Connecting the dots between customers, colleagues and community
Invite Communication
Fall 2012
MP new head shot Dear Clients, Colleagues and Community,

Its hard to avoid the barrage of negative language or antagonistic commentary we hear everyday in the news, politics and even in our workplaces.  While there will always be naysayers or advocates for positioning messages in ways that demotivate and disenfranchise, I believe that we can in our own small way champion language that is transparent, truthful, optimistic and positive.

This month's newsletter is dedicated in part to providing tools and ideas to speak optimistically.  Using positive language draws people to us, gives us control and makes our message more rapidly understood and retained.  What's not to like?  In addition, I will share perspectives from unlikely leaders that might inspire you as well.

I'd love to hear from you if you have feedback or experiences that are piqued by this newsletter!  I always learn from you.  Wishing you a great September and a prosperous and healthy Fall season.

Mari Pat Varga
The Olympic Creed
Are we communicating its spirit?

I am a big fan of the Olympics and eagerly await it every four years.  I never fail to be inspired by the hard-working and dedicated athletes from around the world.  What it takes to get there, make the team, is truly amazing.

As a speech coach and writer I am always drawn to the stories of personal triumph over adversity that undoubtedly are a part of every Olympian's story.

As passionate as I am about the Olympics, I found myself watching the majority of the coverage this summer with the sound turned off.  I have grown so tired of the line of questioning and commentary that seems to follow each athlete and venue.

One of the first events I watched this year on July 28th was the 400 IM where Michael Phelps was competing against the much hyped Ryan Lochte.  Here's how it unfolded and the communication mistakes made.

1  Lochte came into the race declaring to anyone who would listen that this was "his time."  Nothing is more appealing than humility and nothing more of a turn-off than arrogance.

2  Lochte swam an impressive race and won.  Phelps finished fourth.  First question asked to Lochte after the race, "How did it feel to dethrone Michael Phelps?"  Lochte responds with, "I knew it was just a matter of time."

3)  Phelps is interviewed and asked, "Its been 12 years since you've not stood on the medal stand.  What went wrong?"

Are these really the questions we should be asking?  It prompted me to read the Olympic creed which states:
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Instead of honoring the creed the broadcasting community seems to thrive on exalting the winners and shaming the losers.  Throughout the coverage you would hear statements like, "If she keeps up at this pace, she might not medal!" (horrifying) or "He may walk away with only a bronze medal." (terrible)

There must be an appetite for this style of winner-takes-all reporting but at the very least it sends out the wrong message to our children and anyone courageous enough to take on a new challenge.  The best advice I could give the athletes who face this negative style of questioning is to ban together and speak optimistically:  "It's an honor to be here and compete with these extraordinary athletes.  We are all here doing the very best we can on this day."  "I've trained hard and I'm excited to compete."  "Congratulations to the winner, she had the best race today."

Michael Phelps is a great example of an athlete who kept his cool and communicated a positive message throughout - and his victories followed.  No matter what negative question is thrown your way, remember the creed, and frame your response positively - as you deserve to.

Who is your cornerman?
Remembering Angelo Dundee

Growing up in Louisville, Ky. you didn't need to be a boxing fan to admire Muhammad Ali and to know his cornerman, Angelo Dundee, who died, at the age of 90 this past February.  For all the boxers who knew Dundee they called him the king of all cornermen.  He wasn't a boxer.  He never tried to impose his style on anyone, because he didn't have one.  Yet so many of the fighters he trained remarked that he would make the average boxer, the best he could be and when that boxer didn't think he could make it, Dundee seemed to always be able to say something that elicited something in the fighter he didn't even know was there.  It was said that he would almost make himself invisible, so the fighter would do it himself.

The concept of a great cornerman in the business world is akin to that of a coach or mentor.  Someone who doesn't tell you what to do but makes you believe in yourself so much that you will find your own way.
Stuff authentic people say
The Welch's weigh in

Jack and Suzy Welch's opinion piece in FORTUNE (April 9, 2012) shares three guidelines for how any leader can tap into and communicate their authentic self.

First, quoting the famous philosopher, Popeye, they site that you often hear authentic people give you some version of "I yam what I yam, and that's all what I yam."  Authentic people are deeply comfortable with themselves.  They acknowledge both their weakness and their strengths without apology.

Second, authentic people say "I love" a lot as in "I love March Madness."  You name it, they are emoting about it.  They are also comfortable with "I hate..." as well.  Whether it comes to love or hate, authentic people go big.

Third, authentic people aren't afraid to say, "I screwed up, and I've been down, and it was awful!"  Authentic people actually seem to relish describing mistakes in gritty detail.

The Welch's commentary was focused on the need for politicians to be more honest, more transparent...and yes, more authentic.  While we all may debate whether or not these three guidelines really do describe what true authenticity means, I think we can agree that we benefit when leaders (or anyone for that matter) put their cards on the table - opinions, passions and perspectives.  This kind of transparency provides direction, engenders debate and makes way for better decision-making.


The Actor's Director
Can it be a leadership model?

Woody Allen
Recently I had the chance to watch a PBS documentary
on the life and times of
director, Woody Allen.  Many actors with whom he worked talked about his style of directing and called him the ultimate "actor's director."  Why?  They all shared that he actually gave them virtually no direction and often the first real conversation they had was on day one of the shoot.

Instead they soon became clear that he hired them because he believed in their talent and their job was to show up and do what they do well.  Many shared that this level of confidence and the lack of micro-managing prompted them to bring their A-game to every shoot.  Allen created an environment of trust and freedom that produced great results.

Leaders intuitively know this works.  You hire great people and then you need to let them go and do what they do best.
Take the whine out of the line
To build credibility and be taken seriously

Do you have someone in your personal or professional life who continually seems rattled, in a state of chaos or simply always seems unsure of themselves?

Having to make a couple of visits to my doctor recently I was reminded of how she always seems a bit flustered and if I ask her how she is she doing, it is quickly followed my a list of things that are currently driving her crazy - the new computer system, the tight scheduling of patients, etc.  I love my doctor and yet I wonder if she is aware of the signals her commentary emits (will she remember to call me about the lab test, will she follow-up with the prescription, etc.)  This is probably not the message she wants to send to her patients and yet, there it is.

She, of course, is not alone.  I work with my clients all the time to make them aware of the fact that it is not just what you say but how you say it.  In addition, are we saying things that actually give our listener a reason to doubt or question us?

Have you ever begun a communication by saying something like:

"I know you are really busy and I hate to bother you but..."

We think we are trying to be polite but what we are actually doing is reminding the other person of how busy they actually are!

Much better is to say, "Carol, I've got one idea for the Zoom project that will save us money, can you let me know when you've got 5 minutes on your calendar to discuss?"  Chances are you will be ask to sit down on the spot to discuss.

Taking the whine out of the line is not about being less than truthful or wearing rose colored glasses.  It is about being clear on your intentions, thinking of your audience, and positioning what you have to say in a way that influences and engages.

I remain hopeful that the next time I ask my doctor how SHE is, she replies with something like, "Its busy as always but what matters to me now is you.  How can I help?"

Thanks for tuning in and reading along.  If you or your organization have a desire to raise the level of your communication, thought leadership, presentation or messaging, I'd love to assist you!  Let's have a conversation soon.
With regard,

Mari Pat Varga
Varga & Associates, Inc.