Vicki McLeod on Speaking Well at Work

Episode #17 – Speaking Well at Work

In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with author, speaker, coach and award-winning entrepreneur Vicki McLeod on speaking well in the workplace, either in-person or through technology.

A few reasons Vicki is awesome – Almost three decades of running Main Street Communications, offering expertise in organizational planning and leadership development, author of four books – one of which Effective Communication at Work: Speaking and Writing Well in the Modern Workplace is the focus for today, a founding member of the Grew Swan Guild – a collective helping leaders influence positive change, and she’s won a bunch of awards for entrepreneurship and small business.

Check out all the episodes of Relationships at Work.

Connect with Vicki on her platforms:

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Why speaking well is important.
  • What speaking well (and not speaking well) looks like in the workplace.
  • The importance of preparation, and its dark side.
  • How an organization’s communication culture can influence speaking well.
  • How situational awareness is a factor in speaking success.
  • How speaking well helps employee engagement.
  • Introversion vs extroversion.

“On a day to day basis, the best thing preparation you can do [to speak well] is just be aware. To stay alert to your own senses, and to what information is being given to you from the outside world, and then be mindful of it. And respond accordingly.”

Vicki McLeod

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW

Russel Lolacher
That person over there. That’s Vicki McLeod and here’s why she’s awesome. almost three decades of running Mainstreet communications offering expertise in organizational planning and leadership development. She’s author of 1-2-3-4 books, one of which effective communication at work, speaking and writing well in the modern workplace is actually a big focus of what we’re going to talk about today. But I’m not done talking about Vicki yet. She’s a founding member of the Grey Swan Guild, a collective helping leaders influence positive change. And she’s won a bunch of awards for entrepreneurship and small business. She knows of what she speaks. Hello, Vicki.

Vicki McLeod
Hello, Russel. I sound so amazing.

Russel Lolacher
Coffee makes me be the hype-man. I’ve always wanted to be I’ll just say that right now.

Vicki McLeod
Right? It’s great. Because you know, we don’t do that for ourselves. It’s great to have someone else do it for us is lovely.

Russel Lolacher
Absolutely. I’d like to shoot out of the cannon with a big rah rah rah because everyone’s like, “Oh, we got to hype it up a bit.” Okay, good, good. That’s where we’re going from, we got to leave, we got to leave from there. Or people just look at me like a deer in the headlights going, you need to slow down anyway, moving on. First out of the gate is the question I want to ask. And I asked everyone this because I really find it sets the scene of, well, just how much employee experience influences that’s decades later, not much like five, three years later. So first, Vicki, I want to know what’s the best or worst one or the other employee experience you’ve ever had?

Vicki McLeod
You know, I think I would have to say, and this might be a season like a strange answer, when I first started out working, and was going to school and so on, I worked in a chain restaurant. And I have to say that that experience was actually turned out to be when I can look back now many decades later, a really excellent employee experience, because that manager in particular, treated us like a true team. And I came to subsequently find out later that this wasn’t true in this chain restaurant across all of the franchises. But in our particular one, which happened to be in Langley BC, here in the Fraser Valley, and in BC and Canada. So very small town, a small dairy farming community. But this particular manager was really able to treat all of us in our various roles, whether we were the person washing the dishes in the kitchen, or in my case, I worked the front end, I did, there were five stations on forstuff. So it was a really busy, demanding environment. We had to be really organized, we had to have good systems, but he really treated us as part of the team in the sense that he solicited our opinions, he asked us what changes would help. He treated us super well, if we had, you know, been really, as we call them, the industry slammed, you know, he always bought pizza and to kind of say thank you to us at 3am, you know, after we hustled all the drugs out the door kind of thing. So it was a really for me, you know, I didn’t know what at the time because I was in a sense working that crappy restaurant job, that starter job. But I came to see that his skill as understanding who we were as people and that we had needs as people that we weren’t just filling functions, we were actually human beings trying to do a difficult job under not great circumstances, and frankly, for not a lot of money. So I’ve you know, I’ve often looked back on that and thought, you know, that kind of, in a sense, he was leading in that role, embracing a lot of really sort of learned leadership principles without ever actually having had the training, it sort of came to him naturally. And, yeah, as I say, I came to find it find out that that particular organization didn’t have a really strong leadership, Team trading, it just happened to be him. But it taught me a lot. And in subsequent years, I have learned to use that in the work I do with leaders to think back on that time and how it affected me as a as an employee, and again, in an odd very important role.

Russel Lolacher
And I love hearing that as as a service industry, baby myself, years and years of that. It’s funny how those restaurants generally, and I’m talking generally here treat staff as disposable. Oh, if your problem, don’t worry, you can be replaced. I heard that a genuinely heard that. And I’m 15-16-17. And that’s that stuck with you. I’m quite a few decades older than that now. And I still remember that. So to hear a beacon of light, where I’m assuming your boss was quite young as well, because…

Vicki McLeod
When I think about it, now, he didn’t seem like it at the time, because I was so young, of course. Then, but now when I think about it, yeah, he was just a young guy with family. And interestingly, his wife worked there too. And that could be a situation fraught with, you know, I was, you know, all kinds of difficulties when you have interpersonal relationships in the workplace, as well as nepotism, there could be favoritism, but he really handled just all of that with a lot of real tact and diplomacy. And, and, you know, I would say very mindfully, very aware of the impact. You know, and I often say there’s, you know, to me, there’s nothing kind of worse than unconscious, unconscious abuse of leadership. You know, it’s one thing if you’re, you kind of know what you’re doing and you’re trying to do it better. But if you absolutely don’t have any idea that you’re having an impact, it’s really difficult to work with. So yeah, it was very good in lots of ways.

Russel Lolacher
I wonder where he is now? You know, like those just those those things of

Vicki McLeod
I don’t know. But I hope he owns the company. I hope he does.

Russel Lolacher
Fair! So our topic today is about speaking well, at work. I’ve already had the pleasure of speaking with Lizzie of The Haven earlier, I think was my first podcast where it was about plain language. So we, we talked more about simplifying language, not about, I don’t know if presentation is the right word. But that’s I’m excited to talk about that today. Because I think communication is so important. And there’s so many different sides to it. I have a feeling I’m going to do many, many episodes on communication alone. But speaking, well, maybe we should first define what is speaking well?

Vicki McLeod
Would you like me to take that on?

Russel Lolacher
I would love that!

Vicki McLeod
Okay, yeah. So I mean, I think it is really, you know, in its simplest terms, and we’re, and this is, again, in that broad area of communication, it really is about getting your message across. So speaking well is another way, you know, verbal language is another way that we communicate with one another, and that we are, in some sense, trying to get a message across. And we’re also trying to understand what other people are communicating to us. And so, you know, you know, because you’ve read the book, as the book progresses, I talk not only about the speaking side, but also about the listening side, which has to do with things like active less listening, asking questions, as I just did with you. Okay, do you want me to take that on? Not really necessary to clarify, obviously, I’m a guest on your podcast, but good to ask clarifying questions as you go. So I really think it is about how do we verbally then communicate a point of view? How do we persuade if that’s the role that we’re in? How do we present ideas on topics? And how do we often also handle difficult conversations? How do we problem solve using verbal communication as opposed to other kinds of tools that we might use, and in today’s workplace, we have a lot of choices. You know, you can just text someone or you can email but you can hop on a on a zoom or a Slack chat. But face to face, verbal communication is a skill that is necessary and needed, and in certain circumstances is really the one that you want to employ first.

Russel Lolacher
So why is this so important? I mean, we we have a lot of people probably that need to learn how to speak better, I’m going to be so with speaking well, I’m being so aware of my grammar, and say this. So in the intent of speaking well, or trying to learn how to speak well, why should that be a goal? Why is it so important?

Vicki McLeod
I think, Well, if that’s some way to answer that question would be personal, right? If you’re in a workplace, and you’re wanting to progress in terms of your career, and a lot of my, my books are written toward people who are trying to improve certain skill areas, in fact, to be completely transparent. This one, the one that we’re talking about today, was, was really based on an algorithm, you know, the publishing company tracks searches, and the number of searches on the topic of effective communication at work and what the subtopics were. So the book was really designed to address real questions that people were asking online continually, and largely an audience of people who are in sort of early to mid career, sort of, you know, in mostly in professional settings, who were looking for advice on how can I use communication better in order to advance in my career, and, you know, ultimately, not to be Despoiler alert for the book. But it ultimately becomes kind of a form of personal leadership, and that can ultimately be translated into organizational leadership. So if you’re looking to progress in advance and be sort of lead from where you are, improving your communication skills is going to be one of the key ways you’re going to do it. And there’s a lot of evidence and research that suggests that this is what employers are looking for. The importance even when I talk about my my service industry job, the importance of that leader to be able to communicate to us as a team, especially when the pressure was on, became critical to the success of that business. So again, personally, if you’re interested in that, then this will be important to you. You know, at the end, if you’re engaging and interacting with other humans, on a regular basis in your workplace, or even in your daily life, also important.

Russel Lolacher
Relationships are kind of key. Name of the podcast. So I think…

Vicki McLeod
I know I’m keeping that in mind.

Russel Lolacher
So you mentioned this before, there are so many opportunities to speak in so many different ways. There’s at meetings at presentations, one on one, workplace conversation, just casual walk by a cubicle types. Are the skills the same to speak well, like is it pretty much no matter? Are they interchangeable as as to the tactics to be better at this?

Vicki McLeod
Yeah, I think I think you know, there’s a couple that I would say are sort of foundational one that you can apply across. So one, of course, is clarity and simplicity. And I think if you’re talking about your, your previous podcasts, so there is a way that we want to take whatever it is that we’re trying to say and boil it down, if possible, and in some situations you’re able to prepare and where you have that opportunity Do we say take the opportunity, in fact, I think I talked about something in the book, the five P’s of public speaking, for example. So if you’re presenting or you’re getting on the stage, you know, and preparation is key. And so if you know that you’re going in to give a presentation, or you’re going in to have a difficult conversation with your boss, or with a co worker, you know, sometimes that’s with an HR person, take the opportunity to prepare. And so we have a little formula that we use in our work, we used it for years and years, and it’s based on comes out of the risk management models, you’re probably familiar with it, Russ. But you know, we sort of, say 27-9-3. So 27 words, should be able to be said in nine seconds, and three themes or three key main messages. And that doesn’t mean you’re going to do that, like you’re going to be counting your words as you speak. But if you sit down and write that out, when you do sit down to speak, you’re probably going to say you know, 50 words or 150 words, but you’re going to make sure that the key message that you want to get across is contained in those words somewhere. So where you have that opportunity to do so I think is really important, especially in the workplace, it’s we often do we know we’re having a meeting at too. So we can actually start thinking about that meeting at noon, or 10, or, you know, or the day before or a week before, depending on the stakes, you know, and I’ve talked about that in the book as well. Stakes, the stakes of the conversation, change the nature of the conversation. So it’s people want to be alert to what are the stakes here? Asking someone for coffee is a different kind of steak than asking someone for a raise.

Russel Lolacher
I want to touch on the simplification thing, because we don’t always get to prepare for casual conversation, or some of those one on one meetings. Hey, can you just hop into my office really quickly? Preparation, though, I’m a big fan of it. Because I do a lot of presentations. I will say simplification is that it’s that secret weapon that people probably don’t realize. It can be more effective when speaking well, because a lot of people don’t remember most of the things you say if you give them 17 things to remember.

Vicki McLeod
Yeah, exactly.

Russel Lolacher
But if you hammer home one and no more than three, I think there is science behind the fact that you will retain.

Vicki McLeod
We call it the rule of threes and right and, you know, comes out of the rhetoric work of Aristotle actually back in the days of the Greeks, and the art of persuasion, this sort of rule of threes, the human brain, somehow we shaped for that, you know, it’s an interesting, it’s interesting, our brains just are wired to kind of we can three things seems to be what we can hold really easily. Yeah. So I think there’s lots of ways in that sort of spontaneous conversation. So one of the things is what I did earlier, which is to ask questions. There’s a couple of little tools that I use quite regularly. One is, you know, if you could give me one word for this, what would it be? So you can do that with yourself? Again, if I was going to put this in one word, what would it be simplify.

Russel Lolacher
You’re also forcing other people you’re conversing with to simplify and speak better.

Vicki McLeod
Which is really helpful, because especially when especially again, if you’re into a more potentially heated situation, or a situation where again, the stakes are higher, or the matter is complex. And I think there’s a danger that we have in our culture, because we’ve become sort of in a sense of fast food culture, you know, partly as a result of the digital environment that we’re in, that we’re trying to oversimplify complex things. And very often complex subjects require time and attention, and concentration, and focus. And we know that that kind of currency is often in short supply, especially if our workplaces are busy, and they’re demanding. So being able to understand that you’re in a complex conversation, but there are ways that you can simplify it. So that’s one of the ways it’s, you know, asking questions, using the one word I often will work with people and I’ll say, you know, you know, I can see that you’re feeling strongly about this on a scale of one to 10, how big of a hill is this for you to die on? You know, and then they might say, a five and I think, okay, we can dial this, they say like, this is a 10 and a half, this is a 20, then, you know, okay, this is a difference is giving me information that I can then continue the conversation in a more skillful way. Because now I understand a little bit more about or I can use that myself, you know, on a scale of one to 10. I’m feeling like 10.5, about how great it is to be with you this morning.

Russel Lolacher
So one of the key ingredients to speaking well is, I’m assuming understanding your audience better. And you’re getting into that a lot with the questions. So how important and you’re illustrating it… curiosity. Curiosity will allow you to get enough information to craft your own message. Is that what you’re saying?

Vicki McLeod
For sure, I think and I love that you’re saying that I was just rereading something I wrote I wrote this actually, a long time ago, I used to publish this little tiny magazine and I one of the things I wrote about was like the wisdom of disturbance. So the value in feeling agitated and what we can learn from it, if we can kind of step back from it a little bit and try to access like, what’s the usefulness of this? Like, if only 2% of being this aggravated Was useful to me, what might it be? And what I love this little thing I wrote, which is kind of corny sounding but it was Don’t get furious. Get curious. So it was really taking this principle losing your curiosity, I think is just such a in a way undervalued because if we really can look at the situation think well, okay, this is interesting. Not this is threatening. You know, not this is upsetting. But this is interesting. It’s interesting that I didn’t expect that this would go this way. Or it’s interesting that I’m finding myself really desiring something different at work. And then get curious about that. And then in the conversations that you have with other people be curious. I just think it’s such a valuable perspective, it’s like, we get to choose the state that we enter into a conversation with and if we enter in with curiosity, or often I used to say to people don’t go in there trying to convince your boss, go in there trying to collaborate with your boss, change your mode of approach from convincing to collaboration, and it will change the dynamic of the conversation. And then you could add to that, you know, we’ll have choices of perspective, say, curiosity. But if I go in there curious. Instead of furious, for example, in, you know, a lot of what I get asked to do in organizations or with clients is they’re dealing with situations of conflict, or things that they’re finding really, truly difficult. That’s why they’ve enlisted outside help, you know, an hour often day to day interactions aren’t that difficult, but they’re also have an opportunity for us to move forward in our work or even just to grow as people need to become veteran and more effective humans.

Russel Lolacher
We’re talking about conversing, physically, like being in the same room is what we’re generally talking about when we speak well. But this is still really important when it comes to text messages and emails, that’s a whole emails could be a whole show unto itself and text messages, but a lot of this skill set, so curiosity, being clear, being simplified, you can bring that to any form of platform, it’s just you remove a lot of the body language and a lot of the presence with that. So the principles are still relatively the same, or am I wrong on that?

Vicki McLeod
No, I agree. I think the principle is what’s different is the form and the expectations of the form, right. And then, and I, you know, and this is interesting, because when I was doing a lot of research for this book, and kind of trying to pull together on, you know, this sort of, in a sense, my work lifetime of working in communications in organizations, it was just pre COVID. So the book actually was published in April of 2020. So we went into COVID, in March. And so we went, you know, we went from, you know, some people using some digital interface tools, like zoom, etc. And slack, in some ways to absolute, like almost full adoption, almost overnight. And so what have changed the book, I think, in some ways, I didn’t manage to get a few lines in there, because it just before it went to print, we had the time, but it really wasn’t sort of a thoroughly researched that side of it the way I would have liked to have done it. Anyway, having said that, it’s just to say that I think that people became very quickly adapted to using digital tools. And actually, quite effectively, I was mainly quite impressed by how people adapted to that. But the form is different. And so one of the points that I make in the book, and it still holds true is that, you know, texting is great for short, quick conversations. So you’re at a conference with a bunch of colleagues, and you need to decide what time you’re meeting or where or what time, you’re going to do your rehearsal for your presentation. Using text back and forth, that is really useful, it’s not so useful if you need a record of the conversation, if you need to go back and you need to check. So email is really useful, because it has all those, you know, robust search functions. And we have a corporate record. And that’s often very important, especially again, if the issues are more complex. So I tend to say, you know, the more complex the issue, the more we need to pay attention to the form. Is this the right form for this issue, and this is why I say when you’re getting into difficult conversations face to face is often the best choice, because it’s far more difficult to really understand and investigate a situation using the the forms of what am I trying to say? Asynchronous communication, I was gonna say analog, the opposite asynchronous communication is really difficult. We need to kind of be in the room together. Same thing for developing really great ideas, you know, you need to be in that space of brainstorming have been able to go back and forth. And so it really the form that you choose really depends on the complexity of what you’re dealing with, and what is necessary with the communication later. So to reach mutual understanding, I think it’s really important that we’re in a room together, especially if the stakes are high. But if we’re trying to organize information and organize schedules, we can use you know, tools that don’t require this sort of the same level of engagement.

Russel Lolacher
In your book, you talk a bit about an organization’s communication culture. How does that influence someone’s ability to speak well at work?

Vicki McLeod
I think I honestly I think it really influences almost everything and you know, I it was funny when the question about the best and worst experience because as a consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to observe a lot of cultures, you know, I go in from the outside and very often, we’re called in to solve a specific kind of communication problem. And really, what we’re looking at is a culture issue when we get in And to a large degree, this is what sort of pushed me in a sense of or pulled me maybe a better term into working with leaders was because what I often saw in cultures was sort of like what I would call the absent or the abdicating leader, you know, they sort of set these wheels in motion in their organization to behave in a certain way, and then then had no real idea of how to deal with it. And so we just step away, which is like sort of abdicate abdicate their role. And it’s really difficult in those cultures, I think it doesn’t take people very long to learn the ropes. I mean, we are, humans are designed to interact socially and to understand the nature of where we’re safe, and where we’re not safe. And we get that very quickly, we use all of our senses in every moment to determine this, I mean, it’s part of just how our how we’re wired. So in an organization, it doesn’t take long for an employee to understand what’s okay and what’s not, okay. And if you’re in if you are desiring to be an open communicator, and you’re in a culture that does not promote and support open communication does not model it, it’s going to be very hard. You know, and and I think earlier, we were talking and you said, you know, people, the metrics that people often miss is that their people are quitting, you know, or they’re getting sick a lot, or there’s a lot of passive aggressiveness in the workplace. And those are often signs that people aren’t able to express, and they’re not being supported by their leadership appropriately. So culture really, to me has everything to do with the ability. And that’s both, whether that’s online or offline communication, because it dictates how people behave online. It dictates how people behave and interface with technology, whether they do or they don’t.

Russel Lolacher
A reactive culture can certainly hurt speaking well, ie, there’s no agenda for this meeting, we need to talk right now, you need to present in five minutes. Like there’s no opportunity to prepare, there’s no opportunity to be mindful, thoughtful, strategic. So I can see that hurry up and do things can certainly from a culture hurt your ability to speak well, because you can’t be intentional with it.

Vicki McLeod
Yeah, totally. And I think that that is so important, because this is where we, again, I you know, as I said earlier, we’re there’s we have a tendency now in our culture to try to, we’re hurrying to the finish line. And we’re in because I think a guy kind of puts us at the feet of the digital environment, there’s always something to do. There’s always something to do. And even if you’re an individual sitting in a workplace, and you’ve maybe you have responsibility for certain kinds of digital tools, or digital communication there, but then you probably also have your own Twitter account, and you probably also have your own, you know, grandchildren on Facebook, or you have, you know, different you there’s always something to do, there’s always something to check. And so we’ve become quite hurried in not only the actual demands or actual demands, when I worked in that restaurant, we had to get that lasagna on to the tables. There was no, there was no question about that, you know, we had to meet those demands, but there weren’t a whole other set of demands waiting at the end of that work day. And now there are. So and issues can be complicated. And we tend to want to take a sort of an easy way out or a simple way out of them. But again, I you know, and I know your relationships at work, is the title of your podcast. And you’re really your I think your deep passion is for people who work in these cultures, people who are the employees, but I often bring things back to the leadership. Thank you, the leadership and organization sets the tone for how communication occurs, or doesn’t occur.

Russel Lolacher
Spot on. Well, the Relationships At Work is about leadership, workplace culture, employee experience, because they’re all interrelated. The whole point of the podcast is really there’s enough conversations about the customer, because we certainly a lot of organizations go customer equal money. So that’s always the focus for a lot of people. And and employees get sort of the short shift in that even though they’re the ones you building the relationships with those customers. So yeah, I think very much the podcast is and has been very much about leadership, very much about the employee experience. I don’t think I can talk about one without the other.

Vicki McLeod
Yeah, it’s, it’s sort of goes there. That’s what I found in writing the book was that I sort of started out and sort of thinking about communication tools. But as the book progresses, I’m like, actually, this book is really about leadership. You know, actually, this is really about how can you. And again, I always take the perspective and have for many years in my work that you can lead from where you are. And absolutely, the leadership sets the tone for the culture and either embraces or endorses or supports a certain kind of culture. But also each person sitting where they’re sitting can have an impact and an influence. It’s about how you choose how you choose, you’re going to interface or how you choose, you’re going to which also, you know, I would never want to see anybody leaves themselves in a position where they it’s unhealthy or toxic in any way. But you can certainly ask yourself the question, you know, what can I do to contribute here? How can I make this better? And that’s where those kinds of skills and being able to speak well, or write well or choose the right tool for the right task, in terms of communication can really make it difference.

Russel Lolacher
I wanted to find the difference between speaking well and speaking poorly. I want to sort of like, if somebody had no idea and just came into an organization, and they and you were to show a model of good behavior, and bad behavior, what would those characteristics be? We’ll start with the good one.

Vicki McLeod
I think, you know, speaking, so first of all, some really basic physical things being present, actually showing up and you know, presence is both how we are physically. So do you show up? Do you make eye contact? Do you sit comfortably? Are you you know, close enough and far enough away in these days, that’s a little bit different with social, social distancing, but you know, ensuring that you have, you know, a respectful physical presence, right, so that you’re, you know, not there, I used to work with a manager who used to come like way into my space. You know, and it didn’t work. And I finally had to, I just spoke with him about it. And I said, you know, please, can you just take a step back, when you’re speaking to me, I find it threatening, and, you know, you’re a large guy. And he was, I mean, he was really taken aback and really appreciate it, because it kind of changed how he entered other conversations, particularly with with other women. So just being aware of where you’re at physically, it’s a really good thing to do, and are you making eye contact? Or are you and put down the phone, if you’re entering into a verbal conversation with someone, please? I might sound really old fashioned when I say that. But it is, you know, so important not to be distracted. And that’s part of being present. So I think that just presence is also energetic. So it’s not just, I’m here, I’m showing up, here I am. If you could see me now on the podcast, you’d see I’m shrugging, and kind of like, okay, so what so being present is actually I’m here energetically as well, I think that’s a very, very first thing that’s important, you know, and then to make sure that you’re using appropriate body language. So smiling, nodding, all of those kinds of things, make it make a big difference, when you’re especially coming into the entering into a conversation. And wherever you can, you know, set up the conversation to be in an appropriate location, as well, you don’t want to have a really important conversation in a super noisy environment, you don’t want to have an important conversation, in an environment where the person is not safe. Either person is not safe. So those are some of just the physical cues, I would would want people to, to pay attention to. Sorry. And then the rest of the question was what so

Russel Lolacher
Well the opposite of that, I guess.

Vicki McLeod
Which I kinda got into a little bit, which is the kind of you know, being distracted, looking at your phone, kind of, you know, slouching into your, into your posture not being present with the person not being mindful. Yeah, basic things, too. You know, I always think about this, especially when I’m working with people who are going into doing speaking is you know, making sure that you’re hydrated, making sure that you’ve had something to eat, like all of the kinds of things that you would do. If you were preparing for anything else, make sure that you do that as well. And that you’re not going to do that for a casual conversation. But make sure you come to work, you know, that you’ve you’ve had your breakfast, or you’ve taken your run, or you’ve done the things that you do to ensure that you are feeling you know, in a good and confident to start out with really helps,

Russel Lolacher
I can see some somebody listening and thinking, Okay, I’m going to super prepare, I’m going to be the best speaker ever in any situation. And I can see it going a little too far the other way, which is, I’m going to script everything. I’m going to corporate speak the shit out of this. So where’s the line?

Vicki McLeod
Yeah, that’s a great question Russel. And I think you know, part of it is, you know, and I use this example, as well. It’s really being tuned into your senses. So I say to people, you have everything you need already. It’s just to tune in, to be aware. So one of the examples I gave in the book is of a woman who had two lives having she was having a really hard time, she was great. I mean, in so many ways, she was like an ideal communicator. But she was just so overly enthusiastic that she didn’t really give other people much time to process her ideas or to be able to respond to her ideas or to have any real input. And when I asked her to think back over the times that she had these, you know, less than satisfactory experiences, she was really able to enumerate quite specifically what was going on in the room, what the other people were doing, even the looks on their faces. And in some cases, even their verbatim responses, which is very hard for most people to remember. So she was alert, her senses were on, she was aware. However, she wasn’t taking the information and using it in the moment because she was so focused on what she was trying to present and how she was trying to persuade that she sort of neglected to just take in the information and then just be with it. To give herself the time think, okay, oh, I see Oh, Russel is looking away. Now. He’s looking at his phone, which is not happening people. But you know, that’s an example. But you know, so maybe I need to just stop for a moment and let him you know, come back into the room. So I would say to people who already have what you have your senses, use those in your conversation. Observe the other person, listen carefully. Be aware of your feeling. When you walk into the room, you can oftentimes that people say oh, you know, I don’t know how to tune into my feelings. I say have you ever walked into a room and just known that somebody just said something? You know, you can feel the energy the moment you walk into a room you know it If someone’s super positive and cheerful walks into a room, you feel that energy. We all have that ability all the time that intuition is working for us all the time. So I think in certain cases, you absolutely want to prepare, if you know you’re going to give a presentation, and you’re going to get a lot of specific questions, you absolutely want to be prepared in that kind of case, different situation. On a day to day basis, the best preparation you can do is just to be aware, to stay alert to your own senses, and to what information is being given to you from the outside world. And then be mindful of it, and respond accordingly. And if you do that, I mean, I know, you know, people say, Well, what’s you know, the one best, you know, one best piece of advice. And I’ll say that to people, just notice, the best piece of advice I have is to start noticing, start noticing what’s going on for you start noticing what’s going on for other people, and then use that information.

Russel Lolacher
Situational awareness and self awareness are some of the biggest superpowers you can ever have in the workplace. And I’m glad you hammered that home. So it’s from a speaking well perspective, how can that benefit the workplace? How can that help employee engagement? How can that help the employee experience whether it’s the person talking, or the person being talked to?

Vicki McLeod
Have you ever been in that meeting, Russ, where, you know, someone says, Okay, I’d really like to hear what everyone has to think, what are your ideas, and nobody says anything? Right, like? So. So, you know, I think when you just think about that situation, and you think about for most organizations and businesses, and it doesn’t really matter whether you’re in the not for profit sector, or the for profit sector, you know, innovation ideas, these are our strengths, right? This is where we need to be in order to keep moving forward for whatever purposes that we have. And so the ability for people to feel safe, and to feel involved and to feel engaged is going to be that juice that’s going to give your organization or your business, that different kind of energy and edge that you need to progress. And I’m always careful about like using really driven language like not every, not every organization is out for ambitious to serve ambitious purposes. Some of us are really trying to slow down in our workplaces and have them and have a more mindful or slow learning approach. But you can have that too, and have people engaged. So I think, you know, when you think about the cost of not encouraging people to develop these skills, or for not developing these skills for yourself, you know, the cost to your to your career can be quite high, and the cost to organization is going to be high, because people are going to and you know, sometimes in the situation I gave to you, it can just be that it was a bad question. You know, it was a question given without context, and people don’t know what ideas we’re looking for today. You know, and it could go far the other way. But I think it’s really when you just think about that a room full of potential untapped potential. And really, every workplace has this in spades, because you know, humans aren’t we’re endlessly inventive, right? We’re endlessly creative, we’re given if given the chance to express it.

Russel Lolacher
Now, that scenario, though, very familiar. There’s also a certain layer to that, but I kind of want to touch on introversion versus extraversion. because there’ll be a lot of people in a situation like that won’t speak up in a group because that’s just not who they are comfortably, so to speak. Well, it feels like there’s a well it works well for extroverts, but not so much for introverts, or is it? I mean, it’s still the same skill set. It’s just a level of energy. Yeah?

Vicki McLeod
Yeah. No, you’re I think it’s a really great question. I’m sure. It’s one that a lot of people have. And, and the example that I gave the person who I call Lala in the book, or now rather, she was an extrovert and that was her problem. In that, because she was so extroverted, she just sort of felt like I could just go in there and I can just express and do this. And you know, one thing I noticed about extroverts, and I’m an introvert, by the way, is that that they are self identify as an introvert is that they’re they tend to not like silence much. And so often, we need these pauses, right? People need to process they need to catch up. Some of us are slower processors, and some of us because introverts we tend to like to process after the fact we’re like, Okay, let me listen to that. And let me get back to you. And I think that that is a really a fair tactic for introverts to say, I’ve got all the information, let me think about this, and I’ll get back to you. And the other technique that I’ve used with a lot of introverts, and it’s one I use myself, and I use it when I’m leading meetings or when I’m leading workshops, but I also use it as an individual, is I write things down. So I make a deal with myself that when I’m asked the question by the facilitator, or the leader, I will make the deal with myself, I’m going to write down three responses to that question. On my own and I old school, I like a pen and paper, but you know, most meetings, you’re allowed to have your phones. You can just shove that in your notes. And then when the question comes around, what do you think I have three things written down and I can pick one. And that’s kind of how I’ve just a little technique for dealing with the introversion extroversion skip. The extroverts are always going to jump in but you In skilful meeting, people will be asked or there’s there’ll be a go round it will be an opportunity is anybody else want to say anything who hasn’t spoken yet. And I have my three things written down, and I’m ready to roll.

Russel Lolacher
I like you highlight the extroverts actually could get in their own way, when it comes to speaking well. While introverts are predisposed to preparation, just because… you know?

Vicki McLeod
It’s true, you know, and I guess that’s my, my little technique is partly that, it’s just like, that’s I’m sitting in the meeting, and I’m just preparing for when my turn comes. But it is a tool that people can use. And again, it mirrors, you know, talking about people who maybe aren’t as comfortable in the verbal arena. And fair enough. I mean, I’m a very adopted introvert because I come from a family of extroverts. And if I was going to get a chance to say anything I had to get, you know, I had to socially adapt in order to kind of to survive. But I do think there are tools that you can use, and I think one of the other possible silver linings are side benefits of the pandemic time that we’ve been through is just that people have made a new acquaintance with introversion and are seeing it in many ways as an asset and that there is a sort of a, an industrialized culture bent towards extraversion, you know, the kind of get out there, the kind of hustle thing, and I’ve, you know, as you know, been kind of an advocate over the years, I’m sort of the anti hustle message, we actually don’t have to put ourselves under that kind of pressure day in and day out. So but it’s a really good question, because I think there are people who verbally verbal arena is much more comfortable for them. And for others, it’s not, again, just work on the skills, we don’t have to be, you know, I use a nice little model that, you know, in the middle of the model is our safety zone. And then in the next circle of the model is the growth area, like the growing edge, things that are new to us where we stretch, and then outside of that is overwhelm, you don’t have to put yourself in overwhelm. And you need to notice, practice awareness, say, Oh, I’m getting overwhelmed, I’m gonna go back into my, where I’m my safety zone, and maybe that’s writing things down. Or maybe that’s speaking to your boss after the meeting and saying, you know, what, I’m gonna put my thoughts in an email for you, I have some ideas.

Russel Lolacher
So I want to get better, I want to speak well at work. Where do I go for that information? How do I learn? Is it a muscle to strengthen? Or is it research I need to take?

Vicki McLeod
I think it’s a combination of both. And partly, again, I would say it depends on what you’re, you know, the personality of the individual. You know, I think practice is practice. And and we’re life is practice, it’s not perfect. Life is not about perfection, life is about practicing and trying to improve. And so I think taking opportunities to practice to really lean into friends and colleagues that you trust, especially you know, when you have that more or that opportunity to prepare side, use those people, you know, run it by, and people that are good people that you trust, like you have some friends that are gonna love everything you do, or hate everything you do. But those maybe aren’t the people you want to go to, you want to go to the ones that are actually gonna say, hey, this worked. And this didn’t quite work. But when you’re in terms in terms of the more spontaneous, getting more comfortable spots each take a few risks. And that is muscle building, and it is practicing. I think that’s really important. And I think, but the research is also useful. And reading like books like mine, there are courses that you can take, for people who I think a lot of people have had really effective results from things like Toastmasters, and groups that they can join that help you get out and get up in front of people. And and people know themselves best and they know what works best for them. In terms of learning models, I would say pick one that works for you or pick to be aware of the overwhelm. Part of things, you know, go where you feel safe, and then expand a little grow a little approach the growing edge with some curiosity, curiosity, which we talked about earlier. How can I get better at this? What will it be like for me? Yeah.

Russel Lolacher
Well, thanks, Vicki. Now you’re gonna help us get a little bit better with the final question of the podcast, podcast podcast, but I got to put in, I got to put in special effects there. So what Vicki is one simple action people can do right now to improve their relationships at work?

Vicki McLeod
I think the best thing that they could do, and I’m going to use this big word, which is mindfulness is to become more mindful. But I’m going to break that down into kind of two things, two actual sort of tools. One is noticing, start, just notice, what do I notice about this. And the second tool is, at the end of the day, write it down. Get a journal, and at the end of each day, write down what you noticed about your relationships at work, what you noticed about yourself about what you notice. So this is about increasing self awareness, and having an actual tool that you can use to help you track progress. I think if people did those two things they would find almost organically, they’ll find an improvement. I think they will.

Russel Lolacher
Let’s be hopeful. Yes. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time today and speaking so well with me.

Vicki McLeod
Oh, thank you. It was just it was just a pleasure. And I just I love what your podcast is about and I hope people will continue to listen to it because I just think it’s so needed in our, in our workplaces today.

Russel Lolacher
You’re the best. Thanks Vicki!

Vicki McLeod
Thank you

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