You’ve likely encountered the idea, “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. For a lot of us those 5 people, or at least the majority of them, are at work. For the first chapter of my life, that wasn’t such a good thing. I worked with smart, creative, generous professionals BUT the majority of us were terrified of a director in our office. And as a result, we constantly walked on eggshells around her. And when she, as she so often did, yelled at us, micromanaged us, or just directed snide comments or facial expressions our way, we would swallow our hurt and fail to speak up.
Fast forward almost a decade, and I spend a lot of my professional time showing emerging through senior leaders how to have those difficult conversations so many of us feel ill prepared to have. Sometimes the stakes are low – like the other night when I had a mini-reunion at the High Roller with some women from my first Influencer Academy cohort, and we asked for separate checks from our server. Other times the stakes, and emotions, are much higher. A client yells at us over a scheduling snafu that was as much his/her fault as ours. Until the last few years I would have shook internally during that kind of experience, kvetched about it to a loved one, and never said anything beyond what my face telegraphed in the moment. Now, I take a deep breath, focus on what I need to communicate to be in my integrity, sculpt the message, and deliver it with compassion – for me and the other person who is clearly going through some “stuff”.
This fear and sometimes lack of certainty about facilitating difficult conversations shows up in our public speaking as well. So much so that in one of my videos for my upcoming Your Spotlight Talk program (yes, the program has been renamed – more on that in a future post), I show one of the most common mistakes aspiring TED-style speakers make when shaping their “idea worth spreading”. It’s trying so hard to be liked that they don’t argue effectively for their idea(s). Here’s a snippet from the video where I show participants how to fix the problem – and you can apply the advice whether you are expressing an idea publicly or interpersonally.
Imagine, I’m giving a spotlight talk on why we need to vaccinate our children. Controversial? These days, you bet. This is one of the most polarizing issues facing families today, perfect for us to play around with.
If I were giving this talk, it would be natural for me to be concerned that I might offend some people in my audience. Therefore, I could be tempted to say something like, “Vaccines are important in combatting preventable diseases.”
But really? It sounds like I just plucked that off of Wikipedia. This is hardly a unique viewpoint.
And having a distinct viewpoint is important. It’s what makes you, you. If you are an entrepreneur, it’s what makes people gravitate your way. It’s what makes your clients become raving fans of you. And in the speaking world, it’s the root of having your idea and your talk go viral.
So let’s revisit the statement again. “Vaccines are important in combatting preventable diseases.”
Whenever you sense you are playing it safe with an idea, ask yourself what you really think about it. What you would say to your partner or your best friend if you were sure nobody else was listening.
If I were to do that with this hypothetical example, what could come out of my mouth might be something like, “Years from now our children, and our children’s children, will look back on this time in history and say, ‘mom’. Or ‘grandma’. Shame on you for allowing unsubstantiated societal fear to undermine your responsibility to protect us from one of the most preventable threats…life-threatening childhood disease. Because of your fear, diseases that were essentially eradicated like whooping cough and measles killed hundreds of babies like us.”
Okay, now THAT’s a viewpoint. One that, if articulated like this, would likely turn off a lot of people in your audience.
That is NOT what I’m instructing you to do. Rather, once you identify how you really feel, then, you can sweeten it up by asking yourself, “How do I communicate what I really believe from a place of compassion so that those who disagree don’t feel like I’m belittling their perspective?”
If I were to do that with this hypothetical viewpoint, I’d say to myself, “My goal is to show people how I am choosing reason over fear, and invite them to do the same.”
So, my message could sound something like this.
“I take every decision I make for my daughter VERY seriously. And I try to always choose reason over fear. While a red or swollen leg, fussiness, or even a low-grade fever aren’t fun, I know from the stories my grandma shared with me growing up neither is a disease like polio. I have a responsibility to the pioneering women and men before me who worked to virtually eradicate diseases like polio, and whooping cough and measles, not to let their efforts have been in vain.”
How does THAT sound to you?
Even if you don’t agree with this hypothetical viewpoint, you have to concede the perspective is clear. And by choosing a bit of storytelling and painting the picture with less polarizing language, I am better able to connect with audience members across the vaccination spectrum.
What I want for you first and foremost is to surround yourself with people who are committed to stepping into necessary, difficult conversations when such opportunities arise. Remember, your efficacy in this area is determined by the habits of the people closest to you.
And second, I want you to know how to express potentially polarizing ideas with compassion. To do so, always remember you’ve got to get clear on how you really feel. Then, make sure you communicate from a place of compassion so that even people who don’t agree with you can at least listen and consider what you have to say.
I’m so excited that hundreds of you have already signed up to be on the VIP List for Your Spotlight Talk. In the program you will be treated to several hours of videos and digital downloads making it breathtakingly simple how to identify your “idea worth spreading”, sculpt your stories and evidence to argue for your idea, get booked to speak, and slay any self-doubt and public speaking wonkiness so you can consistently deliver a TED-style talk with maximum impact. Whether you are looking to speak at TED-style events, professional associations, or conferences, this is THE program for you.
If you haven’t done so already, hop on over to the Coming Soon page, enter your name and email, and be among the first to learn both when the FREE pre-launch video training drops and when special VIP pricing for the DIY, virtual program is available.