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toastmasters

How Leaders Communicate

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How Leaders Communicate

Toastmasters - "Where Leaders are Made" - is an organization that's been helping people improve communication skills since the 1920s. I've been a member since 2008 and always recommend it to expats arriving in the States. Weekly meetings with a group of people dedicated to developing their public speaking and presentation ability can help expats not only advance at work and be seen as a leader, it's also a good first source for budding friendships. 

The following are some notes I took during a presentation by Toastmasters' past international president, Pauline Shirley, DTM. 

"If clothes make the man or the woman, then certainly communications make the leader." 

Leaders are Inclusive

Don't treat your teams like exclusive circles where only a certain few have access - you may be cutting off dramatically valuable and creative input from "outsiders".  

Leaders Praise

Everybody likes to hear about a job well done. Some cultures are more comfortable with one-on-one praise, some delight in open recognition. Either way - mention the things that are going well and right, the things you want to see more of.  

Leaders Share Energy

Positive energy, motivation, and enthusiasm makes things happen. Sometimes leaders have to find the silver lining and share the excitement so it can spill over to the team. Be that light, and if necessary, fake it 'til you feel it.  

Leaders Critique

Supportive, constructive feedback works on improving the situation or task, never the person. Pointing out flaws is helpful for the end-goal, be that employee engagement or happy customers. Allow your team to make mistakes, learn from them, and help them rise to the next level.  

Leaders Seek Out The Best

Especially in a volunteer organization like Toastmasters, this advice has come in handy many times. Don't wait for volunteers or give orders: approach the person you've been watching and tell them why you think they are the right person for the task you have in mind.  

Leaders Use Positive Reframing

Yes, a spade is a spade. But as leaders, you receive attention, and it is important to mind your vocabulary.  

Leaders Use the Phone

as well as face-to-face meetings. They don't just rely on impersonal short email messages to get things done. Every communication channel has its uses, but face-to-face - even through video conferencing - still gets the most done.  

Leaders are Humble

Toastmasters is promoting the concept of Service Leadership. Coming from an attitude of "how can I help others?" rewards leaders with feelings of satisfaction and confidence. That means leaders facilitate the credit for the team, and don't take the accolades for themselves. 

 

Image by The Old Brit, Flickr, Creative Commons License.

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Diffusing Verbal Criticism

Young couple arguing in kitchenWhen was the last time you were nasty to someone's face? On purpose?

I had the opportunity this week during a Toastmasters meeting, and let me tell you, my extraverted Feeling (Fe) was not that happy about it. Fe is a function usually concerned with harmony, inclusion, and connection, so playing ticked off is actually quite an effort. I got over it knowing that it was my job to help my conversation partner practice his skills in dealing with someone yelling at his face. So there we were.

To help me play the part of an angry woman verbally criticizing and putting someone in his place, I used a simple but effective physical effect:

I made him sit down while I stood in "wonder woman" pose above. Legs wide, solid stance, fists at hips. Didn't even have to raise my voice that much, it was the mere act of looking down that conveyed much of the supposed negative sentiment.

Lessons:

a) if you have to provide criticism, constructive or otherwise, and are uncomfortable about it, find a physical position that is comfortable and that takes up a lot of space to make you appear and feel tall and powerful. Also, find a mindset of support to help make your points to the other party.

b) if you know you're going to be chastised, see you're on equal footing and can look the other person in the eyes. It's going to go a long way in reminding you of your self-worth and perhaps even find chances for empathic listening.

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Positive Thinking

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Positive Thinking

This is a speech I gave at my last Toastmasters meeting that was very well received (a tad longer than other articles I've written, but presenting it only took 5 minutes 30 secs). Remember Toastmasters International is an organization that helps everyone improve their presentation and public speaking skills in a fun and relaxed environment. If you have a talk or presentation coming up that you'd like to prepare for, check out a meeting near you!

Positive thinking is one surefire way to happiness. Are you happy?

There’s a saying that loosely translated from German goes like this:

Mind your thoughts, as they become words. Mind your words, as they become actions. Mind your actions, as they become habits. Mind your habits, as they become your character. Mind your character as it becomes your destiny.

I’m not sure who came up with it, but they had a point. And you’ll notice that they explained a causal relationship between your thoughts and your destiny and thus your level of happiness.

Let me give you a quick overview of what’s ahead. I’ll start by quoting a philosopher and taking his message one step further. Then, I want to share a little information on three points: one, your brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what isn’t. Two: you can control the messages that you send it, and three: I’ll share some tips on how to make those messages more positive.

Renee Descartes, the famous French Philosopher coined the phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” At a time where other philosophers were questioning everything, “is this really a table?”, “will the sun rise again tomorrow?”, “what is real?”, Descartes took apart his house of beliefs brick by brick and came to the conclusion that the mere fact that he was thinking about thinking meant that he must, indeed, exist.

This is where I (and many others before me) go a step further and say “we exist the way we do, meaning: our lives are what they are, because of what we think”.

Thinking occurs in your brain, and your brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.

Who here has ever had a dream that seemed very real, or woke up screaming or sweating from a horrific nightmare? Because your brain cannot differentiate between what’s real and what isn’t, it sent the message to your adrenal glands to pour out the hormone and prepare you for fight or flight even though there was no real threat present. (Your brain also doesn’t register the word “no”, e.g. if I tell you now NOT to think of a red balloon, what do you think of? ...which is why it's so important to make your goals out as positively worded statements, but that's another story.)

While you’re sleeping, your subconscious is in charge, but while you’re awake, you can directly influence what messages you send to your brain, so you better make them positive. Actually, let me precede the following example with this little nugget: your brain also likes things to be true and make sense.

So, if you bump your leg on the coffee table and tell yourself “I'm such a clutz!”, your brain will go looking for ways to make that statement make sense. That means it’ll remember past instances where you’ve fallen down or bumped your leg or dropped something, and in future it’ll apply the same label, and the more evidence it can come up with, the more it becomes true that you really are a clutz. That is the self-fulfilling prophecy everybody's talking about. The alternative here is to turn that negative thought around and look at the event through a different lens, a less judgmental one. For example, you could recognize that the coffee table wasn’t in its usual position because you had cleaned and moved it earlier, or that you were preoccupied with thinking about the speech you have to give at the next Toastmasters meeting and hence weren’t paying attention to where you were going. That makes you many things - a dedicated toastmaster, a clean housekeeper, but not a clutz.

Now, how can you improve the level of your positive thoughts? With these following tips:

Be nice to yourself. What does your inner voice usually say? How do you talk to yourself? Are your thoughts helpful and supportive? Or - the test of all tests - would you speak to your best friend the way that you speak to yourself?

Furthermore, try and notice when you’re not being nice and simply stop those negative thoughts, and turn them around into something positive, like with the housekeeping or dedicated Toastmaster mentioned earlier. As with speech-making, continued practice will make perfect, so give yourself some time and patience. Last but not least, focus on the positive things that are already in your life. Every evening write down, relive or simply remember in all its glorious detail at least three things that went well that day, that you were proud of, that made you happy. This exercise will put you in a positive state of mind, and once you’re in a positive state of mind, you know your brain will do the rest and find more positive things to make sense of and perpetuate that positive and happy state you’re in.

At the end of the day, your thoughts are your business, I just wanted to make sure you're aware that every single one of your thoughts contributes to you shaping your own destiny, and that you can take control and decide what you are prepared to do for your own happiness, whichever form that may take, by being nice to yourself, turning bad thoughts around and focusing on positive things.

Til next time, good thoughts!

Image by Li-Ji, Flickr, Creative Commons License.

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