to see me:

”My voice is too high (too gravelly, too nasal, too …).”

“I mumble/swallow my words, and I don’t speak distinctly.”

“I am very uncomfortable with small talk, public speaking, and interaction with any authority figures.”

“My speech is too soft, and people are always telling me to speak up.”

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5. ARE: Anchor, Reveal, Encourage

Fleming, Carol Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

THE CURE FOR “BUT I NEVER KNOW WHAT TO SAY!”

So there’s a fellow standing next to me with available eyes and an open posture. Perhaps we’ve already smiled at each other, said hello, shaken hands, and introduced ourselves. Now we begin the kind of small talk you dread: from a cold start with a Them (as far as you know), with the goal of turning this stranger into an acquaintance. Here is where most people panic because they are unprepared to perform this act of human alchemy.

Luckily, there’s an easy enough formula to walk you through this process: Anchor, Reveal, Encourage.

1.   Anchor the conversation with a neutral topic from your shared reality.

2.   Reveal something about yourself regarding that topic.

3.   Encourage the other person to talk by asking them a question about that topic.

Designing ARE patterns is something you can do in advance (before you leave the house) so you don’t have to be creative when you’re the most uncomfortable. Take some time to review some possibilities: the occasion or aegis, the music, food, decorations, or the weather. Imagine in your own mind how you can build your opener:

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Chapter 2: Resolving Specific Problems

Fleming, Carol Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Focusing attention on specific issues works! A vague wish about a generalized outcome doesn’t. In this section, I will give you steps to resolve specific problems. Select one communication goal that you are the most motivated to achieve. If there are more than one, you can always go back after you’ve made reasonable progress on your first goal.

Consider the feedback you’ve gotten from others. How does it match up with your own listening? Many people are quick to defend themselves against critical description by attacking the source. “Oh, he just says I’m too loud because he really doesn’t want me in the office anyway!” I have seen people discredit some excellent feedback this way.

On the other hand, now that you’ve heard a recording of your own voice, some of your biggest problems may seem clear to you. It is not unusual to have a listener in my office who is flabbergasted by his or her own recorded speech. “Good heavens! I can’t even understand me! That’s what they’ve been trying to tell me!” I’ve heard this many times.

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15. The Mystery of Good Manners

Fleming, Carol Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

WARMTH, RESPECT, AND SMALL TALK

The details and formalities of good manners vary wildly around the world. Knowledge of cultural practices is becoming increasingly important as we travel more and as America becomes more diverse through immigration. There is some form of small talk in all cultures, ranging from a little to a lot. We’ll look at some examples in this chapter.

The range of good manners is a book in itself and I’m not the one to write it, but there is something important to recognize beyond specific cultural practices and that is the concept of politeness. I find it useful to consider politeness as being on a gradient between warmth and respect, friendliness and formality. Warmth obviously includes smiling, leaning in, informal language, contact, and proximity. Respect, on the other hand, is more serious, characterized by distance, and warrants the use of formal forms of address. Most cultures have a point on this gradient that typifies their most comfortable stance in new relationships. A deviation from what they understand as polite will probably be interpreted as rude and will mark you as a Them, so you will need to pay attention to their habits.

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20. Small Talk and Cell Phones, Like Oil and Water

Fleming, Carol Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

AND NEVER THE TWO SHALL MIX

Sometimes you encounter a passing stranger in a certain place at a certain time, when conditions conspire to make it right for you to have a deeply personal talk unlike anything you could have with friends or family or even therapists. This is a person who gives you generous attention and whom you’ll never see again. You are the proverbial ships passing in the night, and this anonymity creates the freedom to just let your tongue and mind become unfettered. You find yourself experiencing unexpected feelings. You discover truths about yourself that you never even considered. You say things you’ve never said to anyone else before because you have the freedom to “language out” the subterranean fragments of your mind, to put thoughts and emotions into words for the first time, to come to know yourself in a whole new way.

What is more, you hear something from this stranger that no one else has ever told you, freed as you both are from the past and the future of this relationship. And you leave this conversation changed—clearer and calmer. “Where did that come from?” you wonder.

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