I Stopped Believing Boys (& Managers) That Say ‘Trust Me’ When I Was 17

liar liar

By the time I turned 17 I had worked three jobs and dated a few boys. I learned in both situations that when either one said ‘trust me’ it normally meant they wanted you to do something that would be of great benefit to them, but not you.

Over the next few years, or decades, not much has changed.

There will probably come a time in your career that you hear those words with the intent of having you take on additional work that is most likely not in your best interest. How do you handle it?

Quit? No, not always an option.  Besides, this is a good lesson to learn even if you do leave to prevent the same patter at a new location.

Instead of “handling” it, it is better to re-manage your manager. Change the dynamics to shift the outcome.  One of the best pieces of advice my best friend once said to me, “Change the response, change the behavior.”

You cannot force someone to change their behavior; however, following these six steps allows you to change your responses and actions to positively modify their behavior.

1. Listen

Listening is done throughout the process. First, listen to how the request is presented. Does your manager use any of the following phrases:

– It will be good opportunity for you
– It is a great learning experience for you
– This will be good for your career

But wait, these things could be true, so how do you know that the follow up phrases are not just said to butter you up? Are they given as the beginning of a conversation or as the end of the conversation?

If these statements are given as conversation ending all-the-proof-you-need statements, odds are you are being snookered.

It is a double whammy if there is no additional recognition, movement or monetary value for you.

Listen next after you complete the next important action:

2. Ask

Once you have been presented with this wonderful opportunity, respond with a very simple, non-threatening response:

“Great – how so?”

If these tasks are truly a good opportunity, your manager should be able to explain how the responsibilities are an asset to you.

This may take a bit of volleying to pull back the curtain. Keep asking, in a non-threatening, positive way, using a modified Five Whys approach.

The Five Whys approach is a simple and powerful tool to uncover the root of a problem by asking why no fewer than five times. In this instance, ask probative questions rather than why to discover the root of the request.

The manager may say it will be a good opportunity to learn a new system. The first question you could ask is how much deeper will you get in the system. This will help you determine if you will actually learn more or simply be doing data entry.

If you know the system, you could ask how this opportunity will help you gain more exposure, assist your role, advance your career in your department or company.

Taking this approach will most likely make your manager uncomfortable. What they want more than anything is for you to blindly trust them and just agree with a smile. Asking probing questions was not what they were looking for and they will very well try to dodge them.

This may also be uncomfortable for you, in the beginning; however, this is a very effective tool as long as it is done in a positive, non-threatening way. Getting comfortable utilizing this system will assist you in many, many situations throughout your career.

My best friend, wise woman that she is, took control of her career and role when she stopped believing the ‘trust me’ by coming to the pivotal realization, “Just because you give me poor leadership doesn’t mean I have to accept poor leadership.

That is when she became the master of the Five Why theory and practice.

Your goal is to determine what is in it for you. What are the benefits for you in doing these additional tasks or responsibilities? This is not selfish or not being a team player. This is managing your job and career without being a doormat.

3. Evaluate

Truly look at what is being asked of you in an impartial manner. Is it an opportunity that you could leverage or are you going to be doing all the grunt work and hand it off to someone else to take the credit?

Opportunities that expose you to leaders, mentors, new experiences, departments, technologies, methodologies, approaches and skills are a great benefit to you as an individual and a contributor.

Examine all aspects to see if there is a possibility that, although probably not the intent, you can turn this around to your benefit.

4. Recognize

While evaluating the opportunity, keep in mind your manager’s previous behavior. Which has spoken louder in the past – their words or their actions? Have they passed the trust but verify test? If they have asked you to trust them and demonstrated that you can do so by honoring their words and intent, they pass.

If they did not pass the trust and verify test and knowing you cannot change their behavior, recognize there is one thing you can change: your response. Responding to the request in a new manner, one which demonstrates you recognize the business aspect, your value and look for solutions instead of simply, grudgingly saying yes, will begin to change your manager’s approach when asking you to take on additional tasks.

5. Counter

Instead of saying no, provide a counter. Remember, this is about business and therefore the most effective approach is providing an alternate business plan. This allows you to give your manager an option without being a disgruntled employee who refused to be a team player.

Your manager may tell you that they want you to take this on because they know you will get it done. They trust only you to get it done, said in a most sincere way. This line is almost as old as the ‘trust me’ line.

You can respond, in a polite manner, with, “Yes, I do get everything done that I am supposed; however just because I can doesn’t mean that I am the best person for this task. In this case I think it would be better suited in another area.” Then give your case.

Do not drone on about how it would be unfair to you, you already have so much on your plate or similar. This is now not about you, rather about the best way to get done the task at hand. Keep direct on what you recommend and why in short, impactful points or thoughts.

6. Assign

Sometimes you are just going to have to take it, period. Even after all the above points your manager may look at you and say, “Nice try, you’re going to have to take it on anyway.”

All is not lost.

Accept responsibility with grace, but do not leave it at that. Now is the time to clarify. Define expectations by asking who is taking ownership of what and how. If you are expected to own this, ask to what extent. Are there other people involved, how will you interact with them, will you need cooperation that the manager must establish?

Now is the time to set those expectations then get it in writing.

Follow up with your manager in an email. Maintain a polite, professional demeanor. A short email explaining that you wanted to clarify your discussion and briefly outline the points as were discussed.

If you will be interacting with others who will need your bosses nudging to cooperate, request your manager send an email to that group explaining the project, your role and what is needed.

If you need a little push to get that email, tie the success of the task back to your manager. Tell them if you are going to put your name on this and their name as your leader, you want to succeed and in order to do so, you need their assistance.

Managers are not the only ones who can butter people up.

If you have no other option but to take on the tasks, return to the evaluate step. Look and find a way that you can utilize this as a positive.


You may not be able to avoid taking on these types of tasks or projects; however, you will have established a new foundation:

1. You are not simply going to accept them blindly.
2. You are not combative or outright saying no.
3. You think about the business and offer alternatives.
4. You hold your manager, yourself and other partners accountable.

You cannot change other people’s behavior; however, you can change your response. When you modify your approach and response, behaviors and situations begin to change.


As the Founder and Principle of Career Polish, Inc, a national career coaching and practice firm, I am a Brand Strategist, Professional Resume Writer and Career Coach.  I work with individual clients, sales teams, leadership and companies to identify, strengthen and effectively communicate their brand, engagement, commitment and most importantly – their value – by learning and leveraging LinkedIn, networking, communication, relationship management, presence and influence.

In other words: I help people get from where they are in their jobs to where they want to be in their careers.

Click here –  CareerPolish.com – to find out more about Career Polish and what we can do to help you.

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please visit LisaKMcDonald.com
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I respect your right and do not sell or share your private, valuable information.

Staying In Middle Management Hell – What Are You Telling Your Staff?

Middle Management Hell
Not long ago I wrote an article about the lessons I learned in my first foray into management. I use that word intentionally – management – not leadership. I had not training, no mentoring and no clue.

The other day someone told me after reading that article they wondered, in applying it to themselves, if it meant ‘suck it up cupcake’ or ‘time to leave’. That is a question that can only be answered by the individual.

To read that article, click here: 4 Lessons Learned Surviving My First Leadership Role – Barely

However, she asked a wonderful question, one that I felt so important that it deserved its own article.

She said, “But what will my staff do if I leave?”

This was not meant as a, ‘they can’t get their job done without me’ type question, it was more of a ‘who is going to protect them’ question.

She is in a situation in which she leads a team and reports to the executive management team. Again, I use these words intentionally.

Her boss and his cohorts are not leaders. They diminish her on multiple layers, deflate her sense of worth, demean her contributions and devalue her leadership. This is done on a daily basis in subtle and not so subtle ways, in front of the executive team, her team and anyone else around.

She is a generous person who truly cares about her staff. She wants them to succeed and be happy at their firm. Her fear is that if she leaves the bad behavior will be directed to her staff without her there as a buffer.

My question to her was what happens if you stay? Not just to you professionally and personally; but more importantly: will they think that being mistreated is acceptable because you accept it?

By being a buffer, how much are you protecting them? They most likely stay in the firm because of her and they like their jobs. Of course, you do not want to see your staff injured in any manner, professionally, mentally or emotionally.

Being the shield between a bad big boss and your staff becomes second nature; a fixer transforms into a buffer. You take punches from above and keep a good staff shielded, productive and happy. You take all the hits and this compromises your professional, mental and emotional health – possibly leading to your physical health. You sacrifice so much to make sure your staff is protected.

But they are not.

They see the punches, the disrespect and the horrible way in which you are treated.

You are not a martyr, you are a punching bag.

If they do not know any better, they may think this is the way management works. They may become conditioned to do their jobs in fear rather than a positive prospective like joy, passion or commitment. They may let go of any ambition to move up in their career for fear of being treated like you are treated. They may lose respect for their direct leader due to allowing bad behavior from the big boss.

Staying in a crappy middle management job is not doing you or your staff any favors. It helps all of you to find an environment that is positive, supportive and in line with your professional mission, goals and aspirations. You get the heck out of there and they have a more clear view that the management behavior is not acceptable. You did not have to put up with it, left and are happy; and they can do the same.


I help identify and set a path to achieve individual career and company goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business, grow your company and strengthen your team.


Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a speaker and seminar facilitator at companies and professional organizations speaking to leadership, sales, teams, transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about career mobility, personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

4 Lessons Learned Surviving My First Leadership Role – Barely


My first foray into leadership was a way to keep a job. It was either advance into the unknown or advance to the unemployment line.

Considering I had a young son at home, it was not a hard decision.

One day I was part of a group, the next I was the leader. It did not equate in my head and it certainly did not translate well in the minds of some of my former peers.

There were benefits to being promoted to a leadership position and they were tempered with drawbacks:

  • More pay, countered by a salary which meant 40 hours was now considered part time.
  • A title that would look good on a resume, countered by resentment by my former peers and the added bonus of not being respected by colleagues who still saw me as “just one of the girls”
  • The chance to learn new things, countered with anxiety from realizing I knew nothing at all beyond my previous scope.
  • The chance to be seen and recognized by executive leadership and possibly move up in the organization, countered with the spotlight always on and feeling like I was constantly under a microscope from, and failing, both sides of the field.

It was a field, literally feeling like a battlefield some days.

My supervisor was kind in teaching me my new responsibilities. She was patient, extremely knowledgeable and kind. She also told me the worst thing I had heard to that point in my career:

“You realize, no one is going to like you now. You get used to being alone at work.”


I thought that couldn’t possibly be true, I was a likeable person. My former peers liked me, we had lunch together and laughed. Just because I am now doing something a little different, they can’t not like me for that.

Oh yes, they can.

I was no longer invited to lunches and conversations stopped when I approached. I was an outsider not by anything that I had done, but by a title I accepted.

Mean things were said and I heard my mom’s voice in my head, “Be the bigger person; two wrongs do not make a right.” Plus, I didn’t’ think my supervisor would accept the reason for unprofessional behavior of, “She started it.”

Lesson One: Do Not Take It Personally

There were several departments that I now had to interact with and have decision making in; I knew nothing about them really.

The first couple of weeks I was in full panic mode thinking the only way I was going to earn any respect was to, within two weeks, learn everyone’s job and how they did it.

That faded fast.

Lesson Two: You Do Not Have To Know Everything

I was now partnering with co-workers who I used to report to and support. They treated me like I was their secretary and blew me off.

Most of them were men and would “tease” me, which is a nice way of saying a form of schoolhouse, playground bullying on the gentler side of the scale. I heard a lot of “girl” and “gal” as a constant reminder I was not one of the boys.

Lesson Three: They Will See You For What You Present Yourself To Be

I started to see processes that were duplicating efforts or just made no sense in the way they were being done. When I brought this up to my supervisor, I was told it was the way it had always been done, or I was still too new to really know better. Shot down at every turn.

Lesson Four: If They Are Not Going To Hold The Door Open For You, Open It Yourself

In the beginning, it was a constant battle ending each night like I had just stepped out of the ring and got the crap knocked out of me by a prize fighter. I would put on a happy face at work then lick my wounds on the way home then put on the happy face for my son.

I lived a lie all the time and I got tired of it.

I had no leadership training, no tips on how to be a good manager, time management, communication or relationship building – no mentoring.

I was thrown into the wolves like entertainment akin to the Roman Coliseum Fights.

Lesson Five: Opportunities Are What You Make Of Them

I had enough. I realized that I was ruining an opportunity I was given. I had a chance to learn and grow as a person in this position and it was about time that I appreciate the gift I was given.

I drew upon something my dad had taught me: if you do not stand up for yourself, no one else is going to.

I decided I was either going to kick this opportunity’s butt or I was going to go down in flames, either way, it would be one heck of a ride. This is not a management style that I would recommend.


Not everyone hated me, maybe just a few. They only made my life hell if I let them.

I stopped responding. I learned to control my body language to not give away that I was either hurt or ticked off.

I was polite, patient and skipped over the nasty comments.

I was consistent in my actions and words. I treated everyone with respect even when they did not deserve it, even if I did not personally like them. I focused on the value they brought to the table instead of the personality and I made sure to recognize them for that value.

I approached my team members and asked for their help. I explained what we were trying to do, recognized them for their expertise and told them I needed their help.

I asked questions as to why they did things the way they did and made it clear that I was not judging or confronting, I wanted to learn and understand.

I had no hesitation in admitting when I did not know something. If someone gave me kudos for something, I recognized the team and the team members that made it happen. I shined the light on them for their value they gave every day to the organization.

Growing up with boys helped, I knew how to talk boy. I also had a son at home so I knew how to use the mom voice when I needed to and to quiet the schoolyard blowhards.

They wanted to make sure I knew I was not one of the boys – damn straight – I’m a girl!

I moved across the office from one of the leaders and the blowhards were having a grand time. One told me, “You better watch out, when he gets mad he throws things out of his office!”

I calmly looked at him and then the gentleman in question and replied, “That’s okay, I’ll just throw it back – and I don’t throw like a girl.” I smiled sweetly (as my mother would tell me to do) and walked away.

No, I am not one of the boys, but you are not going to pull my pigtails, either.

Tired of trying to change things and being told “it has always been done that way” or not being there long enough, I stopped asking for permission.

I started small, just little tasks or projects that I recreated, applied and then showed to my supervisor. At first there was pushback, but since I had started earning the trust of my team, they would let her know how these changes had helped them do their job.

In time, she began to trust me when I had an idea, although not completely and sometimes it was a tug of war, but I persisted. I also told her that I valued her opinion and I would really like her thoughts on a new way when presenting bigger ideas. We began to partner.

I started keeping a mental list of accomplishments and things I learned each day and reviewed them on my way home. I stopped beating myself up for mistakes, and I made many, and focused on the positives.

The lions and I made peace.


Nearly 20 years later I am now coaching on leadership, communication, moving careers and businesses forward. Although the journey has not always been a pleasant or smooth one, I cherish every twist and turn because it allows me to connect.

For those venturing into leadership for the first time know this: no CEO started as a CEO.

After many years of leadership, development and coaching, may I humbly offer the following bits of advice:

  • Take head from the lessons and paths of others.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Accept your flaws, amplify your strengths.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself.
  • Learn to ask and more importantly, learn to listen.
  • Do not try to please everyone – it will never happen.
  • Love and appreciate yourself.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Get a hobby outside of work, get a life outside of work.

And lastly:

  • To heck with not being afraid to fail – embrace failing miserably! That is where your greatest lessons come that lead to your greatest successes. Plus it is a lot more fun when you free yourself!


I help identify and set a path to achieve individual career and company goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business, grow your company and strengthen your team.

★ In order to be kept up to date on all my articles, please visit: LisaKMcDonald.com ★
★ Click the “Yes Please!” button on the right side. ★
★ I respect your right and do not sell or share your valuable information. ★

Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a speaker and seminar facilitator at companies and professional organizations speaking to leadership, sales, teams, transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about career mobility, personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

Why Your Employees Are Calling Me To Help Them Leave You

yeah that would be great

If you are any way responsible for employees at your organization, I have a truth you may not want to hear: either you take care of your employees now or I’ll be taking care of them soon.

I am a Professional Resume Writer and Career Coach, I help people find the jobs they want rather than the ones they have. Your employees may be talking to me now and you do not know it; you probably will not know until it is too late.

According to Gallup Workforce Panel study 51% of employees are considering a new job, 2015.

There are severe consequences to losing an employee including major costs. According to a Catalyst.org, employee departures total costs can reach as high as 90% – 200% of their annual salary. This includes time, money and resources. A departure can also significantly impact engagement within remaining employees.

They are not all leaving for promotions; many are leaving for a lateral move.

It is not just about money. It is about personal satisfaction.

You could be losing your staff and it can be avoided.  Employees leave for a variety of reasons; however, they can generally be categorized within five areas, which may overlap:


According to the Gallup study, 58-60% of individuals said the new job allowed them to do what they do best, as opposed to 41-49% that left due to a significantly increasing their income.

This is a sentiment that is becoming more and more common. A client perfectly illustrated this point by saying, “I can go anywhere and make good money. Where I am, I am bored. I need to be challenged. I can do what I do where I am with my eyes closed. I hate it.”

Broken promises

This can come in many different forms:

A promise of advancement or pay increase after a probationary or specific time period.

A misalignment of what they were told they were going to do and what is being asked of them.

The company culture is not at all what was represented in the interview.


Employees know they bring value to the table; it is nice to be recognized for it. They do not want to feel like a nameless face. One of the worst feelings for an employee is to know that their leadership not only does not know anything about them, they do not care.

An employee may go the extra mile to make something happen for a client and never hear a word from their leadership.  It is worse to hear that that is their job, they should go the extra mile.

They have strengths and ambitions that they have tried to discuss with their leadership only to be responded to with brush off comments.  Now is not the time, we really can’t spare you right now or I don’t know why you would want to do that, it’s not your job.

Pay that does not meet industry or market standards is another form of lack of appreciation.  Income is a motivator, it may not be every employee’s primary motivator; however, it is a significant factor.


Leadership diminishes the value of their employees when an employee volunteers or requests to take on additional responsibilities or learn new tasks and is met with, “I know you could do more, but we really need you to just do what you are doing right now.”

Another form of under-utilization is not listening to employees.  They know.  They know about the clients, failings in the processes or opportunities to improve service or products.  By failing to ask and worse – listen – to employees leadership is under-utilizing its most valuable asset.


The gamut of bad environments include being unclear of what is expected of them (and worse, getting bad reviews because of it), favoritism, bullying, strong-arming them to stay, increased responsibility without increased pay and sabotage.

What You Can Do Now

  • Talk to them – make it a two way conversation. Do not assume that everyone is just fine because they do not complain. Not complaining does not mean they are happy.
  • Make sure their compensation is right. Throwing money at them when they are on the way out is not the time.
  • Find out what excites or motivates them: opportunity, income, growth, personal fulfillment, empowerment or stability.
  • Find out what frustrates them and what can be changed. Have an honest conversation about this.
  • Discover their strengths, find out their ambitions and help them align the two areas.
  • Help them grow: develop a plan that meets their personal learning style and strengths – one size does not fit all.
  • Treat them as a treasured, valuable employee that you are grooming to leave for a higher position. They may get recruited for another position, but if they feel valued where they are and the rest of their needs are met, they will stay with you, because you value them and allow them to grow.
  • Have continual conversations, set benchmarks, establish deadlines, follow up and ask them for their feedback.

There is a theory that for a successful long term personal relationship, you should treat your partner the way you did when you were dating; the same could be applied to your employee work relationship. You should view them as a valuable investment worthy of your time, attention and mentorship.

We have all heard the saying, “Nobody is irreplaceable”, that holds true for employers, as well. If a company does not create an environment that fulfills them, they will replace that company.

Know What You Are Not To Excel In Your Career

my toolkitMy grandfather was an electrician and my father was a diesel mechanic. I am neither an electrician nor a mechanic. I use two things: duct tape and WD-40, what cannot be solved with one is solved with the other. Okay, occasionally I use a hammer…

I do have my own set of tools, a jigsaw, sawsaw (that’s what I call it), circular saw, table saw, levels, socket set, wire cutters and lots of other toys. I can use each one, although I do not have mastery of any.

This was quite obvious in a recent project.

I was changing out electrical outlets and light switches in all the rooms in my home from the almond to white. I love the white, so clean and fresh! I followed all the appropriate steps: turned off breakers, ensured no power to each item, had my wire cutters, flat head and Philips screw drivers and new switches/outlets.

I did pretty well, actually getting on a roll. I learned how to change plug in from the back to screw in to the side outlets and light switches. I made sure to put the wires in the new reciprocals exactly as they were in the old ones. I am woman, hear me roar!

I roared alright, right after only one of the three light switches worked in both bathrooms. Are you kidding me? I did it exactly as it was before – what happened?

What happened is I am not an electrician. That’s what happened.

My boyfriend provides gentle reminders that I am not a mechanical wizard. I will be working on a project and he will come up, in the most gentle and respectful way, and say, “Here honey, let me help.”

This is code for “good lord girl, let me take this over before you blow up the house.”

Do you know how frustrating it is to struggle with something for a half an hour and have someone come up and complete it in thirty seconds? Very. Very, very, very frustrating.

But here is the thing – I am not an electrician or a mechanic. My boyfriend pretty much is. Those are his strengths, not mine. The reason we work so well together is that we appreciate and recognize each other’s strengths – and weaknesses. We are that weird couple that actually enjoy finding and doing projects together.

We cannot individually be all things to each other in our relationship. He is the time/calendar structured person that can herd cats in a single bound and accomplish more in one day than most people can in a week. I am the creative, communicative, go with the flow, “flower child” as he calls me that adapts easily to whatever is thrown in the path and finds a way to make those lemons into garnishes for mojitos.

We also have similar qualities that work well: we are independent, driven, family oriented, big picture, very sarcastic, appreciate the moment kind of people.  We are a true partnership and it works very, very well for us.

Your career is a series of relationships.

You may have one that your partner does nothing but take from you and never supports your needs or goals. You may have one that they are unfaithful, giving all the best opportunities to someone else. Another might be a great learning experience, with them teaching you more about yourself than you knew. Eventually you find partnerships that allow you to contribute and receive, fulfilling your needs and goals and theirs.

There are two key factors to any relationship. The first is knowing who you are, what you like, what you want, what you will accept and what you will not.

The second is knowing your strengths and weaknesses. What can you give, what can you not, what are you willing to learn to be able to give and what are you not. These things change as you grow older and experience different situations, environments and relationships.

Remember, during each phase of your career – each relationship – it is your choice. You are never stuck anywhere. If it does not suit you it is not your obligation or requirement to stay just to make someone else happy. This makes you miserable and as such you cannot possibly give your greatest gifts to others.

If I were to give one piece of advice it would be this: be selfish. We have put such a negative connotation to being selfish. Oh, you will hear others tell you that you should think of others, that you are being selfish. What they are really saying is that you should not think of yourself, you should think of them.

You deserve to be selfish, it is a requirement! I mean selfish in a way of taking care of yourself. Define what makes you happy, pamper yourself by unplugging and enjoying only what it is that you enjoy doing. To get really flower child on you – until you learn to love yourself, how can you love anyone else?

Until you know your strengths, how can you provide real value to others? Until you know your weaknesses how can you appreciate and ask for them from others? Knowing yourself is a matter of respect. You learn to respect your strengths and learn to appreciate the strengths of others that happen to be your weaknesses.

Each relationship, each job or team, is a balance of individual strengths and weaknesses, respect and honor. When you find that balance between yourself, others and the relationships you know you have found a winner.


I hope you enjoyed this article and it provided value for you. If so, please click on the follow button so I may continue to share valuable content with you or the share buttons to share with your network.

I help people identify and set a path to achieve their career goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move in, move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business or territory, grow your company and strengthen your team.


Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a favorite speaker and seminar facilitator at colleges, professional organizations and companies around the US speaking to leadership, sales and athletic teams; transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

The 4 Key Combination to Effective Communication

communicatingHave you ever made a statement or a request and the result you get is completely different than what you expected?

How did that happen? How did the other person or persons misunderstand?

You were absolutely clear, crystal clear; there was no room for doubt.

Well, not exactly.

No matter how clear you thought you were, no matter how much sense it made in your own mind, you were not clear to your audience. There was a breakdown in communication.

There is a four key combination to effective communication: know your audience, know what is important to them, know how they listen and know your style.

1. Know Your Audience

If you are a parent you will or have no doubt experienced this phenomenon. When I would tell my son to clean his room I mistakenly thought that was clear. It was obvious from the result that it was not.

My best friend has two teenagers who are very close. Her son is very protective and takes a fatherly role with his sister. He mentioned not too long ago that he was frustrated because she did not open up to him as much as she used to and he felt did not listen when he gave her advice.

I had a team that was made up of a wonderful group of people all with different backgrounds, goals and stages in life. Some wanted to move up the corporate ladder, some worked to fill time, some were single parents dependent upon a paycheck, some were getting an education in a different field and some were new to the industry.

2. Know What is Important

For my son the most important item to cleaning his room is getting it done quickly.

For my best friend’s son it was being heard and appreciated for being the big brother and taking care of his sister.

For my team there were multiple factors including praise, growth, recognition, advancement or bonus.

There are no right or wrong motivations so there should be no judgement on why you need to incorporate what is important to them in your message.

If you incorporate their need into your message you are more likely to get buy in and clarity.

Although it is perfectly acceptable to give the reason “because I said so” to your children, it is not in the working world.

3. Know How They Listen

My son listens with an emphasis on omission. If I do not say it than it is not assumed or done. I learned that I had to spell out what I wanted and not assume one step logically lead to another. I made checklists. He would get frustrated and think I was oversimplifying the process; however, the result was what I wanted and the process was made much easier for him.

For my best friend’s daughter, it was triggers. Hearing her brother say things like, “You need to” or anything that took on a commanding position put up a wall. I suggested to her brother that he talk with her as her brother, from a guy’s perspective. The first time he applied this tactic she responded in a positive way saying she had not thought about the situation from that perspective and she followed his advice.

For my team the listening style varied. Some were black and white, straight to the point kind of listeners. Others were paint the picture with color and flowing lines. If I tried to use all the colors of the rainbow with the straight line listeners, I would lose them – quickly.

If I tried the black and white method with the whole picture listeners, I would confuse them and leave them without all the necessary information to complete the task. I then incorporated their needs into the communication style. In asking various team members for a report the request would vary depending upon the team member:

“We need this report to give to the management team to help them project next month’s numbers.”
“We need to get this report to management and I want you to put it together because I think it would be a great opportunity for you to learn this system, which is used a lot in the position you want.”
“We need to put together this report and I want you to lead it so management sees you as the go to person.”
“We need to get this report together and you know this system better than anyone else, I truly appreciate your skill on this.”

4. Know Your Style

I am an over-analyzer. When I look at a challenge I see it from a multitude of angles, possibilities, challenges and options. I could have several scenarios running through my head at one time. My brain takes multi-tasking to another level. If I were to verbalize my thoughts it would make other people’s heads explode.

My natural inclination is to give all the details – paint the picture with all the colors of the rainbow and every possible twist and turn. It was only from an awareness of my natural communication style that I could learn how to communicate in the straight line method.

Self-awareness gives opportunity for growth and an improved skill set. I am now able to fluctuate between the two for the most effective communication style for my audience. Yet there was one more factor that I need to add: learn to ask and take responsibility.

Learn to Ask and Take Responsibility

Sometimes just a little tweak can make a huge improvement on communication, respect, trust and results. Instead of barking orders, you engage and gain buy in. This builds respect, which in turn leads to shared accountability for the task and a greater effort for the desired result.

It is not always easy to determine a listening style and adapt your own communication style to your audience. The fastest and easiest way to do this is to ask your audience.

When I first work with a team or individuals I often will ask questions like, “does that make sense?” “what do you think?” “how do you see this?” Ask questions that will give you clues to what is important to them, if they like colors or black and white and how they listen.

I also put the onus on me. I will tell the group or individual that I know that sometimes my communication is not clear, what I think in my head is not the same that comes out of my mouth so I want to make sure they can understand me and we are on the same page. I reiterate that it is important to me that I communicate effectively without overkill.

This way I have set the stage that what they think is important, I am not trying to bully or demand rather I am looking for engagement and commitment and I am willing to change my methods for what works best for them.

I also take responsibility to get more information from them to make sure I do not drop the ball in receiving information, not just giving it. If something is said that could possibly be taken in more than one way, I ask. I preface with “I am not challenging you or doubting you, I just want to make sure I fully understand…”

Letting a boss know that I want to do a good job so I want to make sure that I am clear on expectations goes a long way and is much better than assuming and screwing it up. I have assumed, I have screwed up – it is not pretty nor is it fun.

This is in direct conflict with good ol’ Abe in better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. I would rather look like an idiot for a moment and end up being on the same page.

Sometimes leadership feels they have to know all the answers and get it right every time. Take away that title and you are still human. People have different motivations, communication styles, expectations, fears, ambitions, goals and motives. How can you possibly know all this information without asking?

Do not be afraid to ask, to go out on a limb and tell your team that you do not always know the best way to communicate and for that you need their help. I have yet had an occasion when clarifying with a team or staff member hinders my credibility or authority. It has actually proven the opposite, it has been respected because it proves I care enough about the project, its effects and the people involved to get it right, even by admitting there are things I do not know.


I hope you enjoyed this article and it provided value for you. If so, please click on the follow button so I may continue to share valuable content with you or the share buttons to share with your network.

I help people identify and set a path to achieve their career goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move in, move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business or territory, grow your company and strengthen your team.


Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a favorite speaker and seminar facilitator at colleges, professional organizations and companies around the US speaking to leadership, sales and athletic teams; transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

The Power of the Pause

mouth taped shutWe live in a reactionary world. Immediate responses may improve speed, yet they can damage quality, content and opportunities.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned as a leader, employee, service provider, parent, partner and family member is the power of the pause. One of my greatest teachers was my father.

My dad rarely reacted, only in danger situations. While teaching or listening, he always paused before responding. He took a split second to not only listen to what we said, but to measure and monitor his response. It was a very powerful tool. It also gave us the time to reflect on what we just said – normally realizing that it was probably something we should have re-framed.

Taking a pause before answering a question allows you to do the same – think. It also conveys to your audience that you are listening to their questions with respect to them and your answer.

The dictionary defines respond as to say something in reply; it defines react as to respond or behave in a particular way in response to something.

I have different definitions.

React – to act without thinking, impulse
Respond – to act with thought or purpose

We become conditioned to react, we learn to respond.

One of the problems with reacting is that we condition our audiences on what to expect. It can be a dangerous precedent in reacting. There is normally that one person in an organization that people avoid because they react – immediately and normally in a non-positive way to news. Temper tantrums, flying objects, colorful language, fits – you name it, it is not pleasant. It creates a communication and career barrier.

My son is a react kind of guy. If it pops in his head it comes out of his mouth. He has helped me become a responder. I know how he is, therefore I have learned to modify my responses to him in order to lesson his reaction.

Oh, I am understanding, I am patient, I am kind and it gets old. That is when he started the journey of going from reaction to responding. We are not there yet, but it is a choice and a continual effort. I stopped understanding, being patient and kind and told him that I was not going to hear of it. His reaction impacted me too negatively for me to continue to be the understanding doormat.  Others are doormats for those who react. Things were more difficult for a period until we made the boundaries of respect.

When you respond you respect your audience; when you react you disrespect them.

Another challenge with reacting is that it damages your credibility, accountability and those around you. Lash out in a reaction and saying you are sorry does not take away the event. It lessons it, it is workable, but you have to do much more work to get back to where you were prior to the reaction.

A bit of bad news would send my son in a tizzy. Any future plans were immediately scrapped and the world was ending – right then and there. After calming down, the world was actually the same right place that it always was and a simple sorry was thought to be the magic ticket to erasing the tizzy.

It does not work that way. Reactionary tizzies implode the worlds of everyone involved. They have to take time out of their day to accommodate the tizzy, putting all their priorities aside to make it through the storm. How can your team count on you or believe that you are going to hold it together if you cannot handle a bump in the road?

The client wants to add this aspect to the program – the world is not over, it is called adaption. Figure it out that is what they come to you for – your expertise. Having a complete meltdown and then apologizing a half hour later is not going to instill confidence in your team. It will actually diminish their respect and level of confidence in you.

I am not throwing stones, where do you think my son learned to react? I used to react, and sometimes it just felt good. But I realized the damage it was creating to me, my family, my colleagues and my career. I learned to stop, think, listen and respond. Sometimes a very minimal response is the key to waiting for the reactionary impulse to subside.

When hearing unpleasant news, being confronted or facing a challenge, take a breath. A small count of three to five can be the difference between imploding your career and moving into the next level; between building a bridge and burning that sucker down or allowing the small, unexpected whims of misery change the course of your future.

The Leadership Balance – Stop Giving Yourself Away

leaderI have the absolute joy and pleasure of working with amazing individuals who change the course of companies, industries and employees’ futures through their leadership. They are admired, decisive, respected and the epitome of what future leaders aspire to become.

I have found an interesting correlations about CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, COOs, Directors, Founders and Executives from various industries who are the most influential and impactful leaders; they all have one thing in common: they absolutely stink at talking about themselves.

No kidding.

These professionals can command a boardroom and mesmerize, engage and electrify thousands of employees at company meetings, but asked to talk about themselves – it is a whole different story.

They are humble, but in a horrifyingly dismissive way. There is a time and a place for modesty. When creating a brand strategy or positioning yourself for a new challenge and direction, that is not the time nor the place.

There seems to be an overall preemptive approach that they assume – they do not want to come across as cocky, arrogant, a know-it-all etc.

There is a difference between cocky and confident.

Cocky is telling everyone that you are the best, without verification, proof or demonstration.

Confident is telling people what you do and the value it brings allowing them to make the connection and know you are the best because you have proven yourself through demonstration.

I have the conversation often with executives about presenting themselves without diminishing their value. They give themselves away boosting their teams yet costing them their identity and value.

Not too long ago, I was talking to an executive and I pointed out that he was falling into this trap. He said he never made the connection, even though he recently had an interview in which he boasted about his team and the interviewer replied, with a bit of exasperation – “I’ve heard enough about your team, what did you do?”

Talking with another client, he mentioned that he did not want to appear that he did everything in the company and was fearful that if asked about specifics of lower level positions, he would not be able to answer because he did not do the day-to-day work.

I told him that as a leader, he created the vision and strategy; he drives fruition by putting the right people in place and overseeing the implementation.

As a leader, you are not expected to complete all the day to day tasks, that is what your team is for; you do not even oversee the day to day management of the tasks, that is what your management team is for; you are the leader.

Leader: lead·er ˈlēdər noun: the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country

Executive: ex·ec·u·tive iɡˈzekyədiv adjective: having the power to put plans, actions, or laws into effect; noun: a person with senior managerial responsibility in a business organization.

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.” ~ Ronald Reagan

The balance of telling your story as an executive leader is knowing your strengths and your value. Part of your strength is knowing what you do not or do not need to know and what you can delegate, this is when putting the right team in place is important – and that is another value that you add.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” ~ Jack Welch

Leaders build people. They mentor, they identify and motivate and they do this on a continual basis. They create succession plans for positions, companies and individuals. Leaders give and by giving they grow and create greater value.

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” ~ Peter Drucker

Leaders know their clients and have a passion for value and profits. To provide greater value, you need greater revenue streams to give more, achieve more and be of greater relevance. They take calculate risks, make hard decisions and know the landscape to turn the clichés of “we can’t do that” or “it’s never been done before” into realities.

It is admirable to want to give credit where credit is due, and yes, it should be done; however, not at the expense of your value as a leader.

One executive that I coached told me he knew what he was good at and he knows what he is doing. When I asked him why he is not telling that story, he told me it sounded like bragging. I told him two things:

1. If you tell the story of what you do, how you do it and the value that is received then you are not bragging, you are simply stating facts.
2. If you do not tell your story, who will?

The leadership balance is between complete modesty by giving away or diminishing your value and stating you are the be-all-end-all without demonstrated substantive evidence. Meet yourself in the middle to remain true to yourself and position yourself as the leader that you are and that people want leading their company and their teams.


I help people identify and set a path to achieve their career goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move in, move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business or territory, grow your company and strengthen your team.


Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a favorite speaker and seminar facilitator at colleges, professional organizations and companies around the US speaking to leadership, sales and athletic teams; transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

Customer Service- Yes That Was Your Out-Loud Voice

shoutingOver a two day time period this week I was presented with many examples for this article.

I was asked to wait at a store because the employee was checking something on their personal phone.

My best friend works for a bank. She noticed a discrepancy on her online statement so she called the appropriate number to discuss it with them. The first woman she talked to could not pull her up by her account number. After several attempts it finally pulled up and the agent told her, “Oh, there you are, you must have read your number to me wrong.”

She was then transferred to another agent, who she explained again that she was an employee and had seen a discrepancy. He asked why she was calling now; why not wait until she got her statement – that is what most people do. My best friend is not most people. Then he began asking her a list of questions. One was “employer”, she said she was an employee of the bank and he responded, “Yeah, I heard you the first time.”

I asked her if her issue ever got resolved after all this fun and she said she was not sure. Almost 40 minutes on a call being told she was reading numbers wrong, calling at the wrong time and even being a bother for answering a question and she did not even know if her problem was resolved.

A family member of mine had medical issues this week. We had to go to the doctor to get two medications and received directions to take one Monday evening and come back Tuesday morning to take the other.

Now, let me say this, this family member is a cancer survivor and has been dealing with medical issues for 14 years. We are no stranger to medication, instructions and doctors’ offices.

When I went to get the prescriptions filled I was treated to a tremendous amount of conversation at the pharmacy. One tech ignored a customer standing right in front of them and held up their hand when the customer said, “Excuse me”. Another was complaining about a customer not understanding her id card and what a pain it was to explain it. It was a hodgepodge of disrespecting customers and a general feeling of not wanting to be there.

Tuesday we arrived at the doctor’s office and handed the technician the medicine as instructed. She looked at us and said it was the wrong one. The instructions she had were completely opposite of what we were told. When the practitioner came in and the technician apprised her of the situation, her response was, “I knew that was going to happen, I would have put money on it. You misunderstood what I said.”

Throughout all these adventures my best friend and I wanted to scream out, “I CAN HEAR YOU! You’re using your out-loud voice!”

It is so easy in an age of being able to talk anywhere, any time with anyone that we tend to forget two things in having this amazing technology: space and professionalism.

We tend to forget that not only can the person on the other end of the line hear you, so can everyone else in the general vicinity. This then lends itself to one on one conversations. The technicians at the pharmacy, I believe, thought that because they were talking to each other no one else could hear them in that big open space.

The advantages to technology is you can attend business meetings remotely, even dressed in your pjs – not that I have ever done that. But that relaxed environment flows to our in person interactions. Responding to a customer with “Yeah” instead of ‘yes’; blaming, dismissing and forgetting the most common ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are more prevalent.

One side note: normally this behavior is attributed to young people. I am in my mid 40s, I officially get to say young people when talking about 20-somethings, yay me.

But in every one of these instances, no one was under mid 30s. We cannot blame bad behavior on the young.

The difficulty is we are not consciously aware when we are behaving in such a manner. Don’t think anyone can hear you? Try sneezing. That is a phenomenon that I love, you can sneeze in a store and people three isles away will chime out, “bless you”.

The bigger issue is this: each customer service agent, no matter what profession or title is a representative of not only themselves, but their organization. The results can mean lost customers and revenues.

There are lots of banks, pharmacies and retail stores to choose from – why would I go back to one in which I felt like a bother or burden to those being paid to provide service? Who wants to feel disrespected or under-appreciated?

As a manager or leader it can be quite difficult to address these issues, as stated before, we are normally not aware of our own behavior. You also do not want to come across as a micro-manager.

One thing I found most helpful and impactful when working in an office with individuals that exhibited these behaviors was to address it immediately, in a non-confrontational and quiet manner by saying, “That was your out-loud voice.”

They were normally caught off guard and I would explain that someone else could hear the comment or that I know they were probably thinking the comment in their head, but it was said out-loud. It was gentle enough to not be confrontational; quiet and directly to them with no other employee hearing so as not to be embarrassing and with a touch of humor to allow them to accept the concept without feeling berated.

We need to reclaim our space and our professionalism. I am not throwing stones; this is something that I am very mindful of because I have also made a slip in judgment about being in a public area thinking no one was around but me. There are even times that my boyfriend or best friend will tell me, “That was your out-loud voice”.

I believe detaching from personal technology can do wonders. Few companies do not allow personal phones in their work space so it is up to us to limit and monitor ourselves. We need to put down our phones now and then.

My best friend and boyfriend have made an incredible difference for me in this area. When we spend time together, the phones are put away. It makes us more conscious of the time together, our location and space. Conversations are better, events are more fun and interaction with others more enjoyable. It helps remind us that we are all in a shared space.

Challenge yourself to keep your phone put away during an event, lunch, dinner, shopping or our running around. Be fully engaged with where you are and see if you do not notice the disconnect in others and their interactions. Then ask yourself, “Am I doing that? And more importantly, am I doing that to my customers?”

The Lost Art of Listening

listeningOne of the most vital and under-utilized skills of business leaders is the ability to listen. This skill is imperative to those in a position of leadership to those providing service to clients. It is the foundation of engagement.

Yesterday I had to call my cell phone provider, my phone and I have a love-hate relationship. It loves to do funky things like not show calls coming through or registering voicemails and I hate it. Just to preface this, I am not a highly functioning technical phone person. When I got my phone, I handed it to my son so he could explain it to me.

I talked to a very nice technician who was extremely knowledgeable about the phone and systems but I wanted to pull my hair out during the entire conversation. Each time she would ask me a question I would begin to answer and she would cut me off midstream.

There were several times that I had to repeat myself because she assumed she knew how I was going and would take it in a different direction. When she asked me for my phone number for the fifth time, I knew the problem: she might have heard me to a point, but she was not listening.

I used to drive my son crazy, in so many ways, but on this topic frequently. If I asked him to do something the follow up conversation would sound something like this:

Me: “That’s not what I asked”
Son: “Yes it is”
Me: “No, did you listen to what I said?”
Son: (with exasperation) “Yes, Mom, I heard you”
Me: “I know you heard me, but I need you to listen to me”
Son: “It’s the same thing, Mom, I listened to you”
Me: “Then what did I say?”
Son: (eye roll)

There is a difference in hearing and listening. Too often we “listen” only to respond, not to engage or learn. In the middle of a response there is something that triggers our brain to prepare a response and we stop listening.

One way that I have found to improve my listening skills is to ask questions, with a twist.

Sometimes asking questions can be taken as being challenging by the other person. Therefore, I add a clarifier and modify it depending upon the audience.

Working in partnership with someone or gathering more information when providing service, starting the question with, “I want to make sure I understand…” can demonstrate your interest in the person and what they are saying and build upon the communication.

When talking to your boss or an alpha, you do not want to come across as though you are not challenging their authority or being submissive. Sometimes it is best to state flat out, “I am not challenging, I am clarifying because I can see this from a couple of different perspectives…” This also demonstrates that you are not only listening, you are thinking on a deeper level about what they said.

In networking it is normally a more relaxed environment and therefore with an understanding of a shorter engagement period, saying, “What does that mean…” in a nice tone can encourage the other person to elaborate and demonstrate interest.

In a personal or casual conversation the simple words, “Tell me more” can demonstrate to the other person that you are not hearing to respond, but care enough to let them have the floor.

One phrase that I think is a conversation and engagement killer is, “I hear what you are saying.” For one thing I anticipate the word “but” after that statement which totally invalidates the listening aspect and for another, it reminds me of Stuart Smalley.

I would also caution against the phrase, “Could you repeat that” as a standalone phrase. It can imply that you were not listening when in fact you perhaps could not hear or understand the person or you did not understand. Simply stating that you did not hear them and then ask them to repeat what they said will not disengage or disrupt the flow of conversation.

The lessons, most of the time, had paid off in our house. My son and I have gotten to the point that we acknowledge when we only hear and will say something like, “I heard you but I have no idea what you just said.” I do not recommend saying that to your boss, staff or clients.

One last suggestion: pause before answering. When someone response as soon as you finish that last word it is a trigger that they were preparing their answer instead of listening to you.

Listening is a skill. It needs to be practiced, repeatedly, to hone it. Keep practicing because it can always be improved upon. This morning I was talking to a client and I caught myself immediately responding. Once I recognized what I was doing I immediately shifted focus to asking questions rather than responding. It resulted in a much more rich conversation.

What are some ways that you have found that improve your listening skills? I would love to hear them, I’m listening….

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