September 2011

Kata Talk

katatalkContinual Improvement Communication Skills
Find your new voice in the world of dynamic growth and change

Does old-school communication block your improvement efforts? 
How could a dynamic new set of communication skills change the way you change?

»Phrases guide kata
      »The kata guide the learning. 
              »The learning leads to advancement.

This one-day onsite or six-week online training features phrases, formulas and kata to help you and your colleagues, employees and team members:

  • work adaptively
  • go from leader-led, to leader-prompted, to leader-full teams
  • get past ego and posturing
  • develop self-efficacy
  • remove obstacles to collaboration
  • coach by clarifying
  • give effective feedback
  • introduce dynamic iterative learning
  • spark synergy and shared learning
  • explore best practices
  • encourage pull communication

And much, much more. With Meryl Runion, CSP, Author of ten books on effective communication skills. Email MerylRunion(at)


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Counterarguments define

Even good arguments have counter arguments. So how do you note alternative views without sounding like you’re being… argumentative?

powerphrase_icon2It helps if you define what you’re doing. For example, you could say,

  • May I vocalize the counterargument so we can see if it has any weight?

This invites the other person to align with you in an effort to see what value, if any, other perspectives offer to a discussion. It keeps you from being two people on the opposite side of a discussion to two people side-by-side looking at a challenge, considering perspectives.

Oh – I LOVE collaboration! Adversarial communication brings out different views, too, but ultimately it’s a barrier to effective communication skills. People are too busy trying to win to be able to hear reason, logic and truth. 

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Goodie for you!

There’s something really nice about receiving an email from a new work affiliate that starts with, 

  • Goodie for you! Another person to work with!

That’s how Jennifer at IAAP opened her email to me explaining what I need to know to tell people how they can get credit toward recertification for training that I offer. I felt like my inquiry was more than welcome.

If her response had been fluff, I wouldn’t have appreciated the tone as much. However, the response was thorough and clear. 

In my research for my book on Virtual Team communication, I read about how “The 100 best companies to work for in America” all share an celebratory feel in normal communication.

Is that cool, or what! We don’t have to leave our playful selves at home. 

That is worthy of celebration! Maybe I’ll celebrate by sending Jennifer a quick email! Goodie for me!

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Forgiving language

I love looking at words and considering their roots and deeper intent. Today I was reflecting on how the term in decision got a bad rap. It comes from “in” and “decision”. So being in decision implies to me that you’re taking the time to decide, not that you’re being weak or wishy-washy. Of course it doesn’t work for any of us to be perpetually in decision. But there is too much of a signal that people being in decision for a while is not a sign of leadership.

Then there’s “mistake”. Think of a miss take like in a film. Cut! Run the scene again! 

I am an advocate of continuous improvement and am personally motivated toward developing excellence. That requires the willingness to be in decision until decided and to have miss takes. That’s how I learn. It’s how we all learn. Powering through and feigning perfection is a barrier to natural striving toward perfection. Generally, I find words to be far more forgiving than we interpret them to be. 

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PowerPhrase: Is there something in the system causing this behavior?

Great managers manage the system that employees and team members operate in. A great phrase to ask yourself is,

  • Is there something in the system that causes team members to act the way they do?

PowerPhrases LogoIt helps first to have clearly defined how you would like someone to operate. Then identify the gap. Next, you ask what is preventing the team member from operating that way. Often it’s the system, and managers who work ON the system rather than IN the system find many problems are averted, not resolved. 

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Stop the “but” hunt

Black and white thinking is a barrier to effective communication skills. Too often we discover how we’ve limited ourselves and flip into the opposite view. The “but” hunt you hear among motivational and communication professionals is an example of right_wronggood observations gone bad by over-application. (“How big is your ‘but'” and “‘but’ negates everything that went before it and should be replaced with ‘and'”.) 

The result often is unclear and convoluted speech where people overlook legitimate concerns because they don’t want to have a big ‘but’ and where people awkwardly use other words to say what ‘but’ says perfectly well.

If I say,

  • I’d love to come, but I already made plans

…the use of the word ‘but’ does NOT negate the fact that I’d love to come, and is a much clearer way to say no than “I’d love to come and I made other plans”.

The point of this post is not so much about how you need to stop the ‘but hunt’ as it is about how effective communication skill involves taking what you learn and asking if it helps you communicate what you really mean. If it doesn’t, tell the professional who gave you the rule, “Thanks, but no thanks” and opt for clarity. 

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Customer-focused communication

I have a home in Sarasota Florida that I rent to an 85-year-old woman. She has been there over twenty years now, and we have a wonderfully collaborative relationship.

The house has termites. The provider recommended “tenting” as the treatment of choice, but my tenant doesn’t want to go through the inconvenience. The provider called me to discuss the options, and the extent of likely damage if we just went for “in the ground” treatment. He felt a professional obligation to let me know the consequences of either option and a human obligation to consider the age of my tenant in his recommendation. We went for “in the ground” treatment. Yes, I expect to have a bit more damage to repair down the road than I might have if we had “tented”. It seemed like the best option in the circumstances. I am grateful to the provider for helping me make an informed and compassionate decision. This was a customer-focused conversation where he helped me weigh the options. So hats off to Hughs Terminators in Sarasota, Florida. 

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Be a voice, not an echo

Sometimes I lose or can’t find my voice. I’m not talking about laryngitis. I’m talking about being able to speak my own truth. It’s what a mentor of mine calls an authenticity block. There are many reasons for it. It can be that I’m changing, and I haven’t caught up with myself. It can be that I’m interacting with a strong personality whose perceptions overpower mine for a while. speakstrong150Sometimes I get overshadowed by complexity and lose my awareness of the simple truth. Oh – there are times when I prefer not to admit the truth, and that keeps me mute. Whatever the reason, it can be very uncomfortable and take a lot of patience and persistance. 

And then when I find my voice again, it’s like coming back home. I start posting on my blog again. The book that wasn’t flowing starts writing itself. And somehow, the new voice is truer than the old one.

Speaking Strong really is about finding and clearly communicating your own voice. What YOU have to say. What YOU think, feel and want.

You may not have the verbal skills of professional communicators. And it’s okay to let other people’s words jumpstart your own – just as long as what you say is your own. 

I’ll be coming out of my book writing retreat in the weeks to come and engaging with my readers more. My vision is to have a community of people who want to be a voice, not an echo.

I hope you’ll be a part of it. 

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Don Juan De Marco and Iterative Learning

My husband and I rewatched Don Juan De Marco with Johnny Depp (be still, my heart) this weekend. There is a fabulous scene where, inspired by his romantic patient, Dr. Mickler (Marlon Brando) dashes home and invites his wife upstairs. You see the requisite clothing scattered everywhere and then you see the couple in bed – shooting popcorn in the air with a pea Dunaway and Brandoshooter and catching it in their mouths. The pure surprise of the scene is it’s delight.

The key, of course is the spirit of play and adventure, not the actual popcorn challenge. If you were to turn to your spouse and say, “let’s go upstairs and shoot popcorn in the air and catch it in our mouths”, you might be pleased with the result, but chances are the whole thing would seem contrived.

That’s why I turned to my husband and said, 

  • Let’s go to bed early and see what happens.

I meant it exactly the way I said it. He knew that. No expectation. No anticipation of any result. Ready for surprises. We were both quite pleased with our “experimental outcome”. 

Lean manufacturing began in the US by copying tools and processes with mixed results. That’s very much like watching Brando and Dunaway play popcorn and trying it yourself. Now, the community is evolving in the direction of a more dynamic understanding of how those tools and processes come into play. They are growing into what Don Juan De Marco knew and Mr. and Mrs. Mickler discovered in the movie Don Juan De Marco: Iterative learning lead by a dynamic essence, not a static form. Mike Rother’s Toyota Kata actually creates a system to guide the iterative process. My years as a highly-trained meditation teacher taught me a similar skill – to guide people to let go of directing a process into aligning with it and letting it teach them. 

I couldn’t find a picture of Brando and Dunnaway in their popcorn play, so I settled for the one above. If you have a picture of the popcorn adventure, pass it on, will you? 

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