The Ladder of Effective Speaking

Posted on September 11, 2010

Speaking in a manner that is concise, energetic and clearly communicates ones requests, information and desires is refreshing and important in our information-cluttered age.  As one teacher said, “So many ways of communicating and what ARE WE communicating?”

How many conversations in meetings, emails, face to face and blogs do we come upon in a day—do you feel certain that you are communicating powerfully and successfully?  Too often, we get caught using language that does not sound powerful or effective. Language like, “I should, could, have to, etc.” which communicates more of an “external locus of control.” That is, your response or thinking is based more on what you think others want you to do. This language is more reactive, less powerful and often does not result in what we intended.

Language that is far more effective and concise consists of words like, “I prefer, or plan to, or want to, or have a passion for…” which lets the listener know that you are speaking from more of an “internal locus of control.”  Meaning, you are responding in a well thought out manner that is more receptive and focused – based on your deliberate thinking and experiences.

I owe this valuable teaching to my colleague and friend, Dave Ellis, a Master Coach, workshop leader and author.  In fact, this teaching is so powerful that I use it quite a bit in my coaching practice when describing ways that leaders can develop healthier communication and encourage and teach this in their work places.

Ladder of Effective Speaking/EllisThis graphic that Dave developed shows that when we get stuck in “obligation” we speak with “victim language” (an external locus of control), e.g., “they made me, I should, I must, etc.”  However, if you can think of  climbing the ladder, or as we use more “assertive language” (an internal locus of control) we use language using words like: “Is it possible, I prefer, We have a passion for…, We plan to…, I promise…”

The next time you find yourself speaking and using  “must, should, ought to, need to” question whether your thinking is “stuck in victim mud.”  Ask yourself how you might climb the “ladder of effective speaking” by questioning what you want, prefer or what is even possible that might move you to a sense of personal empowerment regarding your wishes, desires, dreams and plans. And, cause your communication to be more effective, meaningful and powerful.


Ellis, Dave.  Falling Awake.

Ellis, Dave & Lankowitz, Stan. Human Being.

Five Secrets of Effective Communication

Posted on March 10, 2010

Five Secrets of Effective CommunicationDavid Burns, MD has contributed many books to our understanding of how our thoughts and feelings can be managed to change our moods.  His method for effectively communicating is excellent especially in situations that are difficult, “heated” or in conflictual conversations in the work place – or at home.  The key here is to use a method below which you can genuinely express. If it seems inauthentic to the listener, it is not effective.  Practice!



1. The Disarming Technique – You find some truth in what the other person is saying, even if it seems totally unreasonable or unfair.

2. Empathy- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see the world through their eyes.

  • Thought empathy: You paraphrase the other person’s words
  • Feeling empathy: You acknowledge how he or she is probably feeling.

3. Inquiry: You ask gentle, probing questions to learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling.


4. I “feel” statements: Shift to “I feel”, e.g. “I feel confused by this…”  rather than “you” statements. i.e. “you’re wrong” or “You make me furious!”

5. Stroking: You find something genuinely positive to say to the other person even in the heat of battle. You convey an attitude of respect, even though you may feel very angry with the other person.

*Copyright © 1991 by David D. Burns, MD. Revised, 1992.

Personal Boundaries

Posted on February 8, 2010

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

We all can understand the concept of personal space, e.g., someone moving too close to us and then we feel the need to back up to “get our space back.”  We also have “psychological boundaries” that need to be respected.  Sometimes, with some people, those boundaries are violated.

Personal BoundariesBoundaries are imaginary lines that keep other people’s actions and behaviors out.  Anything that causes you to get annoyed or upset is a crossed boundary.

Example:  If you have a swimming pool in your backyard without a fence around it, you might have all kinds of unwelcome guests splashing around in it.  When a sturdy fence is in place, what happens? People have to ask permission to jump in; they have to be invited.  You are the pool, the fence is your boundary.  In simple form a boundary is the word, “No.”

Boundaries need to be put in place to keep any damaging influences out of your way.  Those influences may be circumstances you created or that someone else, through their actions, has created for you.  These negative influences, can seem small at first, but, over time, can build up to cause difficulties in everyday interactions.

Interpersonal boundaries are invisible.  You have to communicate them to be known. If other people can’t comply, you may have to make an effort to avoid them altogether.  For example, co-workers making remarks about your weight or getting personal phone calls from a family member at work…a response, clearly and respectfully setting a boundary may be:  “It’s not O.K. that you comment on my weight.  I’d like you to stop.”  Or, “I have decided to take all personal calls in the evening in order to get my work done.  I will call you later.”

Take away: Put your boundaries in place:

  1. Stop people just as they are doing something that violates your boundary.
  2. Tell them what they are doing.
  3. Request that they stop.
  4. Instruct them about the change that you need to see.
  5. Thank them for making the change.

If they are not cooperative, add 6 or 7:

6. Demand that they stop.

7. Walk away without a fight.

The bottom line is that “they” are not doing anything to you that you are not allowing them to do.


Take Yourself to the Top, Laura Berman Fortgang, 1998, Warner Books.

Getting happier at work

Posted on January 23, 2010

“Let the beauty of what you love, be what you do”

Jahad-ad-din Rumi (Persian poet 1207-1273)

Getting happier at work
Getting Happier at Work

Remember when you were a little kid and you would dream about who you wanted to BE when you grew up?   Just the thought of independently communicating your power at a job where you expressed your talents, strengths and interest…felt, well it felt grown up.

Then you grew up.  Keeping the enthusiasm, interest and passion alive for your work can be a challenge. Think about how much time we spend at work.  Today, with lean teaming and downsizing, people often spend more than 8 hours a day in the workplace.  Why not reconnect with that early enthusiasm that drove you to consider expressing your gifts, your sense of contributing to the world and making a difference?

First, identify your strengths and then find ways to use them and develop them at your job.  A previous blog I wrote (October, 2009) directs you to a website: where you can take a short test (the VIA Strengths Survey) that identifies your top 5 strengths.   Consider exploring ways to express those strengths at your job. For example, if “Love of Learning” is a strength of yours, then you might organize a “lunch and learn” for co-workers in the workplace.

A second way that can move you toward happier times in the workplace is to notice how often you give into negative thinking at work. Many times this is  fueled by unhappy co-workers.  Walking away is one answer to this type scenario… as my colleague Dave Ellis says, “That’s why we have feet.” However, it is harder to walk away when those thoughts stay in your own mind.    When you notice those “grumpy” thoughts, instead of entertaining them,  consider the alternative of letting them go.  The more energy you put into these thoughts, the more you’re apt to go down the negative spiral, which brings your energy down, and your thoughts following.  Or, to ask yourself, “What do I want to change about this situation?”  Then move into productive action and become a part of the answer instead of continuing the complaint.  We know we work best when we are in a good mood, which means shifting those thought towards being grateful, appreciative and glad to be working and contributing.

The next time you find yourself feeling unhappy at work—try asking yourself  what is right and good about your work?  In my work as a professional coach and psychologist, I have the opportunity to talk to people who are successful by societal standards- having prestige and great paying jobs; as well as people who are working in low-income jobs.  Both types of people tell me they are sometimes happy at work and sometimes not – what makes a difference is how they practice being happy where they are. They begin to learn more, grow more and then often find more opportunities coming their way as well.  Researchers are learning that, regardless of your work, when you practice positive emotion in the workplace, you increase your problem solving capacities, bring more meaning to your workday and build resiliency- all important factors in developing happiness.

Take away: If you want to be happier at work, start with how you are being at work:  exercise your strengths and express more positive emotion in your present job.  Perhaps you might find that uplifting and empowering feeling you had once when you dreamed of what you would be when you grew up.  Wasn’t happiness a part of that dream?


Fredrickson, B.L. & Losada, M.F. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60(7), 678-686.

Colan, L.J. (2004). Passionate Performance. Dallas, TX: CornerStone Leadership Institute.

Lynn D. Johnson. Happiness:  Create the Perfect Job.  2008 – 801.261.1412.

Gratitude: Taking Time to Express Thanks

Posted on December 3, 2009

“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.”

-Eric Hoffer

The holiday card that the Perla Group sent out this year states:

During this season of gratitude and celebration,

we acknowledge those who have made our

success possible.  In this spirit, we say thank you.

May peace be with you and yours

in this coming year, as well as a prayer for our world.

Gratitude Expressing Thanks
Gratitude: Expressing Thanks

Yes, indeed it is the season of celebration:  Celebrating the past year, our successes and accomplishments, what we cherish and hold dear—what gives meaning to our lives.  Not only acknowledging these successes is key, however, taking time to express thanks is most crucial.

Who has not seen the movie, “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and (my favorite) Danny Kaye?  It is one elaborate production of song and dance and GRATITUDE.  The two army buddies take time from their holiday gigs to remember a general who lead them during their wartime experiences and who inspired them to move through life with courage and grace.  You may not go through the bother of renting a Vermont Inn to express thanks and gratitude to someone this season, however, think about taking time to formally express thanks to someone who you appreciate.

Research in positive psychology is demonstrating that the habitually grateful among us are happier than those who are not.  Now there is a reason to express gratitude each day:  you might wind up feeling and being a happier person.

What workplace would not be lighter and happier if colleagues formally expressed thanks for a job well done or for a gesture of kindness?  I can still remember a memo that a colleague of mine wrote back in 1984 to my superior commenting on how my service to the hospital unit was a valuable asset to his staff.  Completely unsolicited, and yet, it added incredible support and encouragement to my sense of professional esteem.  A gesture I treasure and still remember to this day.

Take away: One of the most powerful positive psychology exercises is the Gratitude Letter. This exercise asks you to think of someone, parents, teachers, employers, teammates, etc., who have been kind to you but who never heard you express your gratitude.  Write a letter of gratitude, describing in concrete terms why you are grateful.  Delivering the letter in person and having the person read the letter in your presence delivers the most powerful experience. Mailing or faxing the letter and following it up with a phone call can be an alternative and as moving.  Expressing your gratitude in words and actions not only boosts your own positive emotion but those of the recipient as well.  In this process, we not only reinforce their kindness but also positively strengthen the bond of the relationship.


McCullough, M.E., Kilpatrick, S.D., Emmons, R.A. & Larson, D.B. “Gratitude as moral affect.”  Psychological Bulletin, 127, 249-266.

Peterson, Christopher.  A Primer in Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Selgman, Martin.  Authentic Happiness. Free Press, 2002.

Communicating with Difficult People: Some Simple Tips

Posted on November 15, 2009

“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”

-Indira Gandhi

This is the title of a workshop that I frequently give when asked to speak to a group of people within a business or organization.  Why?  Because each and every day we are all faced with challenging people and difficult work situations.  Keeping our sense of purpose, intent and clear communication skills are all points to remember in such situations.

A review:

  1. Stop wishing that they were different: Spending time “wishing” that the difficult person or situation would go away is a waste of energy. Better to begin formulating, and practicing, a plan of action.  Shift away from blame. Move to managing and changing what YOU can to work with the person.
  2. Get some distance between you and the difficult situation/behavior:  Gain perspective, see the patterns and understand the source in order to begin formulating a strategy.  Gaining distance helps free you for a more productive and caring response.
  3. Focus on changing your own behavior: Step out of the scenario and see how your own behavior was elicited by what you thought the other person had or had not done. Remember:  you can only change you.
  4. Formulate a plan: Devise a strategy and, remember the behavior of human beings is highly interactional. Difficult people tend to act in ways that manage to get the worst out of everyone—but they also have positive responses in their repertoire.  Structure the interaction so as to encourage positive, more productive response so to cope more successfully with that individual.

Perl: Practice clear communication skills when dealing with a difficult person or situation.  Think of the word  –  STABEN when communicating:

S= Go to the source. Avoid talking to those who are NOT part of the issue (unless it is to get clarity, gain insight or support).  Communicate directly with the person with whom you are having difficulty.

T= Time and Place. Pick a private and safe place that is comfortable for all parties.

A=Amicable. Present an amicable approach. Smile. Start the conversation with a compliment or, empathize with the person, see the world through their eyes.

B=Objective Behavior. Start with describing the behavior as an objective phenomena-just the facts.  “When you did not introduce me at the meeting…” or “Yesterday at 5:00pm you asked to borrow the files and as of today they are not returned…”

E=Emotion. State clearly your emotion as a result of the behavior.  “I became angry and confused…”  “I was disappointed…” Use “I” communication.


N=Need. State clearly what your need, desire or request.  “I am requesting that you introduce me at the meetings as your associate. “ Or  “I need to have the files returned to my desk by 3:00 PM this afternoon.”

Finally, attempt to create or discover a common purpose or a way that they two of you can work together to achieve the same goal.  If no common purpose can be found, sometimes it is best to walk away. Accept the person as they are.

Take away: In any difficult situation or in a conversation with a difficult person, maintaining inner balance and managing your stress is most crucial.  Practice the STABEN method, a good communication tool no matter with whom you are communicating.  Get some distance and, remember-don’t take anything personally!


Servan-Schreiber, David.  The Instinct to Heal. Rodale Press, 2004.

Rosenberg, Marshall.  Non-violent Communication, Puddler Dancer Press, 1999.

What does an executive coach do?

Posted on October 29, 2009

“Let him that would move the world, first move himself”


Executive coaches work more or less exclusively with senior people from organizations.  They work with clients to achieve speedy, increased and sustainable effectiveness in their lives and careers through focused learning.  The coach’s sole aim is to work with the client to achieve all the client’s potential- as defined by the client.

In today’s competitive work and economic environment where business people find themselves, Coaches aid clients in keeping that edge needed for succeeding in business and in leading others.

Coaches carry this out this by generating positivity in clients:

  • Helping them to identify what makes them flourish
  • Developing their capacity and resources for successful change and,
  • Facilitating processes designed for successful change.

Simply, what is this process like?   Executive coaches meet with clients and, through a series of assessments and questions designed to uncover their purpose, values and strengths, help them to speak what they want to carry out in their work life.  Examples of this may be:  managing staff’s performance, meeting productivity metrics, uncovering ways to become more inspired and energized to meet performance expectations, etc.  Next coaching assists them in creating a vision of what they want: how it looks and feels – now and in the future.  This leads to setting a plan of action and frameworks for supporting this plan.  Coaches hold their clients accountable to doing what they say they want and identifying what gets in the way when expectations aren’t met. Along this journey of performance enhancement the client may ask for specific skill instructions for behavioral change.  And, they more often co-create with the coach a framework for uncovering their own brilliance and capacity for growth in their chosen life’s work.

Take away: What are your strengths that help you to flourish as a business leader?  Go to and take the VIA strengths survey.  Consider how you might use these strengths each day in your work environment to move you toward the vision of success that you have set for yourself.


Diane Coutu and Carol Kaufman, “The Realities of Executive Coaching”,  Harvard Business Review,  January 2009.

Rogers, Jenny, Coaching Skills:  A Handbook 2nd Edition, McGraw Hill, 2004.

Notes from the 2nd Annual Harvard Conference: “Coaching in Medicine and Leadership”, Boston, Mass., September 2009.

Positive Psychology-The theory behind Executive Coaching

Posted on September 28, 2009

“Positive emotions are not trivial luxuries, but instead might be critical necessities for optimal functioning.”

— Barbara Fredrickson

Positive Psychology is the study of what makes us flourish and what makes life worth living.   I attended the 2nd Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital’s “Coaching in Medicine and Leadership” Conference which was held on September 25 and 26 2009.  This conference had many scholars speaking on new research in positive psychology.   Unlike traditional psychology which, in the past explored pathology and treatment – Positive Psychology focuses on optimal performance and ways to enhance the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people.  Positive Psychology is the theory that underlies the field of coaching.  Coaches explore ways and create conditions to contribute to their client’s flourishing and optimal performance.

Take away: A Positive Psychology exercise suggested by Martin Seligman, PhD, a leader in the field:   At the end of the day, think of 3-4 things that you are grateful for that happened during the day AND ask yourself how did you contribute to making that good thing happen?


“Positive Psychology- Science at the Heart of Coaching.”  Carol Kauffman, PhD, Coaching in Medicine and Leadership, Harvard Coaching Conference, September 2009.

Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman. Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Positivity, Barbara Fredrickson, 2009

Creative thinking and positive emotion

Posted on August 31, 2009

There are, at least, TWO ways to relate to anything:  a small minded way and a large minded way. Choose large mind.”

John G. Sullivan

Open up the lens of your thinking by choosing “large mind”.   A helpful image to consider when your thoughts, under stress, are going down the “psycho path”:  when we feel upset, scared, angry, or generally thinking negatively.  Soon, pessimistic recourse is all that we can imagine.  Consider the comic from the New Yorker magazine: A person is walking through the woods and comes to a fork in the road—one path is marked “scenic path” and the other is marked “psycho path”.  Choose the scenic path of large mind, which can offer a way to shift into a perspective that permits integrative, insightful and creative thinking.

Take away: A colleague of mine, Dr. Lynn Johnson suggests a method called “Shifting up” when confronted with stressful situations, made up of three steps:  Shift, Recall and Ask:

1.    Shift from stressful thoughts to breathing.  Breathe in slowly for 30 seconds and focus on your heart beating.
2.    Recall a positive situation and emotion where you felt peaceful, confident and secure or genuine love for someone.
3.    Ask yourself, “What is the highest and best way to handle this situation?”  Listen to your heart, a change of feeling, a thought from the frontal lobe of your brain (where advanced insight comes from). Trust what comes and do it.

Creative thinking and positive emotionOur challenging work environments require intelligence and creativity.  Being your best necessitates practicing methods to connect with your innate wisdom.  I invite you to practice some of these methods as ways to tap into your heart’s wisdom to solve some of your daily challenges.

Resources:  Johnson, Lynn.  “Activate Your Frontal Lobes: One Minute to Increased Intelligence and Creativity.”  1999 – 2004.

Live, Grow and Relate: meaning and purpose in work and life

Posted on July 8, 2009

These blogs will offer three things: an inspirational quote that seeks to inspire you, the reader; second, a teaching or strategy which will intend to broaden and build a set of skills or resources that can positively serve you in your work life; and, thirdly a take away: a practical tip to help you see that there is more than one way to do it as you are learning to be and show up as your best self each day in your work and life.

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.

~George Moore

Common sense may tell us that when we are calm and experiencing positive emotions, we show up as more intelligent. However, haven’t you had a time when you looked back on your life and remembered something that you did when you were scared and angry? Then later, this action seemed really dumb? Certainly we can all recall a lot of these “What was I thinking?” incidents. So, how to cultivate these positive emotions to move toward being our creative and intelligent “best”  especially in the work place?

Psychologists now believe that there are three core positives feelings: compassion (a feeling of understanding of others coupled with a desire to help), curiosity, delight and joy.  Love, the magical combination of all three, is the greatest positive feeling.  And, any of these positive emotions stimulate positive thought: creativity, insight and peace – which leads to our best thinking.

How do we make these shifts into positive emotion? What do we look for when asking ourselves for the highest and best way to deal with a challenge? For example, we might ask: Is there another way to feel, do or respond to this situation?

The key here is that the answer to this question often comes from inside of ourselves.  There is an old Sufi (a Persian mystical sect) story about this. It seems that Nasrudin was seen madly riding his donkey from one side of town to the other, searching for something. Finally the people in the town stopped him and asked, “Mullah Nasrudin what are you looking for?”

“My donkey” was the frantic reply.

Take away: Like Nasrudin in this story, we often race around looking for answers outside of ourselves. Sometimes the answers may not come as we expect. Yet, when we listen to ourselves and, at the same time, shift into positive emotion; this is often the time when we have the most insight and creativity. Yes, we all have untapped wisdom within. Look for it there.


Barbara L. Fredrickson, PhD Positivity, Crown Publishers, 2009

Lynn D. Johnson, PhD “Activate your frontal lobes: One Minute to Increased Intelligence and Creativity” 1999-2004

Chris Peterson, A Primer in Positive Psychology, Oxford Press, 2006

Martin Seligman, Flourish, Free Press, 2011