204: Nipping Miscommunication In The Bud With Ethan Becker
In any workplace setting, feelings are bound to get heated, and emotions might start flaring up, but if you quickly act on those emotions, there will be a fundamental miscommunication. Effective, efficient communication is critical to any workplace so you have to make sure you avoid miscommunication as much as possible. Mitch Russo is joined by Ethan Becker, an author, executive, and speech coach. Mitch and Ethan discuss some vital tips that can help you avoid miscommunication. Ensure much smoother sailing in your workplace with these tips!
204: Nipping Miscommunication In The Bud With Ethan Becker
This is a moment in time when you get to chill out, tune in, and extract wisdom that you can use to grow your business with your first thousand clients. We are here to support you by making sure you know what is working right now in business and in life. If you have a business that is in need of some love, some revenues, and profits, I want you to grab my latest product. It’s called Profit Stacking Secrets. It started out years ago as a new client assessment but it became more and more detailed as the years rolled forward. Hundreds of clients later, I’ve refined it to be what you need right now to grow quickly with little investment using strategy instead of cash. Does that sound good to you? Go to ProfitStackingSecrets.com and get your copy. On to my guest and his incredible story.
If you can go back in time to your high school years, you may remember how awkward it felt to talk to girls or even to communicate with teachers or adults. If that was you, you are in for a treat. My guest is going to show that it all comes down to understanding that the gift of communication, the power of the English language, and the ability to create images in other people’s minds through words might be the greatest power on the planet. However, his own writing suffered for years since he was terrible at grammar growing up. His papers came back with red marks all over them and he had to master that too, yet kings and dictators alike must master communications if they want to lead. In this episode, you’re about to meet the man who teaches leaders how to harness what he calls the power of reasoning to become a master communicator. Welcome, Ethan Becker to the show.
Thanks, Mitch. I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
It’s my pleasure. Ethan, it turns out we discovered that we happen to live a few miles apart a few years ago. Let’s go back into how this all started for you. You were a kid growing up. Tell us the story of how you discovered who you were and how you got to be what you are now.
I grew up in the family business, The Speech Improvement Company. My mother and father, Dr. Dennis Becker, and Dr. Paula Borkum Becker. Back in 1964, decades before executive coaching became popular had this idea that if you could coach an executive the way that an athlete was coached, you could help that person and change their life. They were studying communication. My dad was studying this cool topic called Rhetoric and Public Address and my mother was studying speech pathology. They got together and they had this idea. Where do you do that? How do you help people? You help them with the way they think and the way they talk.
A lot of the idea of coaching and training started back in the 1960s with them and the firm grew over time so I grew up in this. Around the dinner table, we’d be talking about Aristotle’s theories of persuasions, the plosive sounds that are produced in speech for clear articulation. Things like that were common topics in our family and a lot of humor and laughter. The business was nothing I was interested in, that’s what mom and dad did. I wanted to go to Hollywood and make movies. That was my vision and my undergraduate degree was in mass communication, TV and film. I started out in that space and enjoyed it. At some point, I ended up moving into the corporate world.
I was a nerd with computers so I went to work with this for this computer company. Because I could talk pretty well, they put me in front of people so I was helping the sales team. Over the years there, I grew into business development, general management, and so forth. All that time I was a client of my mom and dad. Every conversation or negotiation and leadership moment, I’d have a coach helping me through that. When the time came to make a change, it was a funny story. At the time, the high-tech company I was with was selling off the division that I was in and the group that I was running. My kids were about to be born. My wife was pregnant with twins and we have three kids, but at the time, we had none.
She had given up her teaching job and I had been laid off. We went from two incomes with no kids to twins with no income. At that point in time, my mother was struggling with breast cancer. My parents said, “Why don’t you come and help us out in the family business?” I was like, “No. I don’t think so.” We talked it over as a family and I said, “Fine. I’m going to help for a month.” I remember it vividly that I was at Harvard University. I was in training, watching my father, and all these CEOs had come from around the world to hear him speak. It was cool to be able to watch your dad at work. I was blown away by it. I was inspired. I started to get into it.Honor your parents and allow their teachings to be available to you. Click To Tweet
The first person that I worked with was a woman doing job interviewing and I was coaching her on her communication. To me, it was second nature, but to her when she called to tell me not only did she get the job, she got the salary sheet that we practiced together talking about. I’m like, “This is great.” I loved it. I fell in love with the work and I’ve been in ever since. I’ve stayed in. I’ve made it, changed my MBA to be focused around the topic and my PhD is in psychology related to communication so I’ve been enjoying the unexpected career path.
Ethan, I have to tell you, compared to some of my other guests who’ve been in prison, drug addicts, and many of the others who’ve had to hit bottom before they could emerge as the butterflies they truly are. You’ve lived a fairly blessed life in so many wonderful ways. That by itself is the story of allowing to me. Listening to what you’re saying and what occurs to me is you allowed to happen instead of resisting. Many people don’t particularly do what their parents do and in fact, resist it. My own daughter, when I was raising her, I was a professional options trader at one point. I was trying to teach her how to trade credit spreads, help her understand the stock market, entrepreneurism, and all that. She had no interest in it and literally rejected it. I have a feeling that the big lesson for me in listening to you talk about this is that you are a person that allows what’s in life to occur without a lot of resistance, learning from it, and taking that path going forward. Does that make sense to you the way I described that?
It does. It resonates and I’d love to take credit for that but I can’t. I credit those who I listen to and have seen do that before me. There are definitely times that I’ll go through something and I don’t handle it well, but what I’ve learned to do at the moment is pause, reflect, and try to watch out. That’s my first response which may not be a great one but then my second or third response tends to be a little more constructive. That’s where I’ll try to go with the flow and maybe accept the things around me a little bit with a little greater ease.
In my own case, I was awkward growing up. I was smaller than the rest of the boys in general. I’d never played contact sports of any sort and the girls in high school like the jocks. What I did is I discovered that I could attract attention by playing music basically and eventually having a band. A band was my vehicle for picking up girls. That was my high school success story. I mastered the art of building a band and quite a prosperous band around my initial desire, which was to pick up girls. Later, we became probably the highest-paid high school rock band in the area. It was a lot of fun back in the ‘70s. We were making $500 a night to play at a sweet sixteen.
That’s a lot for back then. That’s a big deal. What did you play?
I play lead guitar. I still play not quite in the band anymore or for $500 a night, but in my living room or sometimes with friends. The point I want to make is, and again loving what you said and the way that your life has evolved, there is a part of me that would have to say that there’s an inner wisdom. The inner wisdom is to honor your parents and to allow the teaching and the coaching that you talked about to be available to you. Many people don’t allow their elders to influence them because they’re too busy reacting and rebelling. Here you are in the art of allowance of giving them and granting them to being this they needed to improve your life as well. That’s a beautiful thing. Congratulations on that.
What we’d like to do, Ethan, is part of the way the show works is we bring people with incredible skills and abilities on to create an environment where readers get to learn from you. What I want to do at this point is I’d like for you to take over and talk to us about the art of communication. For my readers who are involved every day in business, either online businesses or someday again face-to-face businesses. Where would we start in helping people understand what they could do better to communicate with others in a way that helps them in convincing others of their desires and winning them over in a natural way?
A good place to begin is in the 1950s. There’s a model that comes to mind to me that I like to talk about as an umbrella for some of the other topics, tools, and techniques you can learn. The model is called the Sender-Receiver Model. It goes back to the 1950s. The concept is not hard, it’s easy. You have a sender and you have a receiver. The sender sends what we call a message to the receiver. The receiver then hears, hopefully, the message and they decode it, understand it and give what’s called feedback back to the sender. It’s a loop. If you can imagine a loop, a circle, the sender and the receiver in the message going round and round. The messages are sent for the most part with things, words, tone, and body language. There are a lot of ways to send messages, especially these days. In general, let’s focus on those.
The problem is, there are barriers. There’s one before the receiver gets the message and right before the sender gets the feedback, there’s another barrier. These barriers can get in the way so you send a message to somebody. You have this idea in your mind. Let’s take this into a business. You’re trying to raise capital for your business. You have some message about your company in your mind and you’ve put your words together maybe in the form of a presentation and you’re using visuals or whatever it is. You send the message and we want the receiver to get, hear, and understand what we call the intended message. The thinking is if they hear, think, and understand it, they will do what we want, give us what we want and the feedback comes in or it doesn’t.
The model and the concept itself is interesting because if you pause for a moment and you think about that model, it is profound. As a species, we have figured out how to take thought and control these little flaps of skin here known as the vocal folds to make noises when we breathe and shape the noise with what’s called the articulator. The tongue, the jaw, the lips, and teeth. We make noises converting the thought into these sounds.
Another person hears the sounds, and now they have the same thought that we did, in theory, at least. It’s profound, but it also helps us understand why there is so much room for misunderstanding and miscommunication. I may say something and to me, the choice of words and the tone that goes with it is reflecting the thoughts that I have about that idea. I want you to get that but you might have a different interpretation as a receiver. In extreme examples, you might be from another culture so you hear the same words, but it has a different meaning or a slightly adjusted meaning. This is where we get into trouble.
I would add to what you said. I loved what you said. It’s the simplest way I’ve heard anyone break down the communication cycle. However, what I would call past pain has traumatized all of us in one way or another. Traumatized might be a strong word, but even in small ways, we have emotions connected to words. You don’t know the emotions that I’ve connected to potentially the words you are using. How does that come into play?
That’s a good observation. It absolutely comes into play. There’s an old saying we have here in our office, in the staff room on the refrigerator on a little yellow sticky. It says, “ABC. Attitudes Become Communication.” The way we think and feel about something becomes the way it sounds. It becomes the message so that can be a real problem. Let’s take this in a business context for people so it doesn’t sound like we’re talking about emotions. Let’s say I’m your boss, you come in late and I’m mad that you come in late. I come to you and I say, “It’s 9:15.” All I said is that it’s 9:15 but my tone of voice is reflecting the anger that I have. As the receiver, the message you get in this example might be not I should come in earlier. The message you get is my boss is mad at me. That’s not valuable from a business perspective as a leader or as a manager.
One could say, “I want him to know I’m mad.” Why? What you want is the person to come into work on time. That’s what you want. You think that if he sees you’re mad, he’ll come in on time. It’s not likely in this generic example. I, as the talker, manager, and the leader at that moment, first, I’ve got to recognize my own emotion here. I’m not saying don’t be mad. You might be pissed. Maybe this is the fifth time this has happened with the same person and you’re upset. I’m using a simple example coming in late. Maybe it’s a massive thing like they’ve messed up on a project, lost a sale, or whatever. You have to first recognize what I am feeling and be able to communicate and figure out what you’re going to say.
I don’t know a lot of executives who are good at leadership and leading who can do it off the top of their heads. In many cases, they’ll take a break. They walk into the other room, calm down, call a coach or a friend or they do something to calm first and think rationally, then have the dialogue with the person. You’re probably going to be more effective when you are a little calmer having the conversation, which may sound obvious, but as humans, we’re so on autopilot.You have to be aware of the many ways that miscommunication can take place. Click To Tweet
I hear this as a coach, “I’m not going to pretend to be happy when I’m not.” You’re missing the point. The point is, as a manager or as a leader, you want the behavior to change so you’ve got to be able to communicate with accuracy. If your emotions are sending an unintended message like, “I’m mad at you,” you’re not being effective. That’s all. You may be saying all the words, “Ethan, I said this and that. I read the book and I said this sentence,” but your tone betrayed you. Your tone overrode that and said something different, “No, I didn’t.” You did. We’re not perfect. We’re not always going to get it right. What we’ve seen is even if you put a little bit of effort into this, the quality of the message is higher and the outcome is typically more in line with what you want.
Ethan, I wish I had you by my side in the 1980s and early ‘90s as I was building my little software company in Essex, Massachusetts called Timeslips Corporation. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I found someone to coach me from a distance, someone I studied. His name is Tom Peters. Tom has written some amazing books and he used to speak from stage. I used to get on a plane and follow him city to city sometimes because he was so impactful to me. One of the things that he taught me has changed the way I communicated. He taught me that anger is a tool and like any tool, you have to choose the tool at the time for it to be effective. If you use the wrong tool in a particular circumstance, you’re only going to destroy the project or the situation because the wrong tool was used. That changed my life. That’s what prevented me after I learned it from being angry at someone who comes in late for the fifth time. Ultimately, you have to ask yourself, “What is it that I truly want out of this?”
If I want them to start coming to work on time, what’s the most effective way to do that? In a quiet and calm discussion with a coach, you can say, “Do you know what’s the most effective way for me to show anger?” I’m on board. I’m not saying that that’s never going to work. I’m saying do it because you know exactly what you’re communicating and how and why you’re communicating it. I don’t think showing anger is the way to go but I don’t believe one size fits all and there may be circumstances.
The problem is we’re usually on autopilot and we’re showing anger out of being pissed. Maybe it works. It’s like putting on a blindfold on a dartboard and throwing darts. Maybe it will hit. When it hits, it’s like, “Look what that person did.” Show anger. It’s like GE. Everybody needs to be like Jack Welsh. What Jack was doing was effective in that environment for the things that he was working on but it doesn’t translate necessarily to every single other business in the world.
Chet Holmes, who was my partner and my dearest friend for many years, used to tell me that all the time. In fact, when I came to work with Chet and eventually became the president of his company and as my audience knows, Tony Robbins, myself, and Chet built Business Breakthroughs. One of the reactions that I got from people was, “I’m so glad you’re here.” “Why are you so glad I’m here?” “It’s because all Chet does is scream at us.” My doctor has already told me that I have to increase my blood pressure medication if I’m going to stay working for this company.
My approach has always been particularly since my early days of building and running several companies, the training that I received, and I use the word training loosely because it was mostly trial and error. What I finally learned as I became an adult, was how powerful communication can be to get what you want when you want it. Ethan, here you are in a situation where you’re coaching an executive, and you try to explain something simple like this. We get that and readers get that. Let’s go one step further. What’s a more sophisticated situation that you find yourself in with people who are looking to grow their company or grow their status inside of an organization. What is it that they miss around halfway through in the middle of their career?
There are a few things that come to mind with that question. Let me pick one of them. Little Aristotle. Aristotle is one of the early philosophers we like in the study of speech communication because he was trying to figure out how we think, how we process information. A lot of times, we go on autopilot with the way we think and process. One of the things that Aristotle was looking at was how we connect with listeners. How do we reason? When you talk to me, how do I make sense out of what I’m hearing? When I talk to you, how do you process and reason and make sense of what you are saying? He figured out that people tend to think in one of two different ways. When I say the words, you probably know the words, but I want to talk about them in the context of speech communication. What do you do with these words?
Aristotle said that we tend to think either in an inductive or deductive pattern of reasoning. Here’s what it means. If I’m an inductive thinker, that’s who I am. I’m an inductive guy. That means that I need to have all of the background information first, then tell me the point and what you want or get to ask or whatever it is. Give me all that background stuff first. Deductive is the exact opposite. You start with the point and give the background details. This is a helpful and important skill to be able to do. It matters a lot because when these two people meet each other. There is a level of frustration that tears the communication apart.
If I’m a deductive thinker, it’s who I am. If an inductive person comes to talk to me, I sound like this, “Aha. Yes. Uh-huh. Okay. Yes. What?” I get so frustrated that I’m not listening anymore. A lot of times, as we’re developing in our careers, we become good or skilled at a thing and we can know a lot about it and we don’t have a lot of tolerance for the inductive conversation. It can be career-limiting. Often when we are presenting to senior management or to investors, we want to be inductive because we’re leading up instead of the old-fashioned sales training, which is to do it inductively. Don’t tell them the price until you have painted the value proposition, which is great advice half the time.
If you have a deductive customer or deductive listeners in the group and you’re taking an inductive approach, it’s unlikely they’re going to hear that value proposition. It’s $100,000. They missed the whole value thing and the answer is no. If you’ve ever walked away from a presentation thinking, “I said everything I was supposed to say.” Yes, but the order was probably backward from what they needed. You know you get it right because you make when you make a connection. You can feel the connection with someone. That’s what you’ve got to do. It’s hard though. One of these tends to be our comfort zone and the other one feels kicking a ball with your weak foot. It’s difficult. The skill is to be able to develop both.
Here, for me, is the $64,000 question. How do I know before I meet somebody or as I’m meeting them which one they are?
Here’s what I found in practice with this stuff. We can’t read minds but we can read body language and situations. People can switch. Let’s say I am an inductive listener and you are talking to me about your whole business idea. You’re being inductive about it and I’m an inductive thinker. This is great. Suddenly the phone rings, “Hello.” It’s one of my board members. “I’m in trouble. I don’t know what it is, but they want to meet away. This is not good.” I come back to you. You’re going on about last spring and what the development did. I’m not listening anymore. That’s important because it’s not because you’re bad. It’s something unrelated to you that happened and the way I process and think switched. If you want to get that connection with me, you need to do one of two things. What do you think they are?
I have to watch your body language and listen to the tone of your voice.
With that, you’ll either decide to skip ahead to your point and be deductive or come back another time. Anything else is going to be frustrating and go nowhere. We might not be able to predict. There are some cues, and gender is not one of them, in my opinion. We get asked that all the time, men are women. If you watch Hollywood on television, women are inductive and men are deductive for the most part. I don’t think that’s real life at all. I work with CEOs who are women around the world who are deductive.
In fact, we’ve seen it has more to do with the position that we are in than gender. If we know it’s a senior-level group, I don’t think it’s an absolute, “Always be deductive.” I know CEOs who are inductive, but it’s not a bad place to begin and be ready to switch. It’s like a sport. You’ve got to be ready to switch one or the other. There is an interesting story here when you learn how to do this because not everybody likes this. I hear pushback sometimes, “I am who I am, Ethan. I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’m not going to change anything.” Good luck.
One of my clients, Jon Platt, the CEO and Chairman of Sony. In my book, there’s a nice interview with Jon and he talks about as he learned inductive and deductive. It’s a cool story because, Jon, if you know his story, he started out as a DJ. He moved up the ranks, found Jay Z and Beyoncé and he was the executive producer for all of these artists who moved all the way up, and now he’s the CEO and Chairman of Sony. He was deductive in that way and people would come to him with deals, ideas, and projects. He was like, “Uh-huh. Yes.” As he learned to listen inductively, he said two things happened.
Number one is the quality of the relationships around him strengthened. Number two, he learns stuff. The guy who knows everything about the industry learns some things. It’s a skill that takes a little bit of practice to do. It’s not impossible. It may feel uncomfortable but maybe think about it for those readers if you’ve ever played a sport or have friends or kids that have played sports. Think soccer, for example. When I coach my kids playing soccer, many of the kids with 9 to 10 years old are good with their right foot and they want to kick that ball with their right foot.You have to choose the right tool at the right time for it to be effective. Click To Tweet
In a game, if they’re on the other side of the ball, they would run up to the ball, stop, take a few steps backward so they can kick it with the right. That doesn’t work in a game. They have to learn to kick with the left foot, but they don’t want to. I would hear them complain the way some CEOs would complain, “That’s not me. That’s not authentic. I want to be myself.” It’s like, “Be yourself but learn some skills.” You’ve got to learn to kick with the left if you’re a righty. If you’re deductive, you’ve got to learn how to talk and listen inductively. You don’t have to be perfect at it but you’ve got to be aware of it. You’ll notice as you do, you can try this right away with your family members. You’ll know you’re doing it right if you’re annoyed by them and you’re not cutting them off. You’re allowing yourself to listen, hear it and maybe try to talk in kind if you can.
This is an incredible lesson, Ethan. The reason I say it that way is because there are many people who don’t even focus any awareness at all on the way that they communicate. They know how they feel when they do. People go through life saying, “I’ve gotten this far. I must be pretty good at it because I started this company.” What you’re doing is you’re pulling back the veil here. You’re asking people to place a layer between the words, the thinking, and understanding what’s happening in the conversation itself as if you are the observer. This is a powerful component. Readers, Ethan’s book is called Mastering Communication at Work. It’s available everywhere.
At this point in the show, Ethan, what we’d like to do is move into the part where we get to know you a little bit better and we do that through some silly questions that we like to ask that help us all understand a little bit more about you in a deeper level or a different level, if not deeper. Here’s the first question. Who in all of space and time would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch, or an intense conversation with?
Aside from my mom who’s no longer with us, she’d be my first choice. In the world of celebritism-ish, I would say Steve Jobs but not Steve Jobs that was the famed Steve Jobs. Being a Mac nerd all the ways from the 1980s and ‘90s. Early ‘90s Steve Jobs would be cool to talk to. Pre-iPhone Steve Jobs would be cool to talk with, about the potential of what technology can do for the world. That would be a cool hangout time to have.
I agree because what you’d get is the visionary. The thing about the visionary and the way I like to think about the archetype of visionary is the person who’s looking skyward to see the future. In my life, when I find people that are like that, I listen carefully, because I feel as if in many ways unless they’re insane, they’re tapped into something much bigger than us. If you would have had that conversation in the early ‘90s and if I could possibly arrange that by shifting time and space a bit, I’ll do it for you but only if you let me hang out with you guys when you do.
In those days, at least for me from my small view of the world back in however old, I was back then. It wasn’t about big business. Maybe it was to him but it was that cool factor. That’s how I described it. It felt like that’s what led decisions by those who were making the product. It was like, “That’s cool,” not, “What does the data show?” I have doubts with data in general, in terms of the quality of it. As a result, we’ve got some cool things, as opposed to now where there hasn’t been a whole lot of new innovative things at least not in a little while.
As a fellow Mac aficionado, I’ve been involved with the Mac only since 2008. For me, there’s a whole story around how I switch but the whole point of it was I fell in love with the image of Apple and I had been all those years. Since I was running a PC company, it was hard to break ranks until we created and released a Mac product back in the late ‘90s. For me, it was a natural progression and it’s a great choice. Here’s the grand finale, the change the world question. What is it that you’re doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
When I think about what I’m doing now, when we talk about it with my whole group, my team here at Speech Improvement, when we talk about what we do, we are unified on this. Our vision is to heal the world through communication. We feel if you can teach people to talk more effectively with each other, they stop hitting each other and have much stronger outcomes. Our view is, if we can go out there and try to heal the world one word at a time, we can hopefully make a difference in some small way.
It’s a beautiful way of saying it. I wish that you were able to coach some of our political leaders at the same time. It might change the entire nature of the world we live in if you did. That’s for sure.
You never know. I can say we’re not involved at the moment but over the years, we do work at those levels, but it changes. Every administration has its own people. You never know.
That’s entirely true.
When we get into those types of things, we have to put our personal political views aside and look at what’s going to help the person to be impactful or effective. That’s a tough environment, especially if they don’t want the coaching.
Ethan, you were incredibly generous in setting up your free giveaway. It’s an embarrassment of riches to offer my readers something which you’re about to offer. Let it rip. Tell us what you’ve got for us.
What we’re offering is a one-hour free coaching session with either me or someone on my team here and we’re glad to help you with it. That’s $500 value normally but as something for your readers, we’re happy to do it. What you expect that you can get in that hour is you can hear and talk with the coach about some of your communication areas. Also, get some insight, some suggestions, maybe some teaching and stuff that happens during those first sessions.
We have a caveat here. There’s no marriage counseling involved is there?
Only if you bring it up. Most of our stuff is in the world of business but you’d be amazed. A lot of our clients, what we teach and learn in the business world applies at home and can be practiced at home as well, and it should be.
Readers, you’ve read it first here. Ethan Becker is offering you a free one-hour coaching session from himself or one of his top team members. By all means, sign up. Ethan, this has been fun. I enjoyed this. I learned something which is always my criteria. I want to thank you for taking the time to spend with us.
Thanks, Mitch. I appreciate being on the show. Thank you so much.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Ethan Becker
- Tom Peters
- Mastering Communication at Work
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