communication styles

The Anatomy of Inspiration: Dissecting Your Communication to Find the Right Approach to Influence Others

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”
—Kenneth Blanchard

Are you as influential as you could be? If you’re like other leaders, you typically use only one style when it comes to influence, regardless of the situation. Sometimes you get lucky and it works. However, by developing greater flexibility and range of communication when interfacing with others, you can be even more effective. Assess the breadth of your conversation toolkit by associating different parts of the body with different influence styles you need to influence a variety of personality types.

Left Brain. The left brain is where facts, logic, analysis, information, and data are processed. When you are an authority, or when you know data matters to the other person, using left brain language can help you convince the other person that your idea makes sense. Often overused, there are limits to left-brain facts and logic. For example, when was the last time you were inspired by a PowerPoint presentation? “Bueller. Bueller.”

Right Brain. The right brain houses big picture concepts, images, stories, metaphors, and pictures. It is an entryway to the other person’s subconscious. Adding right-brain stories, images and graphics to data can help you connect with people at a deeper level than you could with the left brain alone.

Gut. The gut is your instinctual center. This is where you come from when you set boundaries that allow you to take a stand, negotiate, be assertive, or create a contract. For example, when you influence from the gut, you tell an employee what you like and don’t like about their performance. It’s also where you come from when you set expectations or create incentives to encourage compliance or performance.

Heart. Coming from the heart is critical when you seek an authentic connection or commitment from someone. This is where you show some vulnerability. When communicating from the heart, you shift to asking for advice and help, listening for and tapping into the other person’s aspirations and goals to come up with a mutually appealing solution while showing flexibility around how things get done. When you come from the heart, you don’t have to be wimpy, especially on the final outcome you want to achieve. Instead, you remain open to new ideas about how the other person can improve and the way to get to the goal.

Spirit. When appealing to another’s spirit or coming from your own soul, you communicate about shared values and experiences. Here, you talk about common ground and the ties that bind you together. This is a great approach when forming teams and getting everyone to pull together to head off in the same direction.

Vision. Vision is used to describe that point on the horizon where you are heading. When using vision you paint a vibrant and inspiring vignette about where the group can go. You then invite others to join you and to add to the vision.  The vision approach is great for a team that is kicking off a project, or when people need a boost to move forward through challenges that are holding them back. Combine vision with right brain and spirit, and you will create compelling communication that aligns a team so they become unstoppable.

Legs. If a conversation starts to go south on you due to emotions or you aren’t making inroads with another, use your legs and gracefully exit the conversation. Without giving up, take some time to re-group by excusing yourself and agree to meet again at a later date or time. The Harvard Negotiation Project calls this “Going to the Balcony”, and it prevents a meeting from spiraling downwards.

By tailoring your conversations using these “body part” communication techniques, you will become more skilled at having the right conversation using the right appeal with the right people. You’ll achieve your goals while effortlessly influencing others.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman is a leadership coach who works with executives who want to increase their influence and powerbase for greater confidence, influence, and enhanced leadership presence. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at:

mask, persona, shadow

Do You Wear One of These Scary Masks at Work?

Halloween only comes once a year, but some employees have bosses who hide behind scary masks all year long.  Which one(s) do you wear, and how might you be holding your team back when you do?

Ambitious Chameleon:  Your team sees you wearing this mask when you do and say whatever it takes to increase your status and to get what you want. This makes you appear disingenuous. As this competitive monster, you set overblown goals then take shortcuts to get there quickly, often sacrificing quality.  You want to be indispensable so appear self-promoting and emotionally disconnected from others at work. Failure is not an option for you. Behind your mask, you are charming, confidently driven, focused, ready to take on any challenge, and you usually succeed. Anyone would love to have you as a mentor.

Your team will see the “you” behind your scary mask when you focus on what works instead of what’s efficient. Realize it isn’t all up to you – you have a whole team to rely upon.

Disorganized Dreamer: Your team sees you wearing this mask when you generate a kazillion ideas and send them on wild goose chases to explore every one of them. One minute you give an employee an assignment to move forward on a project involving widgets because they are the next new thing. Two days later, you re-direct the employee to ditch the widget project and focus on a completely different one.  Your team sees a monster who lacks focus and follow through. Your employees feel jerked around and unsettled.  Behind your mask, you feel enthusiasm for life!  You’re happy, charming and fun to be with a positive outlook on life. With your energy, life is never boring as you envision the possibilities.

Your team will see the “you” behind your scary mask when you find what you are truly interested in. Then, fully commit to a course of action and allow them to support you in moving it forward.

Aloof Expert: Your team sees you wearing this mask when you are all theories, ideas, abstractions with little or no time for people and relationships.  You team sees you as cold and arrogant. You see your team to “intrusions” that you don’t want to be bothered with. You create distance between yourself and others as you withdraw into your own thoughts. Your team is tired of hearing how much smarter you are than they are. Your over-reliance on data causes analysis paralysis. Behind your mask, you are an original, innovative, and keen observer who takes calculated risks to create visionary inventions and ways of doing things.

Your team will see the “you” behind your scary mask when you use your curiosity to engage with others and your environment while letting go of the need to fully understand something before experiencing it.

Hypercritic: Your team sees you wearing this mask when you come across as a “black and white” thinker, who is judgmental, controlling, very demanding and never satisfied. For this reason, others keep their distance from you because they don’t think they can please you. Well, you do tend to criticize everything they do. You simply feel obligated to fix everything according to your standards.  Behind this mask, you are refined, organized, modest, responsible and concerned with quality. You provide reliability and stability with your principled approach to life.

Your team will see the “you” behind your scary mask when you approach them with curiosity about a situation instead of with criticism and accept “good enough” instead of perfection.

Pushy Power-Grabber: Your team sees you wearing this mask when they experience you as controlling, angry, and intimidating. More task- than people-focused, you can take a “my way of the highway” approach and are subject to angry outbursts that are over as quickly as they appeared. You can be blunt and love confrontation, which is a game to you, but you forget that others can’t withstand the trauma. Afraid of being taken advantage of, you habitually use intimidation and more power than necessary to get what you want. Behind the mask is a protective leader who is good at taking charge and getting things done and who is a daring risk-taker.

Your team will see the real “you” behind your scary mask when you pause, slow down, and learn patience.  Cultivate relationships with those around you. Realize that the unhealthy, contentious confrontations will eventually do more harm than good.

Elegant Evader: Your team sees you wearing this mask when they experience you as so conflict avoidant that you retreat from any situation where there might be the tiniest disagreement. You go to great lengths to maintain an even keel and no ruffled feathers.  By avoiding conflict, you ironically create more conflict as your team becomes frustrated with you when work stalls and issues are not resolved. Sometimes you give in to “go along, get along” without noticing the inconsistent decisions made and messages sent.  You can appear to go along with others outwardly, but inside you dig in your heels and refuse to budge. Behind the mask you are a peaceful, calm, and kind consensus builder who truly has others’ best interests at heart.

Your team will see the “you” behind your scary mask when you stop distracting yourself from yourself and take initiative to get what you think is important. Learn to live with some discomfort and assert yourself.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it:  Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at

backbend, bend over backwards, take advantage of

Does Your Back Ache From Bending Over Backwards for Your Employees?

Being the boss is tough.  With all the information available on how to motivate and engage employees, without being a micro-manager or a bully, it can be a bit confusing trying to determine what exactly an effective boss is like today.  A big part of becoming a good boss is understanding and creating healthy boundaries.

What is a boundary?  A boundary is an imaginary line that exists between you and your employees.  It marks the difference between your organizational role, authority, responsibility and status, etc. and theirs. And by virtue of this, it defines acceptable behaviors in a given situation, and it gives you permission to tell others what to do and what to expect of them as they do it.

How do you know if you have unhealthy boundaries with employees?   If your boundaries at work are non-existent or too loose, you’re probably the type who is very concerned about whether your employees like you.  That is, your primary desire, motivation, and basis for your decision-making centers on making your employees like you.  And because you want them to like you, you believe if you take care of them and even protect them, they will like you more and work that much harder.  After all, it’s all about relationships, right?

Yes, it is about relationships – healthy ones – with good boundaries.  Boundaries that recognize and communicate that you are not your employees’ equal at work and that it’s your job to tell them what to do and to provide them information about why they need to do it and how well they did it.  If you are overly concerned with being liked, you’re focusing on you and not on the company’s goals and interests (which is the job of management).  (This is called co-dependence or “letting the tail wag the dog”.)  In short, you are not fulfilling your role as boss and are bending over backwards too far.

If you find yourself walking on eggshells around employees in the pursuit of their happiness and at the expense of the company’s and other employees’ interests . . . . If you balk at requiring/asking your employees to do the not so fun parts of their jobs . . . . If you are avoiding a conversation about performance or conduct issues because you’re afraid you might upset an employee. . . . here are 4 things you can do to create healthier boss/employee boundaries:

First, consciously step into your role as boss with no apologies.  This means, you are the “decider”.   It’s your job to set expectations and sometimes to have difficult conversations: that’s what you’re paid to do.  You don’t need to be a jerk about it.  Just be as clear as possible.   Your employees already expect this by virtue of your role as the boss.  The authority and permission to tell others what to do is built into the boss/employee relationship.  (Repeat:  you don’t need to be a jerk about it.)  They’re waiting for it because even they know when they are pushing boundaries.  They are probably surprised you haven’t already addressed certain issues with them.

Second, strive to be respected instead of liked.  You might be able to do both, but garnering respect first and foremost forms the basis of a healthy boss/employee relationship.  To gain respect, you must be firm, fair, and consistent, so your employees know what to expect of you on a regular basis.  And yes, your employees won’t like everything you hold them accountable to, but they’ll understand it and expect it.

Third, don’t actively seek to be friends with your employees.  They might be great people, but to maintain a healthy boss/employee boundary, you shouldn’t see each other tipsy at happy hour or know minute details of your current or past relationships.  Concentrate on the work with occasional superficial chit chat.

Fourth, get better at handling conflict and hard conversations. Being the boss means you will deal with situations where most people don’t want to change the way they do things.  Conflict abounds.  When you shy away from conflict, you’re trading the possibility of something new and full of potential, for staying stuck in the present situation that you may think is safe but which reflects your inability to adapt and your lack of faith in others to do the same.

To better cope with the discomfort of being the boss, find peers – other managers, business owners, CEOs – to commiserate and celebrate with.  It can be lonely being in charge, and these peers can relate to the trials and tribulations of being a boss and offer advice and support.

Your employees were hired to accomplish work in your company.  They don’t mind doing the job – they applied for it.  And healthy, defined boundaries will create clarity, making your work together easier and more productive.