Last week, I spent several days with one of my “accountability partners”.  I call them my AP’s.  You may call them a Mentor.

I work with one who guides me through social media.  She gently guides me and gives me next steps.  This works “a bit”.  I am posting a bit more.

However, my “Accountability Partner” for business strategies is tough.  She has pushed herself harder  toward her goals than most others I know.  And she pushes me to become better.  Analyzing specific steps and actions that I take, having me rework and redo.

Having to be told, “Not good enough.  You can do better.” is not pleasant, yet, I get better. She demands more. It’s startling and I work to meet her standards.

This is what you want in your own Accountability Partner – Someone that listens to your practice of your speaking speed, your target word lists or paragraphs, analyzes it with you and says:

“Not good enough. You can do better.”

You practice, get feedback and try again.

If you want to get better at programming, you share it with an experienced programmer and get their feedback. Then, go practice again.

However, I hear so many folks say that they cannot “find” someone to listen to them.

Have they asked, really?

 

The greatest word in the English language is “Help”.

Most Americans that I know in the workplace want to see their international colleagues succeed.  All they want to know is how to help.

Here is how to ask someone to help you with reducing your speaking speed:

  1. Choose a set of three (3) different paragraphs; each at 100 to 120 words.  Find paragraphs with shorter words and sentences in them.  News articles are designed for this.
  2. Practice each of the paragraphs until you can say each in about 55 to 60 seconds.  Yes – Practice! Honor the other person’s willingness to help you.
  3. The day before the set time – The 20 or 30 minutes that they work with you – Send them the three (3) paragraphs and tell your AP that you want to do these in 55 – 60 seconds.
  4. On the meeting day – be ready with your own recorder (Try the voice memo app on your phone.)  Have the paragraph color-coded at the commas and periods, so you can tell where you are pausing.
  5. Be ready – to accept Feedback: You WANT feedback. So that you try again and again until you feel comfortable speaking slower in front of another person.

This is the goal.   You want to be able to be understood in front of a listener.

 

Now, it’s my turn.  I want to use social media more.  I think it’s time to ask my Social Media AP to get tough with me.  Do more practice. And, get more feedback.

 

And next, ….. Who is your Communication Accountability Partner  that is giving you feedback? Go ask a Toastmaster, a co-worker, a teacher, someone who will be honest with you, so that you may Effectively Communicate your Brilliance.

 

Realize that it takes lots of practice to gain a new skill.  Resolve to do what it takes. This story and video from Fast Company demonstrate the practice across time that each skill takes.

The Steps:

  1. Find a Mentor:  It’s best to a native North American English speaker as a mentor to help when there are questions.  Toastmasters International clubs are good places to find and use mentors.
  2. Decrease your speaking rate to 100-110 Words Per Minute (WPM).  Why? Two reasons:
  • It’s a muscle process.  The procedural memory for making speech sounds is automatic.  In the new learning process, your muscles will revert to your first language sound system if you are not consciously slowing down to give your brain time to set up the new sounds.
  • It shows respect for your listeners.  It gives them time to edit and understand what you are saying.
    • Measuring Speaking Speed:
      • Find a paragraph from an article that is ~ 100 words long.  Use the Word Count option of your word processor program to determine this.
      • Audiotape yourself speaking this paragraph.
      • To Count the WPM.  1.  Divide the # Words ÷ # Seconds.  2.  Multiply this # times 60.  This will equal the WPM.   EXAMPLE:  100 words ÷ 40 seconds = 2.5 words per second: THEN Multiply by 60 = 150 WPM
      • Repeat this to until you get to your target.  Do this 2-3+ times.
        Only use professional software that has robust listening discrimination components:  The best interactive software that I have found after searching the last twenty years is American Speechsounds through “English Talk Shop”.

I have tried so many software programs and can only recommend English Talk Shop as a premier program. It starts with mastering one’s listening discrimination skill and continues up to common response found in the working world. Contact me for a discount code on each program.

We will discuss more steps in the upcoming articles.

Remember: 1. Find a native English speaking Mentor. You cannot do this alone. 2. Measure your speaking rate and S-L-O-W down.  Your listeners really do want to understand you. You owe it to yourself and them.  3. Invest, yes, Invest in only software that has full systems listening components.

Contact me at p.thesier@accentmgtgroup.com for a discount code for the American Speechsounds from www.EnglishTalkShop.com

Recently, I gave a presentation and a workshop to a large group of International MBA students at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Three second-year MBA students assisted me.  Two of them were from China.

Each had a story of  “code-switching” of accents and grammar when they were doing their internships. They noted that when they spoke Mandarin with another student from China before going to a meeting where they spoke English, they found that their American colleagues less understood their English.

After listening to a meeting recording, they understood.  They were “code-switching”: In effect, using some Mandarin sound system, rhythm and grammar rules when they were speaking English.

The confused listener did not understand and stopped listening to the speaker.

Does this happen to you?

A Sports Analogy

All of us watch or play an athletic sport, correct?  And in each one of these sports, the players use the muscles in their legs, arms and hands in similar yet also different moves, timing and strength, dependent upon the desired target movement. Those muscles are the same muscles for each sport, yet moved differently.

As one moves the muscles the same way consistently, the muscles develop adaptation and facilitation to produce the similar sequence with out conscious thought.  This is called procedural memory.

Coaches highly discourage playing different sports during a season so that the athlete does not “confuse” the muscle -procedural memory. Confusing the muscle memory makes them less effective players on the field.

The same holds true for speaking.  Sound systems are practiced repeatedly within our mother tongue or with peers who sound as we do.  Yet when we change to a different language the “accent – procedural memory” of our first language over-rides and code – switching ensues.  Now the listener is confused. The accent that the listener is accustomed to is the one that they grew up with.  When we “code-switch” or use sounds systems/accent of our 1st language with a 2nd language, the listener cannot understand the sounds, rhythm or words to understand the message.

Our listeners try, yet have difficulty understanding and stop listening.  We lose our listener.  And maybe the sale or a promotion………………

Knowing the Different “CODES” 

Sound System or Codes

Sound systems in speaking are produced by muscles in the mouth and throat using with specific movements of the lips, tongue, voice and breath to generate the target sound or movements in coordination with following movements. The timing of the each of these muscles and muscle groups yields changes in sounds, voicing and voicing timing, pitch tones, air-flow, linking, place of the articulators, resonance and rhythm.  Then there are accepted subtle body language behaviors that also contribute to communication.

Talking is another “sport” where we move the same muscles, approximately 72 muscles, and muscle groups around for the same desired results – Winning the game of “Effective communication” in the language we are using or ”playing”.

As said before, languages of the world share some sounds, yet not all.  In the following articles, you’ll see which sounds North American English (NAE) does not share with other languages.

Although there are many, other differences that we will also discuss include:

  • Clusters or consonant blends,
  • Word endings
  • Sound linking between words
  • Rhythm
  • Stress patterns and tones

NEXT TIME:  The strategies for the the sound system and accent “code” of North American English (NAE)

When I was in my first year of college, I was given the Book “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck.  The first sentence resounded with me as I struggled with emotions.  I had just lost my mother in the middle of a week of very difficult university tests.  The rest of the paragraph gave me comfort and insight.

“Life is difficult.  This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth, because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult–once we truly understand and accept it–then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I was determining my direction in life and this helped to move me forward.

 

On visits home, my father had often invited me to come to one of his Toastmaster’s clubs.  In his downtown club was a gentleman who had been a favorite of mine as a teenager.  Courtney had been to radio announcer for our local city radio station. He had once had a deep resonant voice with a range of pitch and volume that could entertain even the most aloof listener. Now, he had lost his larynx and very nearly his life to cancer of the throat.

 

Yet, here was Courtney, arduously manipulating the limited electro-larynx, sounding like a robot and working to develop pacing and strategies that would somewhat humanize his speaking. To understand him, the audience had to listen very closely.  Each of us had to analyze, edit and wait as he spoke and closely watched his audience for cues; cues on what he was to change or repeat to be more readily understood.

 

His audience was a group of patient and supportive Toastmasters. The group was composed of a couple of farmers, two professionals – One a scientist from India and another an Asian engineer that were from the local research division of an international company; three or four local business owners, my father among them, a physician and Courtney.  We all listened raptly.

Please remember that I was a nineteen-year-old, not known for listening.  Like most, I liked to hear the sound of my own voice and have others listen to me.

This group of Toastmasters and Courtney taught me a fascinating lesson.  Listening was an invigorating experience.  I listened with my eyes and ears, watching and discerning each movement and analyzing how Courtney managed to make a robotic voice come alive.  I listened to the sounds and words, finding that I needed to edit and then come back to the speech, working to keep abreast of the story.  I watched Courtney observe his audience. He listened to their sighs, adjusted and repeated as needed, adding gestures and facial movements to illustrate his points. He did all this with a robotic-sounding, battery-powered mechanism he held against his scarred neck.

He worked as hard or even harder at listening and observing as the audience did.

Life, then, was extremely painful and difficult for Courtney.  He had accepted it and was moving on, trying, failing, retrying, learning and excelling.

The lesson gained from Courtney and Toastmasters was to:

  • Listen more intently
  • Observe more thoroughly …..And….
  • Find out how to help individuals of all types to become better speakers.

How to develop an “Articulate Advantage”, no matter what our circumstances.

If you have a telephone, you have had the experience of talking to a support center person or a sales person with an accent.  My mother, who is very hearing impaired struggles with this.   And….so do many of the managers and their international teams, who are not hearing impaired.  The phone is better than straight email.  It allows for flexibility of Q & A’s. Until, someone stops listening… Why?

Sometimes it feels like we are dealing with multiple “distortions” on these phone conferences. So, we move closer to the phone.  Then we have others speak LOUDER, s-l-o-w-er, ask for repetitions or clarification.

Finally we ask the other person or get asked, “Can you send me an email about that?” or worse, someone just …..Stops Listening.

And, no matter how valuable the information is – the other person is not “buying” our ideas.  The tenet for many in sales is:  “A confused mind never buys.”

Why do people seem to understand each other when someone is talking live and yet struggle when they are on the phone?

Several reasons.

1. When speaking face to face we subconsciously use facial gestures and body language that cues the listener on the emotional tone as well as (even small) gestures that indicated size and shape of what we are discussing. Also a speaker can subconsciously monitor the listener’s body language and modify their message if they observe confusion.   We cannot observe each other on the phone.  Even videoconferencing is difficult as we feel constrained to  one position. In person, our subconscious gives us lots of information, letting us modify and edit much quicker. We do not get that with phone call meetings.

2. We all know that Native English speakers have a much more difficult time understanding speakers of English as a second language (L2 English speakers) than do the L2 speakers seem to understand each other.  Why?  “Not because it’s less difficult

It is because they are already accustomed to paying attention for longer periods.  However, they still get confused as we get confused with the differences in the pronunciation; the dropped syllables (“Idee” for “Ide-a”) strange vowels, (“Tex” for “Takes), different stress patterns (“e-CON-o-mic” for “e-co-NOM-ic”), along with different sentence rhythms that we are accustomed to in native English.

Most L2 English speakers will not tell you that they do not understand.  Most Native English speakers do not tell the L2 speakers that they do not understand.  They each get off of the phone and complain.

GOAL: Get the information on the First Call.

STRATEGY: Avoid confusion:

(a) Send a full transcript of information and information requests (in sentences) of your side of the conversation. Have them send their response, also.
(b) Speak slower and use repetition.
(c) Simplify the number of topics to be in the phone call.  Keep it to 3 or 4 topics at most:  (d) Have only one, yes, just  (1), primary “call to action” per phone call.  – Teams from Asia often feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of “deliverables” that their Western counterparts demand.

And often the language of the requests is filled with colloquialisms that are unfamiliar to them. So…they get confused and do not “deliver”. When they successfully deliver two or three different times, then make it two “deliverables”.  You need them to perform, so break it into small bites.

Resistance to Change?
I periodically work with executive and communication coach, Suzanne Bates of Bates Communications and subscribe to her blog. Her weekly blog post, “Thoughts for Tuesday” struck a cord today.

This week’s “Thoughts for Tuesday” post was about moving and change…. something that most of my clients have done in a big way. Moving from one country to another. I understand. My husband and I have moved many times, both domestically and internationally.

Resistance happens.

It’s what my mother-in-law (my husband’s mother) calls the “Moving Crazies”.

With every move of many different extended family members, each individual has had to learn new ‘cultures” and communication styles of the regions, new traffic patterns, new foods, find new friends, support systems. And adapt to new schools and work environments.

It’s hard to learn new lifestyle habits. Our brain has its own resistance to change.

Having to learn new communication skills as well as new cultural behaviors can create “Resistance”. Most resist and then tentatively try again. You gain what seems to be an “acceptable” communication style, which works…for a while.

Then you get a new position, a new boss, or new co-workers. There are miscommunications and missed opportunities. You resist and ignore these, thinking that it will be okay. Yet, it’s not. You find more missed opportunities because you are left out of conversations or miss pieces of information.

I have great admiration for those who follow their careers to a totally new country, leaving family and familiar support systems far behind. I’ve done this.

Resistance happened.

And, as I’ve learned from a many of my clients, co-workers and friends… When misunderstandings happen;

Ask for help. Find out what you do right as well as what’s wrong.
Get advice for one to two actions that you can work to change for 30-60 days.
Daily practice that action. Nothing happens without practice.
Get an “Accountability Partner” to give you honest feedback every week or so.
When you can readily and easily do these actions, choose two more.
Celebrate your successes with a friend, a reward for habituating your new skill. When our success is celebrated with someone else, we are more likely to maintain that skill.
Enjoy and embrace the exhilaration of new learning. Change is worth it.

Communication in the First 8 Seconds

I recently spoke with a friend that I met when I lived in Shanghai, China from 2006 to 2008.  “Leah” was the China Country Manager for a small manufacturing group out of the USA.  She was educated in the USA and continues to be a passionate believer in the power of effective communication.  And… while in China, found that her speaking skills had eroded.

Even though I was leaving China to return to the USA, I encouraged her to review Bates Communications archived articles and videos for ideas. Even with her busy schedule, she became an enthusiastic student.

After her contract was finished in China, she returned to the USA and continued to work on her speaking and effective communication.  She even started a “speaking school” for children in her community, with a focus on having fun while speaking.

Continue reading →

Accents & Acronyms: “WIIFM” What’s In It For Me?
If you read my blogs, you’ll know that I like to find article references on HBR. You know, “Harvard Business Review”. This time, I wanted to find an article about acronyms, prompted by a recent experience.

I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago, listening to others as they were speaking in the bookstores, coffee shops and cafeteria while we were eating lunch each day. In Cambridge, as you probably know, there is an abundance of technical, business and scientific people; these people use a lot of acronyms.

Acronyms are like another language with terms typically relative only to the specific group. As noted in Dan Pallotta’s 12-05-11 Harvard Business Review blog, we often have less than a vague idea of their meaning. When the individual is speaking English as a second or third language, acronyms get mispronounced, making it even harder for the listener to understand.

A simple example is when the acronym CEO becomes a single 2-syllable short “sih-oh” versus the three (3) separate words it is supposed to be > “SEE–EE-OH”.

Often, acronyms are pronounced as individual letters. Each letter in the English alphabet is pronounced as a specific [vowel or diphthong], [consonant + vowel or diphthong], or [diphthong or vowel + consonant]. Of course, there are exceptions like OSHA which is pronounced OH-shah.

HOW TO SAY EACH LETTER
A = “Eh-EE”:

B = “B-EE”

C = “S-EE”

D = “D-EE”

F = “Eh-F”

G = “J-EE”

H = “Eh-EE-CH”

I = “Ah-EE”

J = “ J-Eh-EE”

K = “K-Eh-EE”

L = “ Eh-L”

M = “IH-M”

N = “IH-N”

O = “O>”

[Pronounced with lips pushed forward]

P = “P-EE”

Q = “KYU”

R = “Ah-R”

S = “Eh-S”

T = “T-EE”

U = “Y-U”

V = “V-EE”

X = “Eh-k-s”

Y = “W-Ah-EE

Some Common ErrorsA > “ eh”
B > “b-ih”

C > “s-ih”

D > “d-ih”

E > “ih”

F > “ih-f”

G > “j-ih”

H > “Ih-ch”

K > “K-eh”

Note: A “diphthong” is two-vowel sounds put together. For example, the “I” sound is a diphthong of “ah”+ “ee”.

Here’s a link to a useful guide. Try saying each of these common business acronyms as individual letter-words.

If we are going to “talk the talk”, we had better be able to say it so that others understand it.

A Socio-Economic Activity for Building Business Relationships

“The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.” – Claude Levi-Strauss.

We grow up with our parents telling us to Not to talk to strangers. We study hard, talk to the folks in the next cubicle or in our study groups and then want to find a job. That is when we are usually first exposed to the “socio-economic activity” called Networking. And, it’s absolutely fear-inducing…

A few years go by and we want to advance our careers. Networking is again necessary.

Networking, when done well, offers great rewards. Doing it well is really a scientific activity. And, since scientists work well with a strategic plan and process, here is one to help you. Note that it is best to have someone help with this.

Continue reading →

In my flexible editorial planning calendar, I had wanted to talk about how to dress for summer business events….then, I spotted Kare Anderson’s June 2012 article in the Harvard Business Review.

It reminded me that most folks won’t care what we are wearing when we listen to them attentively. When we do, these folks think we are the most interesting person in the world…. Ms. Anderson stated that the value of giving undivided attention is as beneficial to the giver as the receiver.

As a child, I spent many hours in an Andrew Carnegie library; the kind of library with granite steps leading up to solid doors that opened into a world of ideas, experiences and wondrous stories. I also spent time at my father’s real estate office. His office was often the gathering place of business people. They spoke about their own world of ideas, experiences, wondrous stories and life’s learning.

In my mind, the people I met at my dad’s office were each like libraries – I needed to learn their content too. It was easy: all I had to do was sit back and be enlightened, educated and entertained.

Learning how to listen, how ask the right questions, how to empathize and still contribute meaningfully is a life-long endeavor. However, attempting to be the center of attention is so much more work and, more importantly, ineffective. Our audience gets bored with us.

There’s a professional association with chapters around the world where people go to learn how to listen well and speak well: Toastmasters International. Visit a club near you; you can get invited as a guest (for free).

I’ve belonged to clubs in several US cities as well as China. By participating, I’ve benefited from many fascinating stories and a wealth of knowledge.

The world is full of walking libraries that come in all sizes and shapes. Two-year-old to 102 year-old folks are equally fascinating. Especially when you actively listen.