How to Avoid Being Misunderstood

misunderstoodDo you feel misunderstood by your direct reports or colleagues? Do they think you’re an ogre when you’re really fun and fair? Or maybe they think you’re a pushover when you’re really purposeful and committed.

There might be a disconnect between what you intend and how you’re coming across. Here are four ways avoid misunderstandings by closing any gap between your intentions and your actual impact on others.Get clear about what you want to happen. Conventional wisdom says that we are on auto-pilot about 95% of the time. Which means we are consciously thinking about or aware of what we are doing very little during the day.

  • Get clear. Know what you want to accomplish before you go into a meeting, have a conversation with a co-worker, or work on a project. Ask yourself what you want to get out your time spent.
  • State your intentions. Based on the outcome you want to create, state your intentions out loud, especially when interacting with others. By doing so when going into a meeting or conversation, you are not leaving to chance how the other person will interpret what you say or do.
  • Ask for the other person’s perspective first. As a leader, when you speak, your words carry weight, and that weight often shuts down others who are further down the food chain. Additionally, listening first will give you a chance to tune in to the other’s perspective.
  • Seek to reconcile different perspectives. With a clearly stated intention and after sharing perspectives, you will have a better understanding of how the different perspectives overlap or don’t. Revisit your intention again, and ask for how you can move forward by using what most important from each perspective.

By consciously focusing on a clear intention and being open with your perspective, you can create conditions that allow others to “see” you for who you are.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders to maximize the “people side” of business and evolve into the leader they are meant to become. Learn more at:

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Align Your Leadership Spine

leadership alignmentRemember the 55-38-7 communication rule? Even though its specifics have been disputed, there is truth to the idea that the messages you send are muddled when your words don’t match your behaviors. The same confusion occurs with your company’s strategy, initiatives, and daily work. To avoid confusion, align your leadership spine by adjusting your intention, attention, and actions, so strategy, initiatives, and daily work flow together. Aligning this leadership “spine”, will bolster your capacity to lead.

Clarify Your Intentions

Intentions set the course for what we want. Your intentions seem obvious to you, but they aren’t to everyone else. Without the benefit of knowing exactly what’s in YOUR head, others interpret your messages based on what’s in THEIR heads. For example, from your perspective, if you’re hesitant to move forward on something, you’re concerned about identified risks. However, others might interpret your slow decision-making as a lack of know-how or interest in the initiative.

Your intentions are unclear, when:
1) your decision and resulting action plans are disconnected from your company’s vision, mission, values, and strategy and/or
2) you haven’t communicated your decision and proposed action plan in a way that explicitly ties them to the company’s broader strategy.

To clarify your intentions, create a clear line of connection between company vision, mission, values, and strategic priorities/goals with decisions made and action taken. Communicate this connection to direct reports and others before you start moving your decisions forward.

Move From Distraction to Focused Attention

With clear intentions, your employees will follow your lead about where to put THEIR focus. Thus, you will model an ability to focus your attention on the things that will help your company stay the course.

To determine your level of distraction versus focus, look at how much time and effort you give to people and tasks related to what you say are the company’s most important priorities. The 80/20 rule serves as a general rule of thumb. Using this rule, you will spend approximately 20% of your working time on important initiatives and the related tasks that are important, based on your role.

Check yourself by looking back at how you’ve been using your time over the past couple of weeks. If you’ve been distracted from the company’s most important priorities, look at what’s getting in your way (e.g., poor boundaries, unclear work processes for direct reports that create dependency on you, failing to take time to plan/think/work without interruption, etc.).

Take Deliberate Action

With a clear intentions and focused attention on important priorities, you’re ready to walk the talk and to do what is appropriate to your role to move things forward. This could mean you . . .

  • spend time following up with direct reports on progress in their respective roles,
  • communicate with a broader group of employees about what’s happening and how progress is being made,
  • spend time fostering internal and external relationships that will further those initiatives, and/or
  • ensure direct reports develop new competencies that support the initiatives.

The bottom line is to do the tasks and strengthen the relationships that will further the original intention of the strategic and tactical plans.

It seems so simple to make sure your words and actions are reflecting company priorities. Yet, if you don’t consciously maintain that aligned focus each day, you will be in reaction mode and be distracted by events that aren’t worth your time and attention. In the end, you will see how powerful it is to align the leadership “vertebrae” of intention, attention, and action.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with corporate leaders to increase employee engagement and retention by aligning strategy and tactics during rapid growth and change. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at:

5 Signs You Shirk Responsibility When Communicating

angerCommunicating effectively is probably the most common area where most leaders need to grow. In fact, a 2016 Harris poll found that 69% of managers surveyed said that they’re often uncomfortable communicating with employees. I wager that discomfort comes from not knowing how to connect with the other person in a way that both of you will leave the conversation on the same page and feeling respected and heard. First, however, you must become aware that you’re not taking responsibility in your interactions with others.

One simple (but not easy) technique to take responsibility and thereby improve your communication with others comes from the teachings of Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg on Non-Violent Communication (NVC). Dr. Rosenberg’s teachings are based on consciously taking responsibility for yourself during any conversation. When you do this, you tune into your own observations, negative emotions, and underlying unmet needs that are shaping negative reactions you may have in a given situation. You can then make a request of the other person that will allow you to meet those needs. You will create connection and understanding by discerning and meeting your own needs and the needs of others.

Here are 5 signs that you might be shirking responsibility and inhibiting your ability to communicate effectively:

1. If I don’t get what I want from an interaction, I give up and blame the other person for not understanding.
2. If business results are poor, I look at what other’s did or failed to do to cause them.
3. Under pressure, I get reactive and express my first impulse or feeling regardless of how it will impact others.
4. When in a conflict with another, I don’t give in and wait for them to apologize first.
5. Even if others admit mistakes, I often hold a grudge and have a hard time working effectively with them in the future.

If even one of the above statements describes you, consider taking a hard look at your responsibility in that instance. Leadership requires you to look at yourself first and to shoulder the responsibility for everything that happens on your watch. Learning more effective communication techniques, like those taught in NVC, can help you do just that.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at:

Thanks to Julie Warr of The Compassion Connection for being my podcast guest.

Julie-Warr-NVCJulie Warr has a passion for compassion. Inspired after her attendance at the 2015 Parliament of Religions, followed by a serendipitous suggestion from her coach, Julie explored the teachings of Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, the founder of the Center for Non-Violent Communication. For Julie, “the heavens opened, angels sang, and my mind lit up”. She knew she had found what she was meant to do.

Although she still works full-time in the financial services industry, Julie continues to pursue what she considers her life’s work. She is in the process of forming a non-profit organization, with the intention of bringing NVC to Salt Lake City. Julie and I met at her office recently to talk about NVC and how it can be used in the workplace to create more satisfying, productive, and peaceful interactions. You can find out more about Julie’s endeavor,The Compassion Connection, on Facebook and Instagram. You can contact her at

Effective Presentations: The Foolproof Five

I had the pleasure of interviewing communications coach Beth Noymer Levine. She graciously allowed me to share the following blog post, excerpted in part from her book, Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World,


team; working in groups; leading groupsMore often than not, what makes people freeze before a big presentation is the nagging question, “Am I even doing this right?” and its companion, the fear of embarrassment.

I’m always taken aback when smart, successful, otherwise confident people reveal that they’re afraid to make a fool of themselves. I would never have guessed in most cases.

Trust me when I say that no one is “a natural” at speaking and presenting; even the best of the best think about it, worry, and work at it. Regardless of your style or your comfort level with public speaking, it’s wise to consider some core guiding principles for yourself as a speaker.

Below are five foolproof principles of being an effective speaker or presenter that will give you the confidence to know you’re “doing it right,” and will leave your audience quite impressed.

The five principles are:

  • Audience-centricity
  • Transparency
  • Graciousness
  • Brevity
  • Preparedness

Taken together, they send two really important messages about you to your audience:

  1. That you care about and respect them.
  2. That you’re real and therefore credible and trustworthy.

It may be a new term to you, yet it’s probably the most fundamental of the five principles. Simply put, audience-centricity is making the audience’s interests and experience a top priority in the planning and execution of a talk.

Too many speakers prepare and deliver what is important and interesting to themselves without enough careful considerations of their listeners. Being audience-centric is a mindset shift that encourages the speaker to prepare and deliver content in a way that will matter to and resonate with the audience.


It is exactly what you think it is; it’s about being open and direct — yes, and honest, too. Transparency is critical. It contributes to the levels of sincerity and trust that are accorded to you by your audience.


It is the art, skill, and willingness to be kind-hearted, fair and polite. As motivators and influencers, love and peace work far better than anger and war. Speaking in positives rather than negatives leaves lasting, favorable impressions.


Brevity is a crowd-pleaser and needs no further introduction.


Preparedness speaks for itself as well. The unprepared speaker is the one who is most likely to be long-winded, not to mention unfocused. While the mere thought of preparation might bring feelings of dread, the feeling of approaching the front of the room ill-prepared is far worse – and it shows.

Success is in the eye of the beholder – your audience. Show care and respect, be real, and your audience is much more likely to listen, like you, and be impressed.


Beth Noymer Levine

Beth Noymer Levine – Communications Coach at SmartMouth Communications

SmartMouth Founder and Principal Beth Noymer Levine is a Communications Coach who is emerging as one of the country’s leading voices on how to prepare and deliver speeches and presentations that actually work for both the audience and the speaker.

“Just Kidding”: Handling Passive Aggressive Employees

ROBERT: “Every time something good happens to me, I want to say, ‘How about that, Ray?’ But if something bad happens to me, I…say a prayer that Raymond doesn’t do so good that day.”
DEBRA: “You say a prayer?”
ROBERT (Looking at the ceiling): “Come on, God. Get ‘im!”

–from “Everybody Loves Raymond” (1996-2005)

passive aggressiveWe laugh at passive aggressive behavior on sitcoms, tune in for more on reality TV, and read the snarkiness on social media. Nonetheless, it’s no laughing matter in the workplace.

Passive aggressive behavior includes actions, inactions, and comments intended to do harm but is indirect. People who exhibit passive aggressive behaviors also tend to feel helpless or powerless in their lives, and use their passive aggressiveness as a way to cope.

Examples include: forgetting to do things, not following through, spreading rumors, giving the silent treatment, making sarcastic comments intended to send a message, and complaining about others to everyone but the person himself. In short, passive aggressiveness boils down to presenting yourself one way and behaving another to intentionally “stick it” to someone else.

On an individual level, passive aggressiveness increases uncertainty, leads to poor self-esteem and poor working relationships, and consequently, leads to lower trust, increased stress, and lower productivity. On a companywide basis, it can slow down decision-making and the execution of important initiatives.

Unfortunately, many managers are uncertain how to address this type of behavior because it seems so petty and elusive. Here, are a few tips for creating a workplace with minimal passive aggressiveness:

Expect and Model Forthright Communication. To avoid allowing passive aggressive behavior in your company, make sure you are a role model of healthy, respectful disagreement with curiosity about other perspectives. You can do this in a public way in your meetings by setting ground rules and behavioral norms about having full discussions in meetings where everyone is expected to contribute and acknowledging the sensitivity or contention of some issues as well as the importance of discussing those issues openly.

Highlight minority or dissenting perspectives and opinions. Intentionally, ask those who hold an unpopular perspective to talk about their assumptions underlying their viewpoint and about the implications that will follow if their solution is or isn’t followed. By doing this, it makes it easier to craft a final decision that might accommodate differing perspectives. You can also troubleshoot the decision the group finally makes but anticipating what might go wrong. This allows those who see the weaknesses of the decision to be able to contribute.

Call it like you see it. When passive aggressive body language, humor, gossip, or complaints about others come to your attention, you must acknowledge the behavior and dig a little deeper to find out what’s behind the behavior. Voicing concern that the person is choosing an indirect way of bringing up the issue is a place to start. Then, ask questions about why they chose an indirect way of settling the issue versus addressing the issue head on. You can then guide them to use more appropriate ways of interacting with others to get what they ultimately want.

Passive aggressive behavior is probably more common than appropriately assertive behavior and can be one of the most destructive elements to a healthy company culture. This is certainly one time when being “nice” won’t work out for your company in the long run.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman challenges leaders to become agents of positive change in their companies by getting everyone around them as invested as they are. Assess your leadership and learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at:

Transform Workplace Drama from Spectacle to Productivity

“All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”
― Seán O’Casey

workplace dramaWe love our drama. Ancient Romans loved the tension and spectacle of the colosseum with its combat to the death involving gladiators and beasts, nail-biting chariot races, and extravagant displays of sea warfare. Today, we have the tension and spectacle of reality TV, involving the emotional combat of one-upmanship, betrayal, and dashed hopes. It seems a natural aspect of the human condition. It’s no wonder, then, that drama comes naturally to your employees.

You know employees are caught up in drama when they aren’t focused on the overall goals your company is working to achieve. Instead, they hone in on what others are doing or not doing to bug them or to get in their way. In short, they are focused on the weeds instead of on the big picture. They delight in gossip, complaining, blaming, shaming, and explaining – mostly after not being forthcoming when the time was right, such as in meetings regarding the work and its progress.

Drama includes people who find themselves playing three standard roles: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. These were identified by Dr. Stephen Karpman in the 1960s. In spite of their good intentions, a person in the Victim role sees himself as powerless and put-upon; a person in Persecutor role sees himself as the only person doing things right, coming across as blaming and overbearing; and a person in the Rescuer role believes he must save the Victim who is not capable of doing so himself. Together, people in these roles can go for years, blaming each other and focusing on what each is doing wrong, instead of looking at their own contributions to the dramatics that play out.

According to David Emerald, the transformation from spectacle to productivity occurs when (1) the “Victim” refocuses on the general outcome they want to create and determine a way forward; (2) the “Rescuer” reframes the “Victim” as capable of solving his own problems; or (3) the “Persecutor” clarifies his intentions and shifts to supporting the “Victim’s” capabilities.

As a leader in your company, it’s up to you to create the conditions that discourage drama as a spectacle of complaining and blaming and, instead, encourage trust, ownership, and choice that leads to working together more productively without fear. This requires many things including the expectation that people will feel the trust required to be open and explore issues through deeper conversations that center around questions for which you don’t know the answer. (Judith Glaser would call these Level III Co-Creative conversations. See Lead Like Nobody’s Business blog and podcast with Julio Garreaud from 6/7/2016.)

Questions that could be part of these types of deeper conversations might include:

  • How do you see it?
  • What are the implications of what we are doing with respect to X?
  • What have we been assuming that might not be accurate?
  • How can we . . . ?
  • What if . . . ?
  • What might you do to achieve your original intention?

Think about how frequently these questions are used in your meetings and interactions . . . . Imagine what could happen for your company if you intentionally opened up some room for your employees to explore together possibilities for their work instead of allowing them to stay stuck in their own myopic, dramatic role.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman challenges leaders to become agents of positive change in their companies by making everyone around them as invested as they are. Assess your leadership and learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at:

Coordinating Action Through Communication

“We live in historical conversations . . .

and live our assumptions as though they were true.”

– Julio Garreaud, Human Architect

I haven’t known a company yet where employees didn’t complain about a lack of communication. It isn’t that there is silence going on. To the contrary. People talk to each other all the time at work. The words are floating out there, but we don’t truly connect to each other’s meaning.

So many words are wasted at work because you assume that everyone else shares your assumptions about what you said. Really communicating – at work or at home – involves aligning your own expectations and assumptions with the assumptions of others. Based on our assumptions, you have three types or levels of conversations:

Transactional – These tell/ask conversations are the most superficial of all conversations. They are an exchange of simply factual information. You share what you know and seek to bring your facts into alignment with facts that others have.  For example, “I have a dentist appointment today at 2:00 and will leave the office early.”

Positional – This type of conversation is about advocating/inquiring and happens when you inform others of where you stand on an issue and seek to persuade them to seeing things your way. Problems occur when we cling to our own perspective, needing to be right, instead of showing a willingness to adjust our information based on what we hear from others.

Co-Creative – In these conversations, you and others explore a topic through sharing/discovering and remain connected to each other as you move through the topic together. The point of these conversations is to be open to information you don’t know and to be open to the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know.

Coordinating Action Through Communication

Within these conversations, you make statements and ask questions using the following linguistic distinctions:

Assessment – an opinion based on your perspective, beliefs, and assumptions.
Assertion – a statement based on your expertise in a certain subject matter
Request – a stated desire that includes what you want, by when (date/time)
Promise – a YES/NO/MAYBE response to a request, indicating whether or not you will fulfill the request as stated, renegotiate the terms of the request, or revoke an earlier promise due to changing circumstances
Declaration – a statement based on authority/power
Offer – an unsolicited promise made without getting a specific request in advance.

Of all the linguistic distinctions, requests and promises are critical for coordinating action because they drive results. The trick is to ensure you make your request explicit enough so that someone else knows what you want and how they can successfully give it to you.

In meetings, for example, the key is to share enough information about a situation, so the people involved can make specific requests about what they need, and others can make informed promises to fill those needs. When you request “an executive summary on the ABC issues by Thursday at 3:00 p.m.”, others know whether or not they are capable of promising to do so.

When you are skilled at knowing which type of conversation to have to serve your purpose along with the specific linguistic distinctions you can use to craft your conversations, your company or work group can become a symphony of communication that results in harmonious action.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman challenges leaders to lead like nobody’s business by knowing themselves, bringing alignment to their businesses, and communicating clearly and powerfully. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: