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Great Communication Skills: Do’s and Don’ts of Using Humor at Work

Posted by on July 13, 2012

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Great Communication SkillsDoes humor really count as a component of “great communication skills”? After all, humor is just joking around, right? Well, it turns out that humor—or the lack of it—is a major component of one’s communication skills as a whole. In fact, an incredible 98% of CEOs would rather hire someone with a good sense of humour than someone with a more serious demeanor.*

Want to know how you can use humor in an effective and appropriate way at work? I won’t kid you…there are a lot of minefields to navigate. First, let’s make the distinction between jokes and humor:

  • Jokes usually stand alone, aren’t closely connected to the situation, and tend to follow a recognizeable format such as, “3 guys walk into a bar…”
  • Humor is pulled from the situation or environment, such as mentioning to a colleague that you’re trying to cut out carbs as you both walk into the breakroom to find a mountain of donuts and bagels someone brought in. You might say something like, “See? It’s a carb conspiracy!”

The clever and appropriate use of humor is a great way to improve communication, reduce stress, help people think creatively, reduce the fear of making mistakes, improve morale, build stronger relationships, alleviate boredom…and more! How can you make this miracle tool work for you? Let’s talk about what you should do.

Workplace Humor: Do’s

  • Incorporate humor into your everyday conversations and presentations
  • Know your audience and tailor your humor to them
  • Make your humor self-deprecating when possible
  • Fit your humor into the context of the conversation
  • Include the whole group; no “inside” references

Following these guidelines is a great place to start, but beware of pitfalls! Poor use of humor works like a poison. At best, it can fall flat and embarass you. At worst, it can offend others, create strained relationships, and even get you into legal trouble. On that note, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t do.

Workplace Humor: Don’ts

  • Never make jokes about people’s appearance, sexuality, religion, socio-economic status, or ethnic heritage
  • Don’t make fun of people, only situations
  • Avoid using humor to complain about your colleagues, supervisors, team or organization
  • Never use profanity or inappropriate references
  • Be careful when using sarcastic humor: it can come off as insulting, arrogant and/or snarky

Put yourself in the place of your audience and try to imagine their reactions. I strongly suggest that you practice using humor in a safe environment—such as with family or friends—before unleashing your hilarity at work.

Used well, humor at work can change the whole atmosphere for the better. Who knows? You colleagues may soon be referring to you as “that funny guy/gal”!

* According to a survey of 737 CEOs conducted by Hodge-Cronin & Associates

Sources: Forbes, Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, ScienceDaily

Great Communication Skills: Listen, Listen, Listen!

Posted by on June 21, 2012

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  • Have you ever “tuned out” when someone was talking to you?
  • Has anyone ever asked you, “Are you listening to me?”

If you answered yes to either or both of these questions…congratulations! You’re human.

We’ve all made the mistake of not listening, and it almost always gets us in trouble. People have an innate need to be heard, and they’re looking for feedback from you that tells them you’re listening. This is why “pretending” to listen usually doesn’t work.

Communication Skills

Real Listening

Being quiet while someone is talking does not constitute real listening! The key to real listening is wanting and intending to do one of these four things:

  • Understanding someone
  • Enjoying someone
  • Learning something
  • Giving help

When you are really listening, following through with active feedback will show the speaker you are fully engaged. When they know you are paying attention, they can relax into their message, beginning the whole conversation on a better note.

Active Listening

“Active listening” requires feedback from you so the speaker knows you’re listening. This feedback can take many forms:

  1. Eye contact
  2. Facial expression
  3. Posture
  4. Verbal responses and asking questions
  5. Actively avoiding distractions

If you’re truly listening, the first 3 items should happen automatically. Items 4 and 5 are a little harder.

Active verbal feedback consists of paraphrasing, clarifying with questions, then sharing your reactions. Make sure you hear the whole statement before making any judgments, and listen with empathy. Make sure you are aware of any mismatches between the words being said and the speaker’s tone of voice, emphasis, facial expressions, and posture. Do all these fit together? Using these techniques will help you see past the surface to the real message being conveyed.

Actively avoiding distractions means ensuring the conversation takes place in as quiet a place as possible without phone, email, or human interruptions. Easier said than done, but doing this will ease the whole interaction and allow you to absorb the message without confusion caused by interruptions. It also signifies that you respect the speaker and their message.

Blocks to Listening

As soon as you have active listening down pat, watch out! There are some common blocks to listening that we all have to deal with, and they sneak in so stealthily you may never notice:

Communication Skills

Pay attention to where your mind wanders when someone is speaking to you. When you are able to catch yourself doing these things, you can then work on correcting these tendencies and avoiding them altogether in the future. Just imagine what an outstanding listener you can become!

Karen Holmes is a CGWA Senior Consultant and Trainer, based in the U.S. and delivering programs such as  Coaching, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Positive Power and Influence, Presentation Skills, and many more.

Great Communication Skills: Avoiding Clichés

Posted by on March 28, 2012

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We’ve all done it: used a really bad cliche to illustrate a point. But could it actually damage our ability to communicate? Sounds a bit far-fetched, but it’s important to use caution.

Are Cliches Really so Bad?

It’s so easy to fall back on a familiar saying, or idiom, in order to convey your meaning (message) when speaking or writing to someone else. What you’re trying to do is shorten the length of time it takes to convey that feeling or idea. Often these sayings are trite and overused, and therefore taken for granted. You guessed it: They become cliche!

Great Communication Skills

The problem is, the meaning you (the sender) assign may not be the meaning understood by the other person (the receiver). Many variables can interfere with the message the receiver hears, such as:

  • Sender or receiver’s native language
  • Receiver’s familiarity with your choice of phrase
  • Differences in regional dialect
  • Overall tone of the conversation
  • Power inequalities, i.e. boss to employee
  • Using mixed metaphors

One of the characteristics of great communication skills is being able to tailor your conversation to the person(s) you’re speaking to. To that end, you must know when it’s okay to use certain phrases and when they should be “avoided like the plague.” Idioms can cause a lot of confusion and even offense, especially when conducting international business.

Some Cliches to Avoid

  • Barking up the wrong tree
  • Burn your bridges
  • Burning the candle at both ends
  • Come hell or high water
  • Cut off your nose to spite your face
  • Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
  • Get your ducks in a row
  • Go with the flow
  • Keep your eye on the ball
  • No pain, no gain
  • Push the envelope
  • The big picture
  • The whole nine yards
  • Think outside of the box
  • You can take that to the bank
  • You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip

These are just some of the sayings that are easily misunderstood or misused in conversation. Occasional use is okay, as long as you’re sure the phrase is appropriate to your topic, will be understood by the receiver, and helps to illuminate your meaning.

What are some of your favorite sayings? Are they classic cliches, or unique to you? Ask yourself: Are my words conveying my true meaning, or do they add confusion? What else can I say to get my point across clearly?

CGWA is proud to offer our Interpersonal Communication Skills program, which expertly guides participants through the process of becoming savvy communicators.

Excuse me? Defuse tension with stellar communication skills.

Posted by on January 4, 2012

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Interpersonal Communication Skills

Last time, we talked about minimizing your holiday stress with 3 key communication tips. But communication problems don’t melt away with the holiday season, do they? Improving interpersonal communication skills has been an ongoing challenge since the dawn of time.

How many times have you had a misunderstanding with a colleague that went unresolved until both of you were so angry you could hardly speak to each other? Have you ever failed to respond to someone or ignored your concerns, causing them to feel insulted or marginalized? These communication obstacles pop up all too often. Good news: You can help minimize and repair these dysfunctional interactions!

Great communication follows a process for both the sender and receiver of the message.

Senders Must:

  1. Know what it is they wish to convey.
  2. Check on whether or not they are getting their message across.
  3. Be willing and able to change their communication process or style in order to achieve their goal.

Receivers Must:

  1. Be willing to listen.
  2. Be skillful at active and passive listening.
  3. Be willing and able to change their listening style in order to understand the point of view of the sender.

Of course, this process is only the beginning of successful communication. But are you starting with a neutral, balanced communication style? Probably not; we all have our own unique approach. To understand your communication strengths and weaknesses, take our Communication Skills Self-Assessment.

In the classroom, we present participants with concepts, tools, and insights that are practiced extensively to create a better understanding of how they communicate and how to approach others more effectively. We also teach how to clarify misunderstandings and create a positive environment by planning for these critical interactions. It’s such a pleasure seeing people experience communication breakthroughs!

Karen Holmes is a CGWA Senior Consultant and Trainer, based in the U.S. and delivering programs such as  Coaching, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Positive Power and Influence, Presentation Skills, and many more.

Holiday Stress Buster: Interpersonal Communication Skills!

Posted by on December 19, 2011

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Interpersonal Communication SkillsYes, the holidays are upon us once again! While this special time of year can bring family and friends together for times of joy, laughter and celebration, this can also be a time of year with extra pressure and stress. Your personal “to do list” is a hefty addition to the many tasks that you must continue to accomplish at work. This combination of pressures can create some tense moments in communication, sometimes leading to less-than-desirable outcomes.

At CGWA we want your holidays to be filled with joy and your work to shine too. In that spirit, we’d like to offer a few tips for successful interpersonal communication as we finish 2011 and set our sights on 2012!

Here goes…

  1. Set clear boundaries. Be realistic with yourself and others about what you can accomplish in a given time frame. Remember there is always a push to do more. Many times when we explain to others what we have on our plate they will begin to understand our limitations.
  2. Explain what you can do. Break the task, assignment or project into “chunks” and state the things that you will be able to accomplish and by when. Usually we start with what we will not be able to do and feel that we will be disappointing the other person. So, stay positive and explain what you will be able achieve.
  3. Don’t take it personally. If we think someone is frustrated or overwhelmed many times we can attribute that to something we may or may not have done. Remember, when we are not sure about something or do not have all the information about a situation we tend to fill in the blanks and create the rest of the story for ourselves. Usually we focus on what we have not done or can’t do. Remember, another person’s stress and frustration does not need to become yours!

As you finish your shopping and head for the celebrations, keep these key communication tips in mind for a peaceful and happy holiday season. Enjoy, from all of us at CGWA!

We’ll be taking a break from blogging next week. May your holidays be merry and bright!

Karen Holmes is a CGWA Senior Consultant and Trainer, based in the U.S. and delivering programs such as  Coaching, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Positive Power and Influence, Presentation Skills, and many more.