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Creating Successful Leaders

Tag Archives: improve communication


Updated August, 2019

A Note From Margaret:

In the history of the UXL Blog (which has been active since 2011), this post is by far the most popular. That says a lot to me. For one, it means that people are interested in effective communication and developing a deeper understanding of their colleagues and co-workers. It also means that many people suspect that Insights® Discovery is a useful tool for digging in and approaching communication issues from a science-based, practical approach. 

If your team is struggling with communication (whether among team members, between bosses and staff, or with clients), I can help. As an Insights® Discovery Licensed Practitioner, I offer workshops and training to individuals and teams of any size, in any industry. I invite you to contact me today for more information.

Now, on with the post…

Do you ever wonder why a certain co-worker is so quiet? Or why another co-worker always wants to work in teams? Or why another won’t make a decision until everyone’s voice has been heard?

Assessment tests, such as Insights® Discovery, can unearth the mysteries behind your co-workers’ communication tendencies. Insights® is a science-based personality test designed to help you gain a better understanding of your own and others’ behaviors, tendencies, and perspectives. As an Insights® Licensed Practitioner, I have introduced many teams to Insights® and have witnessed improved communication, better leadership, and greater team cohesion and empathy.

One of the things I like best about Insights® is its approachable model, broken down into four main color energies (blue, red, yellow, and green). The idea behind the model is that everyone has the capacity to exhibit and embrace all four distinct personality types, but we all tend to lead with or prefer a certain personality type. Here is a brief overview of each color/personality type. Which one do you immediately identify with?


RED: Those who lead with red energy tend to be assertive, bold, and to-the-point. They are natural leaders and love to take charge and make quick decisions.

YELLOW: Yellows are bright, sunshiney, and social. They love working in teams, brainstorming ideas, and connecting with new people.

GREEN: People with a strong green tendency are typically empathetic and inclusive. Above all, they care about the happiness of their team members and want to make sure all voices are heard.

BLUE: Blues are data-driven, analytical, and contemplative. They like to mull over an issue and consider all angles before making a decision.

Now that you know a little bit about each color energy, let’s hone in on communication. Each group of people–reds, yellows, blues, and greens–has a different communication preference. The image below outlines how best to approach those who lead with a certain color energy:

Insights Discovery communication preferences
Yellow: Involve me.  Green: Show me you care.  Red: Be brief, be bright, be gone.  Blue: Give me details.

If you have a good hunch about someone’s leading color, take the time to stand in their shoes and consider how they might prefer to communicate. Should you be brief and bright with them (red)? Should you take the time to be social and ask about their family or weekend (yellow)? Should you ask about their emotional reaction toward a project (green)? Should you present them with a complete set of data and analysis (blue)?

This, of course, is just the tip of the Insights® Discovery iceberg. For more information on Insights®, or to find out how to acquire an assessment kit for your team, please contact me today.


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A woman sitting outside on her smart phone

Remote conferences are an integral tool of the work place. In an increasingly mobile and diverse business landscape, maintaining lines of communication in a way that is regularly organized and easily accessible ensures projects remain on task while goals are clearly maintained and communicated.

Phone meetings are by far the most commonly implemented for remote conferencing, and come with their own sets of headaches and challenges. As a team member or project coordinator, you may find yourself in need of strategies to use as a shorthand in organizing consistent, quality phone meetings. Feel free to use these suggestions below while you’re planning!

1. Stick to a schedule

Humans are creatures of habit, and scheduling phone calls can be one of the larger sources of frustration for mid-size or large teams. If you’re looking to utilize phone meetings as a convenient and regular means of convening a team, make it easier on your team members by scheduling calls at similar times at similar points in the week.

Typically, it’s simpler for someone to block out an hour in the morning every other Wednesday than to constantly be checking their schedule to see if they can make a meeting work. Sticking to a regular schedule upfront also helps establish project timelines. It can also help instill a sense of structure and a general sense of expectations.

2. Have a routine

Make sure to outline a procedure for beginning meetings, and for larger groups. Utilizing established formats, such as Robert’s Rules of Order, can help facilitate the chaos of having many voices present. Stick to a consistent limit of how long the group waits for people to join, and outline consequences for non-participation at your first meeting. Reiterate standards as necessary.

3. Prepare a small agenda; have someone take minutes

Board meetings utilize both these strategies, and are a simple but effective means of staying on task. Agendas serve doubly as excellent meeting reminders when provided in advance, and allow more time for team members to formulate specific questions they may have. You may want to incorporate unconstructed conversation time toward the end of meetings to field sentiments about the project at hand and candidly address issues that don’t neatly pertain to a specific task.

4. Be gracious, have a consistent facilitator

Always remember to be polite and professional. And remember, without visual cues and body language, you are bound to encounter miscommunication in a phone meeting at one point or another. Having a consistent facilitator, or a regular rotation of facilitation provides additional support and structure in meetings, as well as a default avenue for conflict resolution as the need arises.

Phone meetings don’t have to be a source of stress. When conducted effectively, they can be brief, clear, and helpful for all team members. Pair these strategies with a framework that best suits your team members’ schedules and working styles. And when in doubt, talk it out!

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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Speaking Tips to Build Confidence

As a coach, one of my focuses is on courage. In fact, I’ve developed a whole keynote (and even a little video) around the topic. Tapping into your courage isn’t always easy to do. We each have certain stumbling blocks that make us feel anything but courageous. For some people, it’s speaking.

Whether presenting in front of a group, or simply meeting with your manager in a one-on-one meeting, having polished speaking skills can help you succeed. When you’re articulate and confident, you can convey your ideas with clarity, improve your leadership, build relationships, and better interact with customers and co-workers. In short, having excellent speaking skills makes you seem more promotion-worthy (and who doesn’t want that?).

So, how do you improve your speaking skills and start expressing yourself with confidence?

It won’t happen overnight, but with time and conscious practice, you’ll be able step into any room and clearly communicate your thoughts. Start with these nine tips:

1. Prepare

Usually, you’ll have some kind of idea of what you’re going to have to talk about. Whether you’re speaking up at a meeting or going over your latest project with your manager, it’s a good idea to make a few notes about what you’d like to say and do whatever research you need to do. Anticipate questions and have answers prepared—but don’t be afraid to go off-script if necessary.

2. Pace Yourself

Confident speakers have careful pacing. They don’t speak too quickly, so that others can’t catch what they’re saying, and they don’t speak too slowly and completely lose their audience’s interest. The trick is to find your happy medium and while you’re at it…

3. Enunciate

Have the confidence to speak clearly. Practice your enunciation in front of a mirror or with a partner and make sure you’re sounding strong, instead of canned.

4. Listen

It may seem counterintuitive, but some of the best speakers are also excellent listeners. They pay attention to what other people are saying and respond in-kind. If, for instance, someone is expressing concern to you, it’s a good idea to acknowledge and address that concern. Remember: words are only part of the picture. Body language, vocal inflection, and other visual cues can help determine what’s on the speaker’s mind.

5. Empathize

Aim for understanding. When you have some kind of idea of what the other person is thinking or feeling, it will be easier to talk with that person on their level.

Part of empathy may involve asking clarifying questions to make sure you’re understanding the other person’s point of view.

6. Have a personality

Everyone’s speaking style is unique. You might be more boisterous or reserved. You might prefer more formal or casual language. Just make sure your best authentic self is shining through.

7. Cut convo fillers

Those “Ums” and “Ahs” and “You knows” can be distracting and can make you seem less confident. Practice eliminating them from your speech.

8. Put away distractions

When you’re speaking, give your full self. Put away your phone and pay attention. You might be surprised by the nuances you can pick up and then feed off of when it’s your turn to speak.


As I mentioned above, it takes time to become an accomplished speaker. If you flop at first, don’t give up! Continue to engage others, practice your statements in front of a mirror, and keep at it. Try not to measure your progress against others, but regularly check in with yourself and recognize your personal progress. Did I mention, KEEP AT IT?


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Office Gossip 2

It’s ugly and hurtful, but it happens in almost every workplace. Gossip. It’s those little hurricanes that start as whispers. Someone spreads a rumor about another person and then it grow and grows, damaging reputations or pitting people against each other.

Even if gossip stays small, it’s still harmful. Feelings may get hurt or reputations ruined…and whoever is spreading the gossip becomes a little more untrustworthy in others’ eyes.

It’s better to stay out or, better yet, actively fight gossip. How?

  1. Defend the gossip subject.

Next time someone tells you Kathy is stealing office supplies or Mike is on the verge of getting fired, respond with a shrug and say, “Hmm, that doesn’t sound like her/him. I’d rather not speculate.”

  1. Change the subject

It’s not a cop-out to change the subject when others are gossiping. It can actually be quite difficult and takes a lot of guts. Effectively change the subject by saying something like, “I’d rather not talk about [NAME]. Can you tell me if we’re meeting in room A or B for our meeting today? I have to set up some audio equipment…”

  1. Focus on others’ good qualities

When you talk about other people, make sure it’s always in a positive light. Don’t assign blame, chastise, or spread rumors. Instead, make an effort to look for the positive in each person and point it out to others. “Did you see Mark’s client report? It’s so detailed this time around! He must have put a lot of effort into it.”

  1. Be an example

Demonstrate to others that you are trustworthy AND a leader by not stooping to the level of petty office gossip.

  1. Confront gossip about YOU

There’s no better way to stop gossip in its tracks than to confront it…especially if it’s about you. When you’re approaching someone whom you know has spread a rumor about you, try your best to be level-headed and even-toned. Talk to the offender as if you were clearing up a simple fact. “Hey Lindsey. I heard you were saying X about me. It makes me disappointed and a little angry that you think that.” OR “Hey Graham, I wanted to clear up a misunderstanding. I did not do XYZ. Instead, I did ABC. I hope that clears things up.”

No matter how you slice it, it isn’t easy to fight office gossip. Be a shining example, talk about others in a positive light, and avoid spreading rumors, and you’ll find that other positive people will gravitate toward you. Your unwillingness to wade into office gossip proves that you are worthy of others’ trust and respect.


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man distracted by cell phone

Technology can be a wonderful thing. It helps us connect people from across the country (or world) through a video conference or virtual chat. It allows us to easily create charts and map out data. It allows us to better serve our customers.

But there is a dark side to technology. It’s the side that affects our everyday interactions with people—the side that completely sucks us in and tethers us to our devices.

Have you ever walked into a restaurant and noticed friends, couples, or even entire families absorbed in their smart phones? Or noticed people out for a walk, with their heads buried in their devices?

Are you guilty of this too? Do you catch yourself shooting your co-worker an email when you could just walk to her office and ask a quick question? Do you find yourself flipping through social media or the news or weather instead of engaging those around you in conversation?

Yes, technology does great things, but it’s also killing our communication skills. According to MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, author of the book Reclaiming Conversation, our deep absorption in our devices has caused us to lose our ability to have deeper, more spontaneous conversations with others. We begin to lose our capacity for “empathy, introspection, creativity, and intimacy.”[1]

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I think about the implications this has for our relationships. Are our conversations lacking the depth they used to have? Are we missing opportunities to look others in the eye and truly connect with them?

Looking at it from another angle, are we missing opportunities at work because we’ve greatly reduced the number of face-to-face interactions we have with others? Sherry Turkle says YES. She points to many studies that indicate that when people are allowed to talk to each other, they do better—they’re more collaborative, they’re more creative, they get more done.

And what about networking? I’ve talked with many people who say that the younger generation has difficulty with face-to-face networking. It’s a skill that doesn’t come easily for them because so many of their interactions are digital. That’s troubling because, according to Hubspot, 85% of people say they build stronger, more meaningful business relationships during in-person business meetings and conferences.

Face-to-face still matters!

It’s time we stop multi-tasking, set our cell phones aside, and rediscover meaningful conversation with others. Our relationships—both personal and professional—will be better for it.

[1] Suttie, J. (December 7, 2015). How Smartphones Are Killing Conversation. The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. Accessed 12/19/16.


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UXL personal branding

Your personal brand is more than your company logo or the colors you choose for your website. Your personal brand is, to put it simply, you. How you act, what you say, how you dress, and how you address others all contributes to your personal brand. It’s what you’re showcasing to the world and, consequently, how others see you.

No empire is built overnight, just as no brand is transformed in a day. It takes time to build a reputation around yourself that others will respect.  But you CAN get started today by writing down some of the key goals you have for your personal brand and how you will go about achieving those goals. Start by thinking about a few key things:

  1. Your brand should be consistent.

If you want to make yourself known as the reliable, go-to person for any project, then be reliable! If you want to be known as the employee who goes out of their way to include others, then focus on being inclusive! Don’t try to fake it and be something you’re not, but DO try to capitalize on your assets and be consistent with your behaviors. And remember: the office pool can be quite small. If you act one way with one group of people and act completely different with others, that behavior will be noticed…and that’s frankly not the kind of attention you want.

  1. Review your daily activities.

Do your day-to-day activities support your personal brand? If you’re trying to promote your writing skills, but are constantly working on research projects or editing, then you’re not being true to yourself or your abilities and it’s probably time to reevaluate your daily work. Talk to a manager about getting more writing projects or volunteer for additional writing opportunities (like the monthly company newsletter).

Or maybe your goal is to rise to a leadership position. Think about your typical daily to-do list and ask yourself if your activities are contributing to the bigger picture. If not, how can you go about changing them?

  1. Stay rooted.

Yes, personal brands evolve. You might change your career goals or you might even switch positions within the company. That doesn’t mean your personal brand should be scrapped and you should start from scratch. Stay true to who you are and never lose sight of that. You might consider saying an affirmation to yourself every morning like, “I am a positive, optimistic person who always gets things done on time” or “I enjoy working with customers and go out of my way to make them happy.”

The best way to start working on improving or honing your personal brand is to have a plan. Do not approach it haphazardly and let others decide how they see you. YOU decide how you’d like to be seen. YOU have the power to build a strong, respected personal brand, brick-by-brick.

Need help getting started? Contact me today for guidance with strategic career planning.

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