Category Archives: Communication

Time Management Starts at the Top

HourglassTime management – or task management, depending on your perspective – is a perennial hot topic in employee performance conversations. How can we get more productivity from the team? How can we deliver this huge project without adding people? How can we get more done with the resources we have?

These are all valuable questions, and success at improving productivity using smarter time management techniques can pay big rewards. Keeping talented team members engaged in the important, rather than diving into the trivial, is a big part of the discipline. It must be said that senior leaders have a critical role to play, as well, by giving teams every opportunity to succeed. Here are some points to consider about how you and your organization’s executives lead, and how they might be hurting results.

Meetings. Everyone complains, “We have too many meetings!” Yet, we all continue to have them, and they are not all worthwhile. To be more direct, many are a waste of time, burning mountains of money. One estimate places the tab at $37 billion in lost salaries spent on bad meetings in the US alone. Before you have a meeting, ask yourself some questions. Do we need to have it? What if we don’t have a meeting? What will happen? Is there a better and more efficient way to communicate?

Schedules. Some organizations have moved to a work anywhere, anytime model, or at least flexible scheduling that respects employees’ lives and priorities. Are your people spending their best times – prime time when they are most mentally on – commuting or working a schedule that does not meet any business need other than “that’s the way we’ve always done it”?

Technology. This might seem like a no-brainer, but is worth a moment. Does your company have the technology – hardware, software and infrastructure – to be as efficient as possible? Conversely, are you clinging to old technology to save the capital expense, when an investment today can pay dividends for years to come.

Prioritization. Do your performance evaluations and management actions keep employees focused on the most important things? Do your senior leaders have a clear vision of what those things are? Do they explain the reasons for priorities to get buy-in from followers? Sometimes, realignment of priorities can get talented people moving more directly toward the goal. Try this: ask an employee at random, “What are you paid to do here?” Listen for the first response. Is it what you expected? Did the employee struggle? If you aren’t happy with the answer, look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Why doesn’t my team know what is important?”

We could generate a much longer list of time management traps, but this will get you started. Look at time management success as a priority for leadership and consider how your top people can make everyone more productive. It will be worth the effort.


Learning Dynamics offers custom learning and development programs on topics including time management and effective communication. Contact us today or visit our programs page to learn more.

Verbal Communication: What Are You Talking About?

We deliver many communication skills training programs at Learning Dynamics. We can point to clients that have recognized this as a priority in every industry and niche. This doesn’t happen because Learning Dynamics has an army of sales people out pushing these programs. Instead, communication skills – especially verbal interpersonal communication – have been recognized as a key component of professional effectiveness by employers of every stripe.

The Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania conducts an annual survey of over 600 human resources professionals to get an understanding of their opinions and perceptions of their new employees. These HR leaders view good interpersonal communication skill as being an important component of employee professionalism. Those viewed as unprofessional often have, as you might expect, communication skill shortfalls.

Verbal communication is ranked the second most important professional skill.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers, in its Job Outlook 2012 report, also found that organizations rank interpersonal communication skills as being one of the most important workplace skills. Verbal communication skills ranked #2 on the report, compared with #9: the ability to write reports.

The good news is that verbal communication skills can be taught and are very coachable. This development goal could be even more important than ever as some have suggested that the widespread increase in texting and other non-verbal communication tools have stunted the skill of conversation for many.

An engaged and caring leader can help a team member plan for communication and offer valuable after-action feedback. Here are some coachable points:

Did you deliver the key information: the who, what, where, when, why, and how?

Were you concise enough?

Did your tone and non-verbal actions (body language) support or hinder the effectiveness of your message?

Extensive research proves that interpersonal communication is a key contributor to professionalism. Isn’t it worth investing energy and time into this critically important skill?


Learning Dynamics offers many customized learning and development solutions to help your team communicate better. Communicating for Success and Personally Speaking™ are two options. Contact Learning Dynamics today to learn how we can help your organization excel with better professional skills.

7 Tips for Emotional Conversations

Emotional Conversations

How do you prepare for a potentially emotional conversation? Many inexperienced leaders –  and others, too – struggle with this common scenario. Some avoid it. In most every case, reticence to have these discussions leads to stress, anxiety rooted in procrastination and fear, and lost team productivity and effectiveness.

It is in everyone’s best interest to handle these conversations as quickly as possible. Here are some tips that you can use yourself, or to coach others as they prepare.

Have a Plan: Detail everything about the conversation. What will be discussed? When and where will it happen? What is the goal of the conversation?

Deal with it Now: Unnecessary delay has many negative effects. Continued poor performance, the stress that comes from artificial team harmony, and the opportunity cost of spending time thinking about something that should have already been addressed are just the beginning. Deal with it and move on.

Choose Your Setting: Potentially emotional and negative conversations must be held in private. No exceptions. Ensure that privacy is a top priority. Avoid distractions like phones, computers and visitors.

Have a Clear Goal: What does the supervisor expect to change as a result of the talk? While this is part of the plan, it is worthy of its own bullet here because it is that important.

Have Your Facts Ready: Are you having a performance discussion? Use the reports and other tools that you need to make your case. Preparation will lead to an efficient and effective conversation based on facts, rather than a painful and vague discussion built on the sands of assumption.

Don’t Take it Personally: Keep the conversation professional and as dispassionate as possible. People can be naturally defensive, so expect it. This isn’t about you; it’s about the other person.

Keep it Focused and Concise: Don’t try to ease into the conversation with small talk. Greet the person, invite her or him to sit down, and explain why you are initiating the conversation.

Recognize that tough conversations are a part of all our work experiences. Learning how to manage them effectively and calmly can make this unwelcome part of our work lives less onerous.


Learning Dynamics offers learning and development solutions to help your team members become better communicators. Contact us today to discuss your needs.



Active Listenting? What?

Active ListeningMost people have heard the term “active listening,” but there is a lot of misunderstanding about what it means. Some people have the impression that the skill is characterized by gestures, facial expressions and other non-verbal communication tactics that convince the speaker of the listener’s attention. This is much too superficial, though. Here are a few points on what active listing is, why it is important, and how you can get better at it.

Active listening is the action of focusing entirely on the listening portion of a conversation, with the intentional effort to block out distractions that take away from the listener’s ability to receive and process. Put simply, it is a focused effort to receive the message the speaker is sending.

The skill is important in that it makes communication more effective and efficient. The messages are being conveyed completely and accurately and there are no misunderstandings. We all want to understand and be understood, and active listening makes it possible.

Here are a few common obstacles to active listening and ways to avoid falling victim to them.

Choose the Right Time and Place: Some conversations need to be held in a place where complete attention can be given by all parties. The more important and detailed the conversation, the more likely that time and place-planning will help. A quiet, distraction-free environment can make all the difference.

Have a Goal: Conversations that are driven by a goal will be more productive. If you, as a supervisor, need to speak with a subordinate employee about something important, take a moment to jot down what you need to know and formulate a few questions that will help you get the information you need.

Turn Off Brain Chatter: Have you ever been speaking with someone when you realized you missed what she said because your brain went somewhere else? Awareness of this phenomenon can help you reduce it. Practice turning off the self-talk so you can focus on what’s being said. Don’t allow yourself to fall in the trap of “waiting for my turn to speak.”

Ask Questions to Learn More: Ask for clarification. Ask for more detail. Engage in genuine conversation by asking questions, and listen while and until the other person finishes the thought.

Recap: After you have heard what you thought you heard, summarize by saying, “If I understood you properly, you said…” If you can paraphrase what you heard in this way, it will be clear that you were listening well. Communication and team cohesiveness will both benefit.

Active listening takes effort, but it is worth it. Better communication, greater efficiency, and fewer communication breakdowns are just the beginning. Try these tips and let us know how it works for you.

Learning Dynamics offers many engaging training programs that teach these and other communication skills. Contact Learning Dynamics today for a complimentary consultation.

What’s My Part?

Do you agree that people are resistant to change? Many reflexively agree with the idea – and they are often right – but it is not always the case. Sometimes people will embrace change if they just get some information. Most importantly, they want to understand how they fit in.

Whenever a change is made, leaders should go through a check of all communication to ensure that the basics are addressed.

WHAT is happening? What are the most important elements of the change?

WHEN is it happening? Team members need to understand the time frame so they can prepare.

WHY are we doing it? Share as much as you can. Work to be honest about competitive pressures, financial impacts, customer service improvements, and anything else that helped justify the change decision.


See “Why Your Change Message isn’t Getting Through” for more about leading change well


WHO will lead and participate in the change? Some individuals and workgroups will be affected more than others. Clarify the details.

HOW are we going to do this? Leaders have to explain the plan. Great leaders seek input from their teams to improve engagement and results. Teams that own the change also get through the emotional effects of radical change more quickly than those who are simply affected by it.

And this is where What’s my part?” is critical. If a change is important – and if it isn’t, why are you doing it? – committed employees want to be a part of it. When it succeeds, they want to be able to write themselves into the story, to paint themselves into the picture. Everyone wants to be on a winning team, and every player wants time in the game to make a difference.

Consider all these points and give everyone a chance to be part of the success. This is foundational to teamwork and leadership.


Learning Dynamics will help your company’s leaders prepare for, communicate about, and lead change. Visit our website for more information about our many customizable training programs.

Gossip & Politics Bringing You Down?

What brings production to a halt in your office? Is it gossip? Facebook? Uncertainty? One of our Learning Dynamics Senior Consultants shared her viewpoint and experience this way: “When I worked with one organization, I remember how much productivity was lost. It seemed that the top three reasons for most of it were lack of employee engagement, gossip and politicking.”

There have been books written about employee engagement and our Learning Dynamics blog has several articles on the topic, so we are not going to tackle that here. But what about gossip and politicking? As you survey your work environment, are you detecting any of this? If so, here are some ideas on how to break it up. If you are not detecting it, could you look and listen a little more closely?

Listen to the Grapevine. Some managers state, “I never get involved in the grapevine. It’s a waste of time.” If this is you, reconsider. The grapevine, the rumor mill, and the quiet conversations in the lunch room can be valuable sources of information. Managers who listen to the office rumblings can do something about it. Those who are oblivious, obviously, cannot.

Sunshine. Shed some light on the subject. Lots of it! There is nothing like truth directly from the boss to dispel rumors and get everyone back to work. Use every channel at your disposal to spread the word. This includes email, newsletters, bulletin boards, internal web sites and group huddles. A simple message that starts with “You might have heard…now here’s the truth…” can work wonders.

Recognize Performers. Politics surge when people are uncertain and when they perceive that there is something to be gained. Effective leaders can quell this activity by recognizing top performers consistently and publicly. This includes small actions and big ones, including promotions and greater job responsibilities. If the low-performing politicians see that it isn’t working, and that hard work and results define success, they just might get back to work.

Accessible Leaders. An open door can encourage employees to face issues head-on. If they know that they can get straight answers from the boss, that the door is open, then why will they want to gossip and speculate?

No work place is perfect, and people are going to talk, but it can get better. As our Senior Consultant noted, these unproductive activities cost time and money. Recognize the reality and face it with real action.


Learning Dynamics can bring customized leadership training to your team. Give you managers the tools they need to maximize results with Learning Dynamics.

Your Change Message Isn’t Getting Through

change bullhorn“The company is making strategic moves, but we don’t know why.” This is a common complaint when we get people talking. Maybe “never” is an exaggeration, but we see lots of agreement with the point during training sessions. Senior executives make decisions, the company is moving in a different direction, and employers further down the ladder don’t understand the rationale.

Followers are more likely to support change when they understand the reasons. As a matter of fact, one of the most common things that people do when they learn of change is to seek more information. Why are we doing this? What market forces or strategic calculations are part of the decision? How does this affect me? What can I do to help make this initiative successful?

Your best people will want to know how they can write themselves into the story. How can they make a difference and contribute to success?

Without information, rumor and speculation fill the void. Is the company failing? Am I going to lose my job? Should I be updating my résumé? Lack of detail and communication from the top can lead to distraction and lost productivity as gossiping floods the organization.

Here are a few ideas to enhance communication during change.

Over-Communicate: People don’t always get the message the first time. Repeat it, use different channels, and do it over a period of time. One email or memo is not enough for bigger changes.

Check for Understanding: If changes are significant, conduct listening sessions with the team. Do they have questions? Do they need clarification? Do they have concerns? Use your leadership team to open the door and executive ears to address all concerns.

Make Your Case: This is probably the most important. Develop a clear and compelling answer for the question, “Why are we doing this?”

One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is communication. If she or he cannot articulate the reason for change, there is work to do. The effort will be worth it with a shorter change cycle and a faster return to normal – and hopefully better – productivity. Plan your change strategy to include exceptional surround-sound communication.

The Triangle of Behavior

Leaders will be copied. They set the tone and serve as the example for others. These ideas, and the understanding of the impact of positive and negative role models, should give everyone in a position of authority reason to consider effective communication techniques. The triangle of behavior is one handy way to remember how a person’s behavior affects others.

Triangle of Behvior

Intent: What is the message that a person means to send to an individual or group? The words, tone and non-verbal cues all are influenced by intent.

Behavior: Actions taken, what a person does, define behavior. Even if no words are spoken, behavior speaks volumes about what is acceptable and expected. Inconsistency between word and action is one of the fastest ways to destroy leadership effectiveness.

Impact: How the receiver of a message understands and handles it is the final piece. This can be influenced by the receiver’s mood and willingness to listen and understand, so sender should consider impact when evaluating message effectiveness.

In a leadership setting, intent is often the point that makes the biggest difference and carries the greatest consequences. Consider all three points of the triangle when sending your message.


Also see Four Ways to Influence for more about communicating at work.


Learning Dynamics offers several customizable training programs to enhance communication effectiveness. Personally Speaking ™ offers tools and training to improve business speaking skills.

Four Ways to Influence

Did you know that there are at least four distinct roles that you can play as an influencer? Whether you are a manager or not, a person with a formal leadership position or someone who is respected and valued without an authority-granting title, your ability to influence others is a critical competency needed in today’s work environment. Influencing and persuading others can be a powerful skill that helps teams, projects and processes move forward.

Here are four influencing roles you can play.

Teacher: When influencing as a teacher, remember your job is to explain, clarify, and instruct in a way that the learner feels comfortable and not threatened.

Promoter: The promoter is working to persuade others to consider an idea, concept or project.

Explorer: Influencing skills are used to help brainstorm new ideas, improve a process or think outside the box. You lead the effort to innovate. 

Inspirer: Influence others to raise the bar. Improve something. Your words create a call to action that helps others move to commit to a higher level.

The next time you are in a situation requiring influencing skills, think of the role you are being asked to play and why. It will help you to focus your message and find the right words to affect your audience and create change.

Barbara Phillips, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, authored this piece.

To find out how Learning Dynamics can help your organization maximize the influencing power of your people, visit our website or call 1-800-3SKILLS.