Sunday, November 29, 2009

Men Diminishing Women in the Workplace, Albeit Unwittingly

To graphically illustrate the unwitting diminution of women that occurs in the workplace, even by men who are supposedly sophisticated and urbane, I narrated the following story to my audience at last week’s Toastmasters District 56 Fall Conference in Houston, just as I did a few weeks earlier to employees of Shell and the USDA, among others. [Incidentally, this is just one of the many recent cases I can readily recount that help rebut those who contend that such diminution of women’s communications is a thing of the past and that the topic is passé.]

A couple of years ago, around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC's “This Week with George Stephanopoulos," interviewed a panel comprising four members of the 9-11 Commission--former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, Attorney Richard Ben-Veniste, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, and Commission Chairman Thomas Kean. There were five rounds of questions, hence a total of 20 questions, and this is how Mr. Stephanopoulos addressed the panelists each time he asked a question: For each of the five questions put to Gorelick, she was addressed simply as “Jamie”; Ben-Veniste was addressed “Richard Ben-Veniste” all five times; the other two men were addressed as “Secretary Lehman” and “Commissioner Kean” respectively each time they were asked a question. I was aghast and indignant at seeing even George Stephanopoulos, widely regarded as one of our more suave and polished TV hosts, succumb to how we men are “hardwired.”

The express purpose of my sharing the above story with audiences is to raise men’s consciousness on this issue. The screw-up by Mr. Stephanopoulos, along with a couple of other real-life examples which specifically illustrate how men are losing job/ sales opportunities thanks to such invidious, albeit unconscious, behavior, have become staples of some of my communication modules. In a future blog, I will be discussing simple tactics and strategies that can be employed to preempt or nullify such situations.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Powerful Communication Skills: The Late James Lilley—Unquestionably One of America’s Most Articulate

In recent days, there’s been many a commentary on the airwaves lionizing James R. Lilley, former U.S. ambassador to China and South Korea, who died earlier this month. For me, his passing away is a deep personal loss. You see, Mr. Lilley was perhaps the most articulate American public figure, and therefore a source of great inspiration to me. His communication skills were unmatched and unrivaled. His use of simple but powerful verbal and nonverbal techniques--the type I discuss in my seminars and coaching--was exemplary. For instance, note the flow of synonyms--a defining trait of articulate people--in the following example taken from a 2001 interview during which he urged China to publish President Bush’s letter written to the widow of a Chinese pilot in the wake of the famous EP-3 surveillance-plane incident off Hainan Island. "I hope they publish it because their language has been attacking, strident, virulent, whereas Bush looks sympathetic, calm." No surprise that whenever U.S. relations with China or with either of the two Koreas were in the limelight, Mr. Lilley was the preferred guest on radio and TV.

James Lilley was one of my heroes. I seriously doubt that I’ll see the likes of him during the remainder of my life.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Upcoming Presentation that is Open to the Public: “Simple Verbal and Nonverbal Skills for Creating a Highly Favorable First Impression”

This coming Saturday, November 21, I will be presenting two sessions on “Simple Verbal and Nonverbal Skills for Creating a Highly Favorable First Impression” at the Toastmasters District 56 Fall Conference to be held at Unity Church’s Grace Hall, 2929 Unity Drive, Houston, TX 77057. [For location, click on: ] The two sessions, each 45-mintues long, will begin at 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. respectively. Non-Toastmasters are welcome to attend either session.

This topic, one of the newest in my repertoire, has previously been presented at, among others, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Shell Oil, the Kellogg School of Management, Project Management Institute’s Austin Chapter ( and some job fairs. Among the modules on my agenda: the theory of matching contrasts for men’s attire; the visceral attraction of dental enamel; answering a “why” question; men diminishing women unwittingly; the ability to initiate and sustain an engaging conversation with anyone; enunciation/pronunciation for foreign-born professionals; the power of a single word that is out-of-the-ordinary and strong, vivid, or evocative.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nonverbal Communication Skills: Using the Torso--Leaning Forward to Emphasize a Point

During my presentation earlier this week on “Uncommon Tips for More Impactful Presentations” at Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, I did not discuss the use of one’s torso, something which was on my original agenda but had to be deleted because of a late start. So, here goes:

The use of one’s torso to help emphasize a point and enhance one’s impact on the audience is best illustrated with a real-life example, this one involving then-Houston Fire Chief Lester Tyra. In the summer of 2000, Tyra was embroiled in a major controversy stemming from the sudden death of a 12-year old boy Daniel Lopez who had twice sought medical help at a local fire station. It appears that paramedics failed to examine the boy thoroughly, and his death a few hours later stirred an “uprising” of sorts and quickly became a cause célèbre within the Hispanic community.

In September/October that year, Chief Tyra was interviewed by Houston’s most prominent TV channel and fielded numerous questions relating to the circumstances surrounding the boy’s death. Upon noting that Tyra was impassive and not evincing much concern or sensitivity to the tragedy, the interviewer asked him, “You agree that the incident was tragic?” (or words to that effect). I remember being stupefied by Tyra’s demeanor when he replied “Yes, it was tragic.” His expression was devoid of any sign of regret. The somewhat corpulent fire chief, who was comfortably seated during the interview, did not move a single muscle as he uttered those words. Perhaps sensing that this apparent indifference could damage Tyra’s cause, and as if to give the fire chief another opportunity to express his pain, the interviewer again asked “It was tragic, right?” But Tyra simply repeated his previous utterance, and once again in an apathetic tone. Not surprisingly, Tyra was demoted by Houston’s mayor a few days later.

Now, I have absolutely no doubt that Fire Chief Tyra had greatly agonized over the young boy’s death and that he was full of compassion for the Lopez family’s suffering and loss. But he failed to exhibit any concern. Tyra should have made his sense of grief manifest during the interview by using appropriate body language. For instance, at the crucial moment when he was asked that direct question (“...this incident was tragic?”), Tyra could have leaned forward in his chair, and using a different vocal pitch and speaking slowly, said something like “You know (interviewer’s name), I have agonized greatly over young Daniel's death….” I believe such an unambiguous display of his feelings during that high-profile interview might have helped mollify many in the local community and perhaps enabled him to retain his job.

Note that if Fire Chief Tyra had been standing (such as at a press conference) while fielding the above question, he could have displayed his feelings and sadness by leaning forward, holding the lectern firmly and pressing his torso against it, as he gave the above suggested reply.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interviewing for a Job: How to Emphasize that You are the Right Person for the Position

Last weekend, while working one-on-one with an employee of an oil services company who is looking for a new job, I observed that she was having difficulty speaking persuasively and with conviction when replying to the question “why do you think you should get this job?” Here is one of the three-sentence approaches I presented to her for responding to such questions or comments:

Sentence 1: (with an endearing smile) Well, I have studied the job requirements (or responsibilities or expectations) for this position and I firmly believe that I am the right person for this job.

Sentence 2: For instance, while working as … at the abc company, it was my initiative (or I spearheaded the project) that led to the firm saving xxx dollars (or which led to the company finding new opportunities in ….). [Could be expanded, by adding another sentence, to mention a second relevant experience or accomplishment.]

Sentence 3: Which is why (or, it is for these reasons), Mr. Smith, I have absolutely no doubt that I am fit to handle the many challenges (or responsibilities) that come with this position (or that I have the requisite skills and the competence to address the broad spectrum of problems this position entails.)

There will be more on job interviews in future blogs.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why This Blog? My 28-Year Journey Critiquing and Dissecting Communications

The purpose of this blog is exactly what’s implied by the byline just under the title: To share with you, the reader, verbal and nonverbal communication tips that are worthwhile and readily applicable in most occupations and professions. And the principal animus for my starting this blog is to help stay connected with the thousands of men and women who have attended one or more of my workshops, seminars, speeches, and the like, as well as all those who have acquired my book The Articulate Professional (first published in 1993; the 3rd and most recent edition in 2008).

It’s been nearly 3 decades since I first began critiquing and dissecting communications--a pursuit far removed from my academic qualifications which are in engineering and financial management. The first time my “analyst’s mind” got oriented toward analyzing people’s utterances, with the objective of determining why a crucial communication had succeeded or failed, was in 1981, 2 years after my graduation from Northwestern’s Kellogg School. That occurrence involved a first-time visit to a remote Northwest Houston plant of Texas Instruments (TI) by the company’s then CEO, Fred Bucy. Mr. Bucy, who was justifiably revered throughout the company as a demigod, stumbled badly and failed to capitalize on a rare opportunity to speak to--and thus inspire and “connect” with--the hundreds of us employees who worked there. The Bucy incident, plus others (both within and outside of TI) that followed in quick succession, served as graphic illustrations of how even well-educated, highly trained, and exceptionally smart execs and managers could screw up big-time when it came to communicating a very simple message to employees, clients, and other stakeholders. But it took me another dozen or so years to gather enough cogent material (based on my observations and research) and courage before I was ready to present workshops and seminars, and conduct one-on-one coaching, all with the objective of helping others invigorate their important communications. Thus, in the fall of 1994, 3 years after resigning from Texas Instruments, I embarked on my new full-time career.

Often, while I am conducting a workshop or an executive coaching session, a client’s face will light up when I demonstrate or discuss a skill or technique that he or she feels is eminently applicable in an upcoming meeting or presentation. Well, if this blog succeeds in providing its readers at least one such valuable and “implementable” idea each month, it will have met its modest goals.

V.J. Singal
Communication Consultant, Coach, Trainer, and Speaker