I’ve had some proud moments in my life – after all, I have a son who was a Yale student athlete drafted by the Cincinnati Reds – but my most recent session with a client is right up there among one of my proudest moments.
A firm in the financial industry engaged me several years ago to give a presentation for their staff and to work one on one with some of their employees on communication skills. They are a successful firm that handles billion-dollar accounts. However, it was founded several years ago with a crunchy granola, mom and pop type sensibility. As they’ve gotten more and more successful, they have seen the need to level up all of their skills–communication being one of them. I did a group Communication Elevation workshop and one-on-one executive coaching sessions with several of their employees and was able to implement some immediate changes. However, one of the tasks I was given was extremely challenging and at times I thought it was going to be impossible.
I was asked to coach one of their senior employees, I’ll call him Alex. Alex is very bright and knowledgeable about the business. However, he has a regional accent with some related grammar issues. In addition, he tends to be what I call a “chain talker”–someone who rarely comes up for air and therefore dumps way too much information on unsuspecting listeners. I knew that I could give him tips and techniques to deal with his chain talking but the accent and grammar issues seemed daunting. After all, this was a 40-something-year-old successful businessman, and the issues mostly only surfaced when he was under stress. Fortunately, Alex was not someone who denied he had these issues. He was very receptive to feedback. But that doesn’t mean the normal resistance to change didn’t crop up.
Alex stated often in the beginning of our sessions that clients really liked him and that he is great at talking about the products. Translation: it doesn’t really matter if I drop a few –“ing’s,” if I get my point across and the client likes me. Alex’s belief is an example of the major myth people use to avoid certain changes.
- MYTH: I’m a nice person: People will overlook my faults:
- FACT: People might like you and be fine hanging out with you at a bar, but at the end of the day, they want to do business with people they respect and speech and grammar factor into the amount of respect a person has for you.
To top things off, the feedback the company was receiving from clients debunked the myth and supported the facts. Alex had to change the way he spoke or be faced with changing where he worked. That put some pressure on me as his coach and frankly, I wondered if I was up to the task. But because I have a tad of the Superhero in me, I refused to tell the person who hired me that “fixing” Alex might be next to impossible. Part of the initial work I had to do with Alex was to convince him that this was serious business and that it would take a lot of work. I had some help in that area from the increasingly frustrated owner of the company.
Then we had a session that surprised me and turned things around. I had given Alex some general pronunciation drills and articulation exercises but we weren’t seeing a huge difference. I again stated the assumption that Alex was holding on to a little resistance to change but then Alex told me that the real problem was that he didn’t really know how to pronounce certain sounds. Because of a glitch in his rural education, he had simply never learned the correct pronunciations, and he needed me to teach him. I had spent several years teaching accent reduction to adult second language students, so I knew how to attack his pronunciation problems in a purely technical way. I realize that I might have shied away from suggesting these types of painstaking pronunciation drills earlier because I thought it would be tedious and might be embarrassing to him, but here he was asking for it.
So I did a diagnostic, and I pinpointed all of the sounds Alex had trouble with. Then, I created specific drills and exercises around those sounds. We spent time on each sound, and I helped him find the exact mouth, tongue, and lip placement that would help him pronounce the words that contained his problem sounds. He took extensive notes on all the tricks and tips I gave him. In addition to that painstaking work, we also worked on organizing and shaping his presentations so that they were more audience-centered and not pure data dumps.
The firm had a very important meeting coming up, and Alex was presenting along with the company’s owner. I really wanted to show a quantitative difference in Alex’s style. We spent three hour-long sessions leading up to the meeting working extremely hard on pronunciation and on organizing Alex’s part of the presentation. Before my recent session with Alex, I checked in with the previously uber frustrated company owner to see how the presentation had gone. The owner said that Alex did really well. Probably better than the owner himself had! YES! Then, during our session after the presentation, Alex and I went through his pronunciation exercises, and he NAILED all of the sounds that he used to have such difficulty with.
I have so much utter respect for Alex for putting in the work and being willing to change. Not many financially successful people in their 40’s (men especially) would take on such a challenge. I, too, learned a lot from this experience. I was very close at times to throwing in the towel with Alex and having a Que Sera, Sera moment (whatever will be will be). But I am so very glad that I didn’t. I learned that with mutual persistence and determination, change is always possible. I also learned that sometimes what we perceive as resistance, is actually a lack of knowledge.
Is there some change that you’ve been resisting? Is there someone in your life who is resisting change? Maybe it’s time to find out what you or that person may not know about HOW to enact that change. Let me know your thoughts.