Why You Need To Master Communication Skills To Succeed With Meredith Bell

The heart of everything that happens in an organization is communication. So if you want to succeed as a team, you need to master communication skills. Dr. Diane Hamilton interviews Meredith Bell, the Co-Founder and President of Performance Support Systems. Meredith shares with Dr. Diane how communication not only gives success to teams but also gives joy to your life. When you have skills that allow you to be more confident in having open and honest conversations, life becomes more enjoyable. Tune in to discover simple tips on how to improve your communication skills. Tune in!

TTL 895 | Communication Skills

 

I’m glad you joined us because we have Meredith Bell. She is the Cofounder and President of Performance Support Systems. She is an author. Her book is Connect with Your Team: Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills. We’re going to talk about communication, her 360 evaluations and so much more.

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Why You Need To Master Communication Skills To Succeed With Meredith Bell

I am here with Meredith Bell, who’s the Cofounder and President of Performance Support System, a global software company providing assessment and development tools for the workplace. It’s nice to have you here, Meredith.

Thank you, Diane. I’m looking forward to our conversation.

I was looking forward to this as well because we have a lot in common. It’s amazing. Before I start asking you all about those things, I was hoping to get a backstory on you because I know you have this great consulting and development training company that you do. What led to that? Can you give me your backstory?

I started out as a teacher, and that was what I had always dreamed of. I taught fourth grade and realized, “I don’t care for the repetition routine.” I got my Master’s. I went into supervisory and managerial positions in school systems and realized, “I don’t do bureaucracy or politics very well either.” The common thread was the teaching. I loved the teachers in my last roles, especially around communication. That I discovered was the thing that I wanted to do to make a difference. When I realized that this career and education wasn’t going to work, I decided to jump on a leap of faith and confidence in my ability to make this work.

I left education and I started my own solo practice doing consulting and training around interpersonal skills, which led to doing things around leadership development and team building. I did that a number of years by myself and then I met Denny Coates, who’s been one of my three business partners now for many years. He and I started collaborating and when we decided this was going to work out.

We have similar values. We’re compatible and where we want to go. We merged our two solo practices and brought in a third partner to manage all the other things on the finance, legal and operational sides. We did the consulting work for a number of years, and then we wanted to use a 360 tool. Back in the early ‘90s, there weren’t many choices and they weren’t customizable. We decided to create our own.

We’d launched it in 1994 and decided we would make a pivot from consulting to providing resources, organizations, and consultants. That’s what we have been focused on. Ever since then, our software tool, the 20/20 Insight, is still going strong after many years. The reason is it is customizable for all kinds of surveys and then with the pandemic, we decided to put a lot of what we knew about communication skills into the form of books so we could reach a wider audience. That’s what we did, so here we are now, working hard to get our message out to organizations because, as you well know, communication is still the number one issue that organizations need to address.

Your book, Connect with Your Team: Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills, you said you wrote with Denny Coates. What you’ve done is similar to what I’ve done. That’s why I was looking forward to this because I also create assessments and give content to consultants to help them do the consulting more than what I do. You can’t be everywhere and I love that we both have the teaching background. The 360 creating tool is tough.

I had Daniel Goleman on the show. I talked to him about emotional intelligence, since that’s what I wrote my dissertation about. I had used a lot of his work in my research and it was great having him on the show. He was such a fan of the 360 for emotional intelligence. I created my Curiosity Code Index and my Perception Power Index, which is not 360s, but they’re a different form of determining the things that keep you from being curious, for example, that you can move forward. Your 360-degree tool had to be tough to create. What was that process like?

TTL 895 | Communication Skills
Communication Skills: Connect with Your Team: Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills

We benchmarked what was out there and said, “We don’t want to do that.” We were backing the system back then when it was important that questions people have around the validation of the items and being able to do national norms. We were breaking the rules back then, saying, “We want you to be able to have the questions that are pertinent to your organization.” We’re creating a library of items, but then you need to do local validation and determine, are these appropriate for you?

These are simply observable behavior statements. They’re not indirect factors that relate to a larger concept. Does this person interrupt or not when you’re talking? There are things that people could observe. What we wanted organizations to be able to do is decide, “Are these questions here relevant for us? Are they what we want our leaders, our employees, to do?”

That was the guidance that we gave to people. It took some time to educate folks because there was this paradigm back then around the way certain things were done. We were trying to educate and break people out of that. It was interesting. Now, it’s easy for people to be able to create their own custom items that make sense for whatever their values and competencies are that they have decided are most important for their organization.

You teach consultants how to give this assessment as well, right?

Yes. The beauty of ours is it’s simple and easy to use. We don’t require people to get certified in it because typically, the consultants that want to use our tool are already experienced in their work. This is simply adding one more tool to their process. Most of them are already skilled in doing an orientation session or the debrief later and then building and coaching as a follow-up to that.

I didn’t require a certification either for what I worked on, but I did offer it for those who wanted to get SHRM credit. It’s nice because, with SHRM, you can create any content. People who want to get their SHRM recertification need to go through a certain amount of training and then you can give them credit for that. It’s an added bonus that I think is nice. I don’t know if you’ve done that for any of your practice, but it does appeal to people that they can get those extra points.

I think that the customizable aspect makes yours so unique because everybody is trying to be relevant now and maybe they’re tired of giving the DISC or emotional intelligence test, whatever they’ve been doing. I’m thinking, what is the thing that you’re dealing with in your Performance Support Systems that organizations can utilize the most to boost their performance. What should they be focusing on that they’re not?

This won’t come as a surprise to you. Communication is the foundational element. When you look at why are organizations having trouble keeping people? The number one reason is there are issues with their boss either they’re not being feeling appreciated or the boss is toxic in some way. All of this fundamentally goes back to how do people treat each other. How do they talk to each other? That, to us, is the heart of everything that happens in an organization, the attitude people bring to their work, their willingness to give their best or hold back because they don’t feel appreciated. It’s all related to how we feel as we interact with other people. Do we feel appreciated challenged?

I love your word, curiosity. Is someone curious about me in what my capabilities are? What could I be challenged to do that I’m not doing? Are they paying attention and interested in me? All of that goes back to communication because are we asking questions to learn more about this person or are we assuming they’re going to do what they’re supposed to do without any encouragement or support?

You bring up some good points because I had Francesca Gino on the show, who wrote the great piece for HBR about the case for curiosity. For me, curiosity is about getting out of the status quo, thinking, asking, and finding out more. It also tied into the work I did for perception in my book. What she found was interesting. She found that the leaders thought they were encouraging curiosity but when you ask the people who followed them, not so much. Our perception of what we think we’re communicating isn’t necessarily the same.

It’s almost the game of telephone, where you’re talking to somebody’s ear and the next person gets in. You’re sometimes communicating one thing, you think it’s going out the other side the same way, and it’s not. You covered ten communication skills in your book, and I know we’re talking a little bit about this already, but do you want to touch on a couple of more of what would put teams to be better communicators?

To me, the number one is listening because it’s the foundation of all the other skills. If you ask folks, how would you rate your listening? Most will rate themselves pretty good but if you ask others, they’re likely to get some interesting answers. The willingness to be focused on someone else, pay attention, and be empathetic to try to understand from their perspective. Most of us are waiting for our turn to talk or we don’t even wait. We jump in, interrupt, and we offer advice. None of that is doing anything to communicate to that person, “You matter, you’re important, I value what you’re trying to tell me and I want to get it.” Listening is a huge one.

Another that I think is overlooked that I’ve alluded to is this whole area of appreciation, expressing positive feedback to another person, and that requires noticing. Having your radar up, where you’re paying attention, you’re looking for specific things that someone does that you want to see them do more of. If you don’t come in on it, if you think, “That’s what they’re supposed to be doing. I don’t want this to go to their head,” then you’re robbing them of an opportunity to know that you value what they’ve done. I think that’s critical to a person’s motivation and even self-esteem because if they don’t feel that you’re noticing or valuing what they do, then they’ll be more likely to hold back because they will say, “It doesn’t matter.”

You brought up so much that I think is important and we’ve talked about it on the show. I like that you tied listening into empathy because to build that empathy, you have to ask questions and then try to put yourself in their shoes. That was part of what we looked at it with perception. It is a combination of IQ, EQ, CQ for curiosity quotient and CQ for cultural quotient so that you can build that empathy that it takes to work with a global climate. As far as the appreciation, a couple of times, I’ve had the former leader of Campbell Soup on the show, who wrote 30,000 handwritten notes and turned around the culture at Campbell’s. That’s a case study and a lot of the courses I teach because people felt appreciated.

I don’t think he realized when he started. he was going to be writing many notes and his eyes roll around in his head as he talks about it. He cared about people and took their engagement from a low level to much dramatically increased. I don’t have the numbers in front of me but it was a big transformation. A lot of times, when we talk about communication, people hear soft skills or they put things all together and they think it’s something that they can deal with. It was a few training sessions or something but this is something that needs constant attention. Why do you think that there’s so much written about the importance of communication, yet we struggle with it?

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There are a couple of different things. Number one, we don’t give enough attention of it in homes because parents are doing the best they can with what they learned. We don’t do anything at school then in the workplace, when we send people to training classes to learn how to be better communicators, we have the wrong idea about what it takes to learn a skill. We think, “They’ve gone to the class. Now they’ve got it.” No, they don’t.

All they’ve done has been introduced to it. They might know of a better way, but they haven’t used it yet. I was speaking to a former executive at I won’t say the company name. It was a Fortune 500, though. He said he worked there for many years. He said all of the times he went to training programs. There was never once any follow-up afterwards. It was assumed that you would use whatever it was you were taught in that class.

This is why I believe communication skills aren’t getting better because we think we have “done training.” We’ve checked the box but if we’re not finding a way to reinforce and allow people the opportunity to practice, get feedback, and support back on the job, so we can tell if they’re using these skills or not. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

The brain is wired for a certain way of being over the years. We have acquired skills. If my habit is to interrupt, that’s my automatic response. To change that, I have to create a new physical pathway in the brain and that’s competition with the old one. We have to have that time of practice and reinforcement that new pathway becomes the way we do it instead of the old one.

Is that part of your three-step process for mastering a new skill?

We have a process we call Focus, Action and Reflection, where the focus is focusing on the skill and the right way to do it. We need to learn what’s the best way to do something, then taking action and practicing it. The third step is the one that’s missed often and we call it reflection, where you pause and slow down long enough to look at how did it go when I practiced it?

We have a sequence of questions like, “What happened? How do you feel about it? Why did it happen that way? What were you thinking? What was your motive? What was the outcome? Did you get the result you wanted or did it turn out differently?” You process those answers and look at, “What do I want to do differently next time so it goes better?”

Thinking through those is one level of learning, but if you take time to write out the answers and even share them with someone else, it can be beneficial to cement that in the brain. It accelerates that whole learning process. The more you repeat that Focus, Action, Reflection, the quicker the wiring takes place and the quicker you can adopt that new behavior.

A lot of times, people are checking off boxes in the training courses and they’re not doing the next step of living what they’ve learned. I can’t tell you in-depth by PowerPoint meetings of what I went through in many years. I’m training at a major organization and I remember when I left that company, I went into a smaller company later in a completely different industry because I wanted to try something completely different. In the first meeting, I walked out with useful real-world examples of things I could use in my job. I was like, “I’ve never been to a meeting where I got something I could use.”

I think a lot of people have these meetings to fill the time. We’re going to have a meeting because we’re at this event. Somebody, you have this hour. You present this and you present that, but there’s much money waste sometimes to check the boxes. The companies are worried about being economical now and providing coaching for people at all levels of the organization. How can they do that without doing that where they just fill the time?

What’s cool about what you were talking about is that we can shift the thinking about training altogether and not think of it as a classroom or online session where people have to sit together in a room and information is imparted to them. If we redefine it or shift the focus and say, “Training is all about learning a new skill and being able to apply it.” That’s what we’re talking about. You could economically put people in pairs or triads to work with each other and support each other as they’re working to develop a specific skill.

Everybody could watch a video on listening and they could do that on their own, so they don’t have to have a session where they’re pulled off the job. It is whenever it’s convenient, watch this video, then you meet with a partner and talk about, “Here’s what I’m going to apply.” You’re working with a peer coach and the part of that is accountability, where you and this other person are making a commitment to each other.

“I’m here for you. I’m going to support you. We’re going to be practicing this and coming back at whatever frequency we agree upon. We’re going to talk about what I did, how it went, what did I learn from it or what help might I need so the other person can be a support to them?” That’s where that other book that we’ve written peer coaching made simple. It was written for that purpose. What is it we could do that would make it possible to help people work together?

What’s a structure that could be in place as they’re working on communication skills? If you give people two books and someone overarching, facilitating or championing this and following through with them, then you’re not looking at it being a huge expenditure of time. Yet there’s this consistent practice that’s going on real-time on the job and that’s where behavior change happens. It’s not in an artificial setting.

I’m glad you brought up the term behavioral change because I remember when I was creating my website, my website designer said, “Do you want to use that term because sometimes people look at it as a negative like you’re scolding them for poor behaviors?” I can’t find a term that replaces that as to what you do. People are hired for their knowledge and they’re fired for their behaviors. Have you found a better term to makes people less like, “I’m going to be in trouble for this?” That’s an interesting thing I’ve dealt with over the time I’ve been a behavioral expert.

That’s a very good question because to the brain, words like habits and skills are all equivalent but what you’re talking about is, what are the associations people make when we when we look at it? That is what we’re going for. There is a change of behavior. Helping them see the goal of doing this work to improve is that you can have greater joy in interacting with other people that you don’t dread having a conversation with someone because of whatever history you might’ve had with them.

When you have skills that allow you to be more confident in having a conversation where you’re both more open and honest with each other, life is more enjoyable, a better way to be. I think that’s one aspect of putting it in context. The behavior change is seen as a positive and not as a potential negative because people are resistant to change. That’s part of the negative connotation that gets associated with it.

I know you talk about a lot of these things that we’re talking about here in your business and in your podcast. What made you want to have a podcast and what’s your main goal of that?

TTL 895 | Communication Skills
Communication Skills: We have to have that time of practice and reinforcement that the new pathway becomes the way we do it instead of the old one.

 

It’s called Strong for Performance. There are many variables that impact whether we’re able to show up and do our best or not. I have come over the years to get to know many great people. I originally started this to be of service to a broader population of people who are consultants, coaches, trainers and service professionals. It’s expanded beyond that because so much of what I talk about is related to any human being and trying to show up in the world and be the best that they can be.

I’ve felt this responsibility to help share in the world people and through my conversations with them bringing out important aspects about living a more fulfilling life, being more productive and fulfilled at work and at home that I felt that this was a skillset I had because I’m naturally curious. I love asking questions and I’m a good listener.

That combination helps with podcasting, and I know from reading many of your episodes, you have that same curiosity and interest that makes you a terrific host. I think both of us are interested in making a difference in the way people see themselves, relationships, their place in the world, and how they can operate at a higher level.

I was looking through some of your guests. I noticed you had Tom Kolditz. He’s been on the show and he was nice enough to give me a tour of the Rice University Leadership Group at the Doerr Institute in Houston. I’m honored to be on the Thinkers50 radar and be part of that Thinkers50 group with him. I was looking at some of your guests and you have a lot of the same focus that I have, which is interesting sharing what works. There’s so much content you can constantly be updating and you feel like you can always use more. I think about every 5th or 6th of the show, I’m like, “I’ve interviewed them and they’re good.”

You have done the same thing that I think is important. It’s focusing on these experts who can add a lot to that conversation and your products are interesting to look at as well. I wanted to ask you one more question about the 360 because my sister had taken one in a company, and I wanted to see what you thought of how this guy who she worked for had handled it.

They gave a 360 and now everybody is at home and they’re doing it through Zoom. They had everybody in the company rate everybody else on this 360, even if they’d never worked with them or maybe only met them, and then they gave the results on Zoom, whether they were good or bad in front of everybody for everybody to see. What advice would you give them?

For one thing, the idea of asking everyone to rate everyone is preposterous. In the early days, 360 has got a bad rap. It’s shocking to me that it’s still going on nowadays because it violates the best practices. You only get input from people that know your work firsthand. It’s always a good idea for the person who’s receiving the feedback to be able to nominate those individuals.

It can be your boss, your peers and direct reports. Beyond that, it would only include people who have maybe worked with you on a project to have some basis for providing a rating. Otherwise, you’re getting all N/A, Not Applicable, or ridiculous ratings that have no basis in reality. The whole point of doing 360 is to help people learn what their strengths are and what it is other people need from them that they aren’t getting now.

To do it publicly, the only time that I think that would be appropriate is if it were a small team that had agreed on upfront, “We’re going to share our results together.” When you talk about what you need to do to build engagement versus build resentment and cause someone to want to leave the company, that right there will do the latter for sure.

Any time you put another human being in a position to feel humiliated or embarrassed, you have talked about making deposits versus withdrawal. You’ve withdrawn the whole account. You don’t want to do something like that because trust is broken. They don’t trust you, the system and the company. That’s the basis of everything in terms of commitment and performance.

It’s exactly how I feel about it and she did as well. It’s interesting because it was a good 360 company that the company used, but the point is you can have a great product if you don’t do it right. That’s problematic. I think that what you’re doing is helping people learn how to do it right, giving the right content and evaluation. It’s fun to talk to people who have the same insights and ideas out there that you’re trying to develop that are critical. A lot of people are going to be interested in following not only your podcast, reading your books and all that, but they want to get in touch with you. Is there a site or something you’d like to share?

Our website is GrowStrongLeaders.com. We have information there both about our books and about our products. That’s probably the simplest place to go. We have a Schedule a Call with Meredith right on the home page. If someone would like to talk to me about any of those, I’ll be glad to have that conversation. I’m also on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

This was fun because I think what you’re doing is important. Congratulations on the success of your company and the tools that you develop.

Thank you so much, Diane. I’ve enjoyed it too.

You’re welcome.

I get so many great guests on the show. Sometimes I want to take a little bit of time to talk about some of the research I do. I’m going to talk to you now about perception and some of the work I did with Dr. Maja Zelihic, who is also one of the people I’ve worked with at the Forbes School of Business. She’s been great in researching how perceptions process in our mind, our opinions, our version of the truth, our biases, and how we live.

What’s in a rose? It smells as sweet by any other name and all that we read about. We looked at what can we do with the perception in the workplace to discuss it? We looked at it as a combination of IQ, EQ, CQ for cultural quotient, CQ for curiosity quotient. We thought, “I think that this is something that they’re not talking about enough in the workplace.” We talk about perception reality and to what extent our perceptions are through.

They are our perceptions, but what is the reality to us may not be a reality to them. There is a truth to some extent, but what’s real and all that is we start to get into this analysis paralysis thinking about it. If we’re thinking like this, we need to showcase what others have done to try and look at this because the world is changing.

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We’ve seen The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman’s great book, and we know that what we used to think is the reality of everything that we thought we could do. Now, it’s different. We’re becoming more connected and we know that there are a lot more issues with the global tragedies. As companies are trying to do work in a global dot-com industry, it’s a lot different of how we look at things than when I originally got into the workplace or wouldn’t have got into it.

We’re looking at some of our belief systems of what shape us, both consciously and unconsciously, because if we know that, we can be more responsive and respond to this multicultural, multilanguage world in which we’re living. If we can monitor our perceptions and guide them towards we want to go or where we don’t want to go, understand what other people believe and not necessarily agree with everything that they believe in, we can understand that and see where they’re coming from.

That way, we manage our perceptions and we’re able to build empathy, which is a big part of emotional intelligence. Maybe you can’t walk a mile in my shoes, but we can have a better appreciation for what it would be like to do that. We looked at what was available in terms of assessments out there of how we can test, validate and do all these things with that. We came up with a Perception Power Index, which goes along with the book, The Power of Perception.

Those are the kinds of things that we’re going to talk about. I think we come into this world with this predisposition of how we view and interpret things. Imagine if you’re born where you are now compared to if you were born somewhere else. We know that with twins, they’re different if they were separated at birth. There’s a different upbringing.

We have this cultural impact on how our behaviors, our beliefs, and everything that we relate to are impacted by our social, ethnic, age group, and everything. We’re seeing that there’s a lot more conflict now in the world. I think a lot of it is because we don’t understand each other that well. Something that we don’t even think about is acceptable or not questionable here in the United States, and it might be something questionable in another culture.

If you’re wearing a miniskirt in Brazil is a lot different than if you’re wearing that in Saudi Arabia, for example. We have to appreciate where other people are coming from and maybe we’re allowing our culture and our society to dictate what we’re thinking and what we’re perceiving. I’ve had Joe Lurie on the show. He’s got a great book, Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Culture, where he talks about a lot of this or writes about how all the different perceptions of things that he’s found in different cultures. Maybe eye contact in Western cultures is candor and confidence, but if you go to Africa, they don’t want to do that because if you eye contact with a person of authority, you’ve got to worry about respect.

There are a lot of different issues when you’re talking about Western culture versus other cultures. In Asian cultures, they might use a calculator to negotiate the price of things, but you might not want to do that in some other areas because it may seem disrespectful. Looking at different areas is fascinating. Even how certain hand gestures mean one thing, may mean A-OK in one language and maybe be insulting in another culture. A lot of studies look at Western culture versus other cultures, and I think that is worth reviewing, but now we know that there’s a lot of stereotyping going on, we’re trying to get away from that and biases. Beau Lotto talked about that on my show. I hope you read that episode about how you need it.

You can’t live without some bias to give you some decision-making ability but we have to pay attention to unconscious bias, and we got to be careful that we don’t come across as arrogant or condescending. When saying something and keep it simple. Stupid might mean one thing in one language. We have that as a saying and it’s not meant to be insulting, but if you tell it to somebody else, it could be insulting. I think these are the things that we were looking at.

We needed to look at cultural quotients, IQ, CQ, our drive, motivation, knowledge, cognition or metacognition, and all those things. Those are to look at how we come up with these actions or behaviors. Do we have to adapt to customs, should they adapt to ours or should we be more tolerant of differences? Change is a big thing that we teach in business classes, and being proactive to it is also important.

We know that we have these teams where there are in groupers or out groupers and we want to try and get people to get along well. I’ve had Amy Edmondson talking about teams, teaming and how people get along. A lot of its collaboration is about having a curiosity to ask questions and learn from each other. We want to look at the path that we’re on that is similar but also understand the path that we’re on that’s not so similar.

Some of the things that impact that sometimes are things like spirituality, whether you’re religious or not. It can be different, but some people have this impact of how important their spirituality or their religion is to them where other people might be agnostic or atheist. That could completely shape your whole perception of the situation at hand, where you might accidentally insult someone without even realizing how important something is to them.

I don’t think a lot of people give a lot of thought to the differences of how much strength that can have in their ideas and things that they question or don’t question. It can have a big impact because we inherit a lot of beliefs from our family and we personalize our beliefs. We take things that work for us, maybe don’t work for us, and we make something around what works in our situation.

TTL 895 | Communication Skills
Communication Skills: Life is more enjoyable when you have skills that allow you to have open and honest conversations.

 

That can make us think, we’re right, they’re wrong, and vice versa. That is a problem in the business world if we don’t examine what these people are coming up with or not coming up with. Having personalized beliefs are fine, but we have to recognize that. Even though Stephen Covey says, “Spiritual renewals is one of the habits that are essential to effective leadership,” we have to look at what your greater purpose is.

What do they think is their greater purpose? What are our values or our ethical principles? What are theirs? What will our legacy be? Those are the things that we researched in terms of how people use their religion and spirituality in that. It was also fun to look at gender to see the differences in how people look at paintings. There was a comment we put in the book.

Two strangers, a man and woman, were visiting an art gallery and found themselves standing next to one another staring at a painting of an old country estate replete with an elderly man sitting in a rocking chair on a front porch of a mansion with various barns, outbuildings and serving as background. The woman, without prompting, commented, “What a beautiful painting. It’s so serene and peaceful. A beautiful blend of man and nature.” The man commented in response, “That barn looks like it’s in dire need of a paint job.”

We both look at the same thing, but we see different aspects. There’s not that one is right and one is wrong. It could be the opposite way round. It could be the man saying the great thing and the woman saying the opposite. We don’t want to stereotype necessarily, but it’s interesting to see what men and women do see things a little bit differently.

There are psychological differences. These have been documented, including differences in their brains. We hear gender bias and we know studies show women are viewed differently, treated differently, paid differently and we know there’s a predominance in the number of men compared to women in executive positions.

Those are the things that are important to leaders to recognize that we have to know the origins of all this and why we see things through these different lenses. We know that men’s brain is structurally different than the female brain. I think that’s a fascinating thing to look at in itself. We’re not going to see things in the same way.

There’s a book, a New York Times Bestseller called The Female Brain. It’s by Dr. Louann Brizendine. She’s a neuropsychiatrist. She also later wrote The Male Brain. She guides you through how the brains of each gender differ and how they shape our behaviors from the time we’re infants all the way into adulthood. The women’s perceptions of behaviors are different than men mostly, she says, due to hormones.

We do have different hormones. We know the women have more estrogen and progesterone, meaning that women have more testosterone as much as men. It goes all the way back to some of these hormones from how we are influenced by them. I talked to Tom Peters on the show. He talked about the female brain and he recalled an article from Duke University basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski. It was The Sunday Times Magazine section.

He described how that coach, often referred to as Coach K, would bring his wife to all the team meetings. He said the reason was that she would see what was going on in the players’ lives and she didn’t notice. She would notice a smell of a problem of a girlfriend, 100 miles away, or some distraction. He didn’t think men psychologically saw those things. He found it fascinating as an observation. I think there are differences and if we pretend we’re not different, that doesn’t work. We get uncomfortable.

If we look at that as one thing being better than another, that’s also uncomfortable. It’s important to recognize that these things are part of us that we’re intended to be different. We’re not intended to be exactly the same and life would be boring if it was that way. Just thought that would be something that you talk about in the workplace of what we can get.

We know that the percentage of women in the workplace is increasing, the rate of women occupying key roles in the workplace is on the rise, and women were being hired into leadership roles more often than they were as CEOs at an increasing rate. We’d like to see it higher. We know that women are bringing in different perceptions into the workplace and those are different aspirations.

It is an interesting thing to look at how genetically wired differently right from birth and these differences are spawning this ground for this history of beliefs and stereotypes of how we’re taught to view each other. We’re carving a different road for ourselves, the women versus the men. I think that’s important to know that we’re evolving. When we’re doing that, we’re impacted by our intelligence in this process. We talked about IQ and EQ. If we’re thinking of intelligence, it’s what we know and how we apply what we know. We know that we need to be able to use our intelligence to understand how to relate with one another.

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We know that our intelligence evolves in different ways and our perceptions evolve in different ways. There’s this perceptual intelligence of fluid versus crystallized intelligence that comes about. I think that there’s some great work by Raymond Cattell who talked about that. If you ever get a chance to read some of his work, there are all these different types of what we learn and how it changes over time. It’s an important thing to look at. Also, Howard Gardner is heavily cited in the area of types of intelligence. We thought we had one kind but he studied all these different types of abilities that we have.

We have naturalistic, music, logical-mathematical, existential, body, kinesthetic, verbal, linguistic, interpersonal, visual, spatial, interpersonal intelligence. The list goes on and on. To say that somebody smart is a hard thing to do because there are these types of ways of being smart. How do you value that intelligence? What’s important in your culture for that type of intelligence?

That was interesting to us as we went through all the different ways that we grow, learn and apply what we know, and then we also looked at emotions as in emotional intelligence in that aspect as well. I had written my Doctoral dissertation on emotional intelligence and that’s such a huge area.

It was great to have Daniel Goleman on the show to talk about emotional intelligence. If you haven’t read that episode, I highly recommend it. Emotions play a big part in how we make decisions. If you want to talk about empathy is a big part of emotional intelligence and if we have empathy, sometimes that ties into curiosity, that we’re asking questions to learn more about each other.

Our emotions can be different across cultures. Different studies between Japanese and American subjects found facial expressions and non-verbal behaviors vary significantly between them. I had Paul Ekman on the show who did the TV show Lie To Me, which was based on his work. There are certain expressions that we all make that are the same whether you’re blind or not. I thought that was fascinating. My father was born blind.

It’s interesting what things we have similar and then other things that are completely different. It’s conceptually different based on the way you grow up and the influences around you of how you respond to your emotions. Your emotions can make you perceive failure differently, either. Some of us have the fight or flight response, some of us will run from it, or some of us will run to it, but most of us have that sense that failure is not our favorite thing. Our perception of failure can influence how much we explore things and ask questions. It gets back into curiosity again.

I tell a story in my talks and I write one in the book about different experiences where sometimes you’re in a sales presentation where you get your rear end handed to you and you might be on a call with your partner. He thinks it’s the worst thing in the world, where you might think it’s the best thing because you’ve learned everything you need to know on how to fix your next presentation. If you don’t learn these things, sometimes your perception will get you down and you’ll quit. You have to learn from failure. If you don’t, you’re going to end up being the glass half empty kind of person and you won’t move forward. You’ll stay where you are and move backward, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid by understanding perception.

Looking at some of the perception experts, especially Beau lotto. He was on the show and he talked about a lot of great things but if you’re wanting to know perception versus reality, look at some of that because it’s fascinating. Talking about perception, you need to talk about collaboration because collaboration is a required skillset now in the workplace.

If you’re being hindered by your perceptions, there are many variables. Think of the questions we ask ourselves, does this project intrigued us? Does it motivate us? Do we like our teammates? Do we like our leader? Do we like the role we’ve been given? You look at all this and if you’re getting mixed reasons for why you like something or don’t like something, a lot of it could be your perception of it.

When we talk about collaboration, I always think about Amy Edmondson’s TED Talk because that ties into how they got the Chilean miners out in that disaster. These people were able to work together and collaborate because they maybe had different perceptions, but they knew that it was life or death to help people get out from under that rock. Understanding that perception is critical to collaboration, getting people to work together, being innovative and creative is interesting.

Gallup says we’re losing $500 billion a year on engagement. We know that people want to be collaborative and if we don’t have this ability to get along, that’s going to be huge. We want people to be creative and see things differently. In the Dead Poets Society movie, Robin Williams had the students get on top of their desks to look at life in a different way. He said to make a difference, you must see things differently. I think that’s a key point that a lot of people are looking at things from their vantage point. They don’t get on top of their desk. They don’t look at things from another way.

I know I’ve done a lot of training classes where we’ve given Legos and we’ve had people build things as teams in collaborative ways. It’s fun to see them get ideas from each other and go, “I would have never looked at it that way.” If you aren’t a big fan of teams, sometimes it’s helpful to get on a team with people who are completely different than you are because if everybody thinks the same way, life is boring. It helps to look at things from a critical thinking standpoint to do research. How did these people do this? How have they made it successful? What facts support their argument? What’s the source of their information? How did they come to that conclusion? Then we’re back to curiosity again.

Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves. I don’t think we get enough of that. There’s a lot of people who want to take things at face value based on what they’ve always known and what supports the values that they’ve always had. That’s common for people. You watch the same either CNN, Fox or whatever that supports your values because it makes you comfortable, but it is important to get curious and get outside.

Our perception suggests we know something but our curiosity proves that we don’t. We need to know what we don’t know. I think a lot of people aren’t asking enough questions and that’s the thing that in the book, Cracking the Curiosity Code is a huge part of changing the culture in organizations. I often talk a lot about that to groups because if we can ask more questions, we can get better at decision-making.

Decision-making can be challenging. I love the quote by Deepak Chopra, where he says, “If you obsess over whether you’re making the right decision, you’re basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.” If you think about that, you always think you have the right or the wrong thing. It’s not necessarily the case. There are shades of gray.

Not everything is black and white and that’s what I find particularly fascinating in the research that we did. For trying to fix all the things in work, we’re trying to fix engagement. I mentioned before that you’re losing $500 billion a year, according to Gallup. When people are financially invested, they want to return, but when people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.

That’s what we need to do is get people emotionally invested at work and contributing. Part of that is to ask questions and to understand each other better. If you’re asking questions again, we’re back to empathy, which is a big part of emotional intelligence, and then we’re getting that perception of the other person’s ideas. We see it not from our standpoint but from theirs.

Some of the questions that we need to ask to improve engagement are, do my employee’s filters growing in their work? Are they being recognized for their work? Do they trust the company is on the right track? Those are some of the things that lead to great communication. I had Kevin Kruse on the show and he has a great book in information about engagement. I think that’s helpful.

All of this is so that we can be better leaders and better employees, both. We have to sometimes suspend our beliefs, be agile, and look in some of the words that we hear a lot about vulnerability. Brené Brown made a lifelong career out of that. I think that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable doing that.

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That’s what led our interest in maybe looking at what the perception process is and how we can manage our perceptions. Creating an assessment would be important and an epic decision of how can we help people understand what they go through? What does the process look like? We found it’s about evaluating, predicting, interpreting, reshaping, or correlating one’s perceptions.

The EPIC acronym we came up with is Evaluation, Prediction, Interpretation, and Correlation. Those are the things that if you take the Perception Power Index that you will find out how are you doing in those areas? What could you do to improve your EPIC process? It’s similar if you’ve taken the Curiosity Code Index. It’s simple. You get your results right away, you can find out a lot more about how well you go through this process and what things are helping or holding you back.

If you get a baseline of, “This is how I am at this,” then you know how to move forward. Let’s look at some of these because you’re going to examine, you’re going to assess, and you’re going to do a lot of these different things that you can recognize if you’re open to thoughts or ideas that you look at it from your own perspective of your self-awareness. I think this one is more in that respect.

If you apply this element of emotional intelligence, this self-awareness, then you’re going to get along better and you’re going to be more aware of how you come across to other people because that’s a lot of problems. I see a lot of people don’t recognize body language, issues, tone, or if they’re typing in all caps, there are all these different things they can do.

How they come across and they don’t realize it. Then they could predict how the other person’s going to ask and act. In a way, another part of emotional intelligence is their interpersonal awareness of, are they able to understand the other person’s? Where they’re coming from? What their perception is, their capabilities, their abilities, and how do they make decisions?

That is challenging to predict what other people are going to do. If you don’t look into what they’re doing, have empathy, ask questions, and have that sense of emotional intelligence. It’s only then that you can make your interpretation. In your interpretation, you have to consider how all of this impacts their decision of how the curiosity comes into this.

You’re making assumptions and you’re looking at how their fear is impacting them. A lot of this ties back into their culture of how they were raised. We know that behavior and different things are rewarded or not rewarded in certain systems, so we need to look at that. How did their culture shape them? How did the company culture shape them?

It’s about assessing and understanding your own emotions for the EPIC part, but the I part is more about putting it collectively together to interpret what you know, and then you end with your conclusions. Your correlation is your final C of the EPIC process because now that you have all this, you can come up with your solutions and your conclusions after researching your facts. This is the critical thinking aspect of it all.

We know that there are many great ideas that come out. You don’t go to the part where you end it with. Coming up with the idea of taking what you’ve learned in this group setting and changing a little bit of your behavior so you can have a win-win situation. You haven’t come to any conclusion that’s going to be good for everybody. Those are some of the main points that we make in what we’re talking about in this EPIC process, in this power of perception.

I thought that this would be something critical to share. You can take the Perception Power Index at DrDianeHamilton.com and all the assessments are there. You can take the Curiosity Code Index, Perception Power Index, DISC and emotional intelligence tests. A lot of that is all there. If you don’t see it in the drop-down menus at the top, there are more menus at the bottom. I hope you contact me if you have any questions. I hope that this helps you understand perception a little better.

I’d like to thank Meredith for being my guest. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

 

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About Meredith Bell

TTL 895 | Communication SkillsMeredith Bell is co-founder and President of Performance Support Systems, a global software company providing assessment and development tools for the workplace. Their award-winning software and books guide leaders and team members to make the shift from KNOWING to DOING. The result is permanent improvements in the way people interact with each other at work. Meredith is an expert in leader and team communications, the author of two books, and the host of the Strong for Performance podcast. She has worked with thousands of business leaders, Human Resources professionals, and Learning & Development executives to successfully implement her company’s tools. Meredith co-authored her latest book, Connect with Your Team: Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills, with her business partner, Dr. Dennis Coates. In it, Meredith and Denny provide a step-by-step how-to guide for improving communication at work.

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