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If you understand how the brain learns and what it really takes to connect to another person in that moment – and there are strategies that are really easy to employ – it really applies to both communication and professional training or academic teaching. It’s just, you know, same concept, different context.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink and Powered by Purple Ink, and with me is my friend and co-host Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice.
Our topic today is brain based communication strategies. Boy, I don’t know about you, Susan, but when I first heard of this concept, I assumed it was way too smart for me. [Laughs]
Being called brain based strategy seemed a little much. But as I delved into it, the process really is very simple. Dan Beverly, an author, describes it as minimizing the distractions and maximizing the thinking for the person you might be coaching or just communicating in some manner. And he suggests that we think about three different techniques to do this.
Number one, listen, and listen generously for meaning at all levels. Focus on the words used for clues as to what is really being said, and doing so without judgment. Truly listening to understand, which I think is a Stephen Covey quote.
Yeah, “Seek first to understand.” Yeah.
Yes, that’s right.
That’s… I feel like I’m continually working on my listening skills, so…[laughs] Always a good reminder for me to hear about those. The second technique is to speak with intent. And he says to do that by speaking succinctly, specifically, and generously. So let’s see. In succinctly, sometimes we don’t have to tell the entire story and all the details that go along with it that we might think are important, but boring to our listener. Make every word count. Specifically, focus on sharing only the relevant information to articulate your point. By generously he says speak for their benefit. What what are you trying to do to help them and/or get your point across?
And then number three, maintain your clarity of distance. I like that expression. What he’s saying there is that you want to stay out of the detail. You know, Celeste Headlee, an NPR broadcaster, she wrote a book, “10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation,” and in there, one of her points is, you know, don’t worry about the details when you’re having a conversation. No one cares what date that you did it or who… the name of the person who happened to walk by during the incident. Let it go. You need to choose your filters, park your agenda, let the other person’s agenda come through. Think about the audience. What is it they’re hoping to get out of this conversation? And let them speak to it, and then watch out for your hotspots. If the topic is an emotional hotspot, maybe now’s not the time to have that conversation. Postpone it until things are a little less emotional.
Great advice. To explore this concept of brain based communication, we have invited Dr. Ali Atkison to the show. She is a highly acclaimed keynote speaker, trainer, and teaching professional. With more than 20 years in higher education, Dr. Ali is widely considered one of the foremost authorities on how the adult brain learns. Ali, how did you get started teaching people brain based communication and training skills?
My background is actually in the academic world. So yeah, I was an academic before this. When I was accepted to graduate school at the very, very young age of 26 years old, I was accepted at the University of Denver in beautiful Denver, Colorado. And at the time, I… when I applied to grad school, I had no designs on teaching, but when I got accepted, they offered me an assistantship, which meant that my tuition would be covered in exchange for teaching. And, you know, it was a private institution, really, you know, really, that was something. And I thought, “My gosh, if you want me to clean the pool for free tuition…”
You know, so I thought, gosh, you know, why not? Yeah, let’s try this. Let’s try teaching. And anybody who has been involved with academia knows that unfortunately, it’s somewhat common for both adjuncts and tenured are professors to be hired as subject matter experts, but not necessarily to get training in, you know, best teaching practice. And that was the case with me. I was pretty much given my book and showed my classroom and sort of poof, I’m a teacher, and really early on that… that just didn’t sit very well with me. You know, it was important to me that if I was going to be doing this act of teaching, I really wanted to ensure that my students were learning. And so really early, I started doing some research into best teaching practice, and that led me pretty quickly to some stuff about how the brain learns, and just immediately started geeking out on that. [Laughs] Anything brain related is fascinating to me. And I started to realize in doing all this research that, you know, there are ways that we can actually ensure learning is taking place by understanding what’s happening in the brain. And so started… really just started building my practice and my research in that area. And eventually, I started teaching other teachers how to be better teachers, created a class that in fact, they still offer at the department I taught for at the University of Denver.
Yeah, it was, it was amazing. I mean, just really was able to very early on, you know, share my passion for best teaching practice and brain based teaching practice.
Sure. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about that? Give us your unique approach.
Yeah, absolutely. So it’s really cool, because I think that my background and my approach are so… I guess symbiotic, you know. My approach is informed by my background, if you will. Gosh, I sounded like an academic just then, didn’t I? [Laughs]
They use, like, “informed by” a lot.
I like it.
[Laughs] So what… what really I think is unique about me is that I realized pretty… several years into doing this research and teaching teachers in the academic space, that I could marry my expertise in how the brain learns with my expertise in communication. I have a PhD in Human Communication Studies, and started to think, you know, I can teach the layperson how to be a better communicator using these exact same principles that apply to teachers in academia, as well as, by the way, corporate trainers, you know, in organizations. It’s really very similar concepts, because it’s just all about how to connect with people. It’s… if you understand how the brain learns and what it really takes to connect to another person in that moment – and there are strategies that are really easy to employ – it really applies to both communication and professional training or academic teaching. It’s just, you know, same concept, different context. So that’s what I think is kind of unique about my approach is there are a lot of people teaching communication, but I really mire those skills in what we know about how the brain learns.
Yeah, I was just thinking that I don’t usually connect training and communication, although seems obvious now, but I don’t think of those as being synonymous with each other.
Which I guess is probably the problem, right?
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s one of the things that I got really excited about when I started thinking about how can I connect with HR professionals, you know, on this level, to get them to understand that communication skills are so critical. First of all, it’s kind of kind of double sided for me, JoDee, that you really get insight about asking how are training and communication, you know, connected. For me, I think they’re two sides of the same coin. One is, they both fall under the umbrella of communication. Training is just a form of communication, same as teaching is. So you know, it really is all about communication skills, and again, connecting with other people. But the other piece for me is when we don’t pay enough attention to communication skills, in the corporate world especially, our organizations suffer. And so, you know, that’s where I think that the HR professionals in particular come into play is thinking about, what are the things that make our organizations run smoothly? What are the things that affect the organization’s productivity, profitability? It all boils down to communication. Right?
How do HR professionals hook into this? Like, what’s step one? What should they do step one, step two, step three, to… to make sure that they… that they are tapping into this?
I think my first step would be to really do, I guess… realize. I’m not sure if we can call realize a step. [Laughs]
To really think about, are we paying attention in our organization to the impact that communication skills are having on our employees, our productivity? So think about, for example, I know that a lot of HR professionals spend many, many hours every year, some every week, dealing with personnel issues. And really, if you look at it, personnel issues, again, boil down to what? Communication. It almost always is because two people are having a hard time communicating with one another effectively, impactfully, you know, those kinds of things. And so I think that the first thing that HR professionals could do is take a look at what are the problems that are manifesting in their organizations and, you know, really drilling down. Do they boil down to communication skills? And very, very often they do. And, you know, I’ve got many statistics that I could share about the impact of communication on productivity in organizations. There are… something like 500 corporations were surveyed a couple of years ago and found that the… the communication barriers that they were dealing with cost the average organization upwards of $62 million a year in lost productivity.
That’s staggering to me, right? There are something like 17 to 20 hours a week spent in the average organization clarifying poor communication. That amounts to an annual loss of about $530,000 for any given organization. So you know, just kind of asking yourself, like, what are the things that are manifesting in my organization, and do they boil down to communication? And the answer very often is yes. And then I think step two is, okay, now, what can we do about it? Many HR professionals nowadays know that professional development is so critical. I know you guys have talked about this with some of your other podcast guests, that, you know, creating a joyous workspace is one where people feel valued, heard, or listened to. But also part of that is that when they feel… one of the things that helps employees feel valued is offering professional development, right? And so offering professional development in communication skills… I think it’s one of the biggest myths about communication is that we tend to talk about communication as something that a person just is innately… they are this way. “Well, he or she is just not a very good communicator.” But communication is a skill. It is absolutely a skill that can be honed, built, improved, etc. So you know, calling someone in to, you know, a boss’s office, a leader’s office, the HR office, whatever the case may be, and saying, “Look, we just need you to be a better person so you, like, get along better with other people,” really… you know, and that happens, and… and that’s really akin to, you know, telling me, “Look, Ali, I just need you to be a better piano player,” even though I’ve never taken a single lesson.
[Laughs] It’s like, but how do I do that? And so, you know, communication is not just the way a person is. That’s personality. Communication is a skill that can absolutely be honed. And so to go back to – this is a really long winded Susan answer your question. I think the second thing that HR professionals can do is build communication skills into their professional development repertoire, if you will, or their… their catalog.
And that can be lots of different things, right? It could be communicating about conflict management, but it could also be writing skills, or how to craft a better email, or how to do public speaking, right? All kinds of different ways.
Yeah. JoDee, I love that you just said that. I just gave this really, really fun presentation at the Python Web Conference a couple of weeks ago where I talked about that very thing, that nowadays, communication is way bigger than writing an email with no typos or sending out a resume that looks good, right? Nowadays… think about this. Many people only know us by our virtual communication, whether that’s written or by Zoom. So I think you know, for me, what I’m… what I’m proposing people think about nowadays is that when we talk about communication skills, it’s about how we show up as communicators. It’s the 360 degree view of who you are as a communicator. So how do you show up in Zoom meetings? Are you present on camera? Are you engaged with the person, you know, who’s leading the meeting or who’s talking? You know, what do your emails look like? Or if you’re in IT, what do your tickets look like? Are you a good collaborator with your team? Are you a proactive communicator so that your team can succeed? These are all parts of communication that can be built, you know, improved upon and honed. And yeah, I think we typically think of public speaking, and that’s certainly included. But you know, sometimes I think people think, like, oh, I don’t need… I’m not a public… I’ll never be a public speaker, so I don’t need to learn improve communication skills.
Right. Well, and you know, Ali, we’re the JoyPowered® podcast, so we like to ask people about finding the joy in their work or in their organizations. What do you think is one small step people could take in this area specifically to create more joy at work?
I absolutely love that… that approach because, you know, I think nowadays people are really, for the first time ever, have this expectation of finding joy and value in what they do. And there’s absolutely no doubt that having better relationships with other people is what will bring someone joy in their workplace. And again, that really just comes down to… to communication. So I think probably, if we’re asking about what’s one small thing that anyone can do to create more joy at work, it really is to examine how you communicate with other people. And ask yourself that question, am I telling…am I telling myself that myth that, well, this is just how I am, right? I’m just a direct person, you know, that’s just how I am, or, oh, you know, I’m… whatever we tell ourselves sometimes. Oh, I’m just shy, or I don’t have time to go, for example, take a couple extra minutes and make sure that my email is clear, or things like that. You know, ask yourself, are you… are you kind of giving yourselves those little myths? And if so, just take one… the easiest step that I would recommend for any person in terms of improving your communication skills is take two to five extra minutes upfront to read anything that goes out to someone. And I mean anything, whether it’s an email, or even an instant message – nowadays, those count, those count as communication. Take a little bit of extra time upfront to read those things before you send them to ensure that they’re clear, that the context makes sense, and of course, that they’re free of typos and errors that confuse people. Because here’s the thing, when people often think “I don’t have time for that right now,” the bottom line is that a good 50% of the time you actually waste time down the road. And that’s frustrating for everyone. Right? So that’s the simplest tip, the easiest thing people can do is just take a little bit more time upfront to save people time in the long run. For me, that creates joy, anyway. [Laughs]
I’m with you. So Ali, how can our listeners reach out to you directly?
Yeah, thank you for asking that. I’m definitely on my LinkedIn page, which can just be found Ali Atkison, and it’s A-T-K-I-S-O-N. My email or my – excuse me, my website is R-O-I dash communications dot com, so roi-communications.com. And there they can find out more about my work and the training that I do and the professional speaking that I do on communication. I’d be delighted to talk to anybody one on one. I often tell people to bring me their challenges. One of the things that I like to say is that I… I can help any person communicate better in any context. So I… Yes, I welcome them. Bring me your challenges, shoot me an email, or reach out via my contact form on my website, and I would love to connect.
That’s great. And we’ll put that information in our show notes so people will be able to read that as well. Well, thank you so much, Ali, for coming. We really appreciate it.
Yeah, thank you.
Thank you for having me. It was… it was great fun. I appreciate – I love your podcast, and I appreciate being on today.
Thank you so much.
JoDee, here’s our listener question today. How do you train, coach, and engage with someone to have a growth mindset?
Yeah, I think, you know, we hear about that term, we want our people to have a “growth mindset,” to think how they can grow personally or grow within the organization. And to coach them on that I think we have to dig in a little bit, right? Find out where are they at and where is it they want to go, and who do they want to be along that process. And doing the same thing continues to get the same results, right? So we have to maybe give them a different perspective or a different ideas and talk about what it is they truly want. And sometimes we have to ask the same concept in a variety of different ways and, you know, get to it with different questions to get that feeling or desire that change needs to happen and maybe get some new perspectives that they can explore. When they have a sense of urgency and a strong vision of what could be, they’re more likely to be open to growing and developing to get where they want.
In our in the news section today, I recently read an article titled “Why Workations Are All the Rave.” I have to admit I’ve been doing workations for years, I just didn’t know what to call it. Basically, I was working when I was on vacation. But recently, due to the increase in remote work opportunities, it has taken on a whole new feel and an ability to go to what might be a vacation spot, but intentionally work while you are there. Here are some key takeaways about this topic.
67% of workers went on workation to recharge their mental and emotional batteries. Another 94% plan to workation again in 2022 and beyond.
A full 86% agree or strongly agree that a workation boosted their productivity.
81% grew more creative at work after taking a workation.
And nearly 69% are less likely to quit their jobs after going on workation.
84% are now more satisfied with their jobs.
I do think it makes a difference – right? – to just be somewhere in a new landscape, a new view out your window, or maybe thinking I’m going to work in the mornings and I’m going to play in the afternoons and so I have to get my work done before noon so I can, you know, go to the beach or spend time in the sun or go snow skiing, whatever that might be.
I think you’re right. I think it’s important that you intentionally go as a workation, because I know that if you go on vacation and all of a sudden work intrudes, it can just cast a pall and every… the whole… everyone you came with, it can bring down the energy, you yourself can become resentful. But if you go with the intention that you’re planning on making it a workation, that you are going to in the morning devote three hours to work, the afternoon is going to be family-oriented or your interest-oriented, I think that all of these lifts and positives are, you know, achievable. But it’s about doing a workation intentionally, I think.
And I think that’s a good point, too, to say we’re not suggesting you don’t take vacations also.
But that you might have the opportunity to do even more workations. Although interesting follow up on this, be ready to make some space as 43% on a workation stay with family or friends and stayed from one week to two months. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Oh dear.
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