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Category Archives: Thrive at Work

Microphone with text: 4 Vocal Tricks to Be Heard
Image by 19dulce91 from Pixabay

Have you ever noticed some people have the type of voice that commands attention? When they start speaking, the room listen. People pay attention.

Even if you do not naturally have a “sit up and take notice” voice, there are still steps you can take to improve your vocal tendencies and help yourself be heard. After all, what you’re saying isn’t necessarily as important as how you say it. A study by a UCLA professor found that a full 38% of our impression of someone is formed by their vocal quality, while only 7% of our impression is formed by their message (the remaining percent has to do with body language and facial expressions).

In short, vocal tone and inflection is important. Here are 5 ways to improve yours:

1. Know Yourself

Pay attention to how you talk and how your voice might be perceived. To do this, it’s helpful to record yourself speaking (as uncomfortable as that may be!), play it back, and pay attention. Is your voice low or high? Fast or slow? How do you emphasize words? Do you include a lot of filler language such as “like” or “um?”

Knowing how you speak gives you a baseline for how to improve.

2. Lower Your Voice

According to an article by Susan Berkley in BottomLine magazine, a study revealed that a lower voice (for both men and women) makes that person seem “more competent and trustworthy than those with a raised pitch.” She goes on to say that you can work on talking at a lower pitch by placing your hand on your sternum (for women) or beneath your sternum (for men) and strive to create a vibration.

NOTE: You never want to seem inauthentic when you’re speaking, so don’t try to go too deep. Just lower your voice so it’s still within your natural range.

3. Pay Attention To Pacing

There’s a balance between talking too quickly and talking slowly. If you tend gab at a mile-a-minute, it may be difficult for people to keep up, and you’ll eventually lose them. On the other hand, if you speak too slowly, you may leave room for people to interrupt or talk over you.

Practice speaking at a comfortable pace (again, record yourself OR, if you’d really try to nail your pacing, try joining Toastmasters). Be sure to ask questions as you go, so you can gauge how engaged your audience is.

4. Practice What You Will Say

If you’d really like to be heard, it’s worth it to practice what you’re going to say before actually saying it. This way, you’ll go into the conversation with more confidence and sound more sure of yourself. When you practice, make sure to focus on eliminating filler words such as like, uh, um, or ah. Also pay attention to your pitch and pacing.

You deserve to be heard. Try putting one or two of these tips into practice and let me know how it goes! Also, if you have other tips to share, I’d love to hear them.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Purple Lotus flower
Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

Have you ever worked in an office that’s brimming with hostility and disgruntled staff? Have you ever felt like just a number–like you’re practically invisible to everyone else? Or, on the other side of the coin, have you ever dealt with a pushy, aggressive boss or co-workers?

Sure, all of these situations are bad for morale. They make you uninspired and unexcited to go to work every morning. BUT, the consequences of an unfriendly workplace are even more widespread than that. This type of environment can decrease productivity, increase turnover, and actually affect the company’s bottom line. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that, “ostracism, incivility, harassment, and bullying have direct negative significant effects on job productivity” and lead to higher job burnout.

In short, hostility in the workplace affects the both entire organization and the individual.

But, what do you do? You’re just one person, right? While it’s difficult to change an entire workplace dynamic, there are a few steps you can take to try to make improvements. Make kindness part of your leadership brand—truly live by the golden rule and treat others how you’d like to be treated (or, even better, treat others as they want to be treated).

To get started, try implementing these five practices:

1. Greet others

It may seem like a small thing, but the simple act of greeting someone you pass in the hallway can make a significant impact. According to author and Georgetown professor, Christine Porath, it’s a good idea to use the “10-5 rule.” When someone is within 10 feet, acknowledge them, make eye contact, and smile. When they’re within 5 feet, say hello. In one study, healthcare facilities that implemented this practice saw a marked increase in civility and patient satisfaction.

2. Hold inclusive meetings

There is, perhaps, no easier way to shut down voices than to hold non-inclusive meetings. Ideally, meetings are a chance for everyone to ask questions, propose ideas, or voice concerns. If only one or two voices are heard during most meetings, that quickly sends the message that the rest of the team is not valued.

Be a meeting leader. Bring others into the conversation by saying things like, “This topic would directly affect Kelly’s department. Kelly—do you have any thoughts about this?”

3. Don’t gossip

The office gossip machine can be cripplingly toxic. Just don’t do it. For more about shutting down gossip, take a look at my past post.

4. Acknowledge achievements

You don’t necessarily have to give out plaques or achievement pins, but it is a good idea to acknowledge people’s accomplishments in some way. Whether a shout-out at a meeting or a handwritten thank you card, make an effort to let others know they are valued members of the team.

5. Listen

You may not have the solution to cure workplace woes, but others might. Especially if you are in a leadership position, it’s a good idea to meet with people one-on-one and LISTEN to their ideas on how to improve the workplace. After all, your perspective is not the only perspective. You might be missing a key piece of the worker satisfaction puzzle.

Start making kindness a central part of your leadership brand. If you’re working within a less-than-friendly environment, start becoming the change you’d like to see take place. Acknowledge others, be inclusive, don’t give in to gossip, and (above all), practice active listening. Your actions could make a world of difference.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Two people in a cafe with tables

It’s necessary to take occasional breaks during the day. In fact, we need them if we’re going to maintain a high level of productivity and accuracy. In past posts, I’ve discussed Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project, which maintains that people work best when they take a break every 90 minutes. That’s a good rule of thumb, but it’s not just about the quantity of breaks, it’s about the quality. Some breaks, as it turns out, are more replenishing than others.

If you sit at your desk, flipping through social media updates, your break is not going to deliver the kind of replenishing results you’d get with an intentional, unplugged break away from your desk.

Daniel Pink explores replenishing breaks in his weekly “Pinkcast.” According to Pink, science shows that the quality of your break matters.

He says there are five basic rules for taking intentional breaks:

  1. Something beats nothing (1 or 2 minutes is better than no break at all)
  2. Movement beats stationary (get out and get moving!)
  3. Social beats solo (this is true for introverts too—find a friend a start up a conversation)
  4. Outside beats inside (catch some fresh air, if you can)
  5. Fully detached beats semi-detached (Don’t talk about work. Don’t bring your phone)

If you tend to gloss over break time, it may be time to re-examine your approach. Leave your phone in your desk, get up and visit co-workers, and take frequent walks outside. These kinds of breaks will help give you the kind of replenishment and rejuvenation you need during a long day.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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4 Ways to Stop an Interrupter

Are you dealing with a chronic interrupter? Whether in the workplace or your personal life, it never feels good for someone to talk over you, ignore you, or minimize what you’re trying to say.

How can you possibly deal with the strong personality of someone who constantly interrupts? Try these 4 methods:

1. Speak to the Interrupter in Private

Instead of getting mad, posting about the interrupter on social media, or fuming to your friends or colleagues, it is worth it to have a conversation with the offender. Though it’s never easy to have tough conversations (an issue I addressed in a past newsletter), there are tactful ways to approach the person and convey your message without sounding accusatory.

Make sure you schedule a private meeting with enough time to talk things out. Then, use the D4 model to address the issue:

Data: What are the facts? What actually happened?

Depth of Feeling: How did the instance make you feel?

Dramatic Interpretation: How are you interpreting the situation? What meaning have you given it?

Do: What do you want to do? What do you want the other person to do? Focus on actions taken and actions required.

In this case, the D4 model might sound something like, “I’ve noticed that you often interrupt me when I’m speaking. That makes me feel frustrated and belittled because I get the impression that my ideas and perspectives are not valuable. I wanted you to be aware of this so we could come up with a solution together…

2. Lean On Your Allies

If you’re too nervous to confront the interrupter OR you tried speaking with this person and nothing has changed, try reaching out to others. Let them know the situation and how you’re feeling (it’s possible others are feeling the same way you are!). Then, ask them to help by sticking up for you at meetings and saying, “Now, wait a minute. I’d like to hear what [YOUR NAME] has to say.” Be sure to offer the same support to them, if they need it.

3. Call Out the Interruption

If the interrupter starts talking over you, have the confidence to call them on their bologna! Immediately counter with, “Just a sec. I wasn’t finished,” and then finish what you have to say.

Part of this technique involves being confident that what you’re saying IS valuable. Know that it is. Your voice is important and deserves to be heard.

4. Change Up Your Meetings

If things are really bad, you may want to talk with your supervisor and ask about using a meeting moderator. This is someone who is designated to run the meeting (it may be your supervisor a designated point person), call on people for their thoughts, and stamp out bad behavior, such as interruptions. Though it may feel a bit like a teacher monitoring a Kindergarten classroom, sometimes that’s what it takes!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Post first published in 2016.

It’s Thanksgiving month, so you’re likely seeing constant reminders about gratitude and giving thanks. A lot of it may seem fluffy, but there are actually concrete benefits to being grateful.

Studies have shown that moods lift, outlooks become more positive, and relationships are healthier when we practice gratitude. From a business perspective, showing appreciation for your clients, co-workers, support staff, or employees helps to foster a more pleasant atmosphere, boosts morale, and slashes employee turnover.

But, gratitude shouldn’t be treated as a one-off thing. We shouldn’t get through Thanksgiving and go, “Well, that was fun. Now, on to Black Friday!”

A grateful mentality should be a sustainable one. We’re talking about an attitude shift here, not just a temporary state of mind. Why change your thinking for a month, when you can change it for a lifetime?

The trick to sustaining an attitude of gratitude? Practice every day.

The moment you wake up, instead of dreading the day ahead, think about the many blessings in your life. These could be simple things–the hot coffee in the pot, your friends and family, the roof over your head. Think about three things that bring you joy, comfort, or stability. You can choose to write about these things in a gratitude journal, or simply meditate on them for a few minutes.

Then, see where your day takes you. This morning burst of gratitude should help give you a positive boost and, if you confront rough patches throughout the day, you can always think back to your morning meditation and remember the three things that you were grateful for.

(It is worth noting that being a grateful person doesn’t mean that there aren’t negative aspects of your life. If the negative parts get too overwhelming, it may be time for a significant change. But that’s a topic that I’ve addressed in other posts.)

When you’re grateful and appreciative, the world changes. Your personal outlook becomes brighter, the people around you seem more pleasant (or at least tolerable!), and your relationships become more amiable and love-filled.  Try adopting a gratitude-filled lifestyle and watch your world transform!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Stressed woman at laptop biting pencil
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

For many leaders, stress seems to become the norm. They are constantly dealing with managing people, projects, and clients…all in between attending many, many meetings.

Stress does NOT have to be the norm. You can still be a good leader AND cut your workload (in fact, freeing yourself up and de-stressing may make you a better leader).

Here are 4 ways to start cutting stress:

1. Delegate

If you want something right, you have to do it yourself, right? …Right?

Not at all.

Sure, if you hand off a task, it might be approached in a different way than what you intended, but that doesn’t mean that approach is wrong. It’s just different…and different can be good! “Different” can bring variety and new ways of thinking or solving problems. Part of delegation means letting go some of your control. It means opening yourself up to others’ methods and perspectives.

Effective delegation involves handing over the reins with enough instructions to make things happen, but also giving a certain amount of freedom to the person who will be performing the task. Remember: even if the person is a bit slow or clumsy at the task at first, they will learn. Give them time.

2. Step Away From the Office

Despite what you might think, you are not a machine. You are human, and humans need to occasionally rest and rejuvenate.

Schedule meaningful breaks into your daily schedule–time when you’re completely unplugged from work. Go on a walk, read a book at lunch, get a massage, or attend your child’s soccer game.

In addition to your small daily breaks, schedule vacations into your year. Even a few days at a cabin on a lake will do wonders for your stress levels.

3. Prioritize

What are the items or tasks that truly need your attention? What are you unable to delegate to others?

Prioritize your task list, based on the assignments you need to handle personally. Your other to-do items can probably be delegated or outright skipped. For instance, are you really needed at every single meeting? Can your team handle certain meetings on their own?

Make a to-do list at the beginning of each week, in addition to the start of each day. This will help put big-picture tasks in perspective. It is also helpful to hold a quarterly planning session to look at the even bigger picture in the office.

4. Make Meaningful Connections

Being a leader can seem lonely at times. To overcome the isolation, make an effort to communicate with others and make meaningful connections. This will inevitably involve being vulnerable and allowing your authentic self to come to the surface.

Of course, you have to maintain some professionalism when communicating with your team, but you shouldn’t be afraid to show them that you’re human. You have interests; you make mistakes; you have a family and a life outside the office walls.

Just the act of reaching out and asking someone about their day will help you form better bonds with that individual. And, when you feel that you have friends (and a support system) in the office, that can cut stress significantly.

As a leader, you don’t have to let stress consume your life! Take charge of your leadership by delegating tasks, taking meaningful breaks, and developing an internal support system. Now, breathe!

If you’d like to read more about how to beat stress, take a look at my post on stress-busting techniques.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Two business people talking at a table
Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Do you have trouble getting what you want? Are you often overlooked or not listened to? Do you know a change needs to be made, but you’re having trouble framing your argument?

It sounds like you need to tap into the power of persuasion!

Being persuasive doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being sneaky or underhanded. If you use persuasion in an honest way, it means articulating something so others can see your point of view. Sometimes, you have to be persuasive to make positive changes or advance your career.

How do you become persuasive? Try a few of the following techniques:

1. Prepare

No matter if you’re leading a meeting, having a one-on-one with your boss, or proposing a new idea around the water cooler, it’s necessary to come prepared.

Do your homework, research the ins and outs of your proposal, AND anticipate potential problems or questions others may ask. If you know your stuff, you’ll automatically be more persuasive.

2. Be Confident

When you’re speaking, don’t use words like “I believe” or “I suppose.” Be confident when making a claim. Say it boldly, and people will listen.

Research shows people are more likely to listen to someone who is confident than someone who is an actual expert. Of course, you don’t want to spread false information, but when you do have something to say, say it with confidence!

3. Frame Your Words Carefully

Consider these two sentences, and tell me which is more effective:

“I’d like to be considered for the management position because I’m interested in furthering my career.”

“I’d like to be considered for the management position because I’m interested in new opportunities and challenges.”

The second one, right? These sentences both convey someone wishing to be considered for a promotion. Yet the second sentence focuses on personal growth and a desire to learn, while the first seems to say that the person, at the end of the day, is really only in it for themselves.

Before going into a meeting, practice your phrasing in front of a mirror, until you feel comfortable delivering it.

4. Be a Mirror

When trying to persuade someone, mirroring their body language, tone of voice, and volume makes you seem empathetic. In fact, if you’re an empathetic person to begin with, you are probably doing this without realizing it! People instinctively try to form alliances whenever possible, and by copying their mannerisms (subtly, of course!), you’re signaling that you understand them and are on their side.

5. Know Your Audience

Pay attention and start noticing what matters to people in your office. Do certain topics of conversation keep coming up? Are people interested in family, football, pets, or local music? What values do they seem to have?

Getting to know the people around you is invaluable to building rapport and gaining trust. Ultimately, if others find you easy to talk to and pleasant to be around, you won’t even have to think about being persuasive—people will want to listen to what you have to say.

If you want to make a change, put forth an idea, or simply be heard, it’s a good idea to hone your personal power of persuasion. It may not come easily at first, but with practice, you’ll be a pro!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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